Babbel.com – language learning platform

Babbel.com is an online platform for learning foreign languages. You can choose to learn Italian, French, Spanish and German, while site is available in English and Italian and it offers interactive multimedia content.

After registration you will be welcomed by uncluttered home page from where you can choose tutorials and exercises. Because Babbel.com is a modern site, it is loaded with pictures and good voice samples (“listening material”) by native language speakers.

Vocabulary sets and learning unknown words

Here you can learn words related to a specific topic, such as meeting people, art, weather, food, music etc. After choosing the vocabulary you are guided through the tutorial in several stages. The site will present you in more than one way the words you are learning, and after that you can solve simple and amusing test. If you opt in for the e-mail notifications, you will get a remainder to review your more challenging words.

Learn words related to specific topica
Learn words related to specific topic

Learn – Real-life language, Grammar and Exercises

Steadily growing number of tutorials available in Learn section of the site is useful in getting an overview of basic grammar and in seeing how the language functions in real life. The section is presented through mini lessons which consist of language material (audio and pictures) and, again, different tests where you can see how successful you are acquiring your new language.

Interactive language lessons (Tutorials)
Interactive language lessons (Tutorials)

Community and Language Learning

The site is still being developed, but community plays one of the major parts. You can see what users are online, what languages they are learning and so on. There is an option to get in touch with “learning partner” and improve the learning by working together. However, it is obvious that this needs more work, from technical aspect and available content. It would be good to have voice and video chat, and more multimedia content to motivate learners.

To connect with other users you can also use Chat and Board, available in French, English, Italian, German and Italian (at the moment when this article is being written).

Language learning platform with potential

Babbel.com is a platform with great potential, and being free it is worth trying. We hope that the team behind the site will work more on interactivity within context. It is obvious that learners need more exposure to the language, more content with target language, especially topics related to the culture of the countries where the foreign language is spoken. Also, it would be great to see how potentials of community can be used not only in an interactive part, but in the creation of the content as well.

At the moment, Babbel.com is great for intermediate users that wish to refresh their basic knowledge of foreign language, but we hope to see more content with in-depth language exposure that will benefit all learners.

MSDict Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary (PC) – reviewed

In this post we review e-dictionary MSDict Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary by Mobile Systems. We will talk about use, content and technical overview, followed by conclusion. The version of the reviewed software is 3.10.

Use

MSDict Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary is compact software contained in 11 MB installation file. After the setup, small window will await you, divided into three sections. On the left pane headwords are listed, while right one contains the details. Above are navigation and filtering buttons that list previous or next entry or filter the content. Unfortunately, in order to print the content you will have to use copy/paste and a text editor, since printing is not implemented. Browsing the menus reveals options we have already seen in similar products, like “always on top” or “load on startup”.

Automatic word search when new content is discovered on the clipboard is included and functional – to some extent. This “Automatic Clipboard Translate” is likely to cause the frustration, because of the way it works. Upon copying an Italian word, the software looks it up and marks it in the list, but in order to see the definitions and explanation, you have to click on the headword. We expect that the program automatically lists the definitions. Needless to say that this is poorly done and it will prove to be of little use: one might as well paste the word directly in the software, which makes clipboard monitoring needless, and a whole process waste of time.

Content

MSDict Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary is an Oxford dictionary. Users seeking, above all, quality reference will be pleased that the acclaimed publisher has yet another software edition. Even more, Mobile Systems offers Oxford dictionaries and reference software for several portable platforms (PalmOS, Pocket PC, Symbian etc.).

All headwords have stress notation within the word itself (for example: dizio’nario). While there is no pronunciation or IPA translation, there is a humble English and Italian pronunciation guide. It is minimal and thus good as a reference only. The explanations and meanings are formatted for legibility: part of speech is marked with bigger font and different color, Italian headwords and phrases are in bold, while abbreviations and notes are in gray italic.

The content covers “over 80,000 words and phrases, and over 100,000 translations” (quotation from the publisher’s site) which is great for this dictionary class, with the observation that more examples of usage would be welcome.

Technical overview

Surprisingly, technical realization of this dictionary is not very good. For a simple software like this, installation and settings should be flawless. Unfortunately, we have encountered issues on Windows XP SP2, where installation procedure fails to set up the program correctly for the users. During our testing, only the administrator could start the MSDict and load the Italian dictionary. We were also disappointed to see that the program does not offer basic learning aids, like bookmarks, wordlist or simple flashcards tool.

Good side of the thing is that MSDict is lightweight program that will not infest your computer with unwanted software.

Conclusion

Is this dictionary worth the money? It depends. If you are a beginner or an intermediate level learner of Italian language this type of dictionary is for you, but will you like the product? No doubt, Oxford stands as an authoritative reference, but is that enough for the software? We think that in terms of use and technical quality users deserve better products. The glitch with clipboard makes automatic search unusable, which slows down the work. This would be the biggest flaw of the MSDict Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary. We could also mention the inability of the program to look up correctly a word copied with surrounding space characters.

If you need good low-weight Italian e-dictionary by an established publisher because you are unable to use the Internet language resources, and in the same time you find looking up in printed editions too time consuming – buy this product. Our opinion is that you will be satisfied, especially if you do not deal with Italian language frequently.

Other uses might wish to try other products, especially until all bugs are resolved in this program and more functionality is added. If you consider the price and compare it with the program’s doubtful usability, you could try the original Oxford Pocket Dictionary which has richer extra content. We hope that Mobile Systems will continue to deliver good software, both for mobile devices and, of course, personal computers.

Links

MSDict Pocket Oxford Italian Dictionary homepage (opens in new page).

Sceenshot of the main window
Sceenshot of the main window