Babbel CEO and co-founder Markus Witte is giving some insights into the motivations in acquiring PlaySay. Founded by Ryan Meinzer in 2008 PlaySay is ‘a language learning experience’, offering a unique, visionary and fun way to learn Spanish and English. The 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt finalist PlaySay Inc., which has its headquarters in San Francisco, has seen its app ranked #1 in the education category of the iTunes store in ten countries, including the USA.
We already saw several great news in the first few months of 2013: Babbel apps for new platforms, coming along with important awards and even a presentation of our Polish vocabulary trainer to German chancellor Angela Merkel and Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk.
Now we’re taking a step to increase our presence in the United States by acquiring the the language learning firm PlaySay. A very unusual step — most San Francisco start-ups are not bought by a German start-up.
In our case, we feel that combining PlaySay and Babbel makes a lot of sense. We’ve watched the success of PlaySay since we saw their pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco back in 2011. Since then, PlaySay was mentioned by some major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and others and had its app as a #1 in the education category of the US App store and 10 other countries.
The current PlaySay app will be continued for the time being. All users are invited to join Babbel as well to combine both learning experiences. The product teams are in discussions of providing an integrated product.
The acquisition of PlaySay is opening a number of opportunities in the US market, especially since we have Ryan Meinzer, the PlaySay CEO, by our side as an advisor and supporter. Babbel’s CTO Thomas Holl and I will be in San Francisco with Ryan in early April to lay the foundations of our presence in California.
Having developed numerous courses for the Polish language, we know that it isn’t an easy language to learn. Angela Merkel appeared to concur as she tried out the Polish Babbel App, with the word “cześć” (hello) proving a particular stumbling block for her.
Despite the odd tongue twister, Merkel and her language exchange partner, the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, appeared to enjoy their Babbel experience, as you can see in the accompanying picture. Every year a different country partners the CeBIT, and this year it was Poland’s turn. For this reason we bestowed our Polish app the honour of being used by such luminaries.
The latest technological trends are presented once a year at the largest IT fair in the world. The prize ceremony for the ‘Innovation 4 Society Award’, in which the Microsoft initiative Chancenrepublik Deutschland (Opportunity Republic Germany) recognises outstanding, socially beneficial work from both young and established IT companies. took place shortly after the opening of the CeBIT.
And the winner in the category ‘Established Company’ is… Babbel.com, with its Windows 8 App sitting pretty as the most successful educational app in the Windows Store! The jury substantiated their choice by drawing attention to the ‘exemplary coupling of intelligent learning content and digital technology’, as well as the same ‘innovative learning methods’ which had previously convinced the jury of Digita. The Babbel delegation celebrated as Markus, one of the Babbel founders, presented the Babbel App to Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Tusk. Frau Merkel appeared to be quite intrigued by the App as she brushed up on her knowledge of Polish in front of the audience.
Gregory, one of our dearest colleagues and favourite Frenchmen, is from Annecy, a picturesque town in the French Alps. He is the face of French support. When he isn’t supporting, he can be found playing with mobile devices and spreading good vibes.
What are you doing at Babbel?
I started in May 2011 as a freelancer in support, and since March 2012 I have been working here full-time. I get to do more and more technical support, including testing and experimenting with new products, like new apps for iPhone, iPad, Android devices and also Windows 8 Tablets. Last but not least, I also translate into French, and do some recordings for YouTube videos.
Which languages do you use on a daily basis?
At Babbel I mainly use English and German since those are our working languages. Sometimes also French. And German I’m trying to push more and more. I feel most comfortable, of course, in my mother tongue. It’s just comforting to be able to say what you mean. La langue suit la pensée – only then the language follows your thoughts.
Can you tell us a little about your experience of learning German in Berlin?
When I first got here I could only speak a few words of German, could barely understand what was being said, and had problems explaining myself. Sure enough, I mostly got to know other French people, and in my work life as well. But the bosses were German and Swiss, and they forced – or let’s say encouraged – us to speak German. And ever since I’ve been with Babbel my German has improved considerably.
In the first few months I tried out language tandems a lot, which means I met German people who wanted to learn French. From what I experienced the results weren’t very successful, however, since many people had problems imagining how a foreign person learns German. Vice versa, a Frenchman is likely to have a hard time explaining exceptions in French grammar.
What advice can you give to language learners?
Surround yourself with people. I find it very helpful if others correct me. Also, I like watching German TV or films in German.
Is there a first German word or expression that particularly stuck to your mind?
