What actually moves people to want to learn a language? The list of reasons is of course endless: For some it’s a hobby, or even a true passion. Others are learning a language for pragmatic reasons, as part of their education or for working abroad.
Yet the strongest motive is often a bilingual friendship or relationship. Many Babbel users say they are learning so that they can better understand their partner and their partner’s family, and to become more independent in the home country of their partner.
We feel there has been a lot said about bringing up children to be bilingual, but not enough about what came before: bilingual couples and their needs when learning languages! So now we’re putting our feelers out and asking you for your experiences (first-hand or from friends). Lend us 5 minutes of your time and tell us something!
Because love can be a fantastic gateway to learning a language, and emotions not only help to motivate but also to solidify the learning in the brain, we have devoted an entire course format to this one subject: In our new English Course ‘Love Letters‘ you can follow the story of Nicholas and Olivia, who met and fell in love through an online dating portal. It’s an enthralling love story that will have you on the edge of your seat while you’re learning the language that all lovers speak.
Up to now, the course is available for the reference languages German, French, Spanisch and Italian. Other learning languages are in the making. Stay tuned!
Two years ago we broke new ground with the release of Babbel 2.0. This was a significant step forward. Instead of Babbel being a platform almost entirely financed by advertisements (with some additional products on the side) we decided to create a high-quality learning portal that would be financed solely through user subscription fees. You can read more on the reasoning and thought behind that decision in my blogpost of November 2009.
The orientation of a product is always determined by those who pay for it. We wanted Babbel’s orientation to be determined by language learners themselves. This ultimately led us to conclude that the transformation of Babbel into a fee-based portal was a necessary step. Nevertheless, we realised what a radical decision this was.
Babbel is very reasonably priced when compared to traditional e-learning products like CD-ROMs (our business model was initially questioned for being “too cheap”). But we benefit from the advantage of not having to press CDs and ship them around the world. While you have to fork out between 80 and 500 euros for most mail-order products, with Babbel language learning costs only a few euros each month. Despite this,
In November 2009 Babbel had 500,000 registered users. Today the number of people using Babbel, both online and on smartphones, rose to over 3 million. This proves that many people are willing to pay for high quality courses, even if they are online-based. In the past six months alone, our customer base has more than doubled. The numbers speak for themselves. Some of our users are so motivated that they take an active part in Babbel’s development by acting as beta testers. They continue to inspire us with their feedback and I would like to take this opportunity to thank these users for their dedication. You contribute greatly to the success of Babbel and to the ongoing growth of the team and its products!
In the meantime, six new learning languages and two new interface languages have been added to Babbel. That means 20 possible language learning combinations have turned into 70! In addition to just studying vocabulary, you can now choose from a broad range of integrated courses: from the beginner’s course for those with no prior knowledge, to the more challenging refresher and grammar courses; from idioms and tongue-twisters to numbers and “Denglish”. With new music courses coming up, and many others in development – that’s hundreds of courses in various formats covering a wide range of topics.
In the technical field, Babbel has also made giant leaps forward. We’ve developed and introduced, for example, a real-time browser-based speech recognition tool that doesn’t need to be installed and that helps you perfect your pronunciation. With the introduction of eleven iPhone apps (downloaded by over 1.5 million users!), you are now able to learn and practise vocabulary on the go.
2011 has been the first year since Babbel was founded that we have been able to pay salaries solely from our earnings. In other words, our company is now stable and can continue to grow self-sufficiently.
Our new office in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin is now home to 30 permanent employees – three times as many as there were only a year ago – and that’s not counting our pool of over 60 freelancers. That makes a total of almost 100 people working on content development, translation, technical development, and support. (We are, by the way, still looking for specialised staff in several departments. Read more!)
We count ourselves lucky in that we have forged a team of exceptionally motivated and gifted people. This makes working at Babbel fun, which, of course, has a direct impact on the product itself.
We now have a development team working specifically with mobile apps. At present, they are working on new apps for Android and iPad. These are all due for release later this year with more mobile offers to follow next year.
A highly-skilled specialist from Norway is now working on further improvements to Babbel’s speech recognition tool and on ways of implementing more voice-controlled exercises. Furthermore, specialists from AI research, cognitive science, and the many linguists and teaching experts who surround me are all using their knowledge to develop even more new features and content. These include new course formats that cater to the requirements of specific career profiles, changes to the platform itself and, last but not least, completely innovative approaches that will change the learning experience with Babbel profoundly.
