The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

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.

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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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.

The joy of Polish pronunciation

Posted on July 24, 2013 by

Read this post in German (Deutsch)

About the author: Barbara Baisi started in content and support (at that time still as a student) around five years ago. As of this year, she’s an integral and essential part of our content team at Babbel.

My first encounter with the Polish language? It was those first days of my semester abroad in Finland. Anyone who’s done Erasmus knows that this phase is characterized by an endless loop of “What’s your name? Where are you from?” etc. etc. The going was pretty easy. Until one day I got an unbelievable consonant cluster as a response: “G sc ji a schek”… or something like that. I should mention that Italian is my native language, and we Italians have more problems with consonant clusters than the Germans. I’m afraid I couldn’t avoid an incredulous look and a “what????” The young man looked like he was used to it but, despite that—or maybe because of it?—also amused.

“Gscjiaschek”, “Gscjiaschek” – I tried to remember it. It was definitely a challenge. I had to remember this name.

A few days later… there he was again. And of course I had completely forgotten the name. But the guy was sympathetic and I really wanted to get it. Call me stubborn, but that’s just how I am.

Luckily Cyrillic came to the rescue. Russian was my second subject at the university and I realized that in Russian there was actually a letter for each of these sounds. I got out a pen and a piece of paper right there in the entrance hall to the university and started to transcribe: Гжешек. Easy as pie.

That was my first encounter with the Polish language. I still needed a few weeks before I learned that it was written “Grzesiek” and was actually a diminutive, or nickname, for “Grzegorz” (approximately “Gzhe-gosh”).

Now, I’m still good friends with Grzes (the even more diminutive form of Grzesiek), and he is one of many wonderful Poles that I’ve met in the meanwhile. Since then my interest in the Polish language has only become more present, and now, I’ve taken the possibility to produce the new Polish Beginner’s course as a great opportunity to introduce this language to others.

 P.S. However difficult these consonant clusters may be – like the motto “the more consonants the cooler“ – Polish pronunciation actually has rules, and there are practically no exceptions! Languages like French or English should be so lucky…

The way to languages is through your stomach – new course around the Italian cuisine!

Posted on June 24, 2013 by

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

I’m from Parma. You know. The ham. The cheese.

Whenever I try to explain how “it’s in the north of Italy, about halfway between Milan and Bologna,” whomever I’m talking to immediately interrupts and starts up about Parma ham and parmesan cheese. Though not without reason.

My area is known throughout Italy for its cold cuts. For us, the pig borders on sacred: in the dialects maiale (pig) has about as many names as there are communities. In my grandma’s village they even call it al nimal (l’animale)—simply, “the animal.” As they say, fish have no word for water…

The idea to make an Italian food course came out of experiences I had with a German friend of mine. I had always cooked Italian dishes, such as scaloppini ai Funghi—a cutlet fried in butter with mushrooms. And then would come the inevitable question: “isn’t there something to go with it?“ Go with it??? What did he think the mushrooms were? “No, I mean the side dish“ Ah. The side dish. And then he slapped down some rice as a … side dish. Any self-respecting Italian would’ve then, depending on mood, burst out laughing or turned her nose up in disgust!

First of all, rice is a first course and can never, ever be served with a second course. Sacrilege!

Secondly, what “goes with” the meal in Italian is called a contorno and basta. You can eat bread… but bread is bread, it’s not a contorno.

So far so clear.

There had never been a course like this before on Babbel—so it was an entirely new concept. I had free reign—but no model. The hardest part, actually, ended up being the image search.

Sure, finding pictures of Italian food sounds easy, but what about when you’ve passed over the line from “whatever pasta with whatever sauce” to, for example, parpadelle (flat, wide pasta) with wild boar ragout? Then you must move slowly toward the stove yourself….

