Megan works in Babbel’s Public Relations team. Here, she looks at some of the complexities of filler and interjection words in a foreign language, and why immersion in real dialogue is essential to the language learning journey.
Some of English’s smallest words are currently making the largest headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. While Radio 4 listeners are up in arms over the overuse of ‘so’ on UK live radio and America waits in anticipation for the book release of the proclaimed University of Sydney linguist, Nick Enfield, “How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conservation”, Babbel takes a closer look at the little words that are captivating our attention.
Filler and interjection words are almost always absent from traditional language curriculums, and yet they’re crucial in every language. Knowing when to use ‘umm’, ‘er’, and ‘yippee’ – each carrying different shades of meaning – bridges the gap between bumbling tourist and cunning linguist.
Christina (second from right) has worked in the Didactics department at Babbel for three years, where she leads a team of language learning experts. Together they produce and coordinate the concepts and contents for different courses and work on new ideas for the Babbel app. She recently gave a presentation to students about career possibilities for linguists and language teachers. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Elin, originally from Sweden, is the project manager for Swedish in Babbel’s Didactics team – the language experts who create and optimize our lessons. As a passionate polyglot (well, trilingual) herself, she delights in unravelling and understanding the intricacies behind language learning. Here, she writes about using a blended learning approach to teaching her native language to her fellow Babbelonians.
Sara and Fidi are language learning experts in the Didactics team at Babbel. Here they share some thoughts on how to select the best language learning methods and tools from the sea of available options. Immerse yourself in learning languages from the comfort of your sofa or when you’re on the go. You’ll discover how the team at Babbel fits learning into their free time, seamlessly. Staying true to the philosophy “The main thing is that it’s fun!”, even a karaoke bar offers opportunities to improve one’s skills…
In the second post in a series on what it means to describe Babbel as a learning company, two Babbelonians discuss our learners’ essential contributions to optimizing and improving our courses.
Babbel is a learning company inside and out. We believe that anyone can pick up a second (or third or fourth) language, so our days are spent refining and adding to our courses to make them even more effective, motivating and communicative for you. And every day we ourselves figure out how to do that better.
Babbel will always be evolving into the best possible version of itself, and continuing to grow as we have requires the team to learn by doing. Since getting started in 2008, the platform has grown to over one million active subscribers. As the world’s first successful language learning app, we not only had to devise from scratch a sound methodology to teach languages via a mobile app, but also overcome the numerous technical, logistical and even cultural challenges that come with growing and scaling so quickly. Because there’s no established path to follow, many employees’ careers have similarly taken interesting and unexpected directions.
Lars works as a Russian course editor for Babbel. Having lived half of his life in Russia and half of his life in Germany, he understands and appreciates the endearing idiosyncracies of both cultures. Here, he gives us an insight into one of the many traditional celebrations in Russia.
The challenge in bringing Babbel’s new Russian course to life was to find a way for users to type Cyrillic letters using a standard Latin keyboard. Content Project Manager Barbara Baisi from the Didactics department gives us the lowdown.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
I come from Italy and I’ve been working at Babbel since the very beginning in 2008. At that time it was a little smaller [laughs]. Now I coordinate Italian and Russian. I’ve been working on Russian since January. It was a big deal for all the departments in the company.
Why do most English native speakers find it easier to learn German than Polish? Why is Spanish not so hard if you can already speak French? And why are Turkish and Indonesian even more tricky for us?
The answer is obvious if you’ve ever heard of language families. These are groups of related languages that descend from a common base language. Six of the languages we offer are Germanic languages, namely English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, whereby the Scandinavian languages are more similar still to each other. The second major language family on offer at Babbel are the Romance languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian, for example. The languages within a language family have much in common. For example, time expressions sound similar in related languages. Moreover, close linguistic relationships are often also reflected in grammatical rules and concepts.
What implications does this have for learning a foreign language and the courses offered by Babbel?
We generally create new courses for target languages in German and then adapt them for the other six languages in which we offer courses. We ensure that translations and adaptations remain as close as possible to the target language. This means that as many related words and similar sentence structures as possible are used. It is commonly true that the more similar the language you already speak is to the language you are learning, the faster you will understand the rules and relationships. If you are learning a language that belongs to the same language family as your native tongue, you will often require fewer additional explanations than someone whose mother tongue belongs to a different language family.
