Babbel, a website that helps users learn French, Spanish, German, Italian, or English, announced it had received a round of funding from German VC funds Kizoo and VC Fonds Berlin. The company is not disclosing the amount of funding, saying only that it is “significant.” CNET is reporting that the amount is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Babbel, which is based in Berlin, combines online lessons with a social network of fellow students. This means I can connect with someone learning Italian and work through lessons with them, or find a native Italian speaker who is interested in learning English.
I spent some time brushing up on my German, and found things to like and dislike about the site. Currently, the site is series of vocabulary quizzes utilizing pictures as well as audio pronunciations to help students learn. While the lessons seemed effective, they were arranged haphazardly, so that a section teaching the numbers one through twenty came after a lesson on advanced soccer terms. Also, pairing what seemed to be either Creative Commons or public domain photos with the vocabulary words sometimes made things confusing — does the verb for cleaning go with the picture of the woman with the mop, or the woman with the broom?
That said, the site, which uses Adobe Flex, is intuitive and easy to use, and the audio pronunciations were crisp and clear. At present, the site only offers vocabulary lessons, making it less useful for a beginning student, though it has grammar tutorials in private beta. The company also plans to add some sort of Internet telephony (VoIP) option to help with conversational skills. The company says it will use this round of improve the site and hire more native language freelancers. Babbel hopes to eventually create revenue through premium services, mobile offerings, and online advertising.
The company competes with other online language learning sites, many of them offering more (and non-European) languages. Mango Languages, which launched in September of 2007, offers the most languages, with ten currently available. The site offers a free starting package that seemed well-suited for a beginner, and with premium services available for a fee. LiveMocha, which we’ve written about before, also features social networking functionality like Babbel and allows users to help correct each other’s usage mistakes. LingQ, whose founder claims to speak nine languages fluently, offers vocabulary and grammar drills, and for paying members, personal tutoring over Skype.