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.
Sascha Prinssen’s deepening romance with climbing has become her livelihood, in The Netherlands. And of late, it’s taken her across borders and cultures, to climb natural terrain abroad. As she’s learning Italian with Babbel, we caught up with her in Greece, to talk about how learning local languages serves her climbing adventures, and how climbing experience helps her overcome language-learning challenges.
You work in the industry that’s sprung up around climbing, and the fact that it’s an industry at all indicates a ton of people are getting into it. But not everyone is doing it in the outdoors, on natural terrain — much less traveling to other countries for weeks at a time, to climb. What makes that so compelling for you?
I think that has to do with how I got into climbing in the first place. As someone born and raised in the Netherlands – with parents who were more into sun and beach holidays – growing up I had never been into mountain sports. But when I kind of randomly ended up joining friends on a hiking trip in the Pirin mountains in Bulgaria, about ten years ago, I was struck by the majestic beauty of the terrain. So when I got back home, I started doing the thing which to me seemed most related to mountains, but was still accessible to me in the flattest country on earth: rock climbing, in a gym.
Even at the outset, I always saw it as a training or preparation for climbing in the mountains. I quickly became a real climbing enthusiast and got in touch with some other ‘hardcore’ climbers in my city. I started going on trips with them to climb outside, on actual rocks. That kind of deepened my sense that climbing outdoors is the “authentic” form. I’ve always enjoyed being outside in nature, so for me it’s also just a nice way to get out of the city and have fun outdoors with friends.
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
Christian Reiher (34) lives in Berlin and is a mathematician – and a passionate surfer. Since he started with the sport as a teen in England, he’s been hooked. Christian can often be found at his Berlin surf club, Surfer’s Connection Berlin, or at surf spots around the world. Recently he was in Central and South America for several months. Before the trip, he got a tip from another surfer from Surfer’s Connection to try out Babbel. And so, using the app before and during his trip, he learned Spanish!
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?
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.