The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Refugees from the Congo give themselves a voice with Babbel

Posted on February 11, 2014 by

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

crisiAbout the blogger: Crisi is an old hand at Babbel and has been on board since 2008. It’s not only professionally that she loves to meet people and to learn with them: She has already travelled to 47 countries and in addition to souvenirs she also always brings home a smattering of local language with her. This is how to greet someone in Luganda, the other official language in Uganda alongside English: “Ki kati!”.

 

Whether you live in a rich country or a poor one, in a tiny village or amidst the bustle of a mega-city: It doesn’t take much to open up new perspectives for yourself – for example access to the Internet and a will to learn.
I had this experience once again last year in Uganda. In February, I travelled to Uganda for a month and met with Edmund Page from the Xavier Project in the capital, Kampala. This initiative and its sister project YARID (Young African Refugees for Integral Development) have made it their mission to provide access to education for the numerous refugees in the city.

Most refugees trying to build a new existence for themselves in peaceful Uganda come from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has seen bloody conflicts flare up repeatedly over the past twenty years. So far, over five million people have been killed in the war for gold, diamonds and mineral resources and an estimated one to two million are currently displaced, of whom alone about 50,000 are living in Kampala. They lack everything, including accommodation, food and medical care. Even if they were expelled by the rebels as students, traders, mothers, nurses or teachers, they are not welcomed in Uganda with open arms as refugees speaking a different language. They can communicate very little, except with other people in the same circumstances, because in the Congo, alongside the local languages mostly French is spoken. In Uganda, however, it is mainly English that is spoken. So if you want to find work in Kampala and take part in public life, you need good English skills!Bildschirmfoto 2014-02-03 um 15.30.21

At YARID some of the refugees have the possibility to take part in an English course for free. Often it takes a lot of effort for them to be able to concentrate on learning, since beginner and advanced pupils are taught together, often about 70 people all at the same time in a small room. One of the volunteers is Robert, who fled the Congo in 2008 and now passes on the language skills he obtained to those that have followed him.

 

For an hour I helped Robert to teach the mostly adult students. It was really fun, because they were extremely enthusiastic! Although the teaching time was short, I was quite worn out because I was having to fight against the noise levels in the small corrugated iron hut. I also found it a real shame not to be able to address the individual course participants on their various learning levels – some were visibly bored, while others had a hard time to keep up with the lesson, in which mostly whole sentences were written up on the blackboard and repeated loudly in chorus. Especially the women on the course are very shy and don’t dare to come forward and to ask questions if they don’t understand something.

After my host Edmund showed me the computer room of the Xavier Project, I came up with the idea of using Babbel – English courses on the computer would solve all these problems!Bildschirmfoto 2014-02-03 um 15.32.06

At first, however, it was only a half success: Out of the twelve outdated machines only two worked well enough and the Internet connection was painfully slow. I put my own laptop alongside them and always put two or three people on one computer. Most of them had never used a computer before and first of all needed to familiarise themselves with how you click with the mouse or which letter is to be found where on the keyboard. But once they arrived on the Babbel website, everything worked wonderfully: Lesson after lesson vocabulary was spoken out loud and typed in – long into the evening, until the room had to be closed.

girlsIn the days that followed I repeatedly held a “Ladies’ Day” and explicitly invited women from the English class in the afternoon to the computer room, including Fatou, who, at 60, is one of the older students. They didn’t let their initial Bildschirmfoto 2014-02-03 um 16.53.55struggles with the keyboard discourage them, and before long were posting requests on their Facebook accounts to all “moms” to do likewise and learn English in this way. To see how much fun Fatou and the other women had on the computer has motivated me to become an advocate for reliable access for refugees to Babbel courses.

new laptop
Back in Berlin I launched a fundraising campaign within Babbel and my circle of friends, which was very successful. So, in November, I was able to return to Uganda with some laptops, speakers, and some money for a better Internet connection. This time I showed Alex, the new employee of the Xavier Project, how to set up Babbel accounts, redeem donated access codes and select courses that match one’s own ability level. From this month on, Alex will be conducting regular computer courses, where he shows his participants, amongst other things, how to use Babbel.
So the refugees in the project will be able to learn English with their own account, whenever they have time, and at the same time practise using a computer, which will give them an advantage when looking for a job. In so doing, each person can take the time that he or she needs to learn spoken and written English according to their own ability.

I am very pleased that the Congolese refugees in Kampala have a way to improve their situation with relatively little effort and I hope that many of them will soon become a part of Ugandan society. Often it only takes a small initiative, to produce something that makes the world much bigger. Or, as they say in Uganda in their down-to-earth way: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

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

Posted on June 15, 2012 by

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

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!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Mini-Vocab Packages for the Last Minute Language Learner

Posted on July 7, 2009 by

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

reisewortschatz_blog_525width

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.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Let the machine guide you: Touring with your ears

Posted on February 17, 2009 by

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

wheretoTo know the world,  just listen to it – these words from writer Amin Maalouf are the motto of Zevisit.  The website offers free audio guides to a number of destinations, mostly in France, but also to other places around the world, such as tours to Istanbul or the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The number of available guides depends on the language you use. Most are in French, though many can be found in English and there are a few in Spanish and German. Besides using the Google Maps to visualize the tours, you can download information to Google Earth, browse a Wiki or watch some video guides (via Fremdsprachen und Neue Medien).

When visiting these places, a translator could definitely come in handy. There is a new iPhone app which could have been a wonderful solution, but it comes with a catch: The iSpeak application ($2 for each language) offers translation from English to Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Swedish and vise versa – you type in a sentence, and it translates it and “speaks” the translation out for you. The only problem is that iSpeak relies on the Google translation engine – meaning you have to be connected to the internet. Which you may not be as a tourist without a contract with a local provider (or without wireless/WLAN, near the Victoria Falls for example).

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone