How Babbel complements traditional language courses and fosters integration

A Babbel case study shows how mobile language learning apps can complement traditional language courses when settling into a new environment.
Adult learners taking part in an SFI Integration Course

Zach is part of Babbel’s Communications team, where he’s responsible for collaborating on research projects with applied linguists and academics from various disciplines. Here he describes a recent case study conducted with  researchers based in Sweden. Zach had the privilege to work with principal investigator Dr. Linda Bradley, who along with the  Minclusion research team at Chalmers University of Technology, has developed an app for Arabic speaking migrants. The results of the Babbel case study demonstrate how using mobile language apps can complement traditional language courses for migrants.

Swedish Integration Course Babbel

Like many Babbel users, I know firsthand the importance of learning the local language when integrating into a new culture. I moved to Berlin, Germany six years ago at the age of 27. At the time, my German knowledge was limited to passive comprehension of a handful of loan words (Kindergarten, Doppelgänger), food and drinks (Wiener Schnitzel, Lager) and cognates (Baby, Vitamin). I quickly realized this wouldn’t suffice when trying to find housing, work and establish myself in my new city. The beginner-level German courses I took and the great deal of time I spent practicing with a tandem partner gave me a solid foundation, but with a full-time job and other responsibilities, my progress was always slower than I’d hoped. After I started working at Babbel I began to wonder if learning with an app could have helped me. And moreover, could mobile learning assist those who have been displaced by conflicts or disasters in their home countries, enabling asylum seekers to assimilate more quickly?

Dr. Linda Bradley, Senior Lecturer in higher education pedagogy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shares my interest in how mobile learning can promote and facilitate inclusion. She stresses the importance of language learning for those who’ve resettled in her home country.  As Linda explains, “For migrants coming to a country with a less common language such as Swedish, learning the language is an essential step for integrating into our society. That’s why my government invests in Swedish foreign language instruction for refugees and migrants.” However, for those who can’t attend these courses or want more input than their class schedule allows, Linda believes there are numerous opportunities for mobile language learning tools and approaches to help. “Ideally, mobile applications and tools teach more than just grammar and vocabulary, but culturally relevant information as well.”

For a country with a relatively small population, Sweden is remarkably diverse. Foreign-born residents currently account for an estimated 17% of the population. Each year, well over 100,000 people move to Sweden for job opportunities of family reasons. Additionally, over the past five years Sweden has accepted 600,000 refugees and displaced people from the Middle East and Africa.

Linda is currently leading the Minclusion project, which has developed a mobile learning application for newly arrived Arabic-speaking migrants to Sweden, with a special focus on pedagogical approaches in digital technology for learning both the language and about Swedish culture. “The Minclusion project is devoted to digital language development and intercultural communication,” Linda said. “Partnering with Babbel was a great opportunity to investigate the role that commercial mobile language apps like Babbel can play as part of migrants’ learning strategies.”

The Case Study: “Mobile language learning for integration”

Linda and her team at the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology devised a case study examining how effective Babbel is for learning Swedish. An experimental group and a control group were randomly selected from among 52 participants in a Swedish as a Foreign Language evening course for adults. The experimental group used Babbel during 12 weeks in parallel with their course, which ran during one term. The majority of the participants had been in Sweden no longer than six months.

This study is the first time that Babbel recruited people for a study in which they used Babbel via a display language (L1) in which they were fluent, but non-native, in this case English. To ensure all participants in the experimental group could use Babbel to learn Swedish via English, they needed to have a minimum level of spoken English upper-intermediate (B2) according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the European standard for describing language ability. The participants had a wide variety of native languages. All in all, there were 19 different native languages spoken in the experimental and control groups.

The participants in the experimental group used Babbel as a complement to their Swedish course; both experimental and control groups took a speaking test and a vocabulary test at the start and end of the study. These tests were based on the curriculum and pedagogical goals of their language course. Overall, those in the experimental group who used Babbel improved comprehension of Swedish nouns and adjectives/adverbs. Additionally, those who used Babbel extensively made larger strides improving their intonation and flow. This included  the non-native English speakers in the experimental group, who were successfully able to use English as a “display language” (first language) to improve both comprehension of Swedish and their intonation and flow when speaking.

Linda reports that the overall user experience was positive when it came to using Babbel to learn Swedish, and a majority of the participants in the experimental group expressed interest in continued practice with the app. Babbel’s analytics data for the study cohort supports this. One study participant from Uganda, who’s still actively learning with Babbel nearly a full year after data collection, recently emailed us to say, “I really enjoy using the app because it is user-friendly and very rich in content, but also high-quality.”

Lena, Course Editor for Swedish at Babbel who engaged participants via email during the study, feels that the “rich content” for Swedish learners is essential for holding their interest and keeping them engaged. ”Babbel’s language courses present a variety of topics–from culturally significant foods and holidays to work situations. This diversity of content enables learners to choose what to engage in depending on their own interests and what they need to practice or review at the moment,” said Lena. “Most importantly, our lessons are based on real-life communicative situations.”

The study’s participants weren’t the only ones who benefited: Babbel’s product team and language experts also gathered a lot of useful insights regarding how to improve the app. As Elin—who works alongside Lena as a Project Manager for Swedish at Babbel—told me, collaborative research projects like this one provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on how to improve the learning experience for all Babbel learners.

“It’s always instructive to see how learners engage with the product. We got a lot of positive feedback about the course content, but also many suggestions for making the product better,” Elin told me. “Many of these ideas are in line with what we’re already working on: creating shorter lessons with more variation, making it easier to find the right course at the right level, and providing more guidance on how to form a healthy learning habit. Many of these things are now in the pipeline in different ways. It’s great to see that we’re on the right track, as we recognize that our users need even more support to reach their learning goals.”

The final report provides an in-depth look at how participants in a Swedish as a Foreign Language (SFI) integration course for migrants in Sweden used Babbel’s app to supplement their classroom instruction. The research team for this project:

Linda Bradley

Linda Bradley, Senior Researcher in Pedagogy and Applied Information Technology at University of Gothenburg

Sylvi Vigmo

Sylvi Vigmo, Senior Researcher in Pedagogy and Applied Information Technology at University of Gothenburg

Khaled Al-Sabbagh, PhD-student in Emipirical Software Engineering and Machine Learning at University of Gothenburg

Zach Sporn

Zach was born in Queens, New York, and has lived in Montreal, Budapest and, for the past six years, Berlin. At Babbel, he facilitates the exchange of expert knowledge and insights between his colleagues and researchers in various academic disciplines, including linguistics and economics. His anthems are 90's rap, 80's funk and old soul.

Zach was born in Queens, New York, and has lived in Montreal, Budapest and, for the past six years, Berlin. At Babbel, he facilitates the exchange of expert knowledge and insights between his colleagues and researchers in various academic disciplines, including linguistics and economics. His anthems are 90's rap, 80's funk and old soul.