The challenge in bringing Babbel’s new Russian course to life was to find a way for users to type Cyrillic letters using a standard Latin keyboard. Content Project Manager Barbara Baisi from the Didactics department gives us the lowdown.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
I come from Italy and I’ve been working at Babbel since the very beginning in 2008. At that time it was a little smaller [laughs]. Now I coordinate Italian and Russian. I’ve been working on Russian since January. It was a big deal for all the departments in the company.
Why do most English native speakers find it easier to learn German than Polish? Why is Spanish not so hard if you can already speak French? And why are Turkish and Indonesian even more tricky for us?
The answer is obvious if you’ve ever heard of language families. These are groups of related languages that descend from a common base language. Six of the languages we offer are Germanic languages, namely English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, whereby the Scandinavian languages are more similar still to each other. The second major language family on offer at Babbel are the Romance languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian, for example. The languages within a language family have much in common. For example, time expressions sound similar in related languages. Moreover, close linguistic relationships are often also reflected in grammatical rules and concepts.
What implications does this have for learning a foreign language and the courses offered by Babbel?
We generally create new courses for target languages in German and then adapt them for the other six languages in which we offer courses. We ensure that translations and adaptations remain as close as possible to the target language. This means that as many related words and similar sentence structures as possible are used. It is commonly true that the more similar the language you already speak is to the language you are learning, the faster you will understand the rules and relationships. If you are learning a language that belongs to the same language family as your native tongue, you will often require fewer additional explanations than someone whose mother tongue belongs to a different language family.
How we tailor the Babbel courses to your native language
Here is an example: the distinction between the verbs “pouvoir ” and “savoir” is not as obvious to a German speaker learning French as to an Italian. This is because in Italian there is a correlation with “potere” and “sapere”, whereas both verbs translate to the same word in German, namely “können” (can / may). The explanations of when to use “pouvoir” (when something is allowed or possible) and when to use “savoir” (more “know, be acquainted with, be able”) are simply omitted in the French courses for Italian speakers. However, the individual verb forms “savoir ” and “pouvoir” must of course be practiced by all French learners alike.
Conversely, we sometimes need to add explanations to the translations of the version for German speakers for other languages. For example, German speakers are accustomed to inflecting verbs: “ich bin, du bist, er/sie/es ist…” (“I am, you are, he/she/it is…”). Thus we do not specifically point out that there is a separate verb form for each personal pronoun when introducing “être” (to be) in the French course for German speakers. Swedish speakers, who use the same verb form for all personal pronouns – “jag är, du är, han/hon/den/det är…”, are given an additional explanation as follows:
Can you see the difference? Although German and French do not belong to the same language family, they are very similar in this respect. If you want to make learning easy, try some of our “true friends” courses! There you will find words and phrases in your target language that are probably already familiar to you from your native language. You want to avoid pitfalls? Then take a look at the latest “false friends” courses for Polish. They will help you to avoid mixing up terms that sound similar to words in your native language but mean something completely different.
Have fun learning languages!
Read this post in German, French, Spanish, Italian
A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. In Europe for several years now, these have been the names for foreign language levels. But what do they mean? The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) of the Council of Europe calls beginner levels A1/A2, intermediate B1/B2 and advanced C1/C2.
Before the introduction of the CEFR, language skills were primarily evaluated through grammar and vocabulary knowledge, i.e. could learners translate correctly, build grammatical forms and spell? Digital learning products in this tradition predominantly consist of fill-in-the-blank exercises – for all language levels. The higher the level, the more complex the words or grammar forms that must be filled in. But unfortunately a specialist in grammar with knowledge acquired from books cannot always get around in the real world; anyone who got good grades in a foreign language at school but can’t speak a word abroad knows this.
The CEFR has a different approach. Levels A1 to C2 show how well learners can cope with reading, speaking, writing and listening in various real-life communication situations. To cite a few examples of the skill “writing”: at level A1 you can fill in a form, at B1 you can write a simple private letter, at C1 you can already write an essay on complex topics.
