Portrait: Babbel, braille and beach holidays – Regina is blind and learns Italian online

Switzerland-based Regina writes about her passion for language and discover for an installment of Babbel Portraits.

New from our series of Babbel Portraits: here our users introduce themselves and their experiences learning a language. If you would like to share your experiences with us, then please leave a comment.


This installment is about Regina from Switzerland, a passionate language learner. What makes Regina’s story unique? Well, Regina is learning a new language as a blind person, for one thing. Even when it gets tough, she really likes to learn. Her motivation? When she’s on holiday, she loves being able to talk to local people, and discover as much as she can about this planet. Not to mention, languages are also useful for her job. Here she tells us more:

“I was born in Thun, a municipality of the Bern Canton in Switzerland. Since 2001, I’ve lived in Dällikon, a village north of the city of Zurich. I work as a case officer for the Swiss National Association for the Blind in Lenzburg, an organization that assists blind and visually-impaired people with their living conditions. In this role, I advise and give training in technical aids for the blind. Because I’m a commuter and I’m out everyday, I’m glad when I get to stay at home sometimes. However, my future husband and I love to go on holiday once or twice a year.

Today, on the last day of our lovely holiday, we arrived in Ticino on Lake Maggiore in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland; I have just finished Part 1 of the Italian Beginner’s Course. I’ve already successfully ordered and paid for a drink in Italian. Every time I use their language — as best I can — people are always so happy, and they don’t mind my mistakes.

German is my mother tongue, but I also speak French and English — and, of course, I’m learning Italian with Babbel. As a Swiss-German, I had to choose French as my first foreign language, but I would have much rather started with English. I don’t really have a favorite language, but I find the dialect around Cologne great, even if it’s (just) a dialect.

How do I learn a new language? I try to repeat what I’ve learned, especially vocabulary, as often as I can. I do a new lesson every two to three days. Aside from that, I like to practice when I’m walking or cooking, and speak directly to someone in the language that I’m learning. I also keep in contact with people by email, letters or audio letters. Even if it takes some persistence at the beginning, I find learning easiest when I can make use of what I’ve learned.

At business school, I struggled with teachers to whom I was a burden as a blind person. In order to be able to use a computer independently, I use a so-called screen reader, which reads out the information on the screen. Additionally I have a refreshable braille display below the keyboard, which gives out the information on the screen in braille. In this way, I not only have a text read out to me, but can also actively read it (which is vital, particularly when learning a new language). 

With the exception of a few small things, language learning on the Babbel website functions very well, so I have a lot of fun learning. I only have trouble with the tables in which you have to insert words. On the refreshable braille display, I only have a certain amount of the screen under display (40 characters in my case), so it takes a lot of concentration to type the right word in the right field. As a result, I’ve made mistakes here and there, even though I wouldn’t have made mistakes due to my understanding of the lesson.

I only use Babbel on my laptop, even though I would like to use the apps on my iPhone and my Apple Watch — then I could go over my vocab on the way to work. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that the apps aren’t accessible, so I can’t use them — or at most, only very badly. I think I find the learning part easy enough, because I’m a curious person and I aim to learn as much as possible in my time on this planet. However, a hindrance is that most learning resources, courses or vocab trainers are not accessible to me as a blind person. Web designers and software developers don’t often pay much attention to creating barrier-free setups.

I can scan language courses in book form though, and convert them into a readable text with a special program, which I mostly pay for with a muscle cramp the next morning (my last language course was over 300 pages). And language courses on television are well made, but I’m mostly excluded from the exercises, because words to be said aloud are frequently only shown on the screen. Often that means: “What do you see in the picture?” (Funny, isn’t it?) However, learning Italian with Babbel is a lot of fun and I’m definitely going to continue with it. Who knows, perhaps on my next holiday I could have a proper conversation with an Italian.