My frustration about the lost language
My native language is German, I have lived in England for many years and there is hardly any better way to learn a language than living in a country where it is spoken in everyday life. English is also useful as a lingua franca in many other parts of the world. So why would I bother with another language?
My frustration started when friends from France came to vist me and I was not able to say just one sentence in French, even though I could speak at an intermediate level in the past. I was determined to talk French again, but because my life was busy, I almost gave up on it. Things finally changed when I started teaching German and I found out several things about learning languages…
Grammar is important and it doesn’t have to be a pain
In my experience, most people dislike learning grammar and therefore some of my students had avoided it as much as they could before they began learning with me. They had been studying German for quite a while and were able to make themselves understood, but they made many grammatical mistakes. Because the errors had not been corrected, they had become so ingrained that it was very difficult to get rid of them. These students could have saved a lot of time and money if they had learned grammar early on.
Some language learning programmes promise to teach languages without any grammar and claim that you can learn it simply by communicating with native speakers, but I don’t agree with this. The students mentioned above were all regularly in touch with native speakers. Unfortunately they still didn’t have anybody to correct them. Native speakers generally use grammar subconsciously. They acquire the language automatically as a child, and hardly anyone is able to explain the rules or answer more than basic questions. Here is the good news, though: You can actually learn grammar in an enjoyable way and I will tell you more about it further below.
I prefer translated vocabulary
Grammar is not the only important thing – about 70% of learning a language is vocabulary. In textbooks, new words are often only listed in the foreign language. Students are then expected to use a dictionary and translate the words which they do not understand. I have never met anyone who likes doing this, including myself, because it is boring and time-consuming.
In addition, so-called “false friends”, words which seem to have the same meaning in the other language, can be easily overlooked and mistunderstood. The German word “Roman” is an example: it has nothing to do with the city Rome, but is related to books and means “novel” in English.
Admitting mistakes can be embarrassing
Everyone makes mistakes and especially those who do not learn as fast as others often feel uncomfortable in a group when others become aware of it. Even one-to-one students sometimes feel uneasy when they are corrected.
Most people have little time
And last but not least, learning languages can take time and is often not regarded as a priority in our busy lives. When work gets in the way, students are easily tempted to give up.
Due to my own irregular working hours, traditional language courses were not for me anyway. But after learning what works well and what doesn’t for my students and thinking about my own needs, I searched online, read reviews, tried out several courses and eventually I found what I was looking for.
The online language course Babbel convinced me for various reasons:
Babbel allows you to learn grammar as you go in a playful way and it can be applied immediately.
You learn all the vital elements including listening, writing, speaking and reading.
After finishing individual courses, you know where you stand, because they are structured according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This scheme determines which kind of knowledge you are supposed to have at which level and if you want, you can download certificates after finishing courses. In addition, you could even switch to traditional courses afterwards if you wanted to, as the Framework is generally acknowledged in language schools.
And not only that:
The EU sponsors the programme through the European Regional Development Fund – they have recognized the benefits.
Efficient spaced repetition of vocabulary
Before I started with the programme, I was already familiar with the flashcard system according to Sebastian Leitner, which I find really useful. You are reviewing flashcards with vocabulary translations at increasing intervals (called “spaced repetition”), and the words that you don’t remember are repeated more often than others. Babbel integrated this system into their online programme, which makes it is even more efficient.
More variety helps to learn better
Babbel does not just teach you to read and write, but you can practise your pronunciation with audio files, and there are images as well – using many senses is an efficient memory tool. You will find dialogues early on and advanced learners may write texts and answer questions relating to what they have just read or listened to. All of this makes learning more varied and interesting. In addition, you can choose specific courses if you want to, for example for holiday or job purposes.
Freedom and flexibility
As mentioned before, I wanted to learn at my own pace. Once I even took a longer break and was able to continue easily just by repeating a bit more. The option to repeat anything at any time is also useful if there are certain things that you find more difficult to understand.
Another advantage of Babbel is the fact that your learning progress is secured in a Cloud. You can work with different devices and switch between them, like PC, Mac, laptop, tablet or Smartphone, whatever suits you. I personally prefer my laptop with a bigger screen rather than using my Smartphone.
The courses are also well suited if you learned a language at school and want to brush up on your knowledge. I am refreshing my French right now and was very happy when I started being able to speak the language again! I can speak to friends again and as France is in the focus of the world public at the moment, I am glad that I can read French news websites to get to know a bit more about what is going on in this country.
I have been a Babbel user for a while now and I like it so much that I am now learning Dutch and Turkish as well. Dutch comes rather easily as it is similar to both German and English. Turkish is a challenge with a very different structure and vocab, but I am loving it. And my multi-language subscription gives me the added benefit of English. I am using it for words that I find hard to remember. You can add words yourself, by the way. If you are not a “language junkie” like me, though, you might consider using Babbel just for one language, or at least start with one language, especially if you are new to learning languages.
Some more tips on Babbel from my experience:
- Even in case you only manage to learn 10 minutes per day, you can benefit a lot if you do it regularly.
- Don’t get upset when you make mistakes – use them as learning opportunities instead – nobody else needs to know about it. (If you knew how many mistakes I make in Turkish…)
- There are different options to learn vocabulary, so think about what you want. In Dutch and Turkish I decided not to write the words and sentences anymore, when I repeat them, as it is faster like this. Alternatively, you can also work with audio speech recognition. You will see what I mean when you give it a try.
- At some point you should start speaking with real people in the foreign language. One way of doing this is by attending so-called Meetups, which you can find in various languages in many cities worldwide. You can talk to others in a relaxed atmosphere there and most of these meetings are free. This allows you to improve your existing skills, even if you decide not to do any language course. Alternatively you may also use Babbel’s forum to get in touch with people that speak the language of your choice and help each other to make progress.
And here is my most important tip:
Find out whatever works best for you and have fun with it!
Did you know that foreign language skills can even help to make you a better writer in your own language?
I will tell you more about this and other benefits for authors in my next article.