The Shortest Path to Real-Life Conversations

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Over 100 linguists are currently beavering away at Babbel HQ to develop the best language-learning app ever. Over one million active subscribers are already convinced. So who are these people and what are they doing so right?

Matthew, one half of the superpolyglot brothers, strolled into the Babbel kitchen some three years ago as I made my day’s first cup of tea. He proceeded to greet colleagues in their native language, switching effortlessly from one to another. After the seventh language, I approached him to ask whether he’d be interested in going on camera to demonstrate his astonishing degree of mastery in a multilingual monologue. Fortunately, he was.

Three years later, Matthew and his brother have been challenged by us and a host of other media outlets to learn languages in improbably short periods of time – Turkish In a week? Sure. Maltese? Plattdeutsch? Danish? No problemo.

However, I’d wager that Romanian in one hour will remain their most sensational achievement.

At the time of the monologue, Matthew was part of a forty strong team of linguists and language experts dedicated to the construction of Babbel’s award-winning language courses. This team has now grown to over 100, all seated on one floor within a Berlin office that must surely rank as one of the world’s most multilingual. Sitting beside an Italian who speaks Russian, French, German, English and Finnish is a German who speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English. And they’re all learning other languages, of course.

Aside from seeing just how many polyglots Babbel can fit in one room, there is a more serious aim to this: to tailor outstanding language courses that get you speaking your new language as quickly as possible – so quickly, in fact, that a recent study showed that even beginners just starting out in a new language only need an average of fifteen hours of study over a two-month period to cover the requirements for one college semester. So how do they do this? Let’s take a look.

1. They tailor courses for your native language

The Babbel app is available in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and Swedish. From these seven languages, you can choose to learn any one of thirteen languages. That makes for over ninety language combinations, and Babbel needs to be able to accommodate for all of them. Why? Let’s take a simple example. As an English speaker learning German, you won’t need as much help translating the verbs bringen and singen as the average Spanish speaker, whose verbs traer and cantar bear no resemblance to their German counterparts.

Every Babbel course is developed with your native language at the very forefront of the developer’s mind. We know you’ve already learned at least one language successfully — your native language — so we build on the grammatical concepts that you’ve already mastered and gently introduce the new ones.

2. They design courses to get you speaking as soon as possible

You all probably know the Eddie Izzard sketch where he effortlessly recites phrases from his school days; “The mouse is under the table and the monkey is on the branch." Like most good comedy, it’s funny because it’s true. Generations of language learners can sympathize with the unfortunate predicament of being able to successfully construct semi-functional sentences (if you’re in a French zoo), but struggling to complete basic daily tasks such as buying a bottle of water in a shop.

At Babbel, we believe that keeping oneself hydrated is more important than discerning the location of monkeys, so we avoid drilling abstract grammar and vocabulary, and focus on real-life dialogue. After the first course you’ll be able to introduce yourself, talk about where you’re from, how you’re doing, how you got to wherever you are, and – most importantly – say what you’d like to drink. In fact, if you’re bored of reading English, you can get started in your language of choice here. Select Spanish and you could be ordering sangria at your local tapas bar by this time tomorrow (unless you’re reading this at breakfast time, in which case, I recommend you go for the huevos rotos con papas fritas – ¡te echo de menos, amigo!)

3. They make courses that fit snugly into your schedule

The most common excuse we hear for not learning a new language is: “not enough time."

People are busy nowadays. Your daily schedule looks like the first Lego™ tower you ever made, with blocks of meetings perched precariously on top of one another. So, it’s probably time you took a vacation. But before you do, indulge in a few of your Babbel lessons. Each designed to take you 10-15 minutes, they’re ideal for accompanying the commute, a quiet lunchtime snack, or a post-work glass of wine and that well-deserved bit of time for yourself.

4. They’re award-winning innovators who make continuous improvements

Babbel isn’t a book that you buy and then read (or ignore), and you don’t need to wait for the next edition for updates and improvements. Everything you touch within the courses is adjusted to optimize its effectiveness. This can be done with your explicit or implicit help. What does this mean? Well, either we notice that a high percentage of learners are struggling at a particular juncture and so we work to make it more understandable, or you shoot us an email with a suggestion, and it filters straight through to our linguists and language experts. Now that’s service!

That’s all pretty small scale though, right? A tinker here, a fine-tune there. What about the big stuff? Virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence… Kitted out with some of the sharpest minds in edtech, Babbel strives to stay at the very forefront of innovation – to the point where FastCompany magazine awarded us the title of most innovative company in education just last year.

5. They make courses which are fun and easy

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough."

We’re all capable of learning a second, third or even fourth language, but we often go about it the wrong way, opening dictionaries at A and bailing out at B, or assuming that our first communication fail is indicative of all future attempts. Babbel preaches the little and often approach, offering up a diversity of relevant lessons that keep you engaged and promote your reading, listening, writing and speaking skills. The timely introduction and repetition of new vocabulary and grammar explanations ensures you make sustained, upward progress and never feel overwhelmed.

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