The Babbel Blog

Online Language Learning

Babbel’s interactive eBook

Posted on June 20, 2012 by

Babbel’s interactive eBook
This year saw the release of our long awaited Apps for Android in the Google Play Store — and already we are able to announce our next release: as of now our first interactive eBook (Multi-Touch Book) “Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ is available in the Apple iBookstore.

What is an interactive eBook?
Interactive eBooks are digital books that you read, or should we say play, on an iPad. They offer many useful features, which enable far more than just reading; for example audio and video, interactive quizzes and individual Study Cards. In this way interactive eBooks close the gap between classical learning with books and mobile learning with Apps.

What does it involve?
Babbel’s Multi-Touch Book contains vocab videos, audio dialogue, interactive tests, a comprehensive glossary and much more. The meaning of a new key word can be revealed by the touch of your finger tip. And if you highlight a phrase with a swipe of your finger and write a comment, an individual study card is generated.

“Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ is an ideal introduction to the German language. It comprises five chapters and totals 72 pages. Within it you will find the most important words, helpful sentences and essential grammar. Audio dialogues bring the pronunciation and usage to life, and thanks to the many exercises with interactions and direct feedback, learning is really fun.

What does the interactive eBook cost?
The first eBook “Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1″ is available in the Apple iBookstore for an introductory price of 8.99 USD (5.49 GBP). If you would like to try it out first, you can download a test version with the whole first chapter for free.

Users from the US find the eBook here. All the others here.

Read this text in German.

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School’s out for Summer! – Babbel along on Vacation

Posted on June 15, 2012 by

Summer is somehow always smack in the middle of our daydreams. Even as a (school)child, everyone longs feverishly for summer vacation. Who wants to sit and study in a classroom when swimming pools, lakes, long days and balmy nights beckon outside?

There’s less going on at Babbel, too, when it gets really hot out… the users have what we call in Germany hitzefrei, a hotday—the summer equivalent of a snowday. We get it. Sometimes on those kinds of days in our Berlin office we wipe the sweat from our collective brow and envision a cold beer, a real Italian gelato or a swim in the Atlantic. But summer is an important time for Babbel, too. At least in our latitudes, this is peak travel season. In other words, this is the moment when Babbel learners finally put their eagerly acquired language skills to the test.

Italians are some of the first to get the summer started. They already began their holiday on the 9th of June, around the same time as the soccer European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine. Schoolchildren in Poland, on the other hand, don’t begin their vacation until the 30th of June. Same with the British, who’ll have plenty of time before the Olympic Games are held in London from July 27th to August 12th.

Swedish kids get off in the middle of June, and no one celebrates summer and the beginning of vacation quite like our Scandanavian neighbors: from June 22nd to 24th, the Swedish Midsummer is exuberantly feted with music, dancing, tons of food and drink and traditional, magic rituals. Nothing else quite like it

Whether it’s midsummer in Sweden, a beach holiday in Brazil, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands or Turkey, whether surfing in Indonesia, watching soccer in Poland or at the Olympics in London—it comes out not just how well Babbel users learned this year but also how well we’ve done our job. How do our travel language courses hold up? How do soccer fans make out in Poland with the basics offered through our “European Championship 2012” course?

There are apparently people for whom the European Championship and even soccer leaves them cold. But for a lot of us, the tournament is some consolation for when we can’t travel away from home, for whatever reason. At least all of Europe is dribbling through our living rooms.

In any case a “staycation“ isn’t the worst thing that could happen. What’s nicer than one’s own city in the summer? We can go to the pool and have an ice cream afterwards. And then we’ll do just… nothing.

Have a great summer holiday!

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Mistrzostwa Europy 2012 – Getting Ready for Euro 2012 with Babbel

Posted on May 21, 2012 by

Babbel users – who are also football fanatics will be especially well prepared for when the Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland begins next month. The new course “European Championship 2012” covers all the essential Polish language vocabulary regarding the themes “Piłkanożna” (Football) and “MistrzostwaEuropy” (European Championship).

