The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

The birth of the Russian course

Posted on July 29, 2014 by

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Russian course - Barbara Baisi

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.

(more…)

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American slang – it’s a piece of cake

Posted on July 22, 2014 by

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american slangBabbel’s new course, American Slang, teaches you the most useful American expressions and phrases. It got us wondering: why is something that’s easy ‘a piece of cake’?

Here are some of the (possible) origins of some classic American expressions. Take them with a grain of salt!

 

broke – to have no money, or to be bankrupt

Many banks in post-Renaissance Europe gave their customers small porcelain tiles, with the person’s name, credit limit, and the bank written on them. Think credit cards, only heavier. The customer brought the tile with him when he wanted to borrow money, and if he was past the limit, the teller ‘broke’ it.

(more…)

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Why grammar (and broccoli) are good for you

Posted on May 27, 2014 by

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grammar

This month Babbel focuses on grammar, with a range of healthy new courses. There are also new pronunciation courses, in-depth Italian, and false friends.

 

Poor old broccoli, pariah of the vegetable world. Despite the fact that it’s extremely good for you and US President Obama has declared that it’s his favourite food, broccoli is still reviled by children all around the world – and a fair few adults.

A bit like grammar. Years of being forced to conjugate verbs or grapple with textbooks the size of telephone books have left many of us bruised, battered, and wondering if it’s all worth it.

But grammar doesn’t have to be intimidating. The trick is to prepare it properly.

(more…)

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Turkish delights

Posted on May 9, 2014 by

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Turkish Delights

Turkish delight’ by Dewet / CC 2.0

Babbel’s Turkish Delights course, full of useful phrases and everyday expressions, is out now.

You are in a shop in Istanbul. You thank the shopkeeper for giving you such a great discount on that rug you really can’t afford, and say goodbye.

“Laughing, laughing,” he replies.

Turkish is filled with these kind of small idiosyncrasies. If people want to thank you for your physical labour, they say ‘health to your hands’. The correct response to someone who sneezes is ‘live long,’ and the reply roughly translates as ‘you see it too’ (i.e. I hope that you live long enough to see my long life).

Babbel’s new course, Typical phrases and useful expressions, is available for both German and English users.

It’s perfect for those who already know a little Turkish, and want to learn the little phrases and expressions that are so helpful in everyday life – whether you’re in Istanbul or Berlin.

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Portuguese for everyday life

Posted on April 30, 2014 by

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Portuguese for Everyday Life

At some point in their life everyone experiences a moment of acute embarrassment, when they wish the ground would just open up and swallow them. But what about a faux-pas that you didn’t even know you were making?

Three simple fingers can cause a lot of chaos, as anyone who’s seen ‘Inglorious Basterds’ will know. If Lieutenant Hicox had held up the correct three fingers while ordering a beer, he would never have been revealed as an enemy spy.

Small cultural differences can have a big impact – especially in Brazil.

Imagine you’re in Rio or Sao Paolo and you want to signal to someone on the other side of the street that ‘everything is okay’. Which of the above gestures should you use?

If you picked the middle one then you might want to reconsider. In some cultures this can signal that everything’s fine or that the meal was particularly good, but in Brazil this gesture often refers to the other end of the digestive tract. Yes, that’s right. No wonder the person on the other side of the street is beaming.

Babbel’s new course, Portuguese for everyday life, can help you avoid some of the major pitfalls. It’s filled with language and customs you might encounter on the street. You’ll learn colourful vocabulary for parties and practical phrases for everyday interactions, and discover how Brazilians celebrate.

If you’re a little more confident, you can test your listening comprehension. There are various conversations about travel, shopping, and of course football.

Time to brush up – the World Cup is right around the corner.

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Love letters course: Fall in love in German, French or Spanish!

