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How Babbel’s Language Experts Keep Up Your Motivation

Posted on September 28, 2018 by

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.

When we talk about language learners’ motivation, as we often do here at Babbel, what do we really mean? The Oxford online dictionary defines motivation as both: “1) A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way. 2) Desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm.” Moreover, motivation is associated with energy, direction and persistence necessary to learn a language to functional proficiency. So in the context of learning any new skill, motivation is both the reason for you to start doing something and what keeps you at it.

Anna Stutter Garcia and Caterina Magro are instructional designers at Babbel. Simply put, their job is to ensure Babbel’s entire learning experience addresses learners’ needs and goals in the most effective and enjoyable way possible. One important aspect of this involves conceptualizing new features (or optimizing old ones) to better meet those goals.

Anna explains that motivation typically comes in two shapes: “Firstly, there is ‘intrinsic motivation’, which comes from within you. You do what you do because it brings you satisfaction and enjoyment. Secondly, there is ‘extrinsic motivation’, which is is triggered by external factors: ‘I need a language certification for work,’ or ‘I need to pass this exam.’ Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are by no means mutually exclusive, but rather describe two different types of motivation which learners may experience to varying extents. Moreover, motivation should not be understood as a static concept, but as a dynamic process; learners’ level and type of motivation can change over time.”

So, why is motivation so important in language learning then? Caterina puts it this way: “Learning a new language involves persistence, along with a positive attitude toward making mistakes. Learners may confront challenges, from feeling like they are progressing slowly to being overwhelmed by the amount of things to learn and revise. If you are motivated, especially intrinsically, you won’t be easily put off  by such challenges.” Thus, motivated learners are more likely to be engaged and keep on learning and striving towards their goals, eventually reaching them successfully. Unfortunately, neither language teachers nor language-learning apps can force learners to be motivated, but an essential aspect of the job is to support and instill motivation wherever possible. How do we do that at Babbel? Surely, this is no easy task, as it is highly dependent on the individual learner. There are, however, several methods and basic principles Babbel’s language experts abide by when creating our courses and learning content.

Break Your Goals Down and Celebrate Small Victories

Firstly, research has shown that setting attainable goals help us to stay motivated. Breaking down a big task into smaller constituent parts enables learners to feel a sense of accomplishment more often, and to keep on striving for the next step. “I want to speak Spanish” is a seemingly huge mountain to climb. Start with “I want to be able to introduce myself in Spanish”, and you will master this skill relatively quickly. Then you can jump onto the next challenge, e.g., “I want to be able to order a drink in Spanish,” and before you know it, you’ve come much closer to your ultimate goal.

As Caterina explains, “Babbel lessons are structured in an intuitive and strategic way that allows learners to build up knowledge and skills in a ‘safe space’, free from judgment and anxiety. The courses are designed to develop learners’ skills progressively, continually building upon what they’ve already learned. Learners are introduced to new information, which they can immediately practice, and can then revise it any time they want to allow their new skill to ‘settle in.’ Effective content empowers our learners to have real-life conversations and exchanges, even at early stages of their learning journey. We believe that bite-sized lessons give a constant sense of progress to our learners.” In short, you’ll learn meaningful phrases for everyday situations, in order to communicate quickly and for real!

Have Fun While Learning

Secondly, enjoying the journey to get there is crucial to maintaining interest and motivation. It’s quite intuitive that you’re more likely to stick with activities you find enjoyable over the long haul. Therefore, Babbel’s Didactics team works hard to make our learning content as engaging as possible to arouse learners’ curiosity to learn more. Varying interactive tasks, appealing design and images, as well as authentic speech enhance the learning experience. Moreover, Babbel teaches how to use language in real-life, everyday situations. While focusing on teaching practical language, we still try to write engaging dialogues that might make you laugh or think.

More recently, we have also developed several “narrative” courses where learners follow a story, learning language on the go. For example, if you want to learn about Italian dialects, you can follow Professor Colombo on his trip through Italy, or, if you are more into English rural life, you can follow the innovative “radio play” format  comedy series “Fowlmouth Farm.”

Get Feedback and See Progress

Thirdly, Anna and Caterina both stress that most people need positive reinforcement to keep up their motivation. Even though different learners have different preferences, most people benefit from encouraging feedback and a recap of what they’ve learnt and accomplished. Unlike methods for self-directed learners like textbooks, audio courses, videos or podcasts, Babbel gives you feedback on your performance. But there’s definitely still room for improvement! For instance, we have currently redesigned and reworded the feedback screen in the end of a lesson (see the end of this blog article). Besides visual changes, we are constantly working on qualitative improvements too.

Anna mentions a favorite feature of hers that could be tweaked to help keep learners even more motivated: “I would like to expand the functions in the app that indicate my progress, to better keep track of the things I’ve learned in a historical order, and to celebrate visually my evolution.” Caterina agrees: “I’d love to create a kind of ‘dashboard’ entirely dedicated to my progress. Here I can set my goals, check whether I’m on track, see some statistics on how I’m progressing, and note down some personal language goal I reached, like ‘Today I ordered my first coffee in Spanish!’ All this would contribute to the feeling I’m making progress, which could really boost my motivation.”

In conclusion, our experts agree that three among the most important factors for staying motivated are obtainable goals and a regular sense of accomplishment, enjoying how you’re learning, and feedback on your progress. We know that it is not always easy to keep your motivation up and to stick with learning a language , but we try our best to make it easier! What has been working well for you?