Mobile technologies have proven enormously transformative in the developing world, expanding possibilities for freedom and democratic agency. We see it daily, in the news headlines we read each day (often on mobile devices).
Community responses to extreme weather events. Police accountability. Popular mobilization and consciousness-raising.
The movement from margin to center these tools have inspired for so many has deepened the resonance of utopian visions in recent art and literature. For example, imaginations across the world were captured by Black Panther’s Wakanda, in part, because the liberatory potential of technology had been the direct experience of millions.
At the same time, these technologies have given rise to oppressive and deeply authoritarian forces, as well. The tracking of mobility, surveillance, data-harvesting and the corresponding engineering of public trust and political institutions all continue to generate headlines, daily. What’s often forgotten is that the superficial democratic features of mobile technologies obscure the fact they are not public utilities and not publicly accountable. The capital that develops them, and in turn the power behind them, is incredibly concentrated — policing the boundaries of possibility, nodding in the direction of George Orwell’s 1984. Wakanda, tellingly perhaps, recreates this subtle, unspoken tension. A utopian vision nested within a monarchy, the distribution of its technological power visibly uneven.
The third installment of Babbel: Perspectives, our in-house speaker series in Berlin, sought to explore this tension in all its provocative, unsettling richness.
Adult learners taking part in an SFI Integration Course
Zach is part of Babbel’s Communications team, where he’s responsible for collaborating on research projects with applied linguists and academics from various disciplines. Here he describes a recent case study conducted with researchers based in Sweden. Zach had the privilege to work with principal investigator Dr. Linda Bradley, who along with the Minclusion research team at Chalmers University of Technology, has developed an app for Arabic speaking migrants. The results of the Babbel case study demonstrate how using mobile language apps can complement traditional language courses for migrants.
Like many Babbel users, I know firsthand the importance of learning the local language when integrating into a new culture. I moved to Berlin, Germany six years ago at the age of 27. At the time, my German knowledge was limited to passive comprehension of a handful of loan words (Kindergarten, Doppelgänger), food and drinks (Wiener Schnitzel, Lager) and cognates (Baby, Vitamin). I quickly realized this wouldn’t suffice when trying to find housing, work and establish myself in my new city. The beginner-level German courses I took and the great deal of time I spent practicing with a tandem partner gave me a solid foundation, but with a full-time job and other responsibilities, my progress was always slower than I’d hoped. After I started working at Babbel I began to wonder if learning with an app could have helped me. And moreover, could mobile learning assist those who have been displaced by conflicts or disasters in their home countries, enabling asylum seekers to assimilate more quickly?
Samuel works in Babbel’s Didactics team, designing and optimizing our English courses to deliver the most effective and engaging learning experience possible. With our most recent Advanced English course, the lessons get learners conversant in everything from gender identity, to gentrification and urbanism, to new workplace models. We sat down with him to talk about why fluency in these themes serves not just learning, but how we show up to the world.
I think, first, we should talk about: Why an English course in English? The logic of that may not be apparent at first glance.
Yeah sure! Language learning is all about talking, right? You see it’s pretty much agreed these days that the more exposure a learner gets to the language they’re learning, the faster and more effectively they’ll learn it. In a classroom setting it’s now normal that a language is taught almost exclusively in that language from the start. And it works. That’s what I learnt as an English teacher… and as someone who successfully scaled the formidable cliff-face of German as an adult with no prior familiarity. And as someone whose work and personal life are now largely conducted in German, I’m the proof in the pudding, so to speak.
But, of course, I always had a friendly teacher on hand to explain things when I didn’t have a clue what was going on. With Babbel Classic at beginner and intermediate level, we introduce new vocabulary and explain things in the learner’s native language to make sure there’s no confusion. For advanced learners this becomes unnecessary, as they should already have a solid enough knowledge of the language they’re learning to cope with simple instructions, guidance, etc. In fact, it’s important at this stage that the learner develops the ability to be able to work things out for themselves, as they would in real life, using the knowledge they already have in a given context to work out the meaning of longer texts, audio recordings, new phrases and sentence structures.