Posted on February 13, 2014 by

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forms-of-address

Happiness can come at any time of year and not just on Valentine’s day: You get to know someone, you become curious about them and suddenly you can think about nothing else but this very special person. So, we thought we would take the opportunity on this special day to introduce you to our new special courses. In the course “Love letters” you can follow the story of two protagonists, who meet on a dating site. It used to be that such an occurrence would be met with raised eyebrows in one’s circle of friends, but now it has become fairly commonplace to meet someone online. You surely know a happy couple, who found each other in this way, or perhaps it’s even how you met your partner.
It can already be hard enough to put thoughts and feelings into words, in one’s own mother tongue, without offending one’s counterpart. “It was not only important for us that you practice reading and writing in this course, but also that you are following an exciting storyline. And love is after all an enthralling subject!”, explains our Senior Content Manager Katja Wilde. Over the course of the lessons you will discover if Mariana and David can put their initial difficulties behind them and find a way to each other.

At the same time you will expand your vocabulary of terms dealing with ideals of love and relationships. Here, you learn to express your feelings in a language other than your native language. Alongside vocabulary, the course also trains reading comprehension as well as writing texts freely and is intended for our learners who have achieved the level B1.
So then when it happens that you fall in love, you will be able to express what’s really on your mind.
Rather than David and Mariana, French learners will be following the story of Alain and Romy in the course “Lettres d’amour” as they get to know each other, and maybe also fall in love. You can find out here:

Lettres d’amour

Liebesbriefe

Cartas de amor

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Learn at your own risk!

Posted on October 15, 2013 by

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

Don’t take this course if you’re hungry!!!!!

Or as a customer of babbel commented on completion of our recently released Spanish course:

“Congratulations!!!!! Your section on Food in Spain and Latin America is outstanding. Very well constructed, interesting and helpful in understanding food & culture. Only negative…as I study I become hungry.”

So before you set off on this culinary journey through Andalusia, Valencia or Mexico, it would be advisable to fill your refrigerator with a good selection of savoury and sweet dishes. With each new vocabulary question you will get cravings for a different culinary delight. Before you head off to Galicia, buy yourself some fish or sea food. Stock up on juicy steaks for the lesson on Argentina. Check your supplies of blackberries, custard apples, and papayas, to get a bit of a feel for how incredibly delicious Chile’s freshly squeezed juices are.

Scallops in a special white wine sauce: a Galician starter

 

Please note, you’d do best to get hold of a cookbook! This course contains no recipes, rather it is a culinary journey through some of the regions of Spain and Latin America. Among other things, you get an idea of what varieties of coffee there are and what dishes to cook for starter, main course or dessert. So along your journey you won’t just be learning gastronomic vocabulary, but you will gain a cultural insight into the diverse cuisine of the Spanish-speaking world.

Hot chocolate with fried pastries is a popular hangover-cure throughout Spain.

 

So, if you want to know how tortilla in Spain differs from tortilla in Mexico, or you want to get to know the shellfish a bit better, which in Chile is called jaiba but in Spain is known as cangrejo then eat your fill and click here: “Food in Spain and Latin America

About the blogger: Frauke is, among other things, content project manager for Spanish and has tried the varied menus on her travels through the Spanish-speaking world. Her mouth always starts watering when she thinks back to the Chilean hot dogs, Andalusian tapas or Castilian chickpea stews.

Click here to go to the course

 

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City, country, river, mountain, sea… Poland.

Posted on October 4, 2013 by

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Read this post in German (Deutsch)

Anyone who hears the name Poland and still thinks of socialist chic and endless Siberian iceage seasons has missed something. Certainly since its entry to the European Union in 2004, Poland has no longer been an insider tip as a holiday destination and tourists from all around the world have been thronging to the showcase metropolises of Krakow, Warsaw, Danzig and Breslau.

City breaks are actually some of the most popular types of vacation for tourists to Poland: The former Krakow residence of the Polish King Wawel, the new alte Starówka (old town) in Warsaw – which after its almost complete destruction in the Second World War has been rebuilt to original designs – and Breslau, the European City of Culture 2016, all invite you to stroll about, explore and discover. The weather too is actually nicer than its reputation, a trip to Poland can be very pleasant, even in its coldest months. Anyone who drives to Warsaw should definitely take a detour through Lublin, two hours to the south east: It is a particular cultural highlight in August! Traders from Western and Eastern Europe sell their ethnic wares at the historical Jagiellonian annual fair, while the Ukrainian cult band Dakha Brakha performs on the Plac Po Farze. Soon afterwards you will find high wires being stretched between the renaissance buildings in the historical old part of town at the Carnaval Sztukmistrzów (festival of street performers), and at night the town is lit up by fire jugglers while the Cirque Baroque performs at the Palace Square.