Before travelling to Poland, English speaking (and cheering) fans can prepare for the match and for their linguistic encounters outside the stadium – in only 11 lessons. Therefore, when the UEFA Euro 2012 kicks off with Poland vs. Greece on the 8th June in Warsaw, neither one will be in a “Spalony” (offside) position.

From England’s perspective, the championship will kick off in the so-called “group of death” D on the 11th June with the match against France. With opponents France, Sweden and Ukraine, the preliminary round will be no walk in the park for Roy Hodgson and his squad. We will be crossing all our Babbel fingers in advance for a quick first goal against France. We wish all teams and fans an honest and peaceful Championship with great “Piłkanożna”!

The football course is not only available online at Babbel, but is also available as a free app for Android and iOS – to optimally prepare you for the title. There are also courses for French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Swedish native speaking fans.


Let us know about your language-related football experiences with the Championship in Poland, we’d love to hear from you!

Check our Babbel Shirts for the Euro 2012! For girls and boys!

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Babbel Wins at eureleA 2011

Posted on March 9, 2011 by

EureleA Winner

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.

This post in German

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Tech Background: Babbel Speech Recognition

Posted on June 28, 2010 by

Interview with Technical Director Thomas Holl

 

Speech recognition is the exciting new feature at  Babbel. It’s not only fun – it’s also amazingly efficient for learning a new language. But how does it work? I got the low down from our Technical Director Thomas.

Crisi: What does the new speech recognition tool do?

Thomas: Basically, we use pronunciation samples recorded by our native speaking course editors and compare your pronunciation to theirs. As always with Babbel, you get instant feedback. The closer your pronunciation is to this example, the more points you get on a scale from 0 to 100. If you get more than 50 points, you’re good enough to be generally understood.

Crisi: But if you just compare two sounds, is that really speech recognition?

Thomas: Sure, we recognize what you say. We’re now sitting in front of the screen and we are talking but you see that the score is 0 all the time. Now, try saying arrivederci.

Crisi: Arrivederci

Thomas: Nice, 78 points.  Better than Aldo Raine in “Inglorious Basterds” (see details here). Remember the hilarious scene where Brad Pitt is trying to speak Italian? We ran his pronunciation through our analysis and as you might expect he scored pretty low. But I’m digressing, sorry. Back to our little test. Your pronunciation is about 78% exact compared to our reference sample. That’s pretty good.

Crisi: Still, it’s only about comparing sounds, not about understanding what I say.

Thomas: Well, there are different sub-types of speech recognition. One is speech-to-text or voice control. That’s what you’d use to enter text or commands if you can’t use a keyboard. Recognizing words and evaluating their pronunciation is another sub-type, and that’s the technology that makes sense for language learning. We can use it for pronunciation training and for building new interactive exercises.

Crisi: So, what’s the technical challenge in this sub-type of speech recognition?

Thomas: Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds – no pun intended. It’s actually not enough to just compare two sounds. It’s a little like telling how similar two people look in two different photos. The audio samples are usually pretty different: a woman has a higher voice than a man and the tempo of speech also differs a lot. And then you have a number of artifacts…

Crisi: Artifacts?

Thomas: Noises and characteristics that are caused by the environment or the technical setup: rumbling, hissing, other sounds mixing into the voice. Most people don’t have a high-end microphone connected to their computer and in our case we just use the built-in mic on my laptop. The audio quality of what the system is hearing is pretty poor.

Crisi: So to make the speech recognition work properly, our users need to have a good mic and be in a quiet room?

Thomas: No, that’s the point: we can also work with cheap microphones and filter out noise in the immediate environment. That’s part of the challenge.

Crisi: Sounds like a lot of filtering and levelling…

Thomas: Yes, that also, but there’s more: We have to distil the “core” of the voice sample and then match that to the original. To do that, the system needs to figure out when you start and stop speaking. You don’t have to press any key to start and stop recording; we do the matching in real-time.

Crisi: So everything we say into the system here is somehow analyzed?

Thomas: Right. Just look at the level: every sound input is analyzed and matched to the sound we’re looking for. In this case, arrivederci.

Crisi: 55 points

Thomas: Ok, yours is better than mine. But you see that the word was recognized among all the other things we said.

Crisi: Is this unique technology? Are there other software product that do this?