We really do have a lot in mind for the future – so everybody stay tuned!
Read this post in German (Deutsch)
The ticket collectors and guards on German trains are notorious for their English pronunciation so we decided to produce a course for them: “Train English”. We offered this for free. One of the big German rail companies was interested at first, but then decided that their staff didn’t need any help after all..!
Read more in the German blogpost if you do speak some German, a complete English post is coming up soon!
The results are finally in from the survey inspired by Anne’s Learning
tips. 1774 people – speakers of English, German, Spanish, French
and Italian – have participated. To tell you the truth, the feedback was
overwhelming: free comments alone added up to over one hundred pages.
We read every last one of them, we sorted them, we evaluated them.
Here we assemble our first conclusions for you. They considerably
rattle the idea, or shall we say, myth, of the “learning type”.
General agreement with the Learning Tips was high, over 75%. But there
were two particular tips on which opinions where clearly split:
1) Set a plan and don’t stick to it
2) Your style of learning keeps changing
Only 57% agreed with these tips. 24% weren’t sure. 18% wouldn’t
recommend them to others.
18% of participants make a plan and stick to it.
Plan at least how often a week you will take up your study, and stick to that, even if you only rehearse some vocabulary
29% are concerned about getting muddled if they diverge from a plan
I’m afraid that without following a plan I could become disorganized
35% have a plan that they don’t stick to
I set a plan but usually by the end of week one it is in dissarray…..panic at work or distractions at home etc
Sticking to the wrong, but well intended plan hinders. Be flexible and open.
16% don’t need a plan
I think it’s important to just keep at it. You don’t need a plan for that… just dedication!
47% could never fit into any one type
My teacher has tried to work out my learning type too…I don’t seem to be any, I change!
We all have different learning skills and tolerances – we have to hone to our needs.
33% never thought about it
I thought learning types were fixed—but if that’s not the case, even better. I’d like to learn more about that.
18% think there are set learning types
Actually, I believe that for a person one learning type dominates, even when all of them are there.
31% of those who think that there are set learning types, invented their own terms for their particular “type”:
Chaotic learning type
Set aside the time every day to work on a task, do not miss.
Out of all survey participants, only 5% considered themselves
specifically a visual, auditory, or sensory learning type:
I’m a visual learner.
We consulted Curtis J. Bonk, Professor of Instructional Systems
Technology at Indiana University and author of the book, “The World Is
Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education” about the idea
of learning types. He thinks that although there are learning style
models for environments such as classrooms, the online world offers a
whole new way of learning.
“People have different learning situations, styles, benefits and
opportunities. The options available in online environments can make
learning formats even more diverse. With this in mind, successful
learning should be a result of interacting with content in an
individually preferred way. Some learn better by speaking the language
while others learn with the help of visual exercises. The more diverse
and fun the learning options and products, the better the success
rate,” Prof Bonk says.
There is no such thing as a specific “style”
Everyone has their own particular way of learning. We all have our own
strengths, weaknesses, methods and tricks. Thanks to everyone who
participated for all your comments and suggestions! We learned a lot
and we’re going to share what we learned. Promise!
I listen to how the others do it. That gives me new ideas.
When I was a little girl, I was always wondering about the kids who shared our backyard in Berlin. They were constantly calling out my name. When I leaned out of the window and asked what they wanted, they would look at me blankly. As soon as I ducked back inside, it would start again: “Ann-eh! Annnnnnn-eh!“
It turns out that Anne, (Ann-eh, as it is pronounced in German) is in fact the Turkish word for “mom“. Had a grownup in my vicinity spoken Turkish, they probably could have saved me weeks of headaches!
Almost thirty years later I’m finally learning Turkish. Even after just a few weeks of studying, Berlin has become a completely new city for me. Businesses with once mysterious names suddenly reveal themselves to be “The Star Driving School” or “The Harbor Café”. All of a sudden my neighbors have names that I can pronounce. And I can ask for all the goodies in the markets by their proper names and not just by pointing at “that…”
In the park and on the metro my ears prick up. Listening out for Turkish has changed my perception of the city and of the people who live here. Sometimes I even understand some bits and pieces.