The CEFR focuses on communication and action orientation – the level descriptions for A1-C2 do not correspond to specific grammar points or vocabulary! Especially self-learners at a beginner level however need to build up a basis of grammar and vocabulary first. They should understand how their new language works, and they need a few scraps of it to face their first real communication situations (even if with short, memorized phrases).
What has this got to do with Babbel? With our beginner courses 1-6, you reach level A2. This is the level at which most people find/found themselves at the end of a few years of school. This year we’re publishing (bit by bit for various languages) our in-depth courses, where you can learn B1 level skills step-by-step.
In the Babbel courses for beginners, the focus is on the most important grammar and vocabulary topics, but these are always oriented towards real-life situations. In the new in-depth courses, it’s the other way around: grammar and vocabulary are greatly reduced and the emphasis is put on action – that means learning how to listen, speak, read and write in specific everyday situations.
In every unit of the in-depth courses we tell a story in which these four skills are exercised. Part 1 is all about listening and speaking: After a short vocabulary introduction there is dictation, listening comprehension texts, pronunciation exercises with speech recognition – and at the end there is a role-play as a speaker in one of the dialogues. Part 2 continues with reading and writing – with translation exercises, reading comprehension texts and free writing tasks, always within the story. Grammar is implicitly introduced in the vocab of part 1 of every unit and explained in part 2, as well as exercised with the help of reading and writing tasks.
So while most language learning products at intermediate levels simply resort to more complex fill-in-the-blank vocabulary and grammar exercises, Babbel’s in-depth courses teach real communication skills. Babbel’s first in-depth course is for French and there are more to follow this year.
Try out our French in-depth course here!
About the author: Miriam has worked for several educational providers developing communicative language learning media, from print and CD learning materials for offline learning to online courses and apps. She has been with Babbel for four years and heads the editorial staff.
Katja Wilde, Content Project Manager at Babbel
“I studied French in school.“ How many times have I heard this as a Babbel Content Manager? Since so many of you seem to harbor a desire to dust off those language skills and polish them up without having to take a long, involved course at the same time, we’ve redesigned our refresher courses to make them even more effective and fun.
Studying languages is really like riding a bicycle . . . you never forget it. Just lack of practice and re-entry can make it tough sometimes. That’s why we here at Babbel have developed a new course concept so you’ll be to able to express yourself and communicate in everyday situations again.
Logically interlocking units bring dormant vocabulary and grammar knowledge back to life—and have you review them effectively in common dialogues. The idea here is to combine the refreshing of basic essentials with their use in an everyday speaking context.
You’ll repeat useful words and sentences and then use them in a dialogue. This prepares you for the grammar lesson that follows. So for example, once you’ve practiced “J’en prends 100 grammes” (I’ll take 100 grams of that) in the French “Shopping” section, you’ll go over the grammar of it once again in detail, including why and when you use the pronoun “en.” At the end, the grammar knowledge you’ve reviewed is combined with the vocabulary from the last lesson—the “grand finale,” as editorial director Miriam Plieninger calls it. And the cycle is complete.
New editions of the refresher courses are available for German, Spanish, French and English at Babbel.com. This comes in parallel with the release of the Beginner’s Course 5 for German, and the Beginner’s Course 4 for Brazilian Portuguese. More refresher courses as well as new course formats for higher levels are planned for next month.
Link to courses:
Read this post in Italian (Italiano)
Miriam – our Head of Content – was asked to contribute to a book about E-Learning. Here is a short summary of her chapter “Babbel: a mix of didactic methods for digital language courses”.
“How does learning with Babbel actually work?” Ullrich Dittler, Professor of interactive media, asked me for his book ‘E-Learning. Einsatzkonzepte und Erfolgsfaktoren des Lernens mit digitalen Medien.’ (E-Learning. Implementation strategies and the secrets of success for learning with digital media). The answer: Babbel is so effective because we do not rely on just one method of learning. Rather we have developed a comprehensive mix of methods, which accommodates the many different learning requirements of our users.
