Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why I'm not afraid of Babbel

I'll start my post by asking three simple questions.
1. Do you practice sport?
2. Do you do it alone, at home, or in a gym/sports centre?
3. How do you feel when you do it?

You're probably asking yourselves what does practicing a sport have to do with teaching English or, better yet, with the intelligently well-marketed Babble app.
Well...I've done and am still doing a great variety of sports. Team sports like basketball or handball, Pilates, yoga, running, trekking, walking, tae-kwon-do, gymnastics. You name it, I've tried it.
In the last few years a great number of apps, all specially designed to facilitate my practicing of said sports in the comfiness of my own house, have invaded my iPhone and depleted my App Store credit. I've spent more money on those apps than I am comfortable or even willing to admit.
The latest Instagram fitness guru launches a FREE app with a 19€/month "supercalifragilisticly exclusive" subscription package? I'll try it, thank you very much.
There's a new app that promotes flexibility AND mindfulness? In the same app? At less than a 5€ per month? Yes, please!

I think you get the point. Now, with my new found obsession with fitness apps, I discovered I secretly enjoyed instructing my unexperienced, sport-wise neophyte friends on how they had their lives all wrong. They were oblivious to the "life-changing power of <insert current app obsession>". And yes, I've actually said that to people.
What happened was that some took me up on my pseudo-creepy invitations to be app buddies and see who could do better. Ah, the competition factor. I'll get back to that one. So some of my friends went ahead and downloaded/bought some of the apps I'd tried myself. Some never gave in. Some stuck to the program for a couple of weeks, some for a couple of months, some still use it. I've started using and abandoned more than half a dozen apps. The novelty factor is like getting high for the first time. (Not that I've ever gotten high mom, if you're reading this. It was just for emphasis.) I love the app for two weeks or even six months, it's on my phone, I can do it more or less anywhere (except for burpees and such) and at any hour (ahem, yes 11 pm is an acceptable practice time if you're an English teacher - shoutout to all late-night working teachers).

But, ultimately I gave up. I found something new. I stopped caring that the app stared back at me from my phone. I still have a daily reminder on my iWatch from one of these apps that I use as a sort of time compass. If the reminder rings, I know I still have about 30 minutes before having to leave my house for a set of classes I teach at lunch. The competition factor that led me to become a harassing fit-crazed friend wore off each and ever time like a high (again, mom, it's just for emphasis).

Babbel is an awesome little app. It's well built and very intelligent. It's useful. It's definitely inexpensive.
But, if you're human, it won't last. You'll start to dread it. Or you'll start to get bored. Or you'll find a new Babbel. Or you'll meet someone and be busy. Or <insert here 1,2 million human excuses for quitting stuff>.

Because coming to an English class with an actual teacher and actual classmates and actual human contact is much more rewarding. It's much more complex, unpredictable, educational, memorable, interesting, emotional...human.
You don't just get an educational experience, you're not just learning a language, you're meeting new people, a new culture (sometimes more than one), you're stepping out of your comfort zone (aka your living room), you're going the extra mile. You can smile and frown and cross your arms and slump. And your teacher will see all of these things and react accordingly.

When I last yelled at my least favourite app, calling it an instrument of torture, it calmly said back: "Well done, Oana, 5 to go!"

I deleted it immediately. So I'm good with Babbel. I'll just wait it out.

The Sound Eater

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