It’s sort of strange, but yes. I was 14, 15 years old, and we read a German text at school. One sentence went like “Ich mache Yoga” (I do yoga), and the whole class was on the floor laughing. Nothing special about this sentence, but the pronunciation just cracked us up!
The Babbel team proudly announces to have been rewarded with the “digita 2013″ in the category “private learning age 16+”. Katja and Regine received this important trophy on occasion of the education and media fair didacta in Cologne on Wednesday. The jury praised the “innovate and motivating” approach of the Babbel learning system which, in turn, motivates us to carry on and get better and better. Read the full statement here (in German, obviously) .
We admit that it feels great to get an award, and we did face some serious competition out there. But we are almost equally thrilled by this lovely video that was made by didacta, and that features two charming, bright young gentlemen who probably succeed better in explaining (again, in German) what Babbel is than most other people who have tried, including ourselves.
At this time of year, it’s really worth taking a closer look at what actually brings a couple together. It’s most likely a mixture of a number of things; physical attraction, personality, charm, interests, but successful communication is of utmost importance. To make a relationship work, its constituents must be able to understand one another. Everyone has his or her own way of expressing and conveying feelings, but how is this process complicated when these constituents don’t speak the same language? Couples in a bilingual relationship face a somewhat harder challenge than those in monolingual relationships. While everyone knows how to say ‘I love you’ in several languages, not everyone can express himself or herself well if and when a relationship turns sour.
The vocabulary lessons conjured up and developed at Babbel draw upon realistic dialogues inspired by everyday life. And part of modern life is undoubtedly ‘breaking up’; that moment when single life beckons once again. But how do you break up in a foreign language? How do you find the right words to make your soon-to-be ex-partner understand your reasons? We turned Saint Valentine on his head to help all you freedom fighters out. Enough Schmulz. Let’s learn something practical.
And for all those who are lucky in love, there’s tons of vocabulary and a veritable bundle of courses available on Babbel that teach you how to give compliments, express feelings, and keep the flame alive until the next Valentine’s Day arrives.
One day it became clear that Babbel users wanted to write more.
But when someone suggesteda dictation course, a murmur rippled through the editorial department. Everyone remembered their schooldays well—classrooms with an unreasonably stiff atmosphere, boring texts that had little resemblance to reality
For those of you with bad memories: the new Babbel format keeps you especially in mind! Here, in contrast, writing and listening comprehension can be practiced with wit, charm and fun. Unlike the teacher in the classroom, the dictation feature has a repeat button, so you can listen to the sentences as many times as you like—without the pressure.
Little stories that make for a smirk or even the occasional burst of laughter sweeten up this new experience of dictation. Not only will you be able to practice writing without having to resort to the old, tired formulas, but you’ll learn how to put everyday vocabulary words to use, too. We have little use for purely written language: our dictation courses are based on the spoken language.
Tales of strange encounters, misunderstandings and other incidents are partially based on Babbel authors’ true experiences. In one, for example, you will find out how Katja’s jacket ended up in a tree—and how she got it back. Meanwhile you’ll also be exposed to important grammatical issues such as verb endings and agreement. So, you won’t necessarily hear whether with “préféré” you need to write “é” or “ée”, but you’ll be able to deduce it from the context. Don’t worry though, you won’t have to do it cold, either—you’ll know because you’ll already have gone over the words and practiced them!
For whom is soon to set foot upon French soil, beware of verbal mud traps that may await. High school French abilities are quickly exhausted as soon as the French begin to jauntily jabber in their local lingo.
Imagine you’ve just landed in Paris and you’re exploring the city immersed in euphoric Francophilia. Lost in thought, gazing upwards while strolling through the charming streets and alleyways, you accidently bump into another pedestrian. He responds with a “T’es vénère ou quoi!“ What did he mean? How should I respond? Your automatic reaction is “Excusez-moi”. Your counterpart seems to have calmed down. “C’est pas grave,” he answers, “Je peux te taxer une clope ?” Once again that feeling of having landed in the wrong town. You think, “Taxer” – taxi? Does he need a taxi? What’s a clope? Clop! Maybe he means a horse-drawn taxi? You decide on the first and more logical option and stammer in your best French, “Là, il y a un taxi!” (There’s a taxi). Suddenly the face of the Frenchman contorts into an expression somewhere between astonishment and disbelief. Whoops! Wrong answer.
