The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Six Years!

Posted on January 15, 2014 by

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by Markus Witte (Co-founder)

Hard to believe: the sixth year since we went online with Babbel is here. We are once again happy and proud to confirm that it was our most successful one yet. So much has happened in this last year: there was a financing round of over 10 million US Dollars, 45 great new people joined the Babbel team, including several experienced managers. In addition a new office, two new learning languages (Norwegian and Danish), new apps for two platforms (iOS and Android) – and a new logo! But above all millions of new users, for whom this is all happening.

What started with four founders in a small office in a cramped old apartment in Berlin-Kreuzberg, has grown into a buzzing hive of over 100 full-time employees. And there are also, believe it or not, more than 150 authors, pedagogues, editors, translators, narrators and supporters who work freelance while maintaining other professions such as teachers, musicians and actors. Added together that is a huge number of people, who are all creating Babbel together.

We feel that this is an excellent reason to celebrate. And since January is from the outset for us the liveliest month (through your and our many good intentions), we have even delayed Christmas somewhat. So, on Friday we will be rocking around the Christmas tree. And then it continues with the seventh year, for which we again have a lot planned. Some things shall be a surprise, and other things will go live before we discuss them. However the following are certain: there will be Russian, our first learning language that does not use the Latin alphabet. And we intend to whip the Review Manager into shape. And also learn a lot of new things ourselves. And continue to have lots of fun. And create.

 

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French cuisine: Seeing, hearing and tasting languages

Posted on August 16, 2013 by

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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.

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New Italian idioms course spices up your Babbel lessons

Posted on November 29, 2012 by

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This post in : German (Deutsch), Francais (French), Spanish (Español), Italian (Italiano)­­

"avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto"There’s almost no one who’s been with Babbel as long as Barbara. Around five years ago, the 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. Barbara is always unpacking yet another new language and knows what it means to have eyes lined with ham.

 

 

We use language to convey our thoughts and describe what we see. But the fact that we employ metaphors and images to do so is something we don’t always realize. You could say, “I already know the ropes,” but what ropes are those?  Idioms are deeply embedded in our consciousness, and we often take them at face value. But idioms give spice to language. They express what we mean, short and sweet, and depending on the language, can bring some of the more absurd images to mind…

That we at Babbel in particular can warm to such a theme is obvious: We’ve already published special courses for French, Spanish, Portuguese, English and Spanish “idioms.”  So, fresh out of the oven, here comes the new course on Italian idioms. Now you can find out what the Italians mean when they say “to arrive at the bean” (“capitare a fagiolo“), “to pretend to have a trader’s ears” (“fare orecchie da mercanti“), or to get two birds with a broad bean (“prendere due piccioni con una fava“).

Fundamentally, Babbel thinks important for you to commit phrases you’ve learned to long-term memory, and the intelligent review manager and audio-visual presentation of idioms help with that. But it’s certainly not always easy for us to find the right images, especially for things like, “It’s not flour from your sack” (“non è farina del tuo sacco“, which in English would be “it’s not your own work”) or “to have eyes lined with ham” (“avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto“, in English “to stick one’s head in the sand”).

That was the challenge that we on the Babbel content team were happy to take on, though not without a good dose of humor: Why not bring the idioms to life ourselves? And so we actually put ham on our eyes and held a sack of flour in our hands for the camera, under the amused and perhaps envious gaze of the rest of the Babbel crew, who nevertheless must’ve gotten a sense of how fun our jobs can be.

If you’re “just dying” (meaning, you can’t wait) to try out this course, follow this link: We hope you “in bocca al lupo!“—no, not get in the wolf’s mouth, but break a leg!

Further new courses also are available for:

French: Refresher course 2
Swedish: Numbers
Portuguese: Grammar

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New Features on Babbel.com, Part 1: DIY Anti-Spam and Anti-Typo

Posted on October 10, 2012 by

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A fair bit of time has passed since the upheaval of Dust and Dirt and Candlelight, and although the heavier particles have now settled, there is still a good amount of dust in circulation. There have been quite a few changes recently, of which many users are probably still blissfully unaware, despite notification via the Babbel board. This Features Series hopes to shed a bit of light on the darker corners of the Babbel universe.

Every day in the Support Team we get to read the general wishes of our users as well as new and helpful suggestions for improvement. Often these make complete sense and we are equally excited about their implementation as you are, and equally disappointed when our heroic programmers don’t have these assignments completed and on our desks by yesterday. On the other hand, we are witness to the herculean efforts of our developers and editorial team, and we see great things happening, which we wish were there for all to see. So with this in mind I shall, together with Aishah, be keeping you informed of new Features on Babbel.