Thomas: There are a number of software products that do have speech recognition. Some of them also are of decent quality.

Crisi: So what’s so special about the Babbel speech recognition?

Thomas: Well, it’s online and works in your browser.

Crisi: Does this mean that everything we say here is sent to the Babbel servers and analyzed there?

Thomas: No, the whole audio processing is done instantly, directly in the browser. We don’t have to send the audio to the server and that’s why we can give instant feedback.

Crisi: Do I have to install a plugin or something?

Thomas: You don’t. It’s all done in Flash. 97% of all browsers have the Flash plugin pre-installed. As we use the latest version, you might have to do an update, but that’s very quick. Other than that, you just need a microphone like the one that’s built into my laptop.

Crisi: Babbel has been online since January 2008. Why did it take so long to add this feature?

Thomas: We needed the new Flash Player 10.1 because before that it wasn’t possible to do audio processing locally. It would have been necessary to either send all the audio to the server for analyses or to use a custom browser plugin.

Crisi: What’s wrong with a custom browser plugin?

Thomas: First of all, you have to install new software on your computer. And then you have compatibility issues. There are some rare solutions that offer real-time speech recognition in a browser plugin, but most of them won’t work on your Mac and none of them are compatible with all browsers. Flash is already there, the plugin works fine and it’s available for all platforms.

Crisi: How about the iPhone? You can’t use Flash technology on that platform, can you?

Thomas: No, but the Babbel iPhone apps work natively on the iPhone anyway.

Crisi: Natively?

Thomas: The Babbel apps are built specifically for the iPhone and don’t need a browser or plugin to work. That’s called a “native” application. We can build our algorithm directly into the app.

Crisi: That’s not related to Native Instruments, the software company you used to work for?

Thomas: (laughs): No, not directly. But for being an audio software company, Native Instruments definitely is a great name because the software works natively on the computer.

Crisi: I guess we don’t have to understand that completely. But speaking of audio software: has your audio expertise (along with that of the other Babbel founders) been crucial for this new feature or is it something entirely different than building DJ tools?


Thomas:
Both. Of course working on beat detection and time stretching for music and building a speech recognition tool are two different things. On the other hand, we couldn’t have done this in-house without our background.

Crisi: So who actually implemented the new feature?

Thomas: Most of it was done by Toine Diepstraten, one of the Babbel founders. He and I started working together on audio software in our first company, d-lusion, more than 10 years ago. Toine is one of the best developers and audio specialists I’ve ever met. It’s fantastic to have him on board for this project. He did have to do quite some research but without his expertise, this would never have been possible. But this way we have state-of-the art technology that can compare with any other implementation.

Crisi: You sound very convinced

Thomas: From a technical point of view, this is a great piece of software. We actually got some recognition from Adobe, the makers of the Flash Player. They were pretty impressed by our solution.

Crisi: Will this be a focus for Babbel from now on, or do you plan to work on other types of features?

Thomas: It is a very important feature because now we can do everything online that traditional e-learning software can do locally. And we don’t need installation or updates and we have a very lively online community that goes together with the self-directed learning…

Crisi: But?

Thomas: It’s important but it’s not the end. We’ll keep working and adding new features.

Crisi: Can you say what’s next for Babbel?

Thomas: Sorry, but for that we’ll have to turn off the mic.

Crisi: No problem.


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Practice your Pronunciation: New Speech Recognition Tool

Posted on June 23, 2010 by

Babbel Speech Recognition ScreenshotIt’s called learning to “speak” a language, but the sad truth is, few self-directed learners get up the courage to actually open their mouths. Lack of speaking practice can lead to shying away from having interactions with real people, which certainly doesn’t help with the final goal of communication.

The idea of our new integrated speech recognition tool, however, is to get learners talking. By prompting the learner to say the words out loud and test their own pronunciation, Babbel now has covered all the bases for truly effective  foreign language learning: reading, writing, listening comprehension and speaking.

Some traditional e-learning software includes this sort of tool, but none of them do it online in quite the same way. We have built a tool that performs speech recognition in real-time without requiring a custom browser plugin. The technology is complex, but using it is easy. For some backgrounds, check out the interview with Technical Director Thomas Holl.

