by Evelyn Levine
“Babbel Language Learning Podcasts” won a 2020 international E-Learning Award for the best product in the “mobile learning” category.
These podcasts were developed to be used either as stand-alone products or as fully integrated parts of the Babbel language learning website application. For the millions of Babbel subscribers, the podcasts provide an additional learning resource; for those who are not already Babbel subscribers, they serve as is an easily-accessible introduction to Babbel’s products. I recently spoke with Gianluca Pedrotti, the host and creator of Babbel’s language learning podcasts, who is now working from his homemade recording studio (see photos) with the podcast’s co-hosts and guests working in separate locations. He seems to be flourishing in this challenging environment due to his resourcefulness, good humor and compassion, even offering learners extra learning support at this time. Gianluca reports that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of podcast listeners has increased, and Babbel is reporting greater engagement in the podcasts.
The User Experience
The podcasts are free and available to anyone, are offered in a variety of languages, and are about 10-30 minutes each in length. The key modality is listening. Learners are not asked to memorize or repeat words or to focus attention on grammatical rules. During each episode, podcast listeners hear a coach instruct a learner who is part of the podcast.
When I sampled one French podcast, I found it works very well as a highly engaging, standalone, mobile educational tool. Below are some key areas in which I thought the podcast excelled.
Listening to a Story
I began listening to a podcast for newcomers to French, entitled Parlez Away, and found myself getting engrossed in the program as Ted from Wisconsin tries to learn conversational French in what seems like an attempt to win over his French girlfriend’s family and friends on an upcoming trip to Paris. He struggles with tricky pronunciations and formal vs. informal greetings, and learns how to introduce himself to friends and strangers and to ask and answer common conversational questions.
The conversation is authentic, with speakers who are engaging. As podcast listeners, we can easily relate to the earnest and struggling learner as the coach corrects and encourages Ted in a supportive and friendly manner. There is also a dynamic text transcript available in some of the podcasts for those who prefer to have a written version.
Immersion in a new culture
The podcasts are designed to immerse listeners in French culture and slang as we become not just learners but “insiders” into this new world. There are also a lot of cultural references to French habits, holidays, fashion, and even flirting.
The focus of each podcast is always on what a learner needs to know to succeed in the described situation. The learning focuses on the art of conversation: what you need to know to socialize in a variety of real-life situations. It feels genuine and highly relatable, and motivates a learner to want to be able to gain the language skills to feel comfortable in these situations. I found it infinitely more engaging than the old-school “Where is the bathroom?” types of scenarios.
The podcast coach is a key part of the experience. The coach’s method includes correcting grammar and pronunciation with an informal and friendly tone and manner. I found that listening to the coach work with Ted, the learner, gave me much-needed confidence and motivation in my attempt to master a new language.
The podcast is available anytime, anywhere, hands-free, making the learning accessible and fun. Listen while driving, hiking, walking or waiting in line. Or when just relaxing at home. As the Babbel site advertises: “Learn French while you kick back and listen.”
It’s all about l’experience
All in all, it was the engaging experience that brought me back again and again to listen and repeat the podcasts. I was sharing the frustration and excitement with the learner, happy to take instruction from a friendly French native, and enjoying immersing myself in new culture. And, of course, learning French!
About the author: Evelyn Levine works as a Training and Staff Development Director for the U.S. Courts. She writes on worldwide learning and development trends in public and private sectors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.