Lazy Spammers

First of all we want to show you what you yourselves can do to join the fight against Spam and Harassment. Alongside the active use of the ‘Report’ function in the Messages section and with Friend Requests, as well as the ‘Report as offending’ function in Chat, you can do the following:

Under Profile > Settings there are two options with regard to receiving messages within Babbel. If you check both the boxes by ‘Babbel Messages’ you can assert that 1) only people who are your friends can send you messages and 2) only users with at least 100 Babbel points can send you friend requests. So you now have the great advantage of being able to specify that only users who are active beyond just the Community functions can be your friends. In general Spammers can’t be bothered to do any real work or learning. So only when these requirements are fulfilled can someone qualify as your friend and only then may they write to you.

Most Wanted Feature Request 

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Interestingly this simple but ingenious idea was suggested to us by one of our dedicated users. Proof if you need it that we are actually listening to and acting on your suggestions. Nevertheless we should also mention that some suggestions do not always fit in with the wishes of other users, and are even sometimes in direct contradiction. However there was one request where our users were unanimous and that was our ‘Most Wanted Feature Request’. This one wish, which has been by far the most frequently and also most vehemently requested, was that simple typing errors should not be counted as mistakes; that there absolutely must be a possibility to confirm that the word you had entered was the one you had intended to write.

Of course such a simple idea does not necessarily mean an equally simple task when it comes to the programming. However, when our developer Trond finally presented us with an immediately usable solution, it was a time for celebration here at Babbel.

So how do you do it? Simply log into Babbel and copy this link into the address bar of your browser, then press Enter: http://www.babbel.com/go/confirm-by-enter

And if you decide you don’t want it anymore, simply do the same but use this link: http://www.babbel.com/go/no-confirm-by-enter

Why are we not simply building it in as standard? Well, we are actually. First of all we wanted to give you the choice, but it has already proved so popular that it is now standard in the new Review Manager.

Stay tuned. In the next installment we will be telling you all about the star wars and heart aches!

 

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Babbel for Android!

Posted on March 26, 2012 by

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After just a few delays, Babbel is available in the Google Play Store as an Android app!

Babbel Android was one of our users’ most common requests, and we are delighted to finally make this dream come true. Now all of you out there with Android devices no longer have to wait to take advantage mobile learning with Babbel. We’d like to give a big thank you again to our beta testers, whose feedback had a direct impact on improving the app. We’re super happy with the results and we hope you’ll have a lot of fun with the new apps and learn a lot, too!

What can the Babbel app for Android do?
The app includes the Basic and Advanced Vocabulary with 2000-3000 words for each learning language. As usual, all vocabulary packages are organized by topic and presented audio-visually (spoken out loud by native speakers and illustrated with pictures). You can decide which themes interest you the most, and get started right away.

We’ve also optimized out speech recognition software and integrated it into the Android apps. It will now be even more effective in analyzing your pronunciation and helping you practice. Of course, the popular Review Manager is also on board—presenting you words you’ve learned for review in ideal intervals, so that what you’ve studied permanently embeds itself in you long-term memory. You don’t need a constant internet connection for the Babbel apps, so you can study vocabulary easily and flexibly—at home or on the go.

How much do the Babbel Android apps cost?
The Android apps are completely free for all eleven languages and can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. The first lesson from every category is ready to be studied right after download. To download additional vocabulary packages and use the intelligent review manager, you’ll need a free Babbel account, which you can sign up for directly on the app. If you already have a Babbel account, then you can simply log into the app, download everything you’d like to learn and go.

Should I expect ads in the app, since it’s free?

No. You shouldn’t be distracted by advertising. Babbel remains, as always, an ad-free premium product.

What’s next?

Those of you who are familiar with Babbel know that the Basic and Advanced Vocabulary is just a small part of what Babbel has to offer. Product innovation and product development are still dominant themes at Babbel. The Mobile Team has already begun with the development of new apps that will bring more features and courses to mobile devices. Our Content Team is also busy working on new lessons and courses. Very promising!

Download Links:

Overview of all Android Apps

English
Spanish
French
Italian
German
Brazilian Portuguese
Swedish
Dutch
Turkish
Polish
Indonesian

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How to make words stick in your mind: The didactic background of Babbel

Posted on February 28, 2012 by

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Miriam – our Head of Content – was asked to contribute to a book about E-Learning. Here is a short summary of her chapter “Babbel: a mix of didactic methods for digital language courses”.

“How does learning with Babbel actually work?” Ullrich Dittler, Professor of interactive media, asked me for his book ‘E-Learning. Einsatzkonzepte und Erfolgsfaktoren des Lernens mit digitalen Medien.’ (E-Learning. Implementation strategies and the secrets of success for learning with digital media). The answer: Babbel is so effective because we do not rely on just one method of learning. Rather we have developed a comprehensive mix of methods, which accommodates the many different learning requirements of our users.

 

Imitating words and practising: With us you can learn all new words by listening and repeating – this fixes them in the memory whilst simultaneously training the pronunciation. Subsequently a meaning is attributed to the word (with an accompanying picture and translation to avoid confusion) and the words are written out. Therefore the words are always ‘drilled’ using the same pattern. These so-called “Pattern Drill” exercises belong to the behaviourist approach to language didactics.

