Vivianne Ianagui, head of LatAm and Iberia at Babbel
Vivianne Ianagui, head of LatAm and Iberia at Babbel. Photo: Babbel/Courtesy.

After global surge in its user base, Babbel invests in localization strategy to grow in Latin America

The platform, originally German, has sought to adapt to Latinx with more suitable payment formats and optimization for Portuguese and Spanish for native speakers

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In a 2020’s stay-at-home world, many people took some extra time to develop a new skill, whether by escapism or pursuing learning as self-improvement. The number of searches on “how to make bread,” for example, on Google has more than doubled from March to May last year compared to 2019. ‘Pandemic yoga,’ ‘meditation,’ ‘how to cut hair at home,’ and ‘learn a new language’ were some of the hot topics. “Remote learning has become a routine after distance learning skeptics have realized that studying online does work. Thus, the pandemic has significantly accelerated the inevitable growth of e-learning, and I believe that this impact will be lasting,” says Vivianne Ianagui, head of LatAm and Iberia at Babbel, in an interview with LABS

The German subscription-based language app and e-learning platform saw a surge in search for an easier and affordable way to learn a new language in all of its markets immediately after the beginning of lockdown policies and schools’ closing between March and May 2020. At first, Babbel grew 30% in Brazil (which corresponds to 50% of subscriptions in Latin America, the largest market in the region) and 50% worldwide. Babbel doesn’t disclose specific LatAm numbers.

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In some markets, such as the U.S., this growth has reached 200%, according to Ianagui. Furthermore, its users have become more active: the number of classes completed has doubled since March 2020.

Launched in 2008, Babbel offers straightforward lessons in 14 languages. From beginner to advanced levels, the platform uses exercises such as multiple-choice quizzes and speaking out loud questions. The first challenges are free of charge, but to go deeper, users must subscribe. 

But paying to learn a new language has not been a problem for Babbel users. Recently, the firm celebrated the milestone of 10 million subscriptions sold. “As this is a paid app, this milestone makes us the most profitable application in the segment,” recalls Ianagui. 

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The company had already reached a revenue (app-stores and direct revenue) of $130 million in 2018, and $150 million in 2019. Although Babbel has not released the 2020’s figure yet, the executive says it was significantly higher than the previous year. 

On average, Babbel learners use the app for more than 18 months. Many of them summarize their language journey later in life, resulting in an average of 1.5 subscriptions per Babbel user.

There are more than 60,000 lessons created manually by more than 150 linguists. Babbel also analyzes user behavior to shape and adjust the experience of those studying through the app. “The product is under constant adaptation of its interactive content and podcasts,” she adds. 

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According to her, the company’s efforts have been paid off: surveys with researchers from Yale University, New York City University, and Michigan State University have shown that the app helps students speak with confidence, being able to communicate in less time than with traditional learning methods.

Babbel’s strategy for Latin America 

Babbel is available in all Latin American countries, but its efforts are concentrated in Brazil and Mexico. “I’m currently focused on improving the accessibility of the product, which is originally German, for Latinos. The most suitable payment formats and optimization of courses for those native in Portuguese and Spanish are a few examples of that.”

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Babbel has recently launched ten podcast series on its app. The Babbel Podcasts, winner of IELA-Awards 2020 (International E-Learning Awards), enables users to keep on learning even while exercising, cooking, or commuting. Last year, these award-winning podcasts registered over 2 million downloads – Ianagui promises a special podcast for Brazilians in 2021.

The live-streaming era arrives on Babbel’s platform

In February, Babbel launched Babbel Live (an online group lesson plan) in English and German-speaking countries, introducing live classes, going beyond its core app-based learning service. “This is a part of a variety of new language learning experiences, which makes the company more than an app,” says Ianagui. In Latin America, Babbel Live is scheduled to debut in the second half of 2021. 

“This latest launch is an even more humane approach to our teaching through certified and charismatic teachers. Just as physical trainers have different styles to motivate students, Babbel Live teachers have powerful personalities.”

Users can purchase only the Babbel Live service, including full access to the app. Another option is to add Babbel Live to an existing subscription of the e-learning platform. 

Classes with live teachers connect directly to the existing content in the app; students can use the content pills to prepare or review the Babbel Live sessions, according to Ianagui.

“We have a team dedicated to finding the best professionals in market languages. They must be native speakers or have a C2 certificate. Teachers with higher education in a certain language have an advantage [over others]. They also need to have a teaching style that bridges the virtual gap, keeping students engaged and motivated to learn.”