My friend and I recently got back from an amazing month-long trip visiting his family in Toulouse. It was my first time there and I was blown away by all the vineyards and diverse culture, not to mention the croissants! Initially, I was ecstatic to be spending an entire month in France, but I was also worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with basic conversations or jokes. I took French classes in high school, but the textbooks and lesson plans were so boring I didn't retain anything. I was determined to hold a basic conversation without having to rely on Google Translate every two seconds. I needed to find a way to fit this into my busy schedule without interrupting my life. I immediately nixxed actual classes because there was no time for that, and if it didn't work in high school, why would it work now? I asked around and one of my friends, who travels more than anyone I know, told me she'd found a language learning hack: Babbel.
Babbel is a language learning site that offers beginner to advanced level instruction across multiple languages. This platform was developed by a team of over a 100 language experts from more than 40 nations around the world. A research study by City University of New York (CUNY) found that with Babbel, students could learn a semester's worth of Spanish in just three weeks. The trip was a couple of months away so I hoped I'd be able to pick up some French by then. I had my work cut out for me, but I was up for the challenge.
Every morning on the train to work, I cued up a lesson and would sometimes listen to another one in the evening getting ready for bed. The lessons are broken down into small, digestible segments so they aren't overwhelming or boring. Spending anywhere from 10-30 minutes per day practicing, helped build the excitement for my trip and I could actually feel myself improving.
After using Babbel for less than a month, I could confidently say I was speaking French beyond a basic level. What helped me to really progress was that Babbel wasn't just grammar and practicing verb tense on repeat. It's a step-by-step guide to language catered to you, meaning I didn't move on until I understood the lesson. Yes, grammar, is a very important part of language, but it's useless knowing masculine versus feminine pronouns without being able to string together and articulate your ideas. With Babbel, I was exposed to all sides of the French language from improving my accent to properly asking questions and carrying on a conversation. This was important to me because I wanted to converse with people who lived there, not just show them I could properly conjugate verbs. With Babbel, I was learning how to speak and understand French.
The true test would be the trip to Toulouse. The entire time, locals were impressed and surprised by how much I actually understood. I felt confident talking with store clerks and didn't even need people to translate. I didn't get every joke or follow every story, but I understood a lot - enough to poke fun of my friend when he joked about my accent. I could effectively communicate with a lot of different people (and they could understand me too!). Thanks to Babbel, learning a language has opened up a whole new side of myself and has opened up a whole new realm of travel possibilities.
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