Babbel: leading the way in language-learning for beginners

When you are about to learn a new language it is very difficult to know where to start. At school we go through topics and grammar one by one, and we’re provided with a lot of resources. But when you’re starting off alone, it’s impossible to know what to tackle first, what order to do things in and how much time to spend on anything. Today I’m going to speak about Babbel, the company solving all these problems for you.

This is a language learning company providing courses in 13 languages, covering all the main European languages and some more niche ones too such as Bahasa Indonesia and Danish. The focus of their courses is to make sure that from the start you learn words and phrases that can be used in everyday conversation instead of just learning all the vocabulary that relates to a particular topic at the same time, which I think is vital to promote in language learning across the board.

You are able to choose the lessons which most interest you and aren’t forced to complete a particular sequence. This means that if you want to you can complete every lesson from the initial beginner’s course until the end, or you can pick those you think will contain the phrases you need to know, especially useful if you are pressed for time before travelling to a country where your chosen language is spoken.

They also put a huge focus on making sure that the lessons don’t demand too much on your time. Each lesson is crafted to be 15 minutes on average, meaning you can slip a lesson into those small gaps of time you have throughout the day and come out of it that bit wiser.

I really like how in each lesson there is a mixture of learning new words, explanations of grammar points, practising this grammar, listening exercises and also speaking practice, meaning the lessons are kept exciting and fresh. The speaking practice, where you’re made to repeat words after hearing a native speaker say them, is fantastic for helping with pronunciation, because if you don’t say it correctly you have to continue trying, and this is something which most other services are unable to offer.

On top of the desktop version of the platform there is also an app. This allows you to learn from wherever you are, and you can even download lessons on this app, so if you’re on the tube and without Internet you’re still able to study!

Babbel is a subscription service language learning platform where you pay a certain amount a month and get unlimited access to the lessons for the language you’ve signed up for (NB. if you want to learn more than one language at a time, you will have to pay more, but I think learning one language at a time alone is more than enough). And what’s great is you can also buy 3 month, 6 month or year long subscriptions which end up saving you a lot of money. Even better, Babbel often have deals on their subscriptions, such as when I recently got 12 months for the price of 6 for the Portuguese course I started.

All in all, this is a fantastic service and one that I would recommend to anybody starting to learn a language. Check Babbel out here!

3 apps I’ve used to improve my Spanish

Nowadays there are more and more ways to learn and practice whatever skill you want to online, and this is no different in terms of learning languages. Outside of language learning apps such as Babbel (one of my favourite apps – see our next post about this), here are 3 apps you can use to improve your Spanish in your free time.

BBC Mundo

This app gives you all the news you would normal consume from around the world, but in Spanish! They have long, detailed articles related to all topics you might be interested in, so you can find out what’s going on in the world while improving your Spanish at the same time! If you’re only interested in certain topics, the app also neatly divides articles under different tabs such as ‘Tecnología’, ‘Deportes’ and ‘América Latina’, so you can easily read up on your interests. The app also includes lots of videos to give a more visual aspect.

BBC Mundo logo

Netflix

This is one you will all be familiar with. There is ever more Spanish language content on Netflix, giving you a wide selection of films and shows to choose from. If you are not quite yet fully confident, use subtitles to help you follow what is going on: I recommend Spanish subtitles over English to help you get used to understanding the Spanish for what it is, instead of trying to always translate it in your head which can make learning as you get more advanced more difficult. But if you need to, and this is hampering your enjoyment, of course use English subtitles. Then, to test yourself try to watch small sections without the subtitles to see how much you can understand.

What can also be really fun is watching a series you’ve already watched in English but with Spanish audio instead! It’s very easy to change this setting on Netflix, can mean you already know what is going on in the episode, and can provide a good laugh hearing your favourite characters speaking in very different accents. I’ve watched ‘Friends’ with Spanish audio before, and it was very entertaining.

Netflix on TV

Quizlet

Here we have a fantastic app for practising your vocabulary. You are able to make up your own sets and vocabulary lists and then learn the words in a variety of different ways. There is a flashcard mode, a mode that gives you short tests on the words and others where you have to match words with their translations in a game which is like Pairs. If you use Quizlet on desktop they also have a great game called Gravity. Meteors with words on them are approaching your planet, and you must type their translations out before they crash into the planet and as you go through the levels you have to do it faster and faster (I’ve played it and, trust me, it’s very fun).

Not only can you make your own sets, but you can also access sets other people have made on the site which could save a lot of time. For example, if you want to find lists of word for certain GCSE topics, just type into the search ‘GCSE Spanish’ followed by the topic and lots of results will come up!