Lena works as an editor for Swedish in Babbel’s Didactics team, the language experts who create our courses. In the second part of her series of articles on the pedagogical considerations that her colleagues engage with every day, Lena delves into the topic of motivation. When it comes to language learning, you often hear that motivation is essential for success. But what exactly is motivation and how do we work to keep our learners motivated? This article provides some answers, along with three tips on how to stay motivated, based on findings in the academic literature and insights from Babbel’s own experts.
Babbel’s VP of Product Design Scott Weiss is an industry leader in user experience. From learning machine code as a teen to writing the world’s first textbook on mobile user experience, Scott was at the forefront of product design years before the term was coined. Since joining Babbel two years ago, Scott leads two cross-functional teams of designers and engineers. As a mentor and champion of Babbel’s flat hierarchy, Scott’s accomplishments are best evidenced by the time and care he devotes to his quickly expanding teams.
Nicki Hinz works in the Didactics Team here at Babbel, designing our courses and optimizing lessons to bring users the most intuitive and effective learning experience. As part of our in-house presentation series, Strangers, she recently delivered a breakdown of what gender-neutral language offers us, as language-learners and as a community. A deeper dive seemed in order, and she graciously sat down for a chat about it.
I suppose it should be obvious, given we work with language-learning, but what made you want to tackle this topic as part of the Strangers series?
In the Strangers series we want to really consider the different aspects of diversity from all angles, even from angles that might not be as high-profile or obvious at first glance. But as we’re working with lots of different languages every day, it becomes evident that there are problems inherent to some languages when it comes to how we talk about people. German is an excellent example, as we have the suffix -in to denote that a certain profession is female, e.g. der Lehrer (male), die Lehrerin (female). So what about people that do not identify with the traditional binary gender framework? If you’re genderfluid, for example, you might feel left out. You can see phenomena like this in other languages as well: Is a “gunman” necessarily always male? Other languages like French or Portuguese also denote gender in adjective endings, but it’s still a matter of one of two possible genders. The reality we live in looks quite different: we are transgender, genderqueer, intersex, non-binary, genderfluid, female, male…
Lena (pictured with her colleagues Ben and Sophie) works in Babbel’s Didactics team, creating and optimizing our language courses. She and her colleagues, who are linguists, teachers, instructional designers and, of course, language enthusiasts, handcraft learning content and tools that help our users meet their individual learning goals. In a series of three articles, she’ll write about some of the pedagogical considerations Babbel’s language experts must keep in mind when creating content for millions of learners. First off, it’s all about diversity!
Sara is an editor for Italian on our Didactics team at Babbel. Languages are a passion of hers, and she’s grown even more interested in them in recent years by moving to different countries. She’s learned German, Russian, English, Danish and French, and her current challenges are to learn Arabic and Turkish. In her latest course on Italy’s dialects (“Italian from North to South”), she shares her passion for Italian by inviting our learners on a language trip from the North to the South of the boot on the lookout for the regional peculiarities of Italian.
Joshua works in Babbel’s Communications team, identifying and developing strategic storytelling in various mediums. As part of that work, he co-curates the Babbel: Perspectives lecture series, putting critical scholars on stage with voices inside Babbel. The aim is to invite the Berlin community into discussions that begin from provocative and even unsettling reference points, and put those things in conversation with language-learning, technology, and our lives more broadly.
The second edition, White Space in the Virtual and the Real, featured an American cognitive scientist and an African studies scholar from Berlin, tackling how attention is socialized around whiteness at multiple levels — from visual design, to urban geography. They were joined by Babbel’s VP of Product and UX, Scott Weiss.
Megan, a member of Babbel’s PR team, speaks to fellow Brit and Babbel user Chris Wray about his experience learning German.
Meet Chris Wray. Chris lives in rural Dorset in the UK, and is enjoying retirement with his family after a career in the British Armed Forces. Between June 1968 and December 1983, he was deployed to Germany three times for a total of 10 years as part of military operations. For almost six of those years, Chris didn’t speak German outside of the classroom. When he finally did, he realised that there was more to a country than just being there.