Babbel introduces speech recognition to aid language learning

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Babbel, the language learning site, has added “realtime” speech recognition to enhance its practical application and enable users to fine-tune their pronunciation skills. This pits the service up against more traditional players such as TellMeMore or Rosetta Stone, says the company.

The speech recognition functionality was built in-house – much of the team’s background is in audio technology – although it was realised with the latest 10.1 update to Adobe’s Flash plug-in, which enables developers to access audio data captured from the user on the client-side instead of streaming to a back-end server for analysis. For realtime feedback, local processing is preferable, says Babbel, and had Adobe not offered this option, the company would need to have built its own browser plug-in, which is hardly ideal.

Included in all Babbel courses, the browser-based speech analysis is designed to give learners “instant evaluation” of how close their pronunciation is to that of a native speaker and to tackle the problem that many students of foreign languages have in that they lack speaking practice and the confidence that comes with it.

In the associated exercises, learners listen to a word or phrase and are then prompted to repeat it back. They are then given a rating of 0-100, with a result of 50 or higher meaning that they are “generally understandable”, after which they can move on to the next exercise or choose to have another go.

Moving forward, Babbel plans on bringing its newly developed speech recognition functionality to its iPhone apps.

The Berlin-based company, which was founded in August 07, says it has 700,000 registered users from over 200 countries, while its iPhone apps have passed the 100,000 download mark. It doesn’t, of course, disclose how many of those users are paying customers but does claim to be profitable since dumping its freemium model in November 09.

Babbel (via Lesson Nine) is backed by Kizoo AG and VC-Fonds Berlin.

  • Kirsten Winkler

    Nice, this was the missing link to Rosetta Stone. With speech recognition there is nothing big left that would separate the two companies. Sure, Rosetta Stone offers more languages and one had to compare the two speech recognition systems to one another but I think to have this in the portfolio will boost the sales once again.

  • Michel Nizon

    About Speech Recognition, I would suggest a visit to our no commercial web site to share opinions about this controversial topic.

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  • Sam

    This is not speech recog in the strict sense of the term. It is just calculating discrepancy of the client object (the customers voice file) from the ideal object (the voice file from the native speaker in this case), taking into account the pitch, tone etc. Challenging project nevertheless, but calling it SR for any language is somewhat misleading.

  • Khalid

    They need to add more languages and then I’d pay for this for sure.

    Russian would be great, as would Mandarin.

  • seslisohbetsitesi

    Please keep updating with great posts like this one. I have booked marked your site and am about to email it to a few friends of mine that I know would enjoy reading..

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  • Martin

    Interesting. I wonder how well such a system would really work for learning pronunciation.

    In my experience teaching languages, I’ve always found that people are perfectly capable of assessing for themselves whether their diction is good or not, provided the teacher (or software) speaks at the right tempo.

    Would like to try the system.

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