Old school meets new school – PONS teams with language learning startup busuu.com

b[Spain/Germany] In what looks like a classic example of old media trying to stay relevant in the social web era, PONS Publishing Group, the second biggest publisher in Germany as part of the Klett Group, has teamed up with Madrid-based startup busuu.com.

The free-to-join language learning community now comes with a ‘powered by PONS’ badge in reference to the site’s inclusion of content from the traditional publisher. PONS has a 30 year legacy of producing and selling a range of language learning courses and dictionaries in 35 different languages – from Chinese to Hungarian – and says it want to reach new audiences. Busuu.com, founded at the start of 2008 and with more than 250,000 users from over 200 different countries, appears to fit the bill.

Along with giving access to a range of audio-visual learning materials, like its many competitors, busuu.com provides video conferencing functionality so that members can exchange expertise in one language in return for help learning another.

It’s not a unique offering and online language learning as a whole remains a very crowded and hot market epitomised by incumbent Rosetta Stone‘s IPO in April 2009. Other startups in the space include Livemocha and Babbel, both of which have more users – 4.5 million and 500k respectively – and are much better funded than busuu. Livemocha has taken $14 million of investment and Babbel around €1.3 million, while busuu is currently bootstrapped.

In this context, the startup’s partnership with PONS certainly represents a vote of confidence, although the meeting of minds of a traditional publisher and a web 2.0-styled startup in the language learning market isn’t unheard of. Pearson have hooked up with Livemocha and Huebner with Babbel.