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?
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!
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.
Exciting news at Babbel: Geoff Stead recently joined as Executive Vice-President of Didactics. He now leads the diverse team of language experts responsible for creating and optimizing Babbel’s lesson content.
Geoff has a well-established reputation for using mobile and other emerging technologies to improve learning, communication and collaboration. In previous roles in both the UK and the USA, he led teams developing innovative digital learning products.
Recognized as an expert in the field, he is often invited to give keynote speeches on emerging educational technology trends. Geoff took some time to answer my questions about his deep experience in the industry and the philosophy that has guided his career so far.
Megan Toon, originally from the UK, works in Babbel’s Public Relations team. In time for International Women’s Day on March 8th, Megan takes us deeper into the perspectives and backgrounds of Babbel’s employees from across the company, in order to reveal the diverse ways women working at Babbel engage with gender, language and technology in the startup industry.
Samuel is the fresh-faced Editor and British-English ‘Besserwisser’ (know-it-all) on Babbel’s Didactics Team. In 20 years of continent hopping he has picked up an unhealthy smattering of French, German, Portuguese, Finnish, Czech, Croatian, Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Scottish, Kiwi and American English (lol). Here he writes about his latest project, which combines metaphor, idiom and colloquial language with (crackpot) British humour. The first of Babbel’s gripping new English narrative courses keeps learners on the edge of their seats while they discover how to converse like an English-language native. Tune in to the situational comedy series “Fowlmouth Farm” – an immersive course for advanced learners, taught almost entirely in English.