N.B. I recommend keeping your sets to 25 words or less, as beyond this they can become too difficult to remember

Quizlet logo

Looking for more recommendations of ways to further your Spanish? Drop us an email and we’ll see if we can help

4 great benefits of learning a language

There are roughly 4,500 languages in the world that have more than 1,000 speakers. Yet many people go their whole lives only knowing one of these: the one they’re brought up with. How can somebody benefit from learning a new language? Here are four benefits that we think will inspire you to take up some language practice

Allow yourself to fully experience the world & other cultures

Without being able to speak the language of a country, you can often feel like a passenger and complete outsider, experiencing things on the surface but never fully getting involved in what is going on. Even when the people there can speak English, meaning often doesn’t fully or accurately come across and you lose out.

Being able to speak the local language gets rid of all of these barriers and means you can fully integrate into the culture and achieve a whole new level of experience. From experience I can say that on my Year Abroad, living in Spanish-speaking countries and knowing how to speak Spanish allowed me to take part in activities and go to places that I would not have at all been able to had I not studied Spanish for years prior.

This is the main motivation for most people to learn a language, and the one that leads to the best experiences.

Child wearing indigenous clothing

Open up a whole new world of entertainment

There are already a ridiculously large number of books, TV shows and films out there which you can spend your time consuming. And in our current age, with the likes of Kindle and Netflix around, it’s never been easier to access all of these. However, by speaking another language this pool of great content and entertainment can grow to be even bigger.

Some of the greatest works come from other languages, and although most of them have now been translated into English you’ll never get the true feel of a text through a translation, or of a film through a dubbed version. Although this can be difficult at the early stages of learning a language, I will never stop encouraging people to try to fully immerse themselves in entertainment in their chosen language.

And I’ve said all of this without even mentioning music, the way so many people are easily able to access a new language! With the help of Spotify you can easily listen to music from around the world, and participate in waves of music such as that of reggaetón at the moment!

Pile of books

Future job opportunities

In a world that is ever more globalised, there is an increasing demand for workers highly skilled in foreign languages to be able to maintain relationships with other countries and to carry out business overseas. Learning a language doesn’t close any doors on what you will be able to do in the future, but it will certainly open up lots of opportunity, with companies looking at you to be the Spanish guy or girl in the office or even potentially to live abroad in countries where your chosen language is spoken.

Aeroplane with pink sky in the background

Give your brain a real workout

Regardless of all of the above, one of the best reasons to learn a language is the stimulation that your brain receives from it. Having to switch between two languages and think in another language pushes your brain to a new level, one that will assist you in any other learning you have to do.

Why I started ESpeak

Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that Spanish plays a big part in my life. I have been speaking Spanish for 10 years now, have always loved speaking the language and have found it relatively easy to grasp though I always strive to improve my knowledge of both the language and Hispanic culture. Now I have reached a higher level, I want to dedicate my time to transferring my knowledge onto those struggling with Spanish, or simply wanting to push themselves further. I’ve been teaching Spanish to several students for 3 years and I have developed an idea of what these students need in order to prevail.

I want to focus primarily on the speaking aspect of Spanish as I believe that it has been neglected, both at school as well as at university (this may surprise a lot of people: I only had 2 contact-hours of Spanish a week, which isn’t enough to excel in the language). I personally believe that speaking is by far the most important part of learning a language and the reason almost everybody wants to learn a language is to be able to interact with native speakers. This allows for travel and the ability to integrate and immerse more comfortably in Spanish-speaking countries. It seems pointless to learn a language unless you give precedence to speaking. Yes, reading and writing are helpful and valuable skills, but becoming a fluent speaker should be the goal of every language learner.

Hola mounted on wall

Finding the opportunity to speak Spanish when studying in the UK can be difficult, especially at GCSE or A Level when spoken practice is limited. Some companies provide language exchange evenings, but there are several negatives to these. Firstly, it can be intimidating to go and speak the language with strangers, especially if you have nobody to go with. Further, you have to travel to these events, which often puts people off. Another barrier is that you are expected to spend time speaking in your native language, which many students don’t want to do. This is the problem that also exists when finding an online language partner – many people just want to spend extended time practising their Spanish instead of having to teach also.

My goal is to provide a way for students to access fluent Spanish speakers without having to leave the comfort of their home, speakers who have years of experience studying Spanish and have spent significant time living in Spanish-speaking countries. Through ESpeak’s online Spanish speaking sessions, students will be able to improve without feeling shy or embarrassed and without having to travel. I hope that this will encourage the pursuit of mastery of the language and give them the confidence and competence to speak with native speakers.

Additionally, exams are important. Although I would love to just teach students to speak the language, I am not naïve to the fact that the current education system requires them to learn very specific things to pass. Therefore, I am also offering tutoring classes which are geared specifically to the school syllabus the student is studying and will facilitate them obtaining the top grades.

Finally, speaking from both experience and an extensive survey I carried out, I know that the majority of languages students find grammar to be the most difficult thing about learning a language. For this reason I will be providing grammar explanation sheets on the site which any student can access. Using my accumulated knowledge of the language over the years, I hope I can present these difficult concepts in a clear, digestible way that students will find useful.

Please have a look around the site and feel free to get in contact with me for anything Spanish related. I’ll be more than happy to help!

Shandon Williams