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Language Learning Communities are Pubs of The Global Village

Of all the early concepts we have seen in education 2.0, the idea of a language learning community proved itself without any doubt to be the most successful one today. The three biggest startups in this space, Livemocha, busuu and Babbel together have attracted more than 15 million users.


Part of their success is the mix between self-paced learning and practice with feedback from native speakers. The casual atmosphere caters to an audience that wants to have at least some basic knowledge of foreign languages but without the strict framework of a classic language course.

It’s like visiting a pub in a foreign city and mixing with the locals.

The social component of making new friends from around the globe delivers the emotional glue that makes one want to come back to the service. Even if the user is not that much into learning a new language anymore, there are still the social connections that might bring him back to the service.

The problem of early language exchange communities has always been the lack of guidance or content to work with. Language learning communities all started with basic vocabulary lessons as basis for exercises and talks. The community brings life or context to that content.

Yesterday Abril Educacao and Livemocha announced a partnership that aims to bring this concept of learning to the new Brazilian middle class. With 2.2 million users, Brazil is the largest global market for Seattle-based Livemocha, and the deal with Abril is already the second major one that is targeting this growing market. In January Livemocha signed a partnership with Telefonica Brazil.

Since the launch of its mobile applications, Madrid-based busuu has also been growing its userbase exponentially. In July the community crossed the 3 million user mark, adding 10k new users a day. Last week busuu launched a new Business English course, going beyond the usual beginner to intermediate learners level.

And again yesterday Berlin-based Babbel shared that their community has attracted more than 2.5 million users. Other than its competitors, Babbel is a premium only service and the press release reads that the startup trippled its revenue in 2011. Similar to busuu, Babbel’s growth is partly powered by mobile applications that have been built by the software company Aspirement up to now. In October Babbel will take over the app department of Aspirement which underlines the importance of mobile learning in the overall concept.

I believe, mobile will play an increasing role in language learning communities over the next months. The technology provided by mobile devices delivers the platform for new ways of connecting. Besides the well-known and obvious use cases of chatting with the community on the road, there is some big still unutilized potential for even more engaging components based on Geo-localization and augmented reality.

Photo: WikiMedia user Arpingstone

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