Imagine two Babbel colleagues, freshly arrived in Berlin: Lucy is from the United States and Filip is from Poland. Both want to integrate to their new home by learning German. How is their learning experience different, and do their respective native languages play any role when learning German? Babbel language experts Elin and Anna shared their insights into how they take learners’ native languages into consideration when creating language courses.
Despite the commercial success and growing ubiquity of language learning apps, little information is available on app users’ real-world learning outcomes. Babbel is committed to providing transparency on how dedicated learners can improve their speaking skills. This is why we recently teamed up with second language acquisition experts at Michigan State University (MSU), including Dr. Shawn Loewen (pictured at right). The resulting study found that participants on the whole improved their speaking skills, grammar and vocabulary after approximately 12 weeks of learning with Babbel
A passionate language learner and teacher, Caroline loves to experiment with languages and share her favorite methods for self-directed learners. She acquired English and German in school, Russian on her own in Moscow and is now learning Italian with Babbel, where she works as a Course Editor in our Didactics team. Having taught French abroad for three years, she was able to put her best practices to work in Babbel’s brand new French course for advanced learners. These nine “monolingual” lessons tackle the theme of French culture through badass slang expressions as well as subtler shades of meaning… And she had quite some fun scripting it!
At Babbel, the Didactics team of more than 150 language learning experts is responsible for creating and optimizing our language courses. They decide on learning goals for each lesson, pick the best training methods to achieve these goals – and then plan, script and record the courses. That’s why they probably know the learning approach at the core of Babbel’s app better than anyone. And that’s why we asked them to reveal their favorite courses. We ended up with a list of some of Babbel’s coolest courses – which might inspire your next learning session but also show the time and effort that the Didactics team puts into each new lesson. Here comes our first editor’s pick: Swedish for Everyday Life, presented by Elin, project manager for Swedish and Norwegian.
Elin, tell me about your favorite course.
I picked Swedish for Everyday Life, a course that’s meant for anyone who has a little knowledge of Swedish already, and focuses on everyday situations. In the course, we follow the character Simon through a normal week: a friend’s birthday party, a dinner out in town and a visit to the police. It’s a mix of reviewing words and concepts that an upper beginner learner knows, and new vocabulary mixed with cultural information. You will, for example, learn how to ask for your clothing size while shopping or how to sing a popular Swedish Birthday song: Ja, må hon leva!
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).
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.
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 (WienerSchnitzel, 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!