People ask me, “why Turkish?” Well, it meets my three main requirements for learning a language: good music, good food, and fun grammar!
Now I wish I had started thirty years ago. The question is not “why Turkish” but “why only now?”
Anne from Berlin directs the Support Team and is learning Turkish with Babbel.
Dutch is an underdog of the European language set. It suffers from something of an image problem, much like the country and its people, a less an obvious choice in the language learning stakes than its more widely spoken, sexier cousins, English, German or French, or exotica like Japanese or Mandarin. I started learning Dutch because my significant other (husband) is from Zeeland, in the south of the Netherlands, but I’ve realised along the way that the Dutch language has plenty of charm of its own.
Worldwide more than 30 million people speak Dutch, not just in Holland but in Belgium, South Africa, the South Pacific and South America. And English words of Dutch origin are countable in the thousands. Cookie, biscuit and many, many seafaring terms: dok=dock; boei=buoy, jacht=yacht; schipper=skipper.
Dutch grammar is much less daunting than German, the spelling is more logical than English but the pronunciation is, let’s be honest, a challenge. The easiness of mastering the 13 vowels and four diphthongs depends on where you come from – if you’re a native Swiss-German, Norwegian or Hebrew speaker, you’ll pick it all up more quickly. It’s been described as “A nearly fatal throat disease” for the guttural, throat constricting ‘sch’s and ‘g’s.
I’ve been visiting the Netherlands on and off for years, but I’ve yet to nail the pronunciation of the beach district where we regularly stay, Scheveningen or, embarrassingly, my significant other’s surname. Fortunately, the Dutch are a forgiving lot and indulge my mutilations of the language with good humour.
Janet from Tasmania, Australia, edits our English courses and learns Dutch with Babbel
The language is completely nuts. What strange letters! How do you pronounce “Wszystkiego najlepszego” anyway? I never imagined I would even come in contact with the language. Italian, French and even Japanese were more important to me. But now I thank fate for introducing me to Polish.
When I came to the eastern German city of Frankfurt/Oder for a year to do a foreign exchange, I wanted above all to improve my German. But living there at the border with Poland you should speak at least a little Polish… and at the university they were offering it. I went back and forth. Isn’t it too hard? Could I do it? I reasoned that I had time to at least get a passing mark.
So I signed up for Basic Polish 1A. The pronunciation turned out to be not that hard at all. I found out that Polish was almost like Russian, except that it uses our alphabet—even though it’s a Slavic language. I found that very interesting.
The Poles I’ve met are very nice and have always been helpful. I also find the country and the culture to be really fascinating.
A year and a half later I still want to learn more Polish. I want to get to know the beauty of a culture like the Polish one closer up.
David, from Bogotá, Colombia, passed both semesters of Polish with the highest marks. He edits Babbels Spanish courses and learns Polish with Babbel.
I like to learn ”just a bit” of all sorts of languages… preferably the more difficult and exotic ones, like Thai or Arabic. All at once.
Usually you can’t get very far with languages if you don’t put in the extra time and energy. But this is actually not the case with Indonesian. It’s my favorite language at the moment. Why? Because…
- It’s the language they speak in several exciting tropical places I want to travel to:
- Indonesia comprises of more than 17,500 islands that cover a total of 1,912,988 square kilometers, and on top of that, there is Singapore and Malaysia.
- Fascinating—some ancient—cultures like Borobudur on Java and Georgetown in Malaysia
- Amazing flora and fauna—Jungles, volcanoes, lakes, tigers, orangutans, the near-extinct Sumatran rhino
- It’s one of the easiest languages you can learn:
- It’s written with Latin letters—no complicated alphabet to learn
- Totally straightforward pronunciation, everything is pronounced as it looks
- Extremely simple grammar
- It’s more widely spoken than you might think:
- Indonesian is spoken by more than 162 million people
- Malaysian is virtually identical to Indonesian—that’s 12 million more people
- In Singapore 12-16% of the people speak it as well
- That’s useful! You can get pretty far with just Indonesian
- The language is just easy to learn—and lots of fun:
- Breaking down compound words can be pure poetry:
- Mata hari=eye day=eye of the day=sun (and of course… Mata Hari!)
