The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Say “non” to faux pas: top tips for visiting France

Posted on September 30, 2015 by


Planning a trip to France this year? A little French will go a long way, of course, but don’t forget to brush up on the culture before you leave. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of our favorite Frenchies to put together a handy list of unforgivable faux pas. Make sure to pay close attention: all but the most dedicated of francophiles may be blissfully unaware of some of these.


Portrait : Pierre, 62 years of learning languages

Posted on September 2, 2015 by


Today we bring you another installment in our series portraying Babbel users – a snapshot of their lives and their reasons for learning a new language. If you would like to share your story with us, please leave us a comment in the comments section. Meet Pierre, hailing from Bengy-sur-Craon, a farming region in central France close to Bourges. At the age of 73, this military veteran has already amassed a great deal of experience in learning languages and has now decided to take a stab at learning Spanish with Babbel.


“In my 62 years of learning languages, I’ve used many methods. However, Babbel is the only one that I happily and effectively continue to use.”

It was through this kind message that Pierre got in touch with us. Intrigued by his comment about 62 years of learning languages, we wanted to know more about his experience and his long-standing history of learning, which he was kind enough to share with us:

“Like many others, I started to learn languages at school. At the age of 10, I discovered Latin and German; at the age of 12 I started with Ancient Greek. While in higher education, at military school, I took up German again from the age of 23 to 25, and at 25 I started to learn Russian. My military career provided me with the opportunity to learn languages while deployed. Between the ages of 28 to 31, I was sent to Chad which is where I learned the local Chadian-Sudanese variety of Arabic. In 1990, I learned Polish and Czech. Besides serving in the military, I also volunteered in several missions in Ghana and Madagascar where I taught French and horseback riding – my lifelong passion. While on the island, I initially started to learn the native language, Malagasy, with the help of a book. Later I was able to practice it by speaking with the locals. Even without ever becoming a proper polyglot, I’ve always made a determined effort to learn the basics of the language of the countries I’ve visited. For me, it’s simply the polite thing to do. It’s important to have a curious mind and to at least know how to say “good morning” and “good evening” in the local language. Learning the basics and knowing how to buy groceries and order in a restaurant is the least you can do.

I’m now able to take advantage of my retirement by going horseback riding every morning and also by traveling. And, of course, I still learn the languages of the places I visit. Recently I was able to improve my level of Arabic while discovering Morocco. Traveling has given me this passion for learning languages. My latest “crush” is Spanish. On one of my last trips to Salamanca, in northwestern Spain, I fell in love with the city and the language. I decided to sign up with Babbel, and now I’m learning Spanish several times a day on my smartphone. I even learn at night before I go to sleep. My next proposed trip will take me to the Canary Islands for the winter, to put my Spanish into practice. This is what motivates me to learn a little bit more every day.

Of all the languages I’ve ever learned, English is still the thorn in my side. I’ve started to learn it several times but never managed to keep it up. However, I haven’t lost hope yet and once I’ve finished learning Spanish, I will learn English! Everything in its own time.”

User portrait: Lenel, learns three languages with Babbel

Posted on May 26, 2015 by

user portrait

This is the latest in our series of portraits of Babbel users – a snapshot of their lives and the reasons they are learning a new language. If you want to share your story with us, please leave a comment.

This month, we interviewed Lenel who lives Galway in Ireland, but is originally from the Philippines. Alongside his job in a fast-food restaurant, the 24-year-old is also a blogger. Using, he created a “bucket list” of things he wants to achieve during his lifetime. Over a year ago, he began a new challenge – learning Spanish, Italian and French. Lenel decided to accomplish his goal with Babbel, and wrote about the experience in his blog. In this portrait, he tells us more about the concept of a bucket list and why learning those languages is part of his life’s goals.


Il ministro o La ministra? The Feminine Form in Professional Job Titles

Posted on March 5, 2015 by

the feminine form of professional job titles

Little by little, women have secured professional roles that were previously unachievable. As important positions in government and society were once reserved for men, many languages never established a feminine form for certain job titles. How do languages adapt to this new reality? In the spirit  of International Women’s Day, we at Babbel – the app for easy language learning – have taken a close look at the feminine form of  professional job titles in several languages.


Tongue-twister challenge!

Posted on October 1, 2014 by


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!


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.