Babbel is a subscription-based 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 is operated by Lesson Nine GmbH in Berlin, Germany. Babbel has around 450 full-time employees and freelancers. The company is based in the Berlin neighborhood of Mitte.
The company was founded in August 2007 by Markus Witte and Thomas Holl. In January 2008, the language learning platform went online with community features as a free beta version. 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 expand into the United States. As part of the acquisition, PlaySay Founder and CEO Ryan Meinzer joined Babbel as a strategic advisor for its US operations.
Babbel is a premium, subscription-based language learning app for web, iOS and Android. Babbel currently offers 14 different languages from seven display languages (German, English (US + UK), French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Italian and Swedish). Babbel’s original learning content is developed in-house by a team of over 100 educators and linguists.
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 August 2017, Babbel announced that it had partnered with Cambridge English Language Assessment to create a low-cost online English test. The test assesses beginning and intermediate students’ reading and listening skills (up to level B1 and above of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). Every test features about 70 questions from a bank of hundreds of options which—like Babbel’s lesson content—reflect real-life communicative situations, including recordings of radio broadcasts and conversations for listening tasks.
Juliet Wilson, director of assessment at Cambridge English, explained to Professionals in International Education News that “…until now it’s been difficult for [online learners] to know whether they are really learning the right skills, or to demonstrate their real level,” going on to say that the Babbel English Test would “give learners reliable evidence of their progress and a certificate of achievement that demonstrates what they have learned.”
The word Babbel is the imperative mood of babbeln, which means to chat in the Hessian dialect of (in German). 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 symbiotic fish that serves as a universal translator. Babbel is also a homophone of the English verb “babble.”
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.“
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