Gregory Simon in his natural habitat – Photo by James Lane for Babbel.com
One sunny Wednesday morning in March, Gregory Simon was getting ready for work. He showered, dressed, threw back a cup of coffee and left.
A couple of hours later he arrived in the office, looking rather frazzled.
“My bike just got nicked!”
‘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.
Photo by Haraldo Ferrary / CC 2.0
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
Love. Fury. Passion. Italians are well known for expressing themselves through body language and hand gestures, as if the feelings bubbling up inside them can’t be expressed in mere words, but require an accusing finger, an appeal to the heavens, a shake of the fist.
Scandinavians, on the other hand, are not.
According to traditional stereotypes, our northern brethren are more reasoning and reserved. It’s not that they don’t feel extreme emotions – just that they are less inclined to express them physically.
Yes, these are cultural cliches, although few people would dispute that Italians talk with their hands to express themselves. But what if there is a biological imperative behind it? What if gestures actually help our brain develop? What if there is a link between how we use our hands and how we solve problems?
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.
Photo by Elias Gayles / CC 2.0
Students are anxious to learn it. Dictionaries try to define it. Media outlets develop extensive style guides for it. Governments try to control it.
What sounds like a new crack epidemic is, in fact, just a language: English.
We live in a world surrounded by many different types of English. You can enjoy the weird and wonderful offerings of Urban Dictionary, smile when an Indian businessman asks you to prepone your meeting, or watch The Wire and realise you need subtitles.
But ‘proper English’ is still a desirable commodity – and big business. So who gets to decide what it is?
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!
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!
As today is International Mother Language Day, we wondered if it was possible to find the answer to a simple question – how many living languages are actually spoken around the world? Well, the most extensive source we could find is Ethnologue (published by SIL International). It maps the world’s languages and, as of 2013, includes 7,105 distinct languages. In 2009, by the way, only 6,912 living languages were listed. You can browse the maps on Ethnologue to see the different statistics for continents and regions. For example, there are only about 284 languages in Europe, whereas in Asia alone the website lists 2,304 separate languages.
Dialects are not to be confused with languages. A dialect is a variation of a language which differs from the so-called standard language in its pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. If you want to learn more about dialects (and the differences between dialects and accents) check out our interview with actor and dialect coach Robert Easton from 2008. Robert was Al Pacino’s personal “Cuban-accent-coach” in “Scarface”!
As with languages and dialects, there’s also a distinction between dialects and accents. Check out the speech accent archive which is a compilation of almost 1,000 speech samples from all around the world. With all speakers reading the same English text, you’re able to hear just how much accents vary, even within a single English-speaking country. Just browse the world map and click on the flag corresponding to the location where the text was recorded.
By the way, be proud of your accent, it can be a great aphrodisiac! CNN compiled a list of the 12 sexiest accents on the planet. And anyway, if you don’t like your own accent, Babbel‘s voice-recognition tool and many prononciation exercices might just be able to help you out.
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:
Cartas de amor
About the blogger: Crisi is an old hand at Babbel and has been on board since 2008. It’s not only professionally that she loves to meet people and to learn with them: She has already travelled to 47 countries and in addition to souvenirs she also always brings home a smattering of local language with her. This is how to greet someone in Luganda, the other official language in Uganda alongside English: “Ki kati!”.
Whether you live in a rich country or a poor one, in a tiny village or amidst the bustle of a mega-city: It doesn’t take much to open up new perspectives for yourself – for example access to the Internet and a will to learn.
I had this experience once again last year in Uganda. In February, I travelled to Uganda for a month and met with Edmund Page from the Xavier Project in the capital, Kampala. This initiative and its sister project YARID (Young African Refugees for Integral Development) have made it their mission to provide access to education for the numerous refugees in the city.
Most refugees trying to build a new existence for themselves in peaceful Uganda come from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has seen bloody conflicts flare up repeatedly over the past twenty years. So far, over five million people have been killed in the war for gold, diamonds and mineral resources and an estimated one to two million are currently displaced, of whom alone about 50,000 are living in Kampala. They lack everything, including accommodation, food and medical care. Even if they were expelled by the rebels as students, traders, mothers, nurses or teachers, they are not welcomed in Uganda with open arms as refugees speaking a different language. They can communicate very little, except with other people in the same circumstances, because in the Congo, alongside the local languages mostly French is spoken. In Uganda, however, it is mainly English that is spoken. So if you want to find work in Kampala and take part in public life, you need good English skills!
At YARID some of the refugees have the possibility to take part in an English course for free. Often it takes a lot of effort for them to be able to concentrate on learning, since beginner and advanced pupils are taught together, often about 70 people all at the same time in a small room. One of the volunteers is Robert, who fled the Congo in 2008 and now passes on the language skills he obtained to those that have followed him.
For an hour I helped Robert to teach the mostly adult students. It was really fun, because they were extremely enthusiastic! Although the teaching time was short, I was quite worn out because I was having to fight against the noise levels in the small corrugated iron hut. I also found it a real shame not to be able to address the individual course participants on their various learning levels – some were visibly bored, while others had a hard time to keep up with the lesson, in which mostly whole sentences were written up on the blackboard and repeated loudly in chorus. Especially the women on the course are very shy and don’t dare to come forward and to ask questions if they don’t understand something.
After my host Edmund showed me the computer room of the Xavier Project, I came up with the idea of using Babbel – English courses on the computer would solve all these problems!
At first, however, it was only a half success: Out of the twelve outdated machines only two worked well enough and the Internet connection was painfully slow. I put my own laptop alongside them and always put two or three people on one computer. Most of them had never used a computer before and first of all needed to familiarise themselves with how you click with the mouse or which letter is to be found where on the keyboard. But once they arrived on the Babbel website, everything worked wonderfully: Lesson after lesson vocabulary was spoken out loud and typed in – long into the evening, until the room had to be closed.
In the days that followed I repeatedly held a “Ladies’ Day” and explicitly invited women from the English class in the afternoon to the computer room, including Fatou, who, at 60, is one of the older students. They didn’t let their initial struggles with the keyboard discourage them, and before long were posting requests on their Facebook accounts to all “moms” to do likewise and learn English in this way. To see how much fun Fatou and the other women had on the computer has motivated me to become an advocate for reliable access for refugees to Babbel courses.
Back in Berlin I launched a fundraising campaign within Babbel and my circle of friends, which was very successful. So, in November, I was able to return to Uganda with some laptops, speakers, and some money for a better Internet connection. This time I showed Alex, the new employee of the Xavier Project, how to set up Babbel accounts, redeem donated access codes and select courses that match one’s own ability level. From this month on, Alex will be conducting regular computer courses, where he shows his participants, amongst other things, how to use Babbel.
So the refugees in the project will be able to learn English with their own account, whenever they have time, and at the same time practise using a computer, which will give them an advantage when looking for a job. In so doing, each person can take the time that he or she needs to learn spoken and written English according to their own ability.
I am very pleased that the Congolese refugees in Kampala have a way to improve their situation with relatively little effort and I hope that many of them will soon become a part of Ugandan society. Often it only takes a small initiative, to produce something that makes the world much bigger. Or, as they say in Uganda in their down-to-earth way: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.”