Babbel is a subscription-based online language-learning service with courses in French, Italian, Spanish Portuguese, German and Swedish, as well as English and Business English. A subscription gives you access to a single language, each of which is approached though a series of courses that cover everything from basic greetings to more complex situational conversations and advanced grammar. Individual courses are grouped into manageable themed lessons. For example, the Spanish for beginners course is divided into sixteen themed lessons, each of which is sub-divided into two parts and supplemented by a further review session and introduction to troublesome aspects of Spanish pronunciation. Each individual component is designed to take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.
There is no set pattern to the individual lessons, as they cater for a wide range of needs and abilities. However, each uses a mixture of repetition and interaction to reinforce lesson contents. Exercises focus equally on spelling, comprehension and pronunciation of small sets of words and/or phrases, which are usually presented with illustrative pictures. At every stage of the course your pronunciation is monitored, so you’ll need a microphone. Each phrase you repeat is analysed and scored, and your progress through the course is conditional on intelligible repetition. This should mean that you have pronounced each word correctly at least once through the course. In practice, the rating system is generous enough to make sure you don't become disheartened, but stringent enough to ensure that native speakers will be able to understand you. As you progress through the course, the vocabulary you learn is stored, and can later be searched and filtered for convenient review and revision.
Babbel provides a mobile application to supplement the main online service. This allows you to revise words and phrases whenever you have a spare moment. It's only available for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, though. There’s also a social aspect to the service. Babbel started out as a social network site dedicated to language, and this is still an active component. You can contact other users who may be interested in helping you, and with a wide and diverse user base, the chances of finding someone who will act as a mentor in return for some help with their English is high. There’s no built-in voice communication, but you can email and text chat with other users, and post questions on the active forums. We suspect that most users will prefer this slightly less personal approach to online communication.
Leaning a new language is never easy but Babbel makes the process convenient and fun. While beginners and those who need to brush up will undoubtedly gain more from the service than those closer to fluency, Babbel is an ideal and affordable way to fit learning a language into your everyday life.