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 on the train to work, I cued up a lesson and would sometimes complete another one in the evening while getting ready for bed. 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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