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Building bridges with languages – a volunteer’s experience with Babbel

Posted on October 19, 2012 by

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Read this post in German (Deutsch)Spanish (Español)French (Français), Italian (Italiano)

© Cross-Cultural Solutions Volunteer with local children

There is no denying that these are challenging times. While there are incredible advances being made in local communities everyday – from improved healthcare, to more accessible education — social issues still impede the progress of countless communities around the world. The incredible thing is that we each have the ability to support progress toward a more sustainable global community. Some commit their time and efforts to projects on the ground, while others support social activism through advocacy. Babbel is proud to have been able to lend our support by giving the gift of language; for over a year, Babbel has given away language courses to the CCS volunteers.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” – Nelson Mandela

Connecting across cultures is no easy task and to be truly accepted into a new community is a process that takes patience and time. Learning how to communicate in the local language, even if you’ve just got the basics, is an incredible tool for any intrepid international volunteer who’s looking to genuinely engage with local people.

For Megan, the Brazilian Portuguese Babbel courses were an invaluable resource as she prepared for her CCS experience in Brazil. The level of communication that she was able to reach with Babbel helped her connect with her Brazilian coworkers, made conversations more meaningful and as a result, she felt that her work had added impact.

“I love that you can start with the beginner level, and work through levels linearly, if that’s how you learn best.” 

“I also love the topic-based courses. For example, many of my volunteers don’t have much time, and instead can focus on the ‘travel’ course to teach them targeted phrases to prepare them for travelling to Brazil.”

The Babbel system offers an efficient and fun overview of a language, while simultaneously teaching grammar and useful phrases. Some students of the program start at a level at which they’re already comfortable and simply use the program to refresh skills, while others choose start from the beginning.

Preparations for an international volunteering experience can be a bit of whirlwind. The excitement of the upcoming experience, combined with tying up loose ends at work or school, and packing can leave little time for learning the basics of the local language. With Babbel, it’s easy to get ahead by dedicating just a bit of time each day. Megan learned most of what she brought with her to Brazil during her lunch breaks at work.

The Babbel system is designed for the user to learn whenever is convenient. There are no timetables and deadlines. Babbel works with a set of courses that can be approached in a linear or thematic way. The classical approach to language learning — grammar, grammar, and more grammar — would put far too great of a burden on the busy schedule of a learner for them to achieve a worthwhile standard of parlance in a short time. Likewise a ‘phrasebook’ approach is not always enough.

So for Megan, day-to-day activities, like ordering food and drinks, negotiating cab fares, and getting around town were made much easier thanks to the language skills that she gained with Babbel. Above all, her knowledge of Portuguese enabled her to make a lasting connection with her new neighbors in Salvador, as well as the staff and beneficiaries at the local organization that she worked to support.

Last year, Babbel offered all volunteers of the Cross-Cultural Solutions — CCS –, a nonprofit organization specializing in culturally immersive international volunteer experiences, a chance to try out its online language course free of charge. By utilizing the Babbel program to learn a new language, volunteers were able to better communicate with local people during their international experience.

Babbel talked with Megan Heise, a Cross-Cultural Solutions Program Site Specialist for Brazil and Ghana, who’s volunteered with CCS in Brazil, Costa Rica, and Ghana herself.  Megan used Babbel to learn Brazilian Portuguese prior to her international volunteer experience with CCS in Salvador, Brazil.

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Wired Academic predicts “Towering Growth Trajectory”

Posted on October 11, 2012 by

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Language Learning: Berlin’s Babbel.com Builds Towering Growth Trajectory

If you are interested in digital and distance learning, you must have heard of the excellent independent news and information center Wired Academic. Its editor, Paul Glader, also writer, journalism teacher at King’s College and entrepreneur came to visit us in Berlin to interview Markus Witte, CEO of Babbel. Glader is writing for several publications ranging from ESPN.com to The Washington Post and is travelling and studying German in his spare time. Wired Academic is profiling several language learning programs and startups in the United States and Europe. This is the third in a series of such profiles.

Click here to read the article!

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New Features on Babbel.com, Part 1: DIY Anti-Spam and Anti-Typo

Posted on October 10, 2012 by

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A fair bit of time has passed since the upheaval of Dust and Dirt and Candlelight, and although the heavier particles have now settled, there is still a good amount of dust in circulation. There have been quite a few changes recently, of which many users are probably still blissfully unaware, despite notification via the Babbel board. This Features Series hopes to shed a bit of light on the darker corners of the Babbel universe.

