Just Babbeling On

I mentioned in the previous post I’d write about the learning methods I’ve been using for French. So today’s post is about an online course at Babbel I’ve been following for half a year. I’ve had some weeks when I did not use it, but all in all I’ve managed to stick with it quite well. I’ll try to get to the bottom of why it’s worked for me.

I’m not an expert on different online courses or language apps. I actually only tried Duolingo before. I know a lot of people who use Duolingo and have managed to actually get to a decent conversational level by using it. I tried it twice for basics of German, and also took a level test in French and tried some of the bit more advanced stuff.

For some reason, Duolingo was not for me. I got bored with the exercises, first of all. Even more importantly, I was annoyed by the system they had to encourage you to revise – the level bars that keep going down when you don’t practice. I guess a perfectionist like me just had to keep the bars full, and I found myself having to repeat the basics over and over again, even though I already knew them by heart. Finally, I got tired of sentences like “My pretty duck drinks juice”. I swear I do have a sense of humour, and Sh*t Duolingo says on Twitter really is a good laugh. And I know it’s a bit like reading a children’s book first, and that can be a great way to learn. But I don’t know, maybe I’d rather actually read the children’s books then. I just like to learn useful stuff.

Babbel I first found through their blog, where I really enjoyed reading some of the user portraits and “tips from polyglots how to learn any language” kind of stories. When I started to think following a course might really help me get some structure to my French learning, Babbel was the only one I had really read some experiences about, and I decided to test it. I liked the free trial – it’s free to test one lesson of each course, and there are several courses from beginners to intermediate, plus grammar, listening and speaking, and different themes, so you actually get to play around quite a bit before you need to make up your mind. To subscribe the courses, you have to pay a bit, but I think the price was very reasonable, you get access to all of the courses, and in the beginning, having paid money for it was a good motivator to really regularly use it.

The exercises themselves are quite simple and in a way quite similar to Duolingo: lot of repetition, exercises for writing, speaking and listening, and you just learn a few new phrases per lesson. Somehow I still find them a lot less boring than Duolingo. Maybe it’s because they are more coherent. Each lesson includes a dialogue in the end, with a couple of characters discussing some issue, creating a clever little story. I already start guessing from the sentences introduced in the lesson what the dialogue is going to be about, and that keeps me interested throughout the lesson. For an occasional laugh, instead of ridiculous sentences, the dialogues often have a funny twist in the end.

The topics and phrases are mostly very everyday, and I often think: “Hey, I could really use that sentence!”, and get encouraged to imagine myself in a situation where I use it, maybe even change the phrase a bit to better fit my needs. I think that is very fruitful, because textbook/course-form of language learning always has the risk that you only learn the textbook phrases by heart, and don’t learn to apply them in real life.

My favourite thing on Babbel, however, is  certainly the Review manager. The vocabulary you learn on the exercises appears there, and you can revise with flashcards or writing – I always use the flashcards. The clever thing is, they tell you how the revise manager works: each time you get the phrase right on first attempt, it is moved to the next level and the revision interval gets longer. If you get it right on the second try, the interval stays the same, and if it takes more tries, the interval gets shorter. You can see which level all your vocabulary is on.

Review manager on Babbel

I find this very motivating. I can follow the progress of my vocabulary building up, and I know it makes sense how often I revise a phrase. The more difficult ones to learn will be revised more often, and the easy ones that already are in the long-term memory, will not cram the process and make me bored.

I often still spend a lot of time revising, and only take on a new lesson maybe once a week. However, I think this course has been very useful for my overall learning. It hasn’t perhaps taken my French to a new level, but it’s been great for defrosting what I already knew but had forgotten. I actually had already learned quite a lot of grammar, and building sentences and that kind of stuff, back in school. Babbel has also been a great basis for my other two learning media, audiobooks and Goldlisting, which both would be much less useful on their own.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences on different online courses and language apps!