French and German go gender neutral on language app
Eileen Barnard, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Babbel, said: “While we can’t completely transform the language in our lessons, we have the opportunity to intelligently show how certain languages…can still be sufficiently flexible to express diversity, despite the language’s inherent limitations.”
Terms that may be considered racially insensitive should also be avoided, including words like “whitelist” and “blacklist,” as well as “sexist” expressions like “making someone a man” or ” to be man enough”.
Babbel uses photographs and snippets of conversations to create immersive scenarios to help learners practice, and these have also been reformed to improve diversity and ensure student ‘safety’.
A scenario in which a white French man with a typical name like “Pierre” drinks champagne in an upscale cafe would run counter to Babbel’s new guidelines, which suggest courts should avoid typical names, include diversity racial and representations of immigrant communities, and avoid scenarios that imply the “privilege” of high socio-economic status.
Staff designing online courses with supporting visuals are instructed not to consider “alcohol consumption as the default”, and national stereotypes such as “baguettes, cheese, berets and marinières” ( striped sweaters) should not be used, per company guidelines.
The new lessons will instead feature people with a range of racial, sexual and gender identities, with a greater emphasis on portraying minorities who can speak the target language.
Ms Barnard said: “We understand that language plays a crucial role in shaping reality, creating mutual understanding, building shared perspectives and promoting inclusion.
“As a language learning app, it’s our job to ensure that learners’ experiences within the platform reflect this by providing them with a product in which they see themselves represented and feel safe. The learners and native speakers of the languages we offer are diverse, so the content on the Babbel platform should reflect this.