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.
Meet Alex Sapple: A man who learnt a language for love. Alex is 29 years-old, lives in Chester, works as a software developer, and coaches at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club in his spare time. In 2016, Alex boarded a flight to Brazil. Little was he to know, that the love of his life was to sit beside him. Just one problem – Alex couldn’t speak her language.
Babbel’s Didactics team knows that language-learning is more than drilling vocab and grammar. It’s a swirl of elements, in which motivating factors do battle with challenges and discouragement — many of them having very little to do lessons or exercises. To better understand it all, and better tailor Babbel’s methodology to the details of the learning journey, the folks in Didactics have turned their colleagues into study subjects, putting them through 90-day language challenges. With one in the books, and another underway, we sat three participants down with Ben and Nicki -the challenge architects, who were participants, themselves- to discuss what they learned.
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.
Zach works on Babbel’s Communications team, where he facilitates the exchange of knowledge and insights between his colleagues and experts in various academic disciplines, including linguistics and economics. Among these initiatives is Babbel: Perspectives, a new lecture series in which invited guest speakers and Babbel employees take on challenging and controversial topics. Zach hosted the first edition of Babbel: Perspectives on January 24, 2018; the focus was Gender and Language. The event put Kate McCurdy, a computational linguistics engineer at Babbel, in dialogue with economists Eva Markowsky and Luise Görges.
Babbel’s newest English course teaches in-demand skills like rapping and surfer slang… entirely in English! The monolingual “How To” course for advanced learners is available now!
Chad has been an editor on the Didactics team at Babbel for over three years and is the resident expert for all things American English. Having lived abroad for nearly 20 years, he speaks a bit of Spanish, Thai, Khmer, and, most recently, German. Here he writes about his latest project, and the maxim “give the people what they want.”
The second instalment of the Strangers Talks series – the Babbel employee initiative exploring issues of difference and diversity – was an exploration of representation and gender in marketing. Looking at imagery from marketing campaigns across different moments in advertizing’s history, Babbel’s Ben Davies unpacked the persistence of stereotypes in all manner of marketing, and the often insidious messages they carry. It was provocative enough to warrant a bit of follow-up discussion, here.
This was, on the surface anyway, a rather specific topic, given your talk was effectively one of the inaugural presentations in the series. And I guess I’m wondering whether you were working less from a place of principle or aspiration, and more from a place of necessity. Did the intersection of gender and marketing seem particularly pressing to you for some reason?
I think for me, this was very much a necessity. Within the movement for gender equality, there is discussion happening constantly about portrayals of women and men in various mediums, be it in television shows or in music, but what struck me as odd was that images from marketing rarely made it into discussions on portrayals of gender. Perhaps this is because we don’t consider marketing anything more than this annoying thing that tries to get us to spend our money, but the fact remains that images from advertising make up a large portion of the imagery we are exposed to everyday. Even on an unconscious level, this will start to have an effect on a person. (more…)
Big innovations in machine-learning have made some unsettling headlines the last year, holding a mirror to our own persistent biases by adopting them. When it comes to gender stereotypes, there’s a double-jeopardy nestled in how machines learn languages. Babbel’s computational linguist, Kate McCurdy, has been looking at how algorithms conflate semantic and grammatical gender, what this could mean for any application of so-called Artificial Intelligence, and how we might think about correcting course.
So, how about we start by just breaking down your project?
So, I’m looking at grammatical gender in word embeddings. Word embeddings are a kind of natural language-processing technology that are used in a lot of things. The core of this is an algorithm that learns the meaning of a word based on words that appear around it. In the past few years, we’ve seen pretty major developments in this area. Lots of research is happening, and big companies like Facebook and Google are using these technologies. A couple of years ago, there was this new algorithm that allowed you to train a model quite quickly and get these representations of word meaning that seemed to be really impressive. So, you could just automatically let it loose on a corpus and it would learn, for example, that “dog” and “cat” and “animal” are all related, or that “apple” and “banana” are related, without anybody explicitly telling it to. This is quite powerful, and it’s being used in a lot of technological applications. But we’ve started to notice that there are some issues with it. (more…)
Toward the end of 2017, a number of Babbel employees launched an ongoing series of internal presentations now known as The Stranger Talks – a sort of salon aimed at highlighting difference and diversity as ways of innovating and transforming how we work. The inaugural talk, given by Lars in our Didactics team, served as an introduction to the project’s central themes. We sat down to chat about it, and reflect on its impact. (more…)