The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Who, what, when, why? Our user survey explained

Posted on March 21, 2016 by

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Here on the Babbel blog, we make no secret of our love for letters. Words, after all, are what we do.
But once in a while, they say, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. So we’ve been crunching some numbers — big ones: we asked our users about how they learn with Babbel, and 45,000 of them got back to us (okay, 44,584 — but who’s counting?).
We scratched our heads, put the kettle on, dusted off our calculators and got to work. Here’s what we found out.
 

Globetrotters

With cheap flights now the norm, foreign holidays are just a click away for many of us. It’s perhaps no surprise then that more of our respondents identified travelling as a motivation for learning than any other reason. After all, Babbel is all about helping you to speak foreign languages, and where better to find conversation partners than foreign countries?
Does using Babbel pay off for these intrepid explorers? You bet — seven out of ten say they’d feel confident enough to have a short conversation after less than five hours of Babbel.
And there are few Babbel users more intrepid than Martin Leonhardt from Franken in Germany. We caught up with Martin last year when he was riding his motorbike through the Brazilian Amazon. “I want to explore foreign cultures — to live within them and really get to know them,” he told us. “That’s where languages come in.”
Trecking Roraima Backpacker
 
Wanderlust isn’t the only reason to pick up a new language, of course. Self-improvement is the second biggest motivator, followed by improving or maintaining mental fitness. Here’s the full breakdown:
Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.01.59It’s worth noting that these numbers vary quite a bit when you consider other factors. In the US, for example, a full 13% of our users learn because they want to reconnect with their heritage — that answer was six times as popular there as it was elsewhere. That makes a lot of sense: Despite the persistent idea that “everyone speaks English,” a vast majority of the US population can trace their roots back to other countries — often through living relatives.
 

Creatures of habit?

We know why our users are learning, but how do they go about it?
The answer, as it turns out, is however they want. When you can learn a language in a few minutes a day from virtually anywhere, it’s no surprise that people adapt the process to fit in with their own lives.
There’s no such thing as an average Babbel user, but if we had to invent one, I suppose they’d learn:

  • several times per week (like 49% of respondents)
  • mostly in the evening (like 41%)
  • on their computer (like 49%).

They’d be pretty flexible about their schedule though, learning more or less when they feel like it (as do 67% of other users).
However our average user learns, the important thing is that she keeps at it: little and often — that’s the key to success. Just as well, then, that we already know the average Babbel customer keeps using the app for well over 12 months.
Good going, average user!
 

Age is just a number

As we’ve said often before, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to learn a new language in your later years. We do, however, seem to lose a little confidence as the years go by.
80% of those under 24 years old feel they could converse in their new language after less than five hours of Babbel. That declines a little for those aged 25-34, and a little more for each age group beyond that. By the time we get to the 75+ category, the figure is 61%.
That’s still pretty good, but the difference is noteworthy all the same. Those with a few more years under their belt would, it seems, do well to remember that age has its advantages. In short, by the time you reach your later years, you’ve learned how to learn. We can see the effect of this: users over the age of 55 are significantly more likely to complete review sessions with Babbel and consolidate their learning — that’s a big part of “making it stick.”
If you’re sporting a few grey hairs and still in need of some convincing, look no further than our friend Gianni — 100 years young and still learning English with the enthusiasm of a teenager. He’s brushing up on his skills to better communicate with his great granddaughter and her English nanny.
Gianni
 
While you might not have the motivation to work on your career much past the age of 70, there are plenty of other things that can become more important. For one thing, retirees often have more time on their hands, making travel that little bit easier. And let’s not forget that learning a new language is a great way to keep your grey matter in good shape — it’s been shown that an additional language can delay the onset of cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s or dementia by up to five years.
The graph below gives us a sense of how our motivations for learning might change over a lifetime.

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Battle of the sexes

Do women simply love to gossip, no matter the language? Do men prefer to wrestle with the more technical aspects of grammar and syntax?
Afraid not. There’s not too much to report here — turns out, men and women really are pretty similar.
They’re both just about as confident as each other, they both have much the same reasons for learning (travel, self-improvement and mental fitness are the top three for each), and their routines are pretty similar (though it should be said that women seem to be a little more disciplined with their learning).
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While we do try to divide people into categories for the sake of analysis, real life isn’t always so simple. It’s important to note that some of our users (0.2%) choose not to identify as male or female at all and you won’t see their numbers in this section. They are included elsewhere, of course.
 

Final thoughts

Having taken a deep dive into some of the most interesting numbers we came across, I’ll leave you with a few highlights that we didn’t have space for. Something of an FAQ section, if you will.
What’s the most popular language on Babbel?
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What about the most popular language per country?
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Which languages do people learn to boost their career?
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And what about those that are just interested in the culture?
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Do learners in different countries have different motivations?
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Do users feel more confident about learning some languages?
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How can I learn a language with Babbel?
You can start right here.