And so it happened I was still frying after midnight (I hate frying!) because I couldn’t find any pictures for the Ligurian dish latte dolce fritto. I had the pleasure of being able to cook dishes from my region, such as erbazzone (spinach and chard pie), which was eaten the next day in the office, or piadina con salsiccia e cipolle (pan-flatbread with Italian sausage and onion).

Unfortunately I was also unable to find good photos for a lot of the cold cuts. So when I was in Parma I was FORCED to buy speck (smoked ham), prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) and coppa (dry-cured pork neck) … and eat them. The things we do for work!

In this course you find out about genuine dishes from various regions in Italy. There’s lots of info about how they’re made as well as what is NOT typically Italian. Here’s an example for you: spaghetti alla Bolognese—a typical Italian dish? You can of course also eat spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, but any Italian would be embarrassed at the prospect. That kind of sauce comes from Bologna, and there, egg noodles like tagliatelle or lasagna are the typical ones. So the dish is actually tagliatelle alla bolognese.

Have I destroyed a myth? Try out the course and get to know lots of other exciting insider tips about Italian cuisine!

About the author: Around five years ago, Barbara Baisi, Italian translator and Finnish studies specialist, started in content and support (at that time still as a student). As of this year, she’s an integral and essential part of our content team at Babbel.

Babbel App Series Reach 10 Million Downloads Milestone!

Posted on June 12, 2013 by

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

Enthusiasm is growing in educationnal apps and foreign languages. Since the launch of the first Babbel Apps, we are very proud to announce our apps have been downloaded over 10 million times across all platforms! A 10 Million thanks to our users!!

While the platform preferences vary from country to country, the Babbel apps were ranked first in different platforms across 35 countries! The most popular learning languages are English, Spanish and French, followed by Italian and German as shown in the infographic below.

Designed as a complement to the full web version for iOS, Android, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Amazon, the free vocabulary trainers gain in growing popularity all over the world.
With audiovisual learning content and lots of varied reading, listening and writing exercises on themes such as “Culture,” “Digital World,” “Sports” or “Holidays,” users can study the 3000 most important words and phrases in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, Indonesian, Turkish, Polish and English. This kind of interactive study – added to the targeted combination of reading and listening as well as matching and writing – guarantees that the learning sticks and that we remain motivated and active.

But there is more to come. We will keep you updated with more updates on our apps in the next coming months!

 

Of public viewings, wellness and shootings

Posted on May 31, 2013 by

Read this post in German (Deutsch)

British kids usually learn French, Spanish or German at school. I loved learning German. So much so that I studied German to A-Level and then at university. I was finally able to read Schiller, Goethe and Brecht in the authors’ own words. So imagine my disappointment when I found the language actually spoken in Germany was somewhat… familiar. Double Whopper mit leckerem Bacon und Cheddar Cheese, bitte!

And yet something was not quite right. I kind of knew what was meant with these ‘Denglish’ words, so beloved of middle management and Detlef D! Soost. Yet their German equivalents seemed easier to understand. But why? It turns out such words are almost always pseudo-anglicisms, or Scheinanglizismen.

Put simply: they are bad translations. All Germans know Handy does not mean mobile phone in English (although fewer know that handy means praktisch).  But did you know that if you ordered ‘country potatoes’ to go with said Double Whopper in the UK you would be met with a blank look? Because we call them potato wedges (Kartoffelecken). My jaw dropped (mir ist der Kiefer heruntergeklappt) when an English-speaking friend invited me to watch the football at a ‘public viewing’, because I assumed someone had died and he had no shame (public viewing = die Ausstellung eines aufgebahrten Leichnams).

It seems these ‘adopted’ words almost always have a different meaning in English. So let me help you out here. At the airshow do not, for example, declare your admiration for the aeroplane that just did a ‘looping’ (it did a loop-the-loop). Neither should you ask the IT guy to set up the ‘beamer’ for your PowerPoint presentation (ask for a projector), or invite someone to go on a ‘wellness’ weekend (call it a spa weekend). English speakers may chuckle (kichern) at signs in Germany for the ‘drive-in’ restaurant (our restaurants get driven through: drive-through restaurant).