The new Babbel courses for French slanghelp get you back on your feet. Here you won’t just learn that “taxer” means “to bum”, “cimer” means “thank you” and “une clope” is “a smoke”, but that in their slang the French switch endings and twist, cut off and leave out words. So it happens then that from énervé” (annoyed) you get “vénère”.
Babbel has a course on slang for all French enthusiasts who have some previous knowledge but want to dive deeper. The so-called “Verlan“-words with reversed syllables and other colloquialisms are mixed into everyday French—especially among young people under forty. The course treats five important aspects: “Verlan”-words (words with reversed syllables), slang, shortened and omitted words, special endings, and loan words from English such as “fun” or “has been”. These five aspects help so that next time, when someone offers a “clope”, it sounds more like French than like Greek to you.
It’s fascinating, all the things you can do with language learning. In this respect 2012 was a very creative and fruitful year for us, culminating in a nomination for Best German Start Up at the international The Europas Awards to be held in Berlin. Although the entire Babbel team is forward thinking as a matter of principle, staring the future fearlessly in the face, we want to take a moment now to glance back across an eventful year, in which you the Babbel user took a leading role.
Platform and system:
By far the biggest change can be seen in the fact that our editorial team have brought out more than 200 new courses in just 12 months with their unique passion and dedication. In total there are now 6,300 lessons available to you the Babbel user. When you think that on 15 January 2008 we came out with a single vocab trainer for 5 languages, you can see there has been some progress! This year saw the premiere of many new course formats, among others: Lifestyle courses, Dictation courses, Slang, and even a fun Dialect course for German (in which some of the Babbel employees star as guest speakers).
Which course was your favourite so far?
Our newest learning languages, Turkish and Dutch, have been reinforced with their own Beginner’s Courses – a popular request from our users – and a beginner’s course for Polish is in development. We are expecting to be able to release two new learning languages in February: Danish and Norwegian.
Visually Babbel has also changed quite dramatically and the renovations are still underway! The community pages now subscribe to modern design standards and have benefited from a considerably better layout. Even the trainer will soon get a makeover. But fear not, we will stay true to the Babbel style – clean and simple, as you like it.
2012 was a whirlwind year for our mobile development team: In February our App for iPads came out, in March the App for Android, in June the iBook for iPad and the same for Kindle in August. Then in October the App for Windows 8 made its debut – and the grand finale of the year: the iPad App Version 3.0, containing the entire course programme, including the possibility to synchronise your learning progress between Web and App. In total during 2012 about 4.5 Million Babbel Apps were downloaded. It seems we are gradually catching up with your desire for good language courses on mobile platforms.
You (the Babbel users):
Worldwide you are 10 million users, who learn with Babbel on your computer and/or mobile device. This massive increase surely has something to do with the fact that Babbel is available on more and more devices with differing operating systems. More and more people can and want to learn languages with Babbel, unconstrained by time or place. This makes us very happy because, although we are on a steady upwards growth curve, we still have the same goal that we had five years ago when we started: To make understanding and learning a language on the internet easier.
The Babbelonians (the Babbel team):
We too are growing enormously, in the heart of Kreuzberg. Almost every week we have the pleasure to welcome a friendly new face to the team. Meanwhile (now in the middle of January) we are 60 full-time employees. Since our Bergmannstraße office is bursting at the seams, we will be taking over new, bigger premises in Bergmannstraße from the start of March. We’re staying faithful to our neighbourhood, because Kreuzberg brings us luck, as Markus, our commander in chief, puts it.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of you and especially to those of you who have stuck with us through the years!
“Wos babbelscht’n du do?” – This isn’t German. Or is it…? Actually it is. It’s Hessian dialect for “Was redest du denn da?” (“What are you talking about?”). Listen to Hessian dialect
If you learn a new language, it’s most useful to learn its standard variety. But many languages like German have different dialects which give us the best insight into what the people are like and how they live. We at Babbel thought that making a dialect course might not only be a nice example of what German can sound like, but also be a chance to give a broader idea of how diverse Germany and its people are.
During the production of this course, we had a lot of fun discovering German ourselves, which is the mother tongue of many of our employees. And we were astonished at how many of us can speak a dialect (“Hey, I didn’t know that you can speak Hessian, wow!”). This led to a lot of funny discussions à la “No, I never ever heard that word before in my life!” or “Really, you call a meatball Bagges? No way!” The lunch break was the ideal time to ask colleagues where they come from and where they grew up. Just to be followed by the question “So you surely can speak a dialect, can’t you?” To make a long story short: We got to know each other better and from a completely different angle.
