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Babbel is an online language learning application with social networking and wiki elements, launched in January, 2008. The website is owned and operated by Lesson Nine, GmbH, a young company based in Berlin, Germany. The free-access website allows users to join and learn any of five languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish or German, and there are currently localized versions available in all of these languages except Italian. Originally created in response to a perceived lack of user-friendly language-learning software[1], and modeled after a video game console[2], Babbel incorporates images and spoken voices for an "intuitive" learning experience.

What differentiates Babbel from other online language learning applications is its collaborative approach to populating the vocabulary lists[2]. The core content of the website is generated by an in-house staff, but this is augmented by user-contributed content and feedback. Babbel users upload photos that are used in lessons and rate photos contributed by other users to make sure the images correspond to the meanings attributed to them.

The name for the company, "Babbel", is derived from the German Swabian dialect verb "babbeln," which means to speak casually and vividly. It is also associated with the English verb "to babble", which like the German verb, comes from the name of the biblical city of Babylon, the Tower of Babel and the legend of the confusion of languages.


The Website

The application lets users participate in learning packages through virtual flashcard software that includes user-contributed images. The flash card stacks are organized into "packages" (groups of cards) that treat a common theme, such as youth hostels, winter sports, restaurants and eating out, fruits and vegetables, clothing, standard greetings, giving and receiving compliments, etc. With input and contributions from the users, these packages get consistently more comprehensive as more people contribute[2]. Another feature of the website is the so-called "refresher tool" that keeps track of users' progress and tells them when they are due for review. takes after popular social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and has users create profiles so as to communicate with others on the website, via private message or on the public "Board". Lesson Nine created this element to facilitate users partnering up for language exchanges, known by the German word "tandem," (exchange). The viewing of profile data and communicating with people on Babbel is limited to Babbel users[3]. [4]


Two software developers, Thomas Holl and Toine Diepstraten, online marketing expert Markus Witte and software entrepreneur Lorenz Heine founded Lesson Nine in Berlin, Germany in August 2007. Holl and Diepstraten were friends as students when they founded the music software company d-lusion in 1996[5]. Notable products of theirs were the bass synthesizer Rubberduckand the DJ mixer MJ Studio which was the direct predecessor of Native Instruments'Traktor DJ Studio. Both Holl and Diepstraten worked as Audio Software Developers for Native Instruments in Berlin after they sold MJ Studio to them. Holl later also worked as a consultant for Accenture, and Diepstraten in mobile technology. Witte met them at Native Instruments, where he established their website in 2000 as Head of the Online Department[6]. He also has background in academic teaching at Humboldt University and NYU, among others. Lorenz Heine was also one of the founders of Native Instruments[7] in 1996. He worked in product design and as the company's CFO for more than 10 years, and is one of the creative minds behind many of Native Instruments' products.

They later employed pedagogy expert Ulrike Kerbstat. Who together with a freelance team of native speakers is the author of the Babbel content. The company is completely independent and is currently funded by the four founders[8].

An Adobe Flex Application

Highly interactive, more than a website, Babbel is a full Web-software-powered environment for foreign language learning built with Adobe Flex. The founders found Adobe Flash to be the best technology available for playing sounds and graphic effects[8]. Four developers have been working on Babbel - two of them focusing on the Flex client and two developing the Ruby On Rails based backend running on Amazon EC2 instances. Development time to the first public version in January 2008 was about 8 months.[1].

According to Thomas Holl, the CTO,
The server consists of 12K lines of Ruby code, the Flex client is about 50K LOC (including 7K lines of generated integration code). "We’re following an iterative development process - and found out that a length of one week seems to work best for us. Besides that, we’re using best practice tools and processes, e.g. Subversion for version control, Trac for defect tracking/documentation/communication, automated builds/deployment via Ant/Capistrano, etc.[9]

The website has currently more than 300,000 users worldwide.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 InfoQ: Flex Startup Helps Learning New Languages
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Virtual FlashCard Language Share Site w/English, French, German, Italian, Spanish Tools and Video Game-Like Interface | Free Language
  3. Learn a new language at Babbel, por favor - Download Squad
  4. languages | RIA pedia - Rich Internet Applications - Its all about the user experience!
  5. d-lusion interactive media
  6. Native Instruments : Home
  7. [1]
  8. 8.0 8.1 Interview with Babbel Founder on Flash, Flex, and RIAs - Alexander Marktl
  9. The Best Flex Startup Architecture Ever Seen
de:Babbel (Software)


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