Lena (pictured with her colleagues Ben and Sophie) works in Babbel’s Didactics team, creating and optimizing our language courses. She and her colleagues, who are linguists, teachers, instructional designers and, of course, language enthusiasts, handcraft learning content and tools that help our users meet their individual learning goals. In a series of three articles, she’ll write about some of the pedagogical considerations Babbel’s language experts must keep in mind when creating content for millions of learners. First off, it’s all about diversity!
Our learners have different starting points on their language learning journey
We create language courses not only because we enjoy it (and we certainly do!), but first and foremost because people want and often need to learn languages for a huge variety of reasons.
Today, Babbel has more than a million users all over the world. They have at least one thing in common: they want to learn a language. Apart from that, they differ in many ways, as every user is unique. Thus, learning a new language is a very personal journey. Instructional designer Julie Dirksen argues that learning languages, like learning anything new, can be compared to bridging a gap, from where you are at the moment to where you want to be. However, this gap is different for every learner. Even if several learners have a common goal, their respective starting points and approaches to learning (and thus their journey to bridge the gap) are manifold.
Ben Davies, Project Manager for English at Babbel, puts it this way: “We have learners of all ages, with a variety of different native languages. However, they differ not only in age and native language, but of course, education, professional experience, life experience — and experience with language learning! Many of them are learning a language for the first time ever with Babbel, or perhaps for the first time since a bad experience of learning a language at secondary school. We also have some users learning their fourth, fifth or even sixth language. All of these factors combined mean that our learners have very different needs when it comes to learning a language.” This is of course quite a challenge, but at the same time it’s both intriguing and motivating for us to really wrap our heads around how to explain a certain grammar rule or how to introduce vocabulary at different levels, adapted to different learners’ needs.
Sophie Vignoles, Team Lead for French and Scandinavian languages at Babbel, adds the importance of different motivations for learners: “Your motivation to learn a language might be connected to travel, where others learn with a self-improvement goal in mind or to better their mental fitness.” In order to meet these different backgrounds, interests, and goals, Babbel offers a wide selection of courses at different levels, some focusing on grammar or pronunciation, travel and work-related vocabulary, or teaching you idioms and tongue twisters to really get your brain cells working!
Different people learn in different ways
Our users do not only differ in what they want and need to learn, but also when and how they learn best. Many of our learners like Babbel because they can use the app autonomously; they decide when, where and how much to do based on their individual habits and preferences.
Ben explains: “One thing we focus on is the length of our lessons — they are mostly about 10 to 15 minutes long. This means if someone does prefer the ‘little and often’ style of learning, they can take one lesson per day (which we recommend) and still make real progress. Meanwhile, lessons in our progressive content form units, so people who have more time on their hands can also cover a unit consisting of multiple lessons at their own pace.” Another benefit of learning a language with an app is that you can spend time on it whenever it fits best into your daily schedule. One survey, for example, showed that most learners prefer to use Babbel in the evening, while others choose the morning or afternoon to boost their language skills.
Not everyone learns a language the same way. One common categorisation of different learning styles in linguistics concerns the different sensory channels, i.e. which senses you activate when learning a new skill, and how you process information. As Sophie at Babbel explains: “Some learners are auditory learners and focus on listening, while others are visual learners, processing information best with visual incentives. Kinaesthetic learners learn best when carrying out physical activities, and the reading/writing type of learners learn best when interacting with text.” However, these categories are not mutually exclusive. There are individual preferences, but typically learners combine different sensory channels to varying degrees. In order to learn something thoroughly, we normally need to activate all channels. Especially when it comes to language learning, a mix of listening and speaking, reading and writing new words and phrases, visualising them, and using them in a real-life context is essential. Therefore, Babbel’s courses contain a mix of different exercises, covering auditory, visual and kinaesthetic activities. In Sophie’s words: “Often a combination of different activities works best to address a variety of sensory channels. We offer learners the possibility to approach a certain topic from different perspectives.”
How to personalize learning in the future?
As technology evolves, so too is digital language learning. One way to serve our users better — each with their own unique learning journey — is to make the learning content automatically adapt to their needs, something that we currently are developing and experimenting with here at Babbel. Expanding on this, Ben suggests: “We could look at letting a user completely customise their learning experience by perhaps taking some sort of diagnostic test, seeing which exercises encourage the best recall in them, and then filtering lessons so that more exercises to suit this come up. We could, for example, produce different versions of the same lessons.” Rest assured we are looking into a lot of options to improve your learning experience with Babbel. Most important, we constantly learn with and from our users how to make language learning interesting, fun and successful as possible for as many people as possible!