Germany's Babbel, the highest grossing maker of mobile language-learning apps, has teamed up with Cambridge University's English language certification arm, setting a new, high-quality standard for digital language testing, the companies said on Wednesday.
Babbel and Cambridge English have jointly developed the test and will split revenue on what will be marketed as the "Babbel English Test", which will certify listening and reading comprehension skills in real-life, conversational situations. It tests users from level A1 (beginner) up to B2 (intermediate).
Successful test takers will receive a certificate of achievement, which gives language students a way to attest to their English fluency level when applying for jobs, to use on their LinkedIn profiles, measure their preparation ahead of formal tests or simply judge their personal progress.
For Cambridge English, whose tests set the standard for 5 million English-language candidates yearly in 100 countries, the deal marks its first major move into the smartphone-based language testing.
"Babbel captures the adult self-motivated learners, which is a big part of the learning landscape. We haven't found a way of reaching them before. So we will get to them with this," Cambridge English Chief Executive Saul Nassé said.
Berlin-based Babbel, founded a decade ago, offers mobile apps in 14 languages but derives half of its worldwide revenue from English-language apps, co-founder and chief strategy officer Thomas Holl said in an interview.
"You could buy a book, you could go to language school, but it's just so much easier to download an app," he said. "We want to encourage people to use our apps then go on to testing."
Cambridge English generates more than 200 million pounds in annual revenue, Nassé said. It works with the British Council on formal in-person exams that are widely used in countries from China to India to Latin America and with publishing partner Cambridge University Press on a range of testing materials.
"Babbel is a stepping stone back to other Cambridge English products," the Cambridge English CEO said.
Babbel claims to be the world's highest-grossing education app in terms of revenue, but as a privately owned startup does not disclose revenue for competitive reasons. However, it's more or less broken even in cash flow since 2011, Holl said.
Those claims are borne out in Europe and the Americas by data from AppAnnie, a market research firm that tracks downloads and revenue from apps around the world. Babbel does not yet offer any apps for learning major Asian languages and is a correspondingly minor player in that region.
Babbel.com and its related language-learning apps attracted more than 4 million monthly unique visitors worldwide in July, according to web and mobile audience research firm SimilarWeb.
Rivals include Duolingo, which offers free language learning and attracts 12 million monthly visitors, other free apps such as Memrise and Busuu, according to industry market research data, and dozens of more narrowly focused vocabulary builders, some free and others charging a few dollars or euros to download.
Babbel said it will start by offering subscribers a bundle of English language learning for three months, integrated with regular testing, priced at 59 euros. In October, it will sell a standalone version of the Babbel English Test for 39 euros ($45.80).