The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Four stories about learning the lingo

Posted on July 26, 2011 by

Babbel Team members Anne, Janet, David and Crisi explain why, of all things, they chose to learn Turkish, Dutch, Polish and Indonesian.

Anne: Turkish

Ankara: on the road. Photo by Max PinucciWhen I was a little girl, I was always wondering about the kids who shared our backyard in Berlin. They were constantly calling out my name. When I leaned out of the window and asked what they wanted, they would look at me blankly. As soon as I ducked back inside, it would start again: “Ann-eh! Annnnnnn-eh!“

It turns out that Anne, (Ann-eh, as it is pronounced in German) is in fact the Turkish word for “mom“. Had a grownup in my vicinity spoken Turkish, they probably could have saved me weeks of headaches!

Almost thirty years later I’m finally learning Turkish. Even after just a few weeks of studying, Berlin has become a completely new city for me. Businesses with once mysterious names suddenly reveal themselves to be “The Star Driving School” or “The Harbor Café”. All of a sudden my neighbors have names that I can pronounce. And I can ask for all the goodies in the markets by their proper names and not just by pointing at “that…”

In the park and on the metro my ears prick up. Listening out for Turkish has changed my perception of the city and of the people who live here. Sometimes I even understand some bits and pieces.

People ask me, “why Turkish?” Well, it meets my three main requirements for learning a language: good music, good food, and fun grammar!

Now I wish I had started thirty years ago. The question is not “why Turkish” but “why only now?”

Anne from Berlin directs the Support Team and is learning Turkish with Babbel.

Janet: Dutch

Dutch pride contributeDutch is an underdog of the European language set. It suffers from something of an image problem, much like the country and its people, a less an obvious choice in the language learning stakes than its more widely spoken, sexier cousins, English, German or French, or exotica like Japanese or Mandarin. I started learning Dutch because my significant other (husband) is from Zeeland, in the south of the Netherlands, but I’ve realised along the way that the Dutch language has plenty of charm of its own.

Worldwide more than 30 million people speak Dutch, not just in Holland but in Belgium, South Africa, the South Pacific and South America. And English words of Dutch origin are countable in the thousands. Cookie, biscuit and many, many seafaring terms: dok=dock; boei=buoy, jacht=yacht; schipper=skipper.

Dutch grammar is much less daunting than German, the spelling is more logical than English but the pronunciation is, let’s be honest, a challenge. The easiness of mastering the 13 vowels and four diphthongs depends on where you come from – if you’re a native Swiss-German, Norwegian or Hebrew speaker, you’ll pick it all up more quickly. It’s been described as “A nearly fatal throat disease” for the guttural, throat constricting ‘sch’s and ‘g’s.

I’ve been visiting the Netherlands on and off for years, but I’ve yet to nail the pronunciation of the beach district where we regularly stay, Scheveningen or, embarrassingly, my significant other’s surname. Fortunately, the Dutch are a forgiving lot and indulge my mutilations of the language with good humour.

Janet from Tasmania, Australia, edits our English courses and learns Dutch with Babbel

David: Polish

Warsaw. Photo by UggBoy♥UggGirlThe language is completely nuts. What strange letters! How do you pronounce “Wszystkiego najlepszego” anyway? I never imagined I would even come in contact with the language. Italian, French and even Japanese were more important to me. But now I thank fate for introducing me to Polish.

When I came to the eastern German city of Frankfurt/Oder for a year to do a foreign exchange, I wanted above all to improve my German. But living there at the border with Poland you should speak at least a little Polish… and at the university they were offering it. I went back and forth. Isn’t it too hard? Could I do it? I reasoned that I had time to at least get a passing mark.

So I signed up for Basic Polish 1A. The pronunciation turned out to be not that hard at all. I found out that Polish was almost like Russian, except that it uses our alphabet—even though it’s a Slavic language. I found that very interesting.

The Poles I’ve met are very nice and have always been helpful. I also find the country and the culture to be really fascinating.

A year and a half later I still want to learn more Polish. I want to get to know the beauty of a culture like the Polish one closer up.

David, from Bogotá, Colombia, passed both semesters of Polish with the highest marks. He edits Babbels Spanish courses and learns Polish with Babbel.

Crisi: Indonesian

South Sulawesi. Photo by zhaffskyI like to learn ”just a bit” of all sorts of languages… preferably the more difficult and exotic ones, like Thai or Arabic. All at once.

Usually you can’t get very far with languages if you don’t put in the extra time and energy. But this is actually not the case with Indonesian. It’s my favorite language at the moment. Why? Because…

  • It’s the language they speak in several exciting tropical places I want to travel to:
    • Indonesia comprises of more than 17,500 islands that cover a total of 1,912,988 square kilometers, and on top of that, there is Singapore and Malaysia.
    • Fascinating—some ancient—cultures like Borobudur on Java and Georgetown in Malaysia
    • Amazing flora and fauna—Jungles, volcanoes, lakes, tigers, orangutans, the near-extinct Sumatran rhino
  • It’s one of the easiest languages you can learn:
    • It’s written with Latin letters—no complicated alphabet to learn
    • Totally straightforward pronunciation, everything is pronounced as it looks
    • Extremely simple grammar
  • It’s more widely spoken than you might think:
    • Indonesian is spoken by more than 162 million people
    • Malaysian is virtually identical to Indonesian—that’s 12 million more people
    • In Singapore 12-16% of the people speak it as well
    • That’s useful! You can get pretty far with just Indonesian
  • The language is just easy to learn—and lots of fun:
    • Breaking down compound words can be pure poetry:
    • Mata hari=eye day=eye of the day=sun (and of course… Mata Hari!)
    • orang utan = person forest
  • I’m a big fan of structure! As you can tell from this blog post.

