You know, I don’t think much of Babbel

Con questa app creata da più di 100 esperti linguistici riuscirete a parlare una lingua straniera in 3 settimane

Negli uffici di Babbel c’è un team di esperti linguistici che lavora per voi per creare la migliore esperienza di apprendimento possibile. Siete curiosi di sapere perché funziona?

That’s an ad which Salon has shown me. For those without Italian, a very rough translation.

100 experts have created this app which will teach you a foreign language in 3 months. The official Babbel team of linguistic experts have worked for you to create the best experience possible. And so on and blah blah.

OK, fair enough. But then, well, a reasonable assumption is that they’re looking at where I am and then showing me the ad in my local language. There’s not much point in showing an ad in Italian to someone who doesn’t speak that language (and no, recent surfing hasn’t taken me anywhere that might indicate I do speak Italian).

The local language where I am is Portuguese, Italy is 1,000 miles away.

And how much weight should we put on the value of a language app that cannot even show ads in the right language?

26 comments on “You know, I don’t think much of Babbel

  1. I don’t know. What is the point of showing an ad about learning another language to a Portuguese person in Portuguese? They already speak that. While they can probably figure out enough of the Italian to be able to follow the Italian advert.

    Which has the advantage of filtering out anyone who is not interested in learning Italian.

    The question is what would they do in Britain or Germany? An English or German speaker could not make a good guess at what the ad says. So maybe they advertise in Flemish?

    Either way, the fault is surely not theirs but Google’s. They are writing ads in their language but it will not be them that decides where to run them and in what language. The search engine is unlikely to share their information on users with anyone.

    The final option is that it may just be a First Year psychology experiment.

  2. Not really, P and I are quite different. Not just variations on a theme, they diverged a long time ago. Lavoro, for example, doesn’t mean anything to a P. I know, I used it when I first got here. Trabalho is the P for “work”.

  3. Learning a foreign language in three months? I presume this ‘plan’ involves them dropping you in an Italian village for three months where no-one speaks English. You might have a chance then.

  4. I understand (from a friend) that some of Rocco Siffredi’s movies are in Italian Tim, well the few speaking parts anyway?

    Perhaps your “Italian interests” were predicted that way?

  5. I do not dispute that Italian and Portuguese are different. If they were speaking to each other at a normal speed they might have some problems. But reading it is much easier.

    Con questa app creata da più di 100 esperti linguistici riuscirete a parlare una lingua straniera in 3 settimane

    Negli uffici di Babbel c’è un team di esperti linguistici che lavora per voi per creare la migliore esperienza di apprendimento possibile. Siete curiosi di sapere perché funziona?

    I ran that Italian through google translator and got:

    Com este app criado por mais de 100 peritos da língua você poderá falar uma língua extrangeira em 3 semanas

    Nos escritórios da Babbel há uma equipe de especialistas lingüísticos que trabalham para você para criar a melhor experiência de aprendizagem possível. Você está curioso para saber por que ele funciona?

    I speak no Italian at all and even I can nearly work out what that advert is talking about. The Portuguese is much closer.

  6. An English or German speaker could not make a good guess at what the ad says.

    I don’t know; reading it I feel like I can get a good idea of what’s going on. Of course the translation is underneath and seen in the same glance, so I might well be kidding myself*. But I often think that with both Italian and Spanish.

    *and if you showed it to me cold, I’d think it was about pasta

  7. And how much weight should we put on the value of a language app that cannot even show ads in the right language?

    The targeting software ironically mimicking the standard lack of knowledge of foreign cultures by Multiculturalists such as Salon?

  8. Maybe they only show this ad to bloggers, a few of whom might complain to their wide array of readers, thus spreading the name of Babbel far and wide.

  9. I did Babbel Dutch for a while and they do send some communications in that language. I guess it is intentional and they for some reason decided you are Italian. Maybe Google’s fault? Or do you use a proxy?

    The worst thing about Babbel is the never ending torrent of advertising if you stop buying their product.

  10. The worst thing about Babbel is the never ending torrent of advertising if you stop buying their product.

    The worst hassle I ever had was after I cancelled my Which? subscription. Ironic really as they tend to campaign against that sort of thing.

  11. Spaniards* will happily watch Italian TV programmes (which should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of TVE) and you can get by as a Spanish tourist in Italy speaking only Spanish. Both are closely derived from Latin, but where they diverge, it’s usually because of Germanic influence on Italian (thanks, Goths): tavola/mesa, birra/cerveza.

    * And Portuguese is just Spanish with a lisp. 🙂

  12. SMfS isn’t wrong. I know a lot of Brasilians who’ve worked in Italy & they don’t seem to have had much problem hacking the language. I’d imagine it’s similar to when I was confronted with Flamand. There’s enough similarity with English, you’re half way there before you start.

