Foreign languages are hard. There’s no shortage of expensive books and systems claiming to teach you how to gab like a native in only a few short lessons. But traditional methods don’t work for most people as well real world experience and continuous practice.
A young German startup is helping language students get that practice and experience through their new language learning community called Babbel. Babbel is an Adobe Flex application that combines a social network with a series of language learning tools for English, German, Spanish, Italian, and French. The language learning tools are currently fairly basic and come in the form of vocabulary quizzes that test you on words by matching a word’s sounds and spelling with pictures. The site tracks your progress and reminds you to continue training on new sets. Babbel leverages the social network by letting users message each other and work on forming lessons together. In the future you’ll be able to chat with each other as well. xLingo and LiveMocha are other language learning communities focused on matching up foreign language students.
But Babbel is not only about collaboratively studying a foreign language. The site will also depend on it’s users to contribute more content to their site through vocabulary words and eventually new lesson plans. Users can add new words or phrases to the site’s vocabulary index, and then tie them to an audio clip and picture representation.
Babbel does have some notable drawbacks, though. Conversations are only text based (Skype or TokBox could augment that). Also, it isn’t a site where you can learn the basic grammatical rules of a language, it only supports vocabulary lessons. Readers interested in starting from scratch should check out Mango Languages, which provides a free program for learning the mechanics of a language from the ground up.