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Learning a language is challenging once you’ve left school. As a child your brain should still be receptive to new information and able to retain data, but once hairs start appearing on your chin and makeup on your lips you’re already past the point of optimal learning.
The Web is already a great tool for learning a language through the use of online communities, interactive services and audio resources. Babbel is another tool that promises to make learning a language easier than simply burying your head in a textbook by providing interactive lessons to learn as you go.
The service is more than a tool for learning, but also suitable for refining and refreshing languages you already have a grasp of. Read on to find out how it all works.
First, The Truth
I feel that I should stick this at the very beginning of my review because it’s something I’ve long known, and Babbel merely confirmed it again. Learning a language is not easy. Regardless of the language you choose, the books you read or tools you use – it will still be hard. Babbel does not make learning a language easy – nothing makes learning a language easy. Those trashy online adverts about learning a language in a fortnight are all lies.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can say that Babble is a great way to go about learning a language. It uses just about every trick in the book to engage your brain, so regardless of how you best learn it’s got a good chance of sinking in. The service breaks learning a language down into simple lessons designed to get you up to speed with vocabulary, grammar, sentence construction and some more specialised lessons in linguistics.
In total there are 11 language courses on offer, for each of the following: English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Dutch, Polish and Indonesian. The lessons take an all-round approach to learning for the most part, utilizing audio as the user interacts with the lessons. The process feels quite passive, and for much of the time takes on a “fill in the blanks” approach, with plenty of reading and real-world dialogues for good measure. The lessons are a pretty standard affair, but they’re plentiful and varied enough to remain interesting.
You can even use a microphone and voice recognition to speak your answers, though your mileage may vary using this method particularly if you don’t have a very convincing accent.
In addition to lessons there are several other areas of the site of particular use to you if you’re learning a language. Members are encouraged to meet each other on forums and via chat rooms and being surrounded by like-minded learners creates quite a nurturing environment in which members can help each other and benefit in the process.
Refresh & Refine
At school I learned Welsh, a little-spoken but still useful second language, as well as French to A-Level (sixth form, high school… call it what you want) and while I’ve not spoken it for a while the last time I found myself surrounded by Francophones it slowly started to come back. If you’re in a similar boat to me in that you’re not completely useless on the language front and used to know a bit or this or that, Babbel caters quite well to your level of skill.
In addition to beginner courses through to advanced, there are special lessons and others designed to re-awaken the linguist inside you. If you have been learning for a while but are still confused about certain nuances then the special set of lessons that accompany each language target specific areas of your chosen language.
Babbel keeps the whole process very simple, and the design of the site was responsive even on the slow Internet connection I have been using for the past week. Much of the elements are loaded in one block as you begin a module, which means you’re not waiting around for things to load once you get started.
My main gripe with Babbel is the requirement to log in with Facebook, something I don’t usually mind on free websites but considering this is a paid service it would be nice to choose a simple username and password combination instead.
Facebook integration means that Babbel will automatically tell your friends about your progress when you finish lessons, a method of marketing for Babbel and so-called bragging rights for you. If you’re not keen on this then you can turn it off from the Profile menu, something I’d recommend doing before you even begin.
Babbel is an effective learning tool for the budding linguist looking to learn or brush up on a non-native tongue. As previously mentioned, Babbel will not make this process easy – but that’s because this process is not easy. You should expect to struggle learning a language, but Babbel will make an excellent companion if you’re serious about the task in hand.
Its ability to connect you with like-minded individuals is not entirely unique but well-executed and a welcome addition. If you’re not a Facebook user then it’s worth setting up a dummy account just to use Babbel – though hopefully the developers will open up Twitter, Google or good old fashioned username and password registrations some time soon.