When it came to recording, we were in stitches. Some sentences had to be re-recorded over and over again because our speakers kept collapsing with laughter. But the result was worth the stomach pains from laughing. In the dialect course, which currently consists of six dialects (Berlin dialect, Upper Franconian, Hessian, Swabian, Saxonian and Bavarian), you’ll learn that you’ll get the same bread roll, if you buy a Weckla in Swabia, a Semmela in Franconia or a Schrippe in Berlin. You’ll come to understand a Bavarian if he’s talking about a Hallodri (scallywag) and get to know what a Hessian Kräbbel (jam donut) is. You’ll not only learn regional vocabulary on food and every day life, but also a lot about the region where the dialects are spoken and how their people are wired. And you’ll finally unravel the mystery of why Babbel is called Babbel: it’s Hessian dialect for to talk, to speak. So let’s get started and babbel German with the dialect course!
Maren has been working with Babbel since September 2011. As a project manager she authored the dialect course amongst others. She grew up in Berlin, but since her mother is from Hesse and her father from Bavaria, she got to know the regional varieties of German from her childhood on. Her relatives in Saxony and Thuringia and not least her husband from Franconia contribute to the fact that she sometimes orders a Schrippe in Bavaria or is looking for a Kräbbel in Berlin…
It’s that time of year again: 2013 is on the way and you’re looking back and contemplating the year passed. As you’re taking stock of what worked out and what didn’t quite, you decide to use the New Year as chance to change for the better. New Year’s resolutions last little longer than the euphoric effect of a glass of bubbly. Often you take on too many changes at once. But at babbel.com, we’ve figured out a way you can keep at least seven of your resolutions….
Easy as pie. Learn a new language!
Some of the more common New Year’s resolutions of the 21st century:
1. Less stress.
One of the most oft-mentioned resolutions is to reduce daily stress. Now you’re probably imagining, what’s a Babbel language course have to do with a visit to the spa?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the psychological term “flow.” Flow means a feeling of being immersed in and concentrating on an engaging mental activity. From the bodily point of view, flow can be observed in the synchronization of heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
Studying is often associated with tedium and stress. At babbel.com, the developers knew this from the outset. Their aim when designing the Babbel language courses was to integrate the learning process seamlessly. In other words, the idea was to make it so easy and entertaining that you learn effortlessly, having fun through measurable progress and a sense of achievement.
2. Be healthier
Studying is not the most movement-intensive activity, but it exercises that most vital of muscles, your brain. In a study, Swedish researchers at Lund University reported that learning a foreign language has a direct influence on the growth of your brain. Consistently learning new grammatical structures, acquiring new vocabulary and practicing pronunciation all have a direct impact on our capacity for memory. Other studies show that people who speak two or more languages are affected by dementia only much later in life, if at all.
3. Drink/smoke less
Engaging in a new and exciting hobby distracts you from other habits. With the money you save by not buying two packs of cigarettes a month, you can already pay for a one month course with babbel.com (see item 4).
4. Save money
A language course need not be expensive. Compared to traditional courses, language courses offered online are quite affordable and offer high quality content. But not only that. A new language can be learned through the regular reading of articles and texts in foreign newspapers on the web, or by watching movies in their original version with subtitles. This lets you save money to take a trip, for example, which leads us right to the next resolution…
5. Take a trip
Lack of incentive and motivation can make it difficult to follow through on your resolutions. In many countries you might visit English can get you pretty far, but for others you should definitely have a command of the essential words and phrases in the local language. It’s a great way to get to know new and interesting people.
6. Find a better job
A survey by the German Federal Institute of Education shows that one in three working people needs at least basic skills in a foreign language, and one in every six needs more specialized knowledge. “Depending on the position, additional language skills can always be an advantage when it comes to standing out from other applicants, especially with a slightly unusual language,” says Anne Seeanner, Public Relations Manager at Monster Germany.
Several studies in multilingual regions or countries like Canada and some U.S. states also show that bilingual people earn up to 20% more than their monolingual counterparts.
7. Help others
You also don’t have to learn languages all alone. With language exchanges (“tandems”) people meet each other and share their native languages. It’s that easy with resolutions.
In honor of these many resolutions, Babbel.com is offering a New Year’s special. Between the 3rd and 14th of January there is a special year-long subscription price for your preferred language for €48. Just to compare, a standard 3-month subscription costs €33.30.