Poland also has much to offer nature lovers: Several mountain ranges (Tatry, Beskidy, Bieszczady), a national park with a wild Bison population (Żubry) – which incidentally gave its name to probably the most famous Polish Vodka Żubrówka – and even a small desert! The “Polish Sahara” (Pustynia Błędowska) extends a proud (?!) 33 km² to the north of Krakow – so nobody will die of thirst here. The Baltic Coast bike trail stretches over 500 km from Usedom to Kaliningrad, and the Masury Lake District (Mazuren) has meanwhile become the new sailing paradise for Warsaw high society. Warning – mosquito spray (spray na komary) is essential here!

Especially if you are travelling far from the larger cities you should also pack in your luggage, alongside Lonely Planet and your wash bag, a few basic Polish phrases. That’s why you will learn in the new course “Polish for holidays” how to order a cool beer and where you will find tasty Piroggen after a long day’s sightseeing. You can practice communicating with the natives and you will also be primed with helpful tips for a visit to the pharmacy in case of a small emergency. And if phrases like zwiedzić muzeum (visit a museum) make you dizzy: Take courage! Because anyone who dares to have a go at twisting their tongue around the eccentric consonant combinations of the Polish language will unlock a friendliness and enthusiasm in their Polish counterparts, since they know themselves that their language is not one of the easiest in the world – and they are even perhaps a little proud of this fact….

Click here to go to the course

About the blogger: Katharina grew up bilingual German-Polish and has been a Content trainee in the Babbel team since July.

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

Posted on July 30, 2013 by

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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.

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Discover the Netherlands with the Dutch beginners course!

Posted on February 19, 2013 by

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

Karoline has been working at babbel.com since September 2012 where she likes to sit on this huge gym ball. Her focus is set on Scandinavian languages, but her thorough knowledge of Dutch led to her participating in the building of this course. Love brought her to the Netherlands 10 years ago, and she has remained faithful to this language so far.

Opinions on Dutch vary from “it sounds so cute!” to “do you have something caught in your throat?” With our first Dutch course for beginners you will not only learn correct pronunciation, but also vocabulary and the basic rules of grammar so you can defend yourself on your next visit to the Netherlands or Belgium.

Up until now there was only a vocabulary trainer for Dutch, but now you can learn, for example, idioms and how to respond to questions in the negative. That might sound trite, but maybe you’ve learned how to say “I’d like a tea,” but you need to know the negative, because you might not want a tea just now. Important for us also was to provide a lesson with helpful phrases for everyday encounters, so for example you can say that you don’t understand, or ask if someone can show you the way better by indicating directions on a map. Perhaps you even dare to order a “koffie verkeerd” (a café au lait), or a “kippensoep” (chicken soup) and “een portie bitterballen” (a serving of meatballs).

German speakers often hear the word “lekker” in Dutch, and as the homophone means “delicious” or “good tasting” in German, they wonder if perhaps the Dutch are obsessed with food. But it will become clear that the Dutch use “lekker” for lots of other things, like “lekker slapen” (sleep well). The charm of the language lies in the art of making everything into the diminutive, from “cadeautje” (little present) to “autotje” (little car). For the learner, it has the advantage that whenever an article is unclear, one can simply use the diminutive and the article is always the same.

A word about pronunciation: The “g” might sound strange at first, because it is irregularly spoken. But you’ll get used to pronouncing the guttural “g” and you’ll quickly get over the ‘something caught in your throat’ prejudice. There is also a clear North-South divide when it comes to the pronunciation of this sound. In the South (in Belgium) it is pronounced more smoothly than in the North. This was one more reason for us to have a voice from the South and a voice from the North in the audio for the course. With the two options you can hear the difference and practice your listening comprehension from the outset

Veel plezier ermeel! (Have fun!)

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