When Startups monetize! Babbel switches on paid courses

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Babbel – the language learning site emanating from Germany – releases it’s first premium product tomorrow. It’s the first sign of their business model and begins their monetization. I’m told the objective is to establish a “freemium” model with a free basic version and payed premium products on top.

So far the site has around 250,000 registered users since launch in January 2008 and is growing mainly in Europe and North Africa. Babbel offers 5 languages that can be used both as reference and learning languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian and German.

An example of this is the Spanish course it will offer (for German speakers) which will be priced 19 Euro (for a single payment). This has unlimited use for 3 months guaranteed with, crucially, a money-back garantee for 20 days. This single payment model differs from the subscription models of other sites and the idea is to make costs more transparent for the customer. The trouble with language courses is that you can pay through the nose for a lot of courses and then just not use everything. Other aspects of the site are likely to remain free for a while, such as vocabulary trainers, writing exercises and all community features as live chat, message boards, internal mail.

This is the first course to be monetised, but clearly Babbel are testing the water to see what happens with this and how the other courses will fair. When startups monetise they often lose users.

However, co-founder Markus Witte tells me “We’re not switching, premium products are an add-on. The site stays free. We’ll loose nobody.”

Babbel has backing from German investors Kizoo and VC Fonds Berlin, although it’s understood to be less than a million euros.

Members of the Ruby on Rails-driven Babbel teach each other via an Adobe Flash/Flex interface. The shtick behind Babbel is that it has a design inspired by a game console, incorporating user-generated images and human voices into the teaching, like shopping or flirting.

Competitors to Babbel are myriad but many have a differing take on language learning. Mango Languages, which launched in September of 2007, offers ten languages. LiveMocha also features social networking. LingQ, offers vocabulary and grammar drills. Babbel bought FriendsAbroad, while VoxSwap has video services and integrates Skype. And Learn10 puts language practice into a widget.

  • http://learn10.com Nicola Robinsonova

    If you’re interested in seeing which of the above sites offer resources in the language you’re learning, the directory page on the Learn10 widget will show you.
    (Learn10 was developed after extensive testing of our prototype – LearnItLists)

  • http://babbel.com Markus Witte

    The new Spanish course is already available (in German only): http://www.babbel.com/go/spanisch-einstieg

    You can try the first Tutorial for free. I’m curious to hear what you think about it.

    Now the Babbel Team is out for some beers.

  • http://startupmeme.com/babbel-to-monetize-language-couorses/ Babbel to monetize language couorses | Startup Meme - Technology Startup and Latest Tech News

    […] is equally successful, monetizing it is no harm. Babbel, the language learning site is all set to release its first premium product by tomorrow. The service would have you pay for a course that may last […]

  • Alex

    They are not the only one who offer a paid course. Livemocha introduced a paid course as well but they are quite about it.


    • Nika

      It´s seems to be the trend in that industry – the site I am using, http://www.busuu.com – has recently offered a premium course starting from 8 EUR/month… “Freemium” seems to be the name of the game in the online language learning industry…

  • http://www.actionstep.com Peter K

    I’ve tested Babbel for quiet some time now ( I think I was on board since I read the first article here) and I was suprised how well it works for me. Specially when you have not spoken a language for a while it sort of gives you a nice and easy re entry.

    I really like the ability to get in contact with other learners via chat or board, helped me a lot when I was looking for the right words or expressions. Don’t know if this is provided by the other services.


  • Bob B

    You guys are professional writers, right? PLEASE learn the difference between “its” and “it’s”. Sorry, but this is just a pet peeve of mine.

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      Hi Bob – Yeah, I have this blind spot about “it’s” – but I’ve having therapy for it, you’ll be glad to know.

  • Joseph Masterson

    Why don’t techcrunch/Michael Arrington insist that their journo’s take care in the grammer and spelling of their editorial?
    Mike- I have never seen so many consistent spelling errors from an editor before. Clearly you don’t proof read or spell check before putting live, which is hugely damaging to your reputation as a credible journo

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      I think I’ll live. remember, this is a blog – there are no copy editors. :-)

  • http://www.englishaddicts.com MICHELN

    Learning a language requires efforts and commitment. Payment is part of the equation.

  • http://www.lingq.com Mark Kaufmann

    I certainly agree that language learning requires commitment and that’s why we have always had a freemium model at LingQ. Those members who pay, do more and learn more, on average. Online language schools cost a fraction of what you would pay offline with as good or better results.

    I also want to point out that your description of what LingQ has to offer is not that accurate! :-) In fact, we don’t teach grammar at all. Our focus is on listening and reading in your target language and learning the vocabulary in that content using our tools.

    We also have a lively community and offer live conversation through Skype and writing correction.

  • http://www.onehourtranslation.com Yaron Kaufman

    I learn Chinese (Mandarin) for the past 2 years. When I started, I had hard times finding an affordable, yet quality course. I found a good course eventually but it took a lot of time and money. My conclusion is that there’s a real need for such services such as Babbel’s, and three’s a room for plenty more.

  • http://www.languagetranslation.com/blogs/?p=1119 Language Links » Talk no longer always free at Babbel

    […] ” Other aspects of the site are likely to remain free for a while, such as vocabulary trainers, writing exercises and all community features as live chat, message boards, internal mail,” reports TechCrunch. […]

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