- orang utan = person forest
- I’m a big fan of structure! As you can tell from this blog post.
Crisi is a classic “Berliner by choice”. She works in marketing at Babbel and is currently learning Portuguese and Indonesian with Babbel.
While gold stars might be for kids, no one grows out of appreciating a little pat on the back. So in response to demand among our dedicated users, we at Babbel have started to award certificates for completed courses.
Whether the goal is to pump up your next job application or simply to have an accolade to hang on your wall, proof in writing of what you’ve achieved can be a great incentive to keep pushing through your language study.
Icons next to the name of the course in the Course Overview let you know which ones you’ve successfully completed, and you can just click on them to download and print. They identify exactly what you’ve learned in a course, so you can demonstrate specific knowledge and level. The Beginner’s course even signifies the level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF).
The best part is that there’s no final exam required in order to be awarded a certificate—your knowledge is continually monitored through the interactive exercises. Once again Babbel distinguishes itself from traditional classroom learning: test anxiety has become a thing of the past!
Babbel is adding four new languages to the roster: Polish, Dutch, Turkish and Indonesian. That makes eleven languages in total! With these new additions Babbel is offering learners the chance to engage with cultures that welcome a lot of travelers, but don’t often have a lot of foreign students of their languages.
Studying the local tongue is a great way to get a perspective on the place you’re visiting. It also makes getting around a lot easier!
Babbel’s four new languages are also astonishingly widely spoken outside the places you might immediately assume. On a visit to Chicago or London, Polish could come in quite handy, as would Turkish in Germany. Chicago is one of the largest cities of the Polish Diaspora, and it’s been said that Berlin is one of the biggest Turkish cities outside of Turkey.
As for Indonesian, the language is very closely related to Bahasa Malaysia, the language spoken in Malaysia, and both Belgium and Suriname count Dutch as one of their official languages.
The kick-off packages contain vocabulary and phrases and also incorporate popular Babbel features such as the automatic Review Manager and the Pronunciation Trainer with real-time speech recognition (all the better to get your tongue around those Polish sibilant sounds or those umlauts in Turkish). As usual at Babbel, new content is permanently in the works and new learning material will follow soon.
With a three-month subscription, access to all content within the Turkish, Polish, Dutch and Indonesian courses is available at a special rate of €9,90 per quarter. However, a sample lesson is always free of charge, with no obligation to purchase, so why not try it out?!
Anne Matthies is head of the Babbel Support Team. Since 1997 she’s been addicted to self-directed learning, and by now she’s reached advanced levels in Italian, English, French, Russian and Chinese. Here she’s gathered together eleven tips that have proven especially helpful in her language learning experience.
Anyone can understand “I no understand”. That’s fine for communicating on a holiday abroad, but for making a business call it could be embarrassing. Know what your goals are: do you need a foreign language for travel or for your career? Is it to show off, or just for the pleasure of doing something new or thinking in a new way? Set yourself goals. Make a plan for how much time you will dedicate to the new language and what you would like to learn next.
But don’t stick to your plan!
Would you prefer to study the subjunctive or the signs of the zodiac today, even if you really don’t need to? Digress! Enjoy exploring! Fly away! Your plan is like a walking stick that you only need to lean on when your wings are tired — you only need it if you can’t think of anything else to learn. Change it as often as you like.
If you don’t have any time pressure, you should put off speaking the language until you really have the urge. Up until then, just listen. At some point it will just bubble out of you; at some point you just won’t be able to help coming out with those strange sounds too!
If a word just comes out of your mouth all by itself, it’s all your own, it belongs to you. I’ll never forget how I suddenly started speaking Chinese while I was in the bath, after months of only listening. Don’t miss out on that kind of experience!
They say there are auditory, visual and all sorts of other learners. Sometimes you’re one, sometimes you’re another. Your learning style changes with your mood. Develop a sense of what works best for you right now: Sometimes you might like to close your eyes and just listen, other times the images and letters literally jump out at you. Other times still you might want to paint, write, pronounce or sing everything. Sometimes you want to do it all at once!
