Babbel’s new course, American Slang, teaches you the most useful American expressions and phrases. It got us wondering: why is something that’s easy ‘a piece of cake’?
Here are some of the (possible) origins of some classic American expressions. Take them with a grain of salt!
broke – to have no money, or to be bankrupt
Many banks in post-Renaissance Europe gave their customers small porcelain tiles, with the person’s name, credit limit, and the bank written on them. Think credit cards, only heavier. The customer brought the tile with him when he wanted to borrow money, and if he was past the limit, the teller ‘broke’ it.
Read this post in German, French, Spanish, Italian
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.
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!
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!
>> Short questionnaire on bilingual relationships
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, Spanish and Italian. Other learning languages are in the making. Stay tuned!
Economies 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.