People who claim to have worn a ‘smoking’ to a glitzy event (smoking = das Rauchen; der Smoking = tux, tuxedo or dinner jacket) and Kate Moss, I assure you, has never taken part in a ‘shooting’ or the police would probably have been involved (shooting = eine Schießerei); it is more likely she took part in a photo shoot. English speakers might well go to a gym but they would never go to a ‘fitness studio’. And remember, if you ask a DJ at a wedding party to play some ‘evergreens’, he will either think you are talking about Christmas trees (evergreen = immergrüne Pflanze) or a naff (schlecht br. umgs.) song by Westlife. Try asking for some golden oldies instead. On the subject of oldies: don’t ask to take the oldtimer for a spin (durch die Gegend fahren) because in English an old-timer means alter Hase. He would probably object. You might, however, suggest taking the classic, vintage or heritage car for a drive.

But do not suppose that only Germans make the faux-pas of borrowing words incorrectly. We Brits and our American cousins will try ordering a ‘Stein’ of beer at the Oktoberfest (when we mean Maßkrug) or a glass of ‘Hock’ if we would like a glass of wine from Hochheim am Main. You might even hear the air force talking about ‘strafing’ the enemy (when they mean aus der Luft unter Beschuss nehmen). So it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Some typical German mistakes in English are examined in the interactive English course here. Have a go and good luck!

Robert Compton has lived in Berlin since 2009 and works as a translator and proofreader.

Off into the Turkish sign-jungle!

Posted on May 29, 2013 by

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In the middle of the multicultural Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, you will find Germany’s largest Turkish community – and our Babbel offices! What for die-hard, born n’ bred Berliners is an everyday part of the landscape, often makes visitors do a double-take: Many shops and businesses around here not only publicize their wares with German signs, but also Turkish ones.

 Sure, most people already know what “döner” and “ayran” are, but what kind of meat or vegetable arrives on your plate when you order “sığır” or “patlıcan”? Like me, many of you might also be wondering why sometimes the door to the supermarket won’t open even though it seems like there are people inside…? Had I known that the sign “çıkış” meant “exit”, I of course would have been trying to push through the “giriş” (“entrance”) instead!

 With this in mind, among the course editors we had the idea to do a little course where we introduce some basic signs that you might see in Turkey – but also in the German capital. Armed with bicycles and cameras, we combed the Berlin streets, photographing everything that passed in front of our lens. And we discovered that if you keep your eyes peeled, all sorts of signs and sayings start to come out of the woodwork. Besides the dentist’s office “dişçi” (dentist) the book shop is called “kitapçı”. The driving school is branded with “sürücü kursu” (driving courses) and the “baklavacı” (Baklava-bakery) offers Turkish sweets.

 Some words that you come across in the sign-jungle sound a lot like the German – or the English, for that matter: “taksi” (taxi), “kurs” (course), “büro” (office/bureau) and “yoğurt” (yogurt), for example. You can find these so-called internationalisms in many languages; they sound alike and mean the same thing. That means you can often understand more than you think!

 So that the course would be more than just showing the signs and their translations, we studded it with grammar explanations and pronunciation tips, too. So when in doubt, you can ask where the “tuvalet” (toilet) is with the proper emphasis – and say thank you with a “teşekkürler” afterwards!

Carnaval, Beaches and Caipirinha…

Posted on April 30, 2013 by

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

…by the third word you already know what we’re talking about: Brazil!

With those powdered-sugar-sand beaches it is one of the dream destinations of our planet. But given its sheer size, it’s hard to think that it can be characterized in just these three words alone. Between the Amazon and the wetlands in the north to the Alps-like mountainous region in the south, there’s much more to discover in Brazil than just Samba or the Copacabana.

