My husband and I recently got back from an amazing month-long trip visiting his family in Mexico City. It was my first time there and I was blown away by all the beautiful sites and vibrant colors. Initially, I was ecstatic to be spending an entire month in Mexico, but I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the basic conversations or jokes. Like many people, I took Spanish classes in high school because it was required, but the textbooks and lessons were so boring I didn't retain anything. I was determined to hold a basic conversation without having to rely on my husband every two seconds. I needed to find a way to fit this into my busy schedule without interrupting my life. I immediately nixed 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 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 Spanish by then. I had my work cut out for me, but I was up for the challenge.
Every morning before I hopped on my computer for work, I cued up a lesson. I would sometimes complete another one in the evening while getting ready for bed from my phone. The lessons are broken down into small, digestible segments so they aren't overwhelming or boring. I even found myself listening to their original podcasts, and playing addictive games that gave me multiple ways to immerse myself in my new language. Spending anywhere from 10-30 minutes per day practicing helped build the excitement for my trip and I could actually feel myself improving. I supplemented the lessons with Babbel's live classes with real teachers. There were hundreds of classes offered so I picked a few on days and times that worked best for my schedule. The classes were small with no more than 6 people max, so I was able to practice what I learned.
After using Babbel for less than a month, I could confidently say I was speaking Spanish beyond a basic level. What helped me to really progress was that Babbel wasn't just grammar and practicing verb tenses 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 Spanish 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 my husband's family, not just show them I could properly conjugate verbs. With Babbel, I was learning how to speak and understand Spanish.
The true test would be the trip to Mexico City. The entire time, my husband was impressed and surprised by how much I actually understood. I felt confident talking with his family and didn't even need him by my side to translate. I didn't get every joke or follow every story, but I understood a lot - enough to poke fun at my husband 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 brought me closer to my husband and his family.
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