Idioms and sayings are the spice in the foreign language soup. Search out sayings that particularly amuse you. For example, imagine “laid back” and “down to earth” visually. Literal translations don’t make much sense, but they do often make for a laugh! French speakers literally say “he does cold” for “it’s cold”. Laugh yourself silly; share it with your friends. It will give you a feeling for the language. It will also enrich your vocabulary and keep your spirits up.
Don’t limit your studying to preconceived notions or set situations. What do you talk about in your native language? What are you interested in? What gets you upset? Saying something in your new language will become much easier once you really want to say it.
Flashcards and an automatic review manager are great. But turn off your computer and try to remember what you’ve just learned. Build up memory support in your head. Give yourself some time for it. Sometimes a word “comes back” after a few minutes. You’ll see that when you have to recall something all on your own, it sticks in your mind in a whole different way.
If you’re always sitting in the same chair, learning the same phrase, you might be stuck when you have to reproduce it out on the street. Take your new language along with you wherever you go. Order your favourite meal at your local restaurant in the new language. When you take the train, imagine you’ve forgotten your ticket and you have to explain yourself to the conductor.
Pop songs are great for learning grammar. Search out those licks that get stuck in your head. Listen and sing along, with or without headphones, in the shower, on your bike or in your car.
So you’re learning French? Do a French day! Listen to French radio, watch French films, cook French food, read a French newspaper and search for your newest vocabulary on google.fr. Don’t worry if you only understand a fraction of what’s going on. Put sticky notes with French terms on all of the objects in your house, have conversations with yourself and boss yourself around in French.
Nothing holds you back more than premature perfectionism. Don’t be afraid to do everything wrong — just write, sing and blabber away. A new phrase will only start to belong to you when you actually use it. Whether you use it correctly at first or not doesn’t really matter. There’s an unbelievable amount to be learned from mistakes. You just have to allow yourself to make them.
If that’s hard to swallow, just remember how cute accents, incorrect grammar and phrasing mistakes are in others. Wouldn’t it be a shame if your French friend suddenly lost her accent and spoke perfect English?
Learning a new language can seem a bit masochistic at times. You forget everything so quickly! You haven’t done anything for days! You were so proud of yourself for all you learned before, but now you don’t understand a word!
That’s normal. It’s all part of the process. Don’t let it get you down! Kick, scream, moan… but don’t give up. Someday you’ll be giggling, chatting and cheering. A new language is a new world. Conquer it with pleasure.
And you? How do you learn best? What tips do you have for tackling a new language? Take part in our Learning Tips Survey… To the questionnaire
The European Award for Technology Supported Learning (eureleA) is a prize awarded once a year for “outstanding examples of teaching and learning through digital media”. The jury had more than 70 submitted projects to choose from – and we’ve won. The eureleA prize for the “Best Technical Implementation” has gone to Babbel.
Technical implementation doesn’t just refer to technology. Emphasis was on innovation, user-friendliness and standards. The jury named Babbel as “an example for usability and applied learning”, and a prototype for how “conventional learning systems can be made more mobile, flexible and user-friendly”.
We’re especially happy to hear this, because it describes a challenge we face every day: how to be innovative and user-friendly at the same time. It’s not enough just to have new ideas, and it’s not enough to technically implement them. We’ve created Babbel for people. We think people from all over the world, from different cultures and generations should feel at home using Babbel. Someone who wants to learn a new language doesn’t want to have to read the instruction manual first.
We are proud of this prize. The eureleA 2011 is an incentive to continue making our conviction a reality: it’s easiest to learn a language when you’re having fun.
We’re proud to announce that the magazine Mac Developer, INTERNET WORLD Business and iPhone & Co. have named the Babbel App as Germany’s best in the Business to Customer category! Lufthansa and Floop made the second and third positions.
At last week’s iPhone Developer Conference in Cologne, a jury of four tech journalists was impressed by Babbel Mobile’s overall concept and user-friendliness. What particularly caught their attention was our unique speech recognition feature that encourages learners to practice their pronunciation on-the-go. The app was created in cooperation with a startup of young developers, Aspirement. It’s a perfect addition to the Babbel online learning system.
And the jury is not alone, it seems. By now 250,000 people have downloaded the app and it made it to second place in France for the favorite app in any category. 3000 words and a basic and advanced vocabulary for English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German and Swedish come in handy anywhere. Download the app here.