It’s not surprising that, for example, with the Cataratas do Iguaçu, this land of superlatives hosts one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. In the vicinity of this gigantic national phenomenon, there is another, smaller wonder to be found: Cheeky quatís (coatis) who scamper around the national park and swipe away chips and other morsels from right under tourists’ noses.

No matter why you decide on a trip through Brazil, one of the nicest parts of traveling there is coming in contact with the locals. Brazilians are very open. It’s enough just to break out with a “Oi, tudo bem” (Hey, what’s up?) to get a conversation going. But in hopes that your successfully-begun conversations don’t all have to start with your hands and feet (because you don’t have the words yet), we’ve created a “Portuguese for Holidays” course – twelve lessons that deal with the most essential communication basics for your trip to Brazil. Language training in easily digestible bites gets you fit for all relevant situations, such as Orientation, Shopping or Reservations. You’ll also get tips on how to order in a restaurant along with culinary terms such as “feijoada” or “água de coco” (coconut milk). You’ll see how quickly these basics grow into a wider vocabulary once you’re on the ground. As the saying goes, he who orders “Uma cerveija, por favor,” can also get “Mais uma!” That is, he who orders one beer should also be able to order another!

Frauke is a content project manager specializing in Spanish and Portuguese. She spent her last big holiday in Brazil, and traveled to Ilha Grande, Rio and Iguaçu, among others. In the new “Portuguese for Holidays,” you can look forward to lots of other tips about the culture and language.


Go to the “Portuguese for Holidays“ course:

In English, German, Spanish, Italian or French.

Mass tourism? No, thanks! Babbel’s tips for an off-the-beaten-path summer vacation in Europe

Posted on April 10, 2013 by

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

Overcrowded resort beaches, bad food in hectic restaurants and seemingly “exotic” holiday destinations where the only native language is that of retired tourist groups… sound familiar? Welcome to mass tourism. Those undeterred by scenarios such as these will spend happy holiday on popular islands such as Mallorca or Sardinia or in cities such as Nice and Barcelona.

But not so fast: There are still a few little spots in Europe that – at least for the moment – haven’t yet been spoiled by mass tourism. You only have to look a little harder…

 

Vieux Boucau: This small village on the French Atlantic coast is familiar to but a few surfers and camping enthusiasts. White sand beaches bordered by vast dunes stretch for miles, while pine forests in the background give campers shade. Those with little taste for the hustle and bustle of nearby Biarritz get their money’s worth in this charming village, enjoying beautiful sunsets on the dunes.

 

 

Molise: Far from the flow of traffic, mountains, vineyards and stone villages are the backdrop to this idyllic region of Italy. 200 kilometers east of Rome, among beech forests, fields of wild herbs and clear mountain lakes, travelers encounter a special kind of holiday. The small spa town Termali is the gateway to the region. However lovers of unspoiled beaches will have made a true find with Petacciato.

 

 


Cuesta Maneli
: The Costa de la Luz, Spain’s Atlantic coast in the gulf of Cádiz, hosts cavorting crowds of tourists from countries all over the world. But even here there’s an alternative: The insider tip is Cuesta Maneli. On the southwestern edge of the Doñana National park there is a kilometer-long, unspoiled sandy beach. Those looking to while away there can reach the remote coastal strip via a 1200 meter-long boardwalk through wild dunes.

 

 

 

 

 

Moose, red wooden houses and Pippi Longstocking: To date, most people associate Sweden with unspoiled, idyllic nature for the whole family. But even here it can be hard to find places unaffected by mass tourism. One of these areas is the province of Hälsingland. In a landscape of stony mountains, in the borderlands between northern and southern Sweden, nature lovers can immerse themselves in the wilderness. Marked paths and trails lead the way through dense forests full of lynx, bears, moose and wolves, along with countless lakes for swimming and fishing.

 

If you want to get your language skills in shape for vacation, Babbel.com is the place. You’ll find travel vocabulary for French, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish, German, Dutch, Indonesian, Polish, Turkish and English and as iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 apps.