Every day in the Support Team we get to read the general wishes of our users as well as new and helpful suggestions for improvement. Often these make complete sense and we are equally excited about their implementation as you are, and equally disappointed when our heroic programmers don’t have these assignments completed and on our desks by yesterday. On the other hand, we are witness to the herculean efforts of our developers and editorial team, and we see great things happening, which we wish were there for all to see. So with this in mind I shall, together with Aishah, be keeping you informed of new Features on Babbel.

Lazy Spammers

First of all we want to show you what you yourselves can do to join the fight against Spam and Harassment. Alongside the active use of the ‘Report’ function in the Messages section and with Friend Requests, as well as the ‘Report as offending’ function in Chat, you can do the following:

Under Profile > Settings there are two options with regard to receiving messages within Babbel. If you check both the boxes by ‘Babbel Messages’ you can assert that 1) only people who are your friends can send you messages and 2) only users with at least 100 Babbel points can send you friend requests. So you now have the great advantage of being able to specify that only users who are active beyond just the Community functions can be your friends. In general Spammers can’t be bothered to do any real work or learning. So only when these requirements are fulfilled can someone qualify as your friend and only then may they write to you.

Most Wanted Feature Request 

click to enlarge

Interestingly this simple but ingenious idea was suggested to us by one of our dedicated users. Proof if you need it that we are actually listening to and acting on your suggestions. Nevertheless we should also mention that some suggestions do not always fit in with the wishes of other users, and are even sometimes in direct contradiction. However there was one request where our users were unanimous and that was our ‘Most Wanted Feature Request’. This one wish, which has been by far the most frequently and also most vehemently requested, was that simple typing errors should not be counted as mistakes; that there absolutely must be a possibility to confirm that the word you had entered was the one you had intended to write.

Of course such a simple idea does not necessarily mean an equally simple task when it comes to the programming. However, when our developer Trond finally presented us with an immediately usable solution, it was a time for celebration here at Babbel.

So how do you do it? Simply log into Babbel and copy this link into the address bar of your browser, then press Enter: http://www.babbel.com/go/confirm-by-enter

And if you decide you don’t want it anymore, simply do the same but use this link: http://www.babbel.com/go/no-confirm-by-enter

Why are we not simply building it in as standard? Well, we are actually. First of all we wanted to give you the choice, but it has already proved so popular that it is now standard in the new Review Manager.

Stay tuned. In the next installment we will be telling you all about the star wars and heart aches!

 

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¡Buenos días, vacaciones! What makes learning with our interactive eBook different?

Posted on August 15, 2012 by

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Following on the tails of “Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ there’s now “Learn Spanish: Beginner’s Course 1,” the Spanish iBook for iPad. If you’re curious, we roughly described what an eBook actually is and its (interactive) possibilities here.

Dedicated Babbel users who already study with the online courses and have the iPhone/iPad or Android app might wonder: Why yet another way to learn (that’ll cost extra)?

Fact is, with this electronic text book, the Babbel editorial team has cooked up yet another, uniquely entertaining and effective way to learn. In the introduction of the book “complementary learning” is mentioned, and it’s true: The Babbel eBook brings the online courses’ rigorousness of content together with the convenient on-the-go nature of the apps. It uses known Babbel content—which from a didactic point of view is of course totally “Babbel”—but it’s not quite the same. Like a classic, bound textbook (that many of our users secretly or openly are jonesing for) the comprehensive 77-page eBook is put together in a linear fashion, divided into five lessons with subchapters.

The Babbel eBook is more closely packed in with material than the online courses. New vocabulary and phrases are introduced with audio dialogues and so-called “Keywords” are linked to the glossary and quizzed with “study cards” – good old-fashioned flashcards on digital index cards – right at the end. Users can even create their own flashcards with the “highlight” feature.

Grammar directly follows the beginning dialogue and – thanks to the practical explanations – never comes off as dry. But whether it’s about grammar or vocabulary, the spirited commentaries on language application, meaning and local use (in Spain or Latin America, accordingly) and the immediate quizzing of what’s just been learned that make for a positive learning experience. Charts visualize language structure while “slide shows” at the end of the lesson showcase local cultures.

