Babbel’s new speech tools aim to boost foreign language confidence

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Speaking a foreign language often comes with a fear of performance. What if you pronounce words wrong? What if your mind freezes? Undoubtedly, confidence in speaking a language other than your native one takes time to build, but the first step to getting there is actually simple: practice.

In the world of language apps, Babbel is launching two speech-based tools to help its users exercise their oral skills, overcome that fear, and feel comfortable while speaking.

The first new feature uses AI-powered speech recognition to provide users with support during vocabulary-based lessons and help them with pronunciation.

To evaluate the speaker’s pronunciation, Babbel’s AI model was trained on millions of data points from the company’s audio bank, using both correct and incorrect pronunciations, different voice ranges, and diverse accents and dialects — for example, Spanish from Argentina, Columbia, and Spain.

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Babbel AI speech-recognition tool
With the AI speech recognition tool, users can check their pronunciation. Credit: Babbel

When activating the feature, users are asked to speak directly into their device when prompted. The AI tool analyses the recording and compares it to thousands of samples of phonemes (distinct sounds that make up a langugae) to assess the accuracy of the pronunciation. It then provides users with tailored, visual feedback.

“[It] works by comparing one attempt with several possible positive outcomes, with a preciseness that can be fine-tuned according to the learner’s level (we can be stricter with more advanced learners for example),” Amin Abbasi, a backend engineer at Babbel, told TNW.

Babbel AI speech recognition tool
The feature also offers pronunciation tips. Credit: Babbel

The app’s second new speech-based tool is Everyday Conversations, which is designed to help learners independently practice dialogues with the goal to reduce speaking anxiety.

“Part of the difficulty [in learning a language] comes down to confidence when speaking,” Molly Thompson Zeugner, VP of Product at Babbel, told TNW.

“The problem is that everyone wants to understand and be understood by who they are talking to, but it takes practice to feel comfortable enough to do so. This is a bit of a catch 22 and is why we have launched the Everyday Conversations feature.”

Everyday Conversations simulates short dialogues between speakers in different real-life scenarios, such as “introducing yourself,” “ordering food,” or “talking to friends after work.”

Babbel Everyday Conversations
Example of an Everyday Conversations dialogue. Credit: Babbel

Users first listen to the conversation to get acquainted with it and then they can mimic it independently. According to the company, this creates a safe practicing space, where learners can feel comfortable to speak and enhance their verbal skills.

Both features can be used individually or as additional support for learners who attend Babbel’s live classes, in line with the company’s holistic approach to language learning.

The AI speech recognition is currently available on the web app in five languages: English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish (Castilian and Latin American), with plans to reach a wider audience in the coming months. It will be soon rolled out on iOS too.

Meanwhile, Everyday Conversations is available on Android and iOS for learners of English and Spanish (Castilian and Latin American). French will be added later in November — in case you’ve always dreamt of ordering a croissant like a pro.