by on March 24, 2011
Digital language learning has always been a desktop affair (apart from those portable translators, which are obviously cheating). Babbel is one of the first companies to make the jump to smartphones, however, and having already had some limited contact with close to home languages like German, French and Spanish, we opted to start from scratch with Swedish, to really put their app through its paces.
Don’t hold your breath for a Swedish version of T3 anytime soon. The first word of the entire course, “hälsningen” or “greetings” took us about 25 tries, and the app judges you on your pronounciation, not letting you progress to the next word until you pass with a score above 50. In the end we realised that there was a slight delay between when the app finishes speaking and when it starts recording you, which we were being marked down for – frustrating. Eventually, we passed – just – with 56, but the speech recognition can be a bit erratic. When presented halsa fran nagon (to pass on greetings) our reviewer lamented out loud “I have no idea” and the app scored him 48 – 2 marks off a pass.
The quality of the recorded vocabulary samples also varies a lot. Single words we found were clear and professionally recorded, but a lot of the longer phrases and sentences sounded like they’d been recorded at home with a budget PC microphone. It’s never, as far as we’ve experienced, been inaudible, but with a native speaker talking at native speed it can be difficult to pick up some of the details.
That said, there’s a huge amount of vocabulary included in the app, and each piece has an accompanying picture, which is used in a variety of language games as you progress. Vocabulary is sorted into topics like travel, technology and transport, but there’s also a “100 most important words” section if you just need to brush up on the basics for a weekend away.
Overall, it’s a decent app which could do with a lick of polish, but for learning on the go or dipping into abroad, the portability of an iPhone app versus the lugging around of a laptop will probably clinch it for folks who like to travel light.
Download this app: Babbel for iPhone
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