|Key people||Markus Witte (CEO), Thomas Holl (CTO), Julie Hansen (CEO Babbel, Inc.)|
|Industry||E-Learning, Online Education|
|Employees||450 in Berlin and New York City|
|Slogan(s)||Speak the language like you've always wanted to|
|Users||Over 1 million paying subscribers
100 million downloads
Babbel is a language learning app and e-learning platform, available in various languages since January 2008. Fourteen languages are currently offered: Dutch, Danish, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish and Turkish.
Babbel’s team of over 100 linguists and language educators create and continuously update content designed to help learners become conversational quickly and efficiently. The platform currently has over 1 million active, paying subscribers. The app, available for the web, iOS, Android and Apple Watch platforms, is downloaded up to 120,000 times per day and has been downloaded around 100 million times to date.
Babbel is operated by Lesson Nine GmbH in Berlin, Germany. Babbel has around 450 full-time employees and freelancers, one-third of whom are linguists and language teachers responsible for continuously updating the platform’s learning content. The company is based in the Berlin neighborhood of Mitte.
The company was founded in August 2007. In January 2008, the language learning platform went online with community features as a free beta version. By the first year, Babbel already had 180,000 members from 200 countries. In 2008, Kizoo Technology Ventures and IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft mbH became Babbel’s first investors. Then, in 2009, Babbel was granted roughly one million euros by the ERDF European Structural Fund. The new product version, Babbel 2.0, went online in November 2009. At that time Babbel’s founders decided against an advertising and mixed-finance model (freemium), opting for paid content.
In March 2013, Babbel acquired San Francisco startup PlaySay Inc. to strategically position themselves to expand into the United States. PlaySay was a 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt Finalist that had a #1 ranked language learning iOS application and premium content deals with McGraw Hill Professional and HarperCollins. As part of the acquisition, PlaySay Founder and CEO Ryan Meinzer joined Babbel as a strategic advisor for its US operations. “With an affordable price point and focus on mobile, Babbel.com is poised to usurp giants like Rosetta Stone who have neglected the majority of the users in the USA market that spend up to $100 each year on self-study language learning products,” he says. “The winner of the race in language-learning software will be the one that does mobile the best and Babbel.com will be well positioned in the principal USA market armed with the acquisition of PlaySay.” In March 2013, Babbel secured $10 million in Series B funding led by Reed Elsevier Ventures.
In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO Markus Witte commented on the decision to eschew advertising: “We don’t want to sell ad inventory… Then you have somebody else but the user as your customer and that’s terrible.”
In January 2015, Babbel opened an office in New York City with the aim of expanding its presence in the US market. Later that year, Babbel raised a third funding round led by Scottish Equity Partners of $22 million. Other participants in this round include previous investors Reed Elsevier Ventures, Nokia Growth Partners, and VC Fonds Technology Berlin. Since January 2017, Babbel, Inc., the company's US subsidiary, has been led by Julie Hansen, CEO U.S.
Babbel is a premium, subscription-based language learning app for web, iOS and Android. Babbel's language courses are designed to be used on the go, anywhere and at any time. Babbel currently offers 14 different languages from seven display languages (German, English (US + UK), French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Italian and Swedish). Over 8,500 hours of content is available for learning the 14 languages and is accessible in 190 countries worldwide via its website. Babbel’s original learning content is developed in-house by a team of over 100 educators and linguists. Babbel is the only language learning app with course content specifically designed for each respective language combination. The content is designed to prepare its customers for real-life situations and everyday conversations. Thematic topics such as travel, culture, local cuisine, and nature cater to learners’ individual interests.
In a blog post, Miriam Plieninger, Babbel’s Head of Didactics, discussed the importance of treating each language pair differently: “Our courses have been developed to be linguistically contrastive. Rules are formulated differently for each combination of mother tongue and learning language (a German will learn Spanish in a different way from an Italian).”
All of Babbel’s courses are based on the European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF) by the Council of Europe. This framework provides so-called “Can Do” descriptions for different communicative skills on reference levels from A1 (beginner) to C2 (advanced). After completing the first six beginner’s courses, a student would hypothetically have achieved level A2, according to the CEF framework. Courses are multimedia-focused to help with pronunciation.
There are beginner, intermediate and grammar courses, vocabulary lessons, as well as courses with tongue-twisters, idioms, colloquialisms, and sayings. Courses for a given language may be aimed at a specific audience: for instance, English may be learned as "PR English" or "Marketing English," in light of the user’s individual needs. Babbel courses are also available as apps for mobile devices: iPhone and iPad apps are available in the App Store and Babbel Android Apps are available in Google Play store.
Babbel’s language courses are divided into short lessons of approximately 5 to15 minutes each. Lessons cover practical real-life situations, ranging from introducing oneself, to ordering food and making travel arrangements. Many language combinations also include lessons on advanced topics like writing love letters and vocabulary for presentations.