Short and colourful vocabulary segments: New vocabulary is introduced in small units of three or four words or chunks (e.g. in the sense of “I am called …” or “I come from …”) – this is about as much as can be retained in the short term memory at any one time. Vocabulary is trained on several levels (repetition, translation, writing), subsequently one is occupied by one or two further items. The items always come from the same subject area, one is better able to keep them in mind as a result of their thematic relationship. All words are accompanied by a picture, consequently for many learners they are especially easy to remember.

Revising after a sensible amount of time: New words are automatically added to the Review Manager. These are then regularly recalled for revision at ever increasing intervals, according to the “Spaced Repetition” process, until they can be revised without mistakes.

Explaining the rules: We are sure that adult learners want to understand the rules of a new language because they do not learn, as children do, through mere repetition. Therefore the courses contain many explanations of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary in the native language of the learner. Our courses have been developed to be linguistically contrastive. Rules are formulated differently for each combination of mother tongue and learning language (a German will learn Spanish in a different way from an Italian). The understanding of the function of memory and the processing of information for the last three points is based on a cognitivist approach to language didactics.

Free learning: From a large number of courses and lessons, our users choose those which interest them in particular. Some prefer to work their way through the beginner’s courses one after another, while others just keep surfing through the overview of courses, spontaneously picking one out at whim. Each person works their way through the course material at their own speed. With the community functions they are then free to put their learning into practice. According to constructivist language didactics, each user develops their own individual skills, with which to identify new information subjectively and process it with the benefit of their existing knowledge.

Communicate quickly and for real: Babbel users should quickly be able to make themselves understood. Therefore in the beginner’s courses the most important phrases for everyday situations are gradually covered (e.g. we find “I would like a coffee” more important than “The ball is red”). Through learning chunks one soon knows whole sentences, even if one still has not mastered the relevant grammar (e.g. how to use the conditional form “would” in other sentences). Since in real conversations in a foreign language one will often not know all the words, the whole vocabulary of our dialogue will not necessarily have been learned before the exercise. In this way one learns to work out the meaning of unknown words from their context – if necessary one can have the answer revealed.

And because in reality one can often express oneself in many different ways, we have made it possible in many written exercises to have multiple synonymous correct answers. The advanced writing exercises for our Business English courses are especially clever: they are evaluated by an intelligent and constantly growing database of answers, so that even at sentence level many variants can be marked as correct. This approach to language learning is based on communicative language didactics.

Learning together: The Babbel community is the place for social learning processes. Here one can simply interact but also put the learning into practice. In each case one communicates in multiple languages – and consequently solidifies one’s knowledge. With these kinds of processes of interaction within networks, where one often learns new things ‘as a byproduct’ it is connectivist language didactics that come into play.

What are your thoughts about these learning methods? Do you use additional ones? Feel free to discuss the above with us!


Auf Deutsch

En français
En español
In italiano

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Four New Languages!

Posted on June 15, 2011 by

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New languages: Indonesian, Polish, Dutch and Turkish

 

 

 

 

 

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?!

Learn Polish
Learn Dutch
Learn Turkish
Learn Indosian

 

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Anne’s Language Learning Tips

Posted on May 30, 2011 by

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Anne Matthies – Language learning tipsAnne 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.


1. Set a plan and don’t stick to it

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.


2. Give yourself time before you speak (if you’ve got the time)

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!


3. Your style of learning keeps changing

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!


4. Study idioms right from the beginning

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.


5. Be yourself

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.


6. Get off the computer once in a while

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.


7. Get around

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.


8. Sing!

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.


9. Stage your own immersion day

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.


10. Allow yourself to make mistakes!

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?


11. Don’t give up…

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
This post in:
German (Deutsch) (original)
French (Français)
Italian (Italiano)
Spanish (Español)

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Manage Your Babbel Vocabulary

Posted on April 16, 2010 by

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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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Babbel Mobile: Learn a language on on the go

Posted on April 14, 2010 by

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Babbel mobile iphone icons

Yesterday we released Babbel Mobile — iPhone Apps for seven languages. We’re happy to be receiving positive feedback from all over the world. In fact, in some countries, we’re already ranking in the top ten educational Apps in the App Store!

The idea of Babbel Mobile is to allow you to study languages anywhere, anytime. We think it’s a great way to make some productive use of your in-between time — whether it’s on the way to work, on the commercial break or on the beach. You don’t even need an internet connection. But if you do happen to be online, everything you learn is consistently synchronized with your Babbel Review Manager, making the time you spend learning efficient.

Babbel Mobile can be used to complement Babbel.com or as a stand-alone vocabulary trainer. Babbel subscribers can access the full vocabulary of 3000 words, while others can try a free lesson and purchase vocabulary for a onetime price of  €5.99 / US$ 7.99. In any case, downloading the App is free for everyone. You can use your existing Babbel login or sign up cost-free in a few seconds.

Here are some links to the App Store for learning the following languages: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Swedish.

Update: We are currently developing an Android app. There is no release date as yet but we will certainly keep you informed via the Babbel newsletter.

 

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