How do I greet people in Spain? What kind of public transportation possibilities await me in Chile? What’s up in Bolivia? How do they celebrate birthdays in Mexico? And what’s the Day of the Dead all about? The Babbel eBook answers all these and many more questions in an appealing way.

All in all we’re feeling pretty good about our product. We think that anyone picking up the book in the iBookstore for the introductory price of 6.99 Euros is making a very sensible investment.

Native English speakers who live in or are planning to travel to the Spanish-speaking world and would like to immerse themselves in these regions, this textbook is highly recommended as the key to opening the door to their language and culture! We wish you all muchísima suerte with Spanish!

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For Those About To Rock We Salute You

Posted on July 31, 2012 by

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The author on stageThe world of music is a rich universe of linguistic intertextuality. Words have crossed borders as much as sounds have. In England music lovers use the French word encore to call for more at the end of a concert. Italian words such as piano (quiet), forte (loud) and presto (quick) are universally used to indicate stylistic interpretation. And many citizens of Europe and the world have had their best lessons in English from the export of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Well now it’s time to return the favour. Babbel have put together a course designed for touring musicians and DJs, helping them address their audience and deal with the everyday experiences of being on the road. The course is also perfect for fans of live music to learn the idioms and phrases based around the culture of going to concerts and clubs.

Warning: This course will not make you a better guitarist.

For that you’ll just have to keep practising! But you will learn how to talk about it. The course focuses amongst other things on live music experiences. So the next time you’re playing the main stage at the Hurricane festival you will be able to communicate with the sound engineer when your amplifier starts to make weird noises. But whether you’re a rockstar or a rock fan, DJ or techno head, this course covers everything from bouncers and queueing to ear plugs and stage diving.

They say what happens on tour stays on tour. So why not spend a little time learning how to communicate with the fans backstage in their own language? Do you prefer dubstep or disco? Reggae or Metal? Learn a rich vocabulary of musical terms for genres and instruments and how to express your opinion or talk about the digitalisation of music. This course is all about making contact, whether with the audience or with other music lovers. But don’t expect to become fluent overnight. For that you’ll have to take the advice given to the musician who asked a passer-by in New York, “How do I get to Madison Square Garden?” The answer of course was “Practice!”

Try out Rockstars and Fans now. Click the following link and get ready to rock!

Note: the picture above belongs to Ed East, guitar player of the British band Chikinki, and co-worker at Babbel

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Food for thought

Posted on July 17, 2012 by

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It has been proven that the two strongest types of memory come from taste and smell. And for many of us, the most powerful memories we have of holidays and trips abroad are the smells and tastes we experienced on our travels, sampling the local cuisine and delighting in the delicacies, nourished from the landscapes we are exploring.

Whether it is moules frites accompanied by a glass of rosé at the harbourside in Marseille or a plate of tapas and a carafe of rioja on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, it is often these words that form our first experiences of another culture and, above all, of its language. And it is true that the most culturally important of these gastronomic phenomena are so powerfully rooted in their language that they bear no translation. Tapas is tapas in any language, as is Spaghetti, and everyone understands what you mean when you offer them a glass of Bordeaux.

And yet who hasn’t been confronted with a menu in a foreign country and felt overwhelmed by a page full of words that suddenly sound more intimidating than appetizing? Well, Babbel has now put together a course that will help broaden your knowledge on international Gastronomy and Wine. You’ll be able to learn in seven languages how to describe wine, talk about everything from vegan to molecular cuisine and unlock the secrets of herbs and spices. So, when you’re next abroad, you’ll be able to make the right choices in the restaurant or on the local market stalls, choose the dishes that are seasoned to your liking and the best wines to suit your tastes.

 

Bon appétit!

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Babbel’s interactive eBook

Posted on June 20, 2012 by

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Babbel’s interactive eBook
This year saw the release of our long awaited Apps for Android in the Google Play Store — and already we are able to announce our next release: as of now our first interactive eBook (Multi-Touch Book) “Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ is available in the Apple iBookstore.

What is an interactive eBook?
Interactive eBooks are digital books that you read, or should we say play, on an iPad. They offer many useful features, which enable far more than just reading; for example audio and video, interactive quizzes and individual Study Cards. In this way interactive eBooks close the gap between classical learning with books and mobile learning with Apps.