Though complete beginners are advised to start with the A1 level beginner’s courses, the learners' goals shape their path through the courses. Each user is able to choose topics which interest them, develop their own individual skills, and practice continuous active learning, insofar as they decide which course content is relevant to them.
All lessons on Babbel are designed to follow a communicative approach, focusing on teaching useful phrases and short sentences at the beginner’s level, and building up vocabulary and functional language gradually. The first tutorial of a beginner’s course, for example, covers basic small talk, greetings, and introductions. A survey of its customers found that 73% of subscribers say they would be able to manage a conversation in a new language after 5 hours of using the app.
Grammatical rules are formulated differently for each combination of display language and learning language, meaning Babbel’s approach is linguistically contrastive. This approach to language acquisition allows learners to build on what they already know from their native languages to acquire a new one.
To help learners revise the content of lessons, Babbel has incorporated the concept of “spaced repetition.” New words and phrases are automatically added to the Review Manager. Review intervals are determined individually for each lexical item based on how often it has been reviewed and how often users answer correctly. These are then regularly recalled for revision at increasing intervals until the user no longer makes mistakes.
New vocabulary is introduced and drilled in small units of three or four words, known as “chunks.” New words and phrases are practiced in the same sequence: speak, click, write. These lexical items are grouped by topic or subject (e.g. business meetings, food or vacations) to facilitate memorization due to their thematic relationship. Words are accompanied by pictures.
While complete beginners are advised to start with the A1 level beginner’s courses, Babbel offers a large number of thematically linked courses and lessons allowing learners to choose those which interest them. Each user can develop his or her own individual skills with which to identify new information subjectively and process it with the benefit of existing knowledge.
Corporate branding & campaigns
The word Babbel is the imperative mood of (German) babbeln, to chat. It is also a pun on the biblical Tower of Babel—a gigantic ziggurat whose construction was interrupted when the worker' languages were made mutually unintelligible by God. The same motif was used in naming the Babel fish from Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a parasitic fish that serves as a universal translator. Babbel is also a homophone of the English verb "babble." Lastly, babbeln means to speak in the Hessian dialect of Germany.
Babbel’s content marketing arm publishes a digital magazine with written and video content in seven different languages. The topics range from behind-the-scenes looks at how Babbel lessons are created to profiles of Babbel customers and language learning tips from the company’s didactics team. In November 2016, Babbel launched a television ad campaign in the UK and Europe. Two television spots were created by the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy. Sophie Bodoh, Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy commented, “Everyone has different motivations for learning a language, but we recognized one common truth that applies to every new learner: They have some kind of fantasy about what it will be like to speak a new language confidently. Using the familiar cinematic worlds of different countries, we show Babbel customers playing out their own unique language-speaking fantasies.“
In 2016, an independent study conducted by researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the University of South Carolina evaluated the overall efficacy of Babbel’s Spanish courses. The study looked at the progress of 325 randomly selected novice Spanish learners, assessing participants’ knowledge of Spanish at the beginning and the end of the study. Overall 92% of the participants improved their language proficiency. Novice customers with no knowledge of Spanish needed about 15 hours of study over a two-month period with Babbel to cover the requirements of one beginner’s college semester of Spanish.
Since the launch of the software in 2008, it has rarely received criticism. The majority of the coverage about Babbel and its software as a service offering is positive. PC Magazine stated the experience was "inexpensive online language-learning program. Good quality and course structure" while reviewing the service. The Hindustan Times reported that Babbel's "functions help learners improve their pronunciation and build vocabulary quickly through fun lessons".
In the United Kingdom, night classes at a college or school have traditionally been a traditional way to learn a new language for adults. In 2017, the Daily Express stated that online learning was "the new way to get fluent in a language," quoting Babbel as their choice of service for language learning. Tech Radar commented on the versatility of the software, stating that it was easy to learn on the go or in places not usually considered for learning, such as the commute to and from work.
Babbel has also received positive mentions in the media and awards for its focus on teaching businesspeople new languages. The Huffington Post reported that for a small monthly subscription, business people who travelled to foreign countries could quickly learn the basics of a new language.
The language learning platform was one of the finalists for "Best Web Application or Service (EMEA)" in TechCrunch’s Europe Awards 2009. In 2011, Babbel was awarded the "Comenius EduMedia Seal" and the "Erasmus EuroMedia Seal of Approval" for "Babbel for Companies“ courses targeted at the business sector. Among others, Babbel counts hotel.de-AG as one of their business clients. Babbel also received the "European Award for Technology Supported Learning (eureleA)" for best technical implementation.
- Language education
- Computer-assisted language learning
- Language pedagogy
- List of language self-study programs
- Language for specific purposes (LSP)
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