Crisi is a classic “Berliner by choice”. She works in marketing at Babbel and is currently learning Portuguese and Indonesian with Babbel.

Read this post in: German (Deutsch), French (Français), Spanish (Español), Italian (Italiano)


Great site. Plenty of useful info here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks for your effort!

[…] post en: Alemán (Deutsch), Inglés (English), […]

Thank you ever so for you article post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

Indonesian is indeed one of the easiest languages to learn if you are a native English speaker. Plus it can open up to other languages such as Malay, Filipino and even Dutch. Surprisingly there are 10,000 Indonesian words that are from the Dutch.

A round of applause for your blog post. Amazing.

[…] questo articolo in: Tedesco (Deutsch), Inglese (English), Francese (Français), Spagnolo […]

[…] cet article en : Allemand (Deutsch), Anglais (English), Espagnol […]

[…] Post auf: Englisch (English), Spanisch […]

I knew more in Italian soon after returning post WWII. I was able to translate letters to folks in my neighborhood in US.
So many years gone by I’ve lost this ability. I now have collected CDs in languages other than English for my three
great grand sons.

I am keen on improving my German since I am living here and find it is important to know it well

Yes, I am also not one of the younger ones and am also keen to learn German properly I think it is important to know the language of the country where one lives, well. So I hope that Babbel will be my help.

can help me to learn english

Dear friends,

I am French living in London. I studied spanish and Arabic at university. My Arbic is now non existent.

I am now teaching french and Spanish beginners level at U3A
in London. I can assure those who think they are too old to study new languages that they can try but have to do a bit of work at home every day…I have succeeded to build a third year class in Spanish. I do not go fast and make sure
that my learners are not lost with too much learning at a time.

At present I am learning Italian 2nd year and Russian 5th
year, but am unable to speak Russian for the tutor is not
Russian and do not make her students speak a lot.
So I need to learn how to speak. I also find it a bit
difficult to understand and us the verbs perfective and imperfective forms, that’s a headache.

I love learning new sounds and learn about new cultures,
it is a good way to forget about one’s own way of life and open to the rest of the world.

colette Levy

[…] Este post en: alemán (Deutsch), inglés (English) […]

every body
i speak Arabic and English so so
i want some one to help me to speak English fluently
it is nice to speak more than one language
if any one want help me please sent me mesg in my e-mail
and i thank him for this serves

hi I think learning language has elot of advantages for all people around aworld of course you can know about other culture and charactristic of people

@Janet… I’d like to add an etymological note to your story…
‘Biscuit’ is of course related to the Dutch ‘beschuit’, but they are both derived from the French ‘Biscuit’, which has Latin roots: ‘Bis-coctus’ (cooked twice).

(A Dutch ‘beschuit’, is more like a cracker, a rusk.)

I live in France for a few months every year and at 65 also thought I was too old to learn French. I have battled with it terribly and of course do not retain what I have learnt when away.
I started learning French with Babbel a few short weeks ago and my freinds already notice a difference in my vocabulary and my confidence in putting myself forward to speak it.
In fact yesterday I was given, what to me, was the ultimate compliment. Some one I spoke with asked if I was Belgian. as I am English to be mistaken for a French speaker was a great accolade and one I did not expect to receive so soon.

I can honestly say that although a year ago the thought of learing any of the above lanuages would have scared the life out of me, after using babbel i cannot wait to open my mind to the other lanuages avaiable to learn. It is so easy and somehow sticks in your head without you even realising it. It just goes to show if you are shown the right path anything is possible.

Stephanie- currently learning french but who knows what will be next!

One or two guttural sounds may be hard in Dutch, but you needn’t necessarily pronounce them the “northern” way. Which is the way only part of the country do. The more prestigious perhaps in the eyes of some. But if you pronounce them the Flemish, or even the German way –like myself– nobody will despise or misunderstand you. The Dutch seem to consider their language a private code, but in their hearts they’ll love you for trying. It’s much like English, just a lot easier.

@ David, Polish
The correct version is: “Wszystkiego najlepszego” not “Wsyzstkiego najlepszego” :-]

I have studied many diffenent lanuages – German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, – I speak both English and French fluently – but I have been trying to learn Cherokee – a Native American language which originally comes to us from Iroquois – have a look at my website on the Cherokee –
and also the Cherokee Nation site –
Love learning languages

I would love be able to speak any language but at 57 I think I am a bit old and stupid to take up another language ,but only speaking english I think it a bit rude that I don’t try to speak another tongue

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