How we tailor the Babbel courses to your native language
Here is an example: the distinction between the verbs “pouvoir ” and “savoir” is not as obvious to a German speaker learning French as to an Italian. This is because in Italian there is a correlation with “potere” and “sapere”, whereas both verbs translate to the same word in German, namely “können” (can / may). The explanations of when to use “pouvoir” (when something is allowed or possible) and when to use “savoir” (more “know, be acquainted with, be able”) are simply omitted in the French courses for Italian speakers. However, the individual verb forms “savoir ” and “pouvoir” must of course be practiced by all French learners alike.
Conversely, we sometimes need to add explanations to the translations of the version for German speakers for other languages. For example, German speakers are accustomed to inflecting verbs: “ich bin, du bist, er/sie/es ist…” (“I am, you are, he/she/it is…”). Thus we do not specifically point out that there is a separate verb form for each personal pronoun when introducing “être” (to be) in the French course for German speakers. Swedish speakers, who use the same verb form for all personal pronouns – “jag är, du är, han/hon/den/det är…”, are given an additional explanation as follows:
Can you see the difference? Although German and French do not belong to the same language family, they are very similar in this respect. If you want to make learning easy, try some of our “true friends” courses! There you will find words and phrases in your target language that are probably already familiar to you from your native language. You want to avoid pitfalls? Then take a look at the latest “false friends” courses for Polish. They will help you to avoid mixing up terms that sound similar to words in your native language but mean something completely different.
Have fun learning languages!
Read this post in German, French, Spanish, Italian
A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. In Europe for several years now, these have been the names for foreign language levels. But what do they mean? The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) of the Council of Europe calls beginner levels A1/A2, intermediate B1/B2 and advanced C1/C2.
Before the introduction of the CEFR, language skills were primarily evaluated through grammar and vocabulary knowledge, i.e. could learners translate correctly, build grammatical forms and spell? Digital learning products in this tradition predominantly consist of fill-in-the-blank exercises – for all language levels. The higher the level, the more complex the words or grammar forms that must be filled in. But unfortunately a specialist in grammar with knowledge acquired from books cannot always get around in the real world; anyone who got good grades in a foreign language at school but can’t speak a word abroad knows this.
The CEFR has a different approach. Levels A1 to C2 show how well learners can cope with reading, speaking, writing and listening in various real-life communication situations. To cite a few examples of the skill “writing”: at level A1 you can fill in a form, at B1 you can write a simple private letter, at C1 you can already write an essay on complex topics.
The CEFR focuses on communication and action orientation – the level descriptions for A1-C2 do not correspond to specific grammar points or vocabulary! Especially self-learners at a beginner level however need to build up a basis of grammar and vocabulary first. They should understand how their new language works, and they need a few scraps of it to face their first real communication situations (even if with short, memorized phrases).
What has this got to do with Babbel? With our beginner courses 1-6, you reach level A2. This is the level at which most people find/found themselves at the end of a few years of school. This year we’re publishing (bit by bit for various languages) our in-depth courses, where you can learn B1 level skills step-by-step.
In the Babbel courses for beginners, the focus is on the most important grammar and vocabulary topics, but these are always oriented towards real-life situations. In the new in-depth courses, it’s the other way around: grammar and vocabulary are greatly reduced and the emphasis is put on action – that means learning how to listen, speak, read and write in specific everyday situations.
In every unit of the in-depth courses we tell a story in which these four skills are exercised. Part 1 is all about listening and speaking: After a short vocabulary introduction there is dictation, listening comprehension texts, pronunciation exercises with speech recognition – and at the end there is a role-play as a speaker in one of the dialogues. Part 2 continues with reading and writing – with translation exercises, reading comprehension texts and free writing tasks, always within the story. Grammar is implicitly introduced in the vocab of part 1 of every unit and explained in part 2, as well as exercised with the help of reading and writing tasks.
So while most language learning products at intermediate levels simply resort to more complex fill-in-the-blank vocabulary and grammar exercises, Babbel’s in-depth courses teach real communication skills. Babbel’s first in-depth course is for French and there are more to follow this year.
Try out our French in-depth course here!
About the author: Miriam has worked for several educational providers developing communicative language learning media, from print and CD learning materials for offline learning to online courses and apps. She has been with Babbel for four years and heads the editorial staff.