The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Tongue-twister challenge!

Posted on October 1, 2014 by

tongue-twister

When you’re learning a new language, tongue-twisters are a great way to practice your pronunciation. Tongue-twisters are sentences or series of words that are hard to say. They often have similar alternating sounds, like ‘s’ and ‘sh’ or ‘p’ and ‘b’. Although they are typically nonsense, the English classic “She sells sea shells on the sea shore, and the shells that she sells are sea shells, I’m sure” was actually a popular song in 1908 based on the life of Mary Anning, a famous British fossil hunter and collector.

To celebrate the release of our Swedish tongue-twisters course, we’ve selected eight tongue-twisters in different languages – English, German, Italian, French, Danish, Swedish, Turkish and Russian – and turned them into short animations. Can you master them? (more…)

Not just back to school: the phenomenon of La rentrée

Posted on September 4, 2014 by

 

back to school

In France and Italy, the start of September is a time of furious activity: la rentrée, or il rientro, loosely translated as ‘the return’, or back to school.

Students all over the country go back to school. Businesses reopen. People go back to work. Stores hold massive sales. An enormous machinery cranks into gear as the country lets go of its holiday spirit and mentally shifts into a new year. (more…)

Vive la France! or further reasons why you should learn French

Posted on March 20, 2014 by

At the occasion of the International Francophonie Day which is celebrated everywhere around the world today, we conducted a little research about the French language and found out some astonishing facts which we wanted to share with you.

French is one of the very few languages spoken all over the world, ranked the sixth most widely spoken language after Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic. There are currently over 220 million French speakers worldwide.

In Europe, the largest populations of French speakers are essentially to be found in Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. French is Europe’s second most widely spoken mother tongue, after German but ahead of English.

French is the second most widely learned foreign language in the world, together with English, it is taught as a foreign language in the education systems of most countries around the world. At Babbel it is one of the most demanded learning language among our learners, and it keeps growing, along with our French team, which will keep you posted with upcoming new French courses!

FrenchWeek_Eng

French cuisine: Seeing, hearing and tasting languages

Posted on August 16, 2013 by

Read this post in German, French, Spanish, Italian

Tarte, tartiflette, and tapenade are typical French dishes—but what are they really? With the courses on French cuisine it’s not only Babbel users beginning a Tour de France throughout the country’s various regions; even the translation and editing make for a diverse and exciting journey. What are the corresponding dishes in other languages and cultures? Where do particular names like pôchouse, pulenda, quenelle, cassoulet, nonnette, tartiflette and tapenade come from? Can they even be translated?

For the benefit of your learning, we decided to try and translate—where possible—the names of the French specialties. So entering the word cassoulet in the blank is not enough—you should also discover what this regional dish from Midi-Pyrenées contains, and eventually be able to understand a French menu. But you might have an idea of what cassoulet is even before reading a detailed recipe and list of ingredients: a white bean stew. Then, to prevent you from later accidentally entering cassoulet in the Review Manager as a combination of potée (stew) and haricots blancs (white beans), there is the opportunity to fill in the “proper name.” And to make the concept even easier to remember, you learn that cassoulet comes from the Occitan name for pot, la cassole, in which the stew is traditionally made.

With other specialties, such as the Savoyard potato bake, la tartiflette, we as translators need to do a little homework… The name of this dish has its origins in the word “tartiflâ” from dialect and got the diminutive ending “-ette”. That’s why the additional information for this dish with potatoes and Reblochon cheese was “little potatoes”. Also requiring insight and cultural transfer, are the quenelles from Lyon, as the shapes themselves are a bit too long to match the corresponding foods in other languages—dumplings in English, gnocchi in Italian and croquetas in Spanish. Moreover, their main ingredient, wheat semolina, doesn’t quite match up to these potential translations. But this has been resolved and explained in detail in the course. You learn that quenelle comes from the German word for dumpling, Knödel, which can also be made using wheat semolina.

Two things that simply could not be translated were some types of cheese from Champagne: le langres (a soft cheese from Langres) and le rocroi (a cheese from Rocroi). Here, it simply isn’t possible to find a translation not using the place of origin, as the cheese itself is named after the place it comes from.

Whereas the Babbel Beginner’s course presents a challenge to the translator in terms of translating grammatical explanations, the French Cuisine course was challenging in terms of researching and using precise terminology. Yet the fact that some of the terms for the French specialties come from local dialects, and indeed even from other languages such as Polish, Italian and German, make it extra interesting and informative.

Eventually even our French protagonist loses track, and declares, “Le kouglof ??? Encore un mot incompréhensible!” (Kouglof! Yet another incomprehensible word!). Someone should have recommended the Babbel French Cuisine course to him before he started his culinary tour!

About the author:

Katja is the Senior Content Manager at Babbel and loves to cook for her friends and colleagues from a French cookbook that she got herself as a goodbye present after a two-year stay in Paris. But in her job as editor of French courses at Babbel she doesn’t take the list of ingredients quite as seriously as the rules of French grammar.

The A-B-C of language learning – or what does Babbel do better than other language learning software?

Posted on July 30, 2013 by

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.

French is not just French

Posted on January 17, 2013 by

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

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 slang help 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.

The new course on Spanish slang will whip you into shape!

Posted on December 20, 2012 by

This post in: French (Français), German (Deutsch), Spanish (Español), Italienian (Italiano)

It comes easily, blatantly and directly: slang. It’s already fun in your own native language to put out all the stops, or to find further colloquial synonyms for cash, knackered or broke!

What’s even more exciting is to go on a sort of discovery tour in a language that you’re currently learning, especially when you knock a local’s socks off with your smashing foreign language knowledge.

What rolls off the tongue for you in your own language, may look suddenly silly in a foreign language. So, how do you actually express yourself with a small interjection like: “bloody hell!” when you can’t even find the words for it.

When I was learning Spanish and could say „Estoy tiesa“(I’m broke) instead of “No tengo dinero” (I don’t have any money) for the first time, I was tickled pink. My Spanish friends were also very happy. So, we “hicimos un fiestón” (had a big party) right on the spot, and I learned “¿Tienes un resacón?“ (Do you have a major hangover?) the very next morning. It’s even a little different if you tell your friends: “Anoche lo pasamos bomba y hoy estoy hecha polvo” (Last night we went on a bender, and today I’m knackered), rather than just saying: “Anoche hicimos una fiesta y hoy no estoy muy bien.” (Last night we had a party and today I’m not feeling very well).

Not so simple, is it? For Babbel users it will be a bed of roses with the Spanish colloquial course with topics, such as love, party, the beach and people. The French colloquial course offers categories like youth slang, Verlan or shortened word forms. Keeping this in mind, we have paid special attention to the fun aspect in these courses with authentic dialogues, as well.

Knock yourself out!

Since April 2012, Frauke has worked in the content division at Babbel. As a project manager, she has created, among others, the Spanish colloquial course. Since she first tried out her knowledge of Spanish vocabulary and phrases in Sevilla (Spain) at the age of 20, she knows very well the advantages of being proficient in the ‘true’ local language as fast as possible.

Apart from both of these courses, we have also published the following on 20 December:

German Dialects Course
German Beginner’s Course 6
Portuguese Refresher 1 (new release)
Italian Refresher 1 (new release)
Dutch Beginner’s Course 1