What does it involve?
Babbel’s Multi-Touch Book contains vocab videos, audio dialogue, interactive tests, a comprehensive glossary and much more. The meaning of a new key word can be revealed by the touch of your finger tip. And if you highlight a phrase with a swipe of your finger and write a comment, an individual study card is generated.

“Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ is an ideal introduction to the German language. It comprises five chapters and totals 72 pages. Within it you will find the most important words, helpful sentences and essential grammar. Audio dialogues bring the pronunciation and usage to life, and thanks to the many exercises with interactions and direct feedback, learning is really fun.

What does the interactive eBook cost?
The first eBook “Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ is available in the Apple iBookstore for an introductory price of 8.99 USD (5.49 GBP). If you would like to try it out first, you can download a test version with the whole first chapter for free.

Users from the US find the eBook here. All the others here.

Read this text in German.

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School’s out for Summer! – Babbel along on Vacation

Posted on June 15, 2012 by

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Summer is somehow always smack in the middle of our daydreams. Even as a (school)child, everyone longs feverishly for summer vacation. Who wants to sit and study in a classroom when swimming pools, lakes, long days and balmy nights beckon outside?

There’s less going on at Babbel, too, when it gets really hot out… the users have what we call in Germany hitzefrei, a hotday—the summer equivalent of a snowday. We get it. Sometimes on those kinds of days in our Berlin office we wipe the sweat from our collective brow and envision a cold beer, a real Italian gelato or a swim in the Atlantic. But summer is an important time for Babbel, too. At least in our latitudes, this is peak travel season. In other words, this is the moment when Babbel learners finally put their eagerly acquired language skills to the test.

Italians are some of the first to get the summer started. They already began their holiday on the 9th of June, around the same time as the soccer European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine. Schoolchildren in Poland, on the other hand, don’t begin their vacation until the 30th of June. Same with the British, who’ll have plenty of time before the Olympic Games are held in London from July 27th to August 12th.

Swedish kids get off in the middle of June, and no one celebrates summer and the beginning of vacation quite like our Scandanavian neighbors: from June 22nd to 24th, the Swedish Midsummer is exuberantly feted with music, dancing, tons of food and drink and traditional, magic rituals. Nothing else quite like it

Whether it’s midsummer in Sweden, a beach holiday in Brazil, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands or Turkey, whether surfing in Indonesia, watching soccer in Poland or at the Olympics in London—it comes out not just how well Babbel users learned this year but also how well we’ve done our job. How do our travel language courses hold up? How do soccer fans make out in Poland with the basics offered through our “European Championship 2012” course?

There are apparently people for whom the European Championship and even soccer leaves them cold. But for a lot of us, the tournament is some consolation for when we can’t travel away from home, for whatever reason. At least all of Europe is dribbling through our living rooms.

In any case a “staycation“ isn’t the worst thing that could happen. What’s nicer than one’s own city in the summer? We can go to the pool and have an ice cream afterwards. And then we’ll do just… nothing.

Have a great summer holiday!

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Four years of Babbel

Posted on January 17, 2012 by

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The Babbel founders: Markus, Lorenz, Toine, Thomas

Four years ago, on 15 January 2008, the official beta version of babbel.com went live. It had taken us (i. e. the four founders Lorenz, Markus, Thomas and Toine) eight months to build this first, still limited version of the language learning system. Back then Babbel was an interactive vocabulary trainer with a few community features. That day, we were sitting in our “office”, the front room of a rambling old apartment in Berlin, Kreuzberg, re-loading the page every other minute and were just amazed. Our assumption had sort of been that learning languages online was a concept with a future, but this rapid user growth – we were speechless. By the end of the month about 20.000 people were using the platform. It dawned on us that we must have hit the bull’s eye.

Another reason for that quick growth was that we managed to attract the attention of the right people: TechCrunch, for instance, one of the most important blogs in the whole internet industry, covered our launch – thus introducing us to experts and journalists in no time. Ever since the TechCrunch people from London and San Francisco have continued to report on Babbel news. This wasn’t just considered an accolade within the start-up community, it also helped to spread the word in the rest of the world. We would like to use this opportunity to thank M.G. Siegler, Steve O’Hear, Nick Gonzalez and, above all, Mike Butcher, who is known to generally support the start-up scene in Berlin. It’s their job, of course – it’s just that they are doing it really well.