To try out the speech recognition tool, just log into Babbel.com, set up the audio in 2 quick steps, and start any vocabulary package or beginner’s course. If you don’t have a user account yet, you can register for free and take one trial lesson. Speak up!

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Manage Your Babbel Vocabulary

Posted on April 16, 2010 by

One of the things that makes Babbel unique has always been its high degree of personalization: Babbel’s features keep track and tailor themselves to each learner’s individual progress.

All the words and phrases you’ve ever studied on Babbel are added to your personal Vocabulary. Then, by encouraging you to review items at optimal intervals, a sophisticated Review Manager further helps you to commit vocabulary to long-term memory. It tracks your successes and errors, and calculates what is best to review, when. This innovative system not only makes learning close to effortless, but also makes it a lot more efficient.

We’ve revamped the My Vocabulary overview to make it even clearer. Due to popular demand, we’ve also made it possible to print out your vocabulary words. Go take a look here after you’ve logged into Babbel.

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Full English Grammar Course Online

Posted on July 21, 2009 by

English Grammar - Practise the BasicsEconomies may grow or contract, travel may fluctuate or decline, but one thing seems to stay constant around the world: People want to learn English. Their motivation varies. It may be a matter of career, an aching to sing along with current music, or just the desire to engage in an international dialogue that, like it or not, is often going on in what has become a de facto lingua franca. But learning English is still tough, and let’s face it, can be kind of boring – especially when it comes to sorting out the finer points of speaking correctly.

But we at Babbel.com have perhaps done the impossible: we’ve made learning English grammar fun. Based on tried-and-true materials by the respected British publisher Collins, we’ve created a full, interactive online course that is not only modern and effective, but virtually pain-free. “English Grammar: Practise the Basics” uses our unique, intuitive and entertaining approach to help those still in the early stages to build their skills and confidence – at their own pace, without the expected hair-tearing or embarrassment.

We also understand that often a major discouragement for learners is the cost of quality teaching. That’s why we’re offering access to the course – currently made up of 20 tutorials and constantly growing. It’s available anywhere, anytime, and can be canceled whenever. There’s an introductory trial tutorial, “This or That,” for free, and then a 20-day money-back guarantee. Click here, register easily if you haven’t already – don’t forget to set your learning language to English – and try out the free preview. For our press release, click here.

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Mini-Vocab Packages for the Last Minute Language Learner

Posted on July 7, 2009 by

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There’s always a little bit of anxiety that comes along with traveling abroad, whether for business or for pleasure. Possible scenario, night before — for example — the flight to Berlin, a sudden pang:  “Oh right, they speak German in Germany, and I don’t even know how to say ‘how are you’.  How am I going to manage to order my morning coffee?!?”

We at Babbel have now developed a stress-reducing linguistic survival kit (and perhaps path to that caffeine fix in a foreign country) for the last-minute language learner: the Mini-Vocab Package. Compiled especially for the spontaneous traveler, it offers essential words and phrases – in German, French, Spanish, Italian and English – to get through that first encounter with the locals unscathed.

For those who’ve got a little more time before the big trip, besides the Mini-Vocab, there are twenty other in-depth  packages for all relevant situations while traveling, from leaving the airport to arriving at the car rental desk.  There is of course also the opportunity to hook up with someone from Babbel’s now more than 350,000-strong community to chat, trade travel tips or set up a language exchange.

To go directly to the newly compiled Mini-Vocab package, click here. If you are not already registered at Babbel, after a quick and easy registration you will be taken straight through to travel vocabulary.  For our press release, click here.

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Nominated For TechCrunch Awards

Posted on June 30, 2009 by

TechCrunch Awards: The Europas

Babbel’s up for “Best European Web Application or Service” and “Best Design” at TechCrunch’s award The Europas. TechCrunch wants to determine the most innovative tech companies and startups across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Voting closed on Wednesday, July 1st so let’s see what the results are. Thanks to all who voted for Babbel!

Update July 6th: Babbel made it into the shortlist in both categories, “Best Design” and “Best Web Application Or Service”. Thanks to everyboy who voted!

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