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.
Christina, how does one become a language learning expert at Babbel?
That’s not so easy to answer. There isn’t really one perfect way. In fact, the unique thing about Babbel is our large, diverse team of language learning experts! Our core commonality is our passion for languages. Anyone who visits us in the office soon realizes that we constantly switch from one language to another. And we all bring different skills and qualifications to the team. You’ll find linguists, translators, education experts, editors, authors, project managers and, of course, language teachers. A mix of talent is what works best for us! Together, we tailor our courses to our users and determine the right content for all the language combinations Babbel offers.
And what exactly did you bring, personally?
Again, a bit of everything. In my studies, including Scandinavian studies, I learned a lot about the Scandinavian languages and their specific characteristics. That helps me a lot now! For example, I consider the challenges someone has to contend with when learning Swedish. This has a direct influence on what we put in the course and how we present the learning material. At the same time, I also know the parallels between Swedish and German. I can then draw our users’ attention to what they are given “free of charge” and without any effort in learning Swedish: the sentence structure is quite similar, for example, but also many words such as “Haus” and “hus” are almost the same and easy to understand right from the start. That can be really motivating!
So your own native language is important for choosing what to put in the course?
Yes, but more than anything it’s connecting to the day-to-day experience of the language learner. I became really aware of this for the first time when I was studying Swedish from a theoretical perspective and simultaneously teaching Swedish online and in person. That was really fun right from the start. I met a lot of interesting people who were learning Swedish with widely different goals and for different reasons. Their enthusiasm, the fun they had with the language and their progress always motivated me to support them in the learning challenges they encountered. I realized how essential it is to choose the right content, learning methods and media. Preparing the materials so that they’re appropriately tailored to the student leads to success – and that feeling of success is so important!
This is what I keep noticing in my work as an examiner for the Swedish language certificate Swedex. Whether they need the language for a job or for vacation, or if they just want to talk to their neighbors, many students are looking not only to use the language, but also to have proof of their language skills on paper. This is why we also offer a certificate for English in cooperation with Cambridge English. At the same time, as a certificate examiner, I’m constantly questioning what learning success is, how it feels and above all how it can be measured in all its facets. The experiences that I’ve collected and am still collecting as a language teacher influence my work here at Babbel.
Before you came to Babbel, you also worked in traditional textbook publishing. Is there much different between developing content for textbooks and apps?
Good question! I’ll try to answer it from the perspective of the content. Basically, in any teaching medium, I always ask the same questions, for example: Who are the students? What topics are relevant for them? What are their goals? The solutions, however, differ depending on the medium. In a textbook, a chapter can be a bit longer, but in an app it always has to be short and crisp. And the activities are naturally interactive in an app, but a textbook can’t give direct feedback or respond to input. I always have to keep these differences in mind when creating concepts and content.
The production processes are also different. A few examples from day-to-day work: When I work on content for a textbook, I need a lot of imagination to think about how I want to design a page. And I can only tell whether the pictures, exercises and text actually fit on the page and whether the sequence appears logical once the page comes back from being set. In the Babbel app, we have the luxury of previewing the content. This means that we can check whether everything fits right after creating content in our home-made authoring tool. This saves time and makes us extremely flexible in trying out new things. And we now have our own team to check the quality of our content and work on continuously improving it.
Oh, and publishing a book of course takes a bit longer. It’s really great when you hold a freshly printed copy in your hands, but you can publish content to the app at the touch of a button, and our users have immediate access to it!
What are you working on right now? And what motivates you especially while working?
Right now I’m leading a great team of language learning experts who coordinate and produce course concepts and content for the Danish, Russian and Swedish releases. More than anything, based on the feedback we’ve received from our users through our customer service team, we’re now expanding the material for subsequent levels for some of the languages. The team is also working on new courses around a surprise topic!
There are, by the way, a few things I find especially motivating: the flexibility in design, the great team, the challenges arising from different and new activities and projects – and learning every day. It’s always exciting! We’re currently working on the next generation of our product, which we want to use to motivate language learners even more. Users should be able to get started learning a new language right when they need it.