Four years later, success is still with Babbel. The team continues to grow, the learning system has matured and is being used by so many people – we couldn’t have dreamt this. Last year was the best year in the history of Babbel (fortunately, we have been able to say this every year so far). We start 2012 with a great team, many ideas and quite elaborate plans, and we are looking forward to it. Next Friday we are going to celebrate all of this extensively. We would like to thank everyone who has tried and shared Babbel, with a special shout-out to our customers. Thanks to these people who have realized that it does pay out after all to spend money on an online learning tool, we are able to maintain our team and improve the product.

So we continue to make use of all this to build the best inter-active language learning system ever.

There also is a German version of this post.

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A quick look back at a great year

Posted on January 8, 2012 by

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2011What did 2011 bring for Babbel – our users as well as our team?
A whole lot of growth…

Courses tripled:
The range of courses available has more than tripled – from around 60 to 190 Courses! (And that’s not even including the many subsidiary courses and individual vocabulary and translation exercises in all the different languages!)
In June an exciting project came to fruition when four new languages went online: Dutch, Turkish, Polish and Indonesian. We now offer comprehensive basic and advanced vocabularies in these languages as well as dedicated iPhone Apps.
Our content Team has also developed some new and innovative course formats: e.g. the ‘Music’ course (at the moment still only available for people learning German – our German spokeswoman Tini has recorded new singer-songwriter versions of old folk songs especially for the course), the ‘Love Letters’ course, which works a bit like an online soap opera, and courses for learning numbers in several different languages. And for some languages we now offer a useful course in ‘Idioms’. In addition we have added new lessons to existing courses, and revamped them to make them work even more intuitively.

Users doubled, Customers quadrupled:
The number of people who learn online with Babbel.com has doubled in the year 2011 – from about one million to more than two million. The iPhone Apps have three times as many users as they had at the end of 2010 – also almost two million. At the same time the number of paying customers has quadrupled.
We can also now count whole organizations and companies among our clients, from Hotel.de to an american branch of ‘Doctors Without Borders’, Spellbound Entertainment AG, the day school ‘Sesam’ to the Cottbus Fire Brigade. We produced a course in ‘Railway English’ especially for german train attendants – we just couldn’t listen any more to ‘Senk you for trevelling viz …’! We offered access to this and other Babbel courses free of charge for the staff of major railway operators. It seems however that their train attendants’ English knowledge is no priority: they turned the offer down.

Mobile Apps: more and not just for iPhones
Last year there was quite a lot of activity in the mobile arena. We now have a dedicated Mobile Team, which amongst other things is developing the new Android Apps. At the moment they are still in the Beta testing phase. Unfortunately we had to delay the release as a technical problem meant the App didn’t yet conform to the high standards we demand of our products. We are therefore working flat out on a solution. Anyone who would like to have a look at the Beta version of the App can download it from here: http://www.babbel.com/home/beta-android
At the same time we have developed an App that is optimized for the iPad, which can already be found in the App Store. We haven’t yet trumpeted its release as we first want to find a way to offer its content for free to all Babbel Online users. Sometimes Apple doesn’t make life so easy! We will of course keep you up to date with developments and hope soon to find a satisfactory solution.

Technology: faster and better
The Babbel servers were moved from the USA to Europe. There they are better able to cope with the growing demand on their resources (the daily number of logins to Babbel has quadrupled). As a result of the move they will be able to make Babbel an altogether faster experience. In addition many improvements, large and small, have been made to the learning portal itself.

Team tripled
The team of permanent staff tripled last year: 30 people are now working every day to make Babbel bigger and better. They take care of the course material, the technical side, the mobile applications, customer support, product design and spreading the joyous Babbel message! In addition we work with over 80 freelance authors, editors and translators. Consequently we have had to expand our offices here in Kreuzberg and will be needing even more space this year.

2011=>2012
After this fantastic year we are looking forward to the next one full of confidence.
We have big plans; new ideas and exciting projects; and 2012 has already started well – but there’s more to come. Onwards and upwards!

And in this spirit we wish you a Happy New Year!

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