Imitating words and practising: With us you can learn all new words by listening and repeating – this fixes them in the memory whilst simultaneously training the pronunciation. Subsequently a meaning is attributed to the word (with an accompanying picture and translation to avoid confusion) and the words are written out. Therefore the words are always ‘drilled’ using the same pattern. These so-called “Pattern Drill” exercises belong to the behaviourist approach to language didactics.
Short and colourful vocabulary segments: New vocabulary is introduced in small units of three or four words or chunks (e.g. in the sense of “I am called …” or “I come from …”) – this is about as much as can be retained in the short term memory at any one time. Vocabulary is trained on several levels (repetition, translation, writing), subsequently one is occupied by one or two further items. The items always come from the same subject area, one is better able to keep them in mind as a result of their thematic relationship. All words are accompanied by a picture, consequently for many learners they are especially easy to remember.
Revising after a sensible amount of time: New words are automatically added to the Review Manager. These are then regularly recalled for revision at ever increasing intervals, according to the “Spaced Repetition” process, until they can be revised without mistakes.
Explaining the rules: We are sure that adult learners want to understand the rules of a new language because they do not learn, as children do, through mere repetition. Therefore the courses contain many explanations of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary in the native language of the learner. Our courses have been developed to be linguistically contrastive. Rules are formulated differently for each combination of mother tongue and learning language (a German will learn Spanish in a different way from an Italian). The understanding of the function of memory and the processing of information for the last three points is based on a cognitivist approach to language didactics.
Free learning: From a large number of courses and lessons, our users choose those which interest them in particular. Some prefer to work their way through the beginner’s courses one after another, while others just keep surfing through the overview of courses, spontaneously picking one out at whim. Each person works their way through the course material at their own speed. With the community functions they are then free to put their learning into practice. According to constructivist language didactics, each user develops their own individual skills, with which to identify new information subjectively and process it with the benefit of their existing knowledge.
Communicate quickly and for real: Babbel users should quickly be able to make themselves understood. Therefore in the beginner’s courses the most important phrases for everyday situations are gradually covered (e.g. we find “I would like a coffee” more important than “The ball is red”). Through learning chunks one soon knows whole sentences, even if one still has not mastered the relevant grammar (e.g. how to use the conditional form “would” in other sentences). Since in real conversations in a foreign language one will often not know all the words, the whole vocabulary of our dialogue will not necessarily have been learned before the exercise. In this way one learns to work out the meaning of unknown words from their context – if necessary one can have the answer revealed.
And because in reality one can often express oneself in many different ways, we have made it possible in many written exercises to have multiple synonymous correct answers. The advanced writing exercises for our Business English courses are especially clever: they are evaluated by an intelligent and constantly growing database of answers, so that even at sentence level many variants can be marked as correct. This approach to language learning is based on communicative language didactics.
Learning together: The Babbel community is the place for social learning processes. Here one can simply interact but also put the learning into practice. In each case one communicates in multiple languages – and consequently solidifies one’s knowledge. With these kinds of processes of interaction within networks, where one often learns new things ‘as a byproduct’ it is connectivist language didactics that come into play.
What are your thoughts about these learning methods? Do you use additional ones? Feel free to discuss the above with us!
The Babbel Blog team took a short trip on the UBahn over to the Berlin office of Babbel.com, the interactive language-learning platform, to speak with Ulrike Kerbstadt (right) and Sylvie Roche (left). They are Just two of the folks responsible for the learning content at the website. Click here to listen to the interview that is part one in a series taking a gander “Inside Babbel”.
Babbel Blog: What do you do at Babbel?
Ulrike Kerbstadt: I’m responsible for language learning content. I develop the material with a team of native speakers and have the didactic background.
Sylvie Roche: I’m content editor and work with the same team developing other kinds of content.