  13. One of the interesting thing with romance languages is to look at the etymology and see how different languages diverge in meaning from their common Latin root and each other.

    The English words “Labour” and “Travail” both have origins in Latin and can be found in different forms in French, Italian, Provençal, Portuguese and Spanish.

    The English “travail” is more faithful in meaning to the supposed original (an instrument of torture) than is the French “travail” meaning simply “work”.

    The French “labourer” like the Portuguese “lavrar” are restricted to working the land: to plough for French, to till or cultivate for Portuguese. By contrast “lavorare” (Italian) means “to work”.

  14. It’s almost certainly some 3rd party adserver company ‘renting’ Salon pixels and working out what to show you. Babbel might define what category of site etc they think their audience watches, just as Salon can restrict the types of ads it’ll ‘host’. But between that it can get complicated.

  15. When it comes to language software, I found the Pimsleur language courses (basically, a set of audio files) to be fantastic. I learned French off them, did all 90 x 30 min lessons 3 times over in Nigeria. Then did the Russian ones to improve my Russian and it worked wonders. If ever I was going to learn another language, that’s where I’d start (once I’d bought a basic grammar book and completed the exercises, that is).

  16. The English “travail” is more faithful in meaning to the supposed original (an instrument of torture) than is the French “travail” meaning simply “work”.

    That’s because the French find any kind of work akin to torture.

  17. Chris Miller,

    Spanish (do we mean Castillian here – the various dialect/languages are quite different?) has a serious Arabic substrata which differs it from both Italian and Portuguese in vocabulary. It may be significant that the Spanish for soap derives from Arabic…

    And whilst Italian may have been influenced by ‘Gothic’, so would have been proto-Spanish, as the Visigoths established a kingdom there. The Italian Germanic stratum though is mainly a result of the Lombards, and also of the fact northern Italy at least remained in the Holy Roman Empire and therefore was subject to the odd Germanic interference over time.

    Portuguese meanwhile is probably from a separate language from Spanish (it appears to be close to but not the same as Gacilian in ancestry), which was less influenced by Goths and Arabs etc, and therefore, rather like Romanian, evolved on its own far more.

    I suspect that the Spaniards watching Italian TV speak Catalan anyway, as this is the language of the closest bit of mainland Spain and officially the language of the Balaerics (in reality I believe that is Drunken English…) and which is a lot more like Italian, being part of a linguistic continuum from northern Italy through southern France to Catalonia and Valencia (and which is now obscured to a extent by the standardisation of French and to some degree Italian).

    Basically, Hispanic languages are silly (and include Basque, for more fun for everyone), and the Portuguese seem to be the only bit of the peninsula with a standardised language anyway (and I would not be surprised to find there was a strong dialectial version in the Algarve). it’s what happens in a very mountainous area with a rural economy where the only effective long-distance links are by the sea – only polities united by maritime links (Catalonia to an extent (since historically half their power centres are up in the Pyrenees) and Portugal) are able to develop anything like a united language. The extent of Castillian is simply a tribute to the effective power of the absolute monarches in early-modern Spain…

  18. Tim N: That’s because the French find any kind of work akin to torture.

    It must be worse for the Portuguese, though, because while the French plough when they labour, the Portuguese only till.

    Maybe their soil is thinner?

  19. “P and I are quite different”: decades ago I had a Portuguese colleague and a North Italian colleague; they could make themselves understood to each other in their native tongues on everyday topics. For sciencey stuff they spoke English.

  20. “When it comes to language software, I found the Pimsleur language courses (basically, a set of audio files) to be fantastic. I learned French off them, did all 90 x 30 min lessons 3 times over in Nigeria.”

    Yes Pimsleur is good, the courses I have seen anyway (Polish, Spanish). I think good to use several resources together that cover each others weaknesses. Babbel (very cheap) is pretty good with something like Pimsleur (available from most libraries).

  21. I don’t really know about Portuguese (it sounds like a Frenchman speaking Spanish while chewing a sock) but if you speak Spanish you can read and understand that Italian advert at almost full speed. Even if you don’t speak a Romance language but have a rudimentary recollection of schoolboy Latin it should be obvious that settimane is going to be seven of something and therefore a week, not a month. Further, if you know week is semaine in French and semana in Spanish and Portuguese it’s not exactly Hercule Poirot time.

  22. Duolingo’s a good place to start, especially as its free. It will get you up to at least not being embarrassed when travelling and if you augment it with stuff on the web, especially with French where there’s lots of free lessons, you can get by as a tourist.

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