The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

The birth of the Russian course

Posted on July 29, 2014 by

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.

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American slang – it’s a piece of cake

Posted on July 22, 2014 by

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.

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Why grammar (and broccoli) are good for you

Posted on May 27, 2014 by

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.

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Turkish delights

Posted on May 9, 2014 by

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.

Portuguese for everyday life

Posted on April 30, 2014 by

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.

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

Posted on February 13, 2014 by

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

Learn at your own risk!

Posted on October 15, 2013 by

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

 

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

Posted on October 4, 2013 by

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.

O’zapft is! – The course for Oktoberfest

Posted on September 6, 2013 by

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

If you ask what the Germans are famous for when you are in another country then the chances are that lederhosen, dirndls, beer and the humble Bretzel, or ‘pretzel’ as they are known in the English-speaking world, will be pretty high up the list. The Oktoberfest itself has also made a name for itself as the largest folk festival in the world and is a magnet for visitors from all over. There are enough reasons, then, to make the trip there yourself and to form your own opinions about the colourful happenings ‘on the Wiesn’.

Oktoberfest has a lot more to offer than just beer tents and prezel-chewing visitors in dirndls and lederhosen. Did you know, for example, that there are historical wooden fairground rides dating from the 19th century that are accompanied by their own live brass bands? In the 1930s the Krinoline carrousel was still hand-driven by four powerful men because that was the only way the particular rotary motion could be generated at the time.

In fact, some of the time-honoured traditions turn out to be much younger upon closer inspection. At the start of the 19th century traditional Bavarian costume was not worn at the Oktoberfest at all, rather French fashion…

There is so much to discover. With our Oktoberfest course, beginners can prepare themselves linguistically and of course arm themselves to order beer from a true Bavarian waitress. The short dialogues and information cards are also peppered with cultural and historical facts. In the last of six lessons, courageous learners can try their hand at the Bavarian dialect because this is what every new arrival will encounter sooner or later at the Oktoberfest. So then. O’zapft is! Des wird a Mordsgaudi!

Frauke and Maren are project managers at Babbel and have designed and written numerous German courses together. For the Oktoberfest course they went on a journey of research into the linguistic, historical and gastronomic depths of the so-called Wiesn.

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.