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Cambridge English, Babbel partner to create low-cost English test

Cambridge English Language Assessment has continued its venture into digital technologies, announcing a new partnership with language app developer, Babbel, to provide low-cost online testing for English language learners.

Babbel, Cambridge English Language AssessmentThe test created by mobile language learning app, Babbel, and Cambridge English Language Assessment will target people looking to provide evidence of English competency to prospective employers and learners looking to practice before a formal exam. Photo: Babbel

A standalone test is set to be released in October for €39

The Babbel English Test powered by Cambridge English will see the two organisations combine efforts to target the growing on-the-go learning market and quantify the way beginner to intermediate learners understand their reading and listening progress.

“Online language learning is taking off in a big way,” said Juliet Wilson, director of assessment at Cambridge English.

“Until now it’s been difficult for online learners to demonstrate their real level”

“[But] until now it’s been difficult for learners to know whether they are really learning the right skills, or to demonstrate their real level.”

Wilson said the new test would “give learners reliable evidence of their progress and a certificate of achievement that demonstrates what they have learned.”

Among the expected user base, both companies said the test would target business professionals looking to provide evidence of English competency to prospective employers as well as learners looking to practice before a formal exam.

Wilson told The PIE News targeting the self-directed learner market is a significant shift for Cambridge English.

The company’s existing IELTS exam, offered in conjunction with the British Council and IDP, tests four skills and traditionally services those looking to gain admission into an academic institution or migrate.

The Babbel test sits at a different price point as well. Compared with IELTS, which can cost more than €200 per test, the test as it’s currently available within a lesson bundle on Babbel costs €59, with a standalone test to be released in October for €39.

The informal test also allows users to retake it without paying an additional fee as is the case for IELTS.

In developing the test, Babbel founder Thomas Holl said both his organisation and Cambridge English were mindful of concerns over fraudulent behaviour in online testing.

“We are well aware of the need for flexible and mobile language tests. However, ensuring the test’s quality and validity was paramount,” Holl said.

To combat fraud, the Babbel English Test boasts hundreds of potential variations, which Cambridge English and Babbel say means it will never be the same twice.

Catering to the self-directed learner market is a significant shift for Cambridge English

The venture sees Babbel, whose user base predominantly lies within the European learner market, follow a similar path as its US-focussed rival, Duolingo, which last year developed an app-based English certification.

Unlike Duolingo’s test, however, Babbel’s test is not expected to be used for admission into an education institution.

“For university admissions, especially for courses which are taught in English, you also need to test speaking and writing skills in a secure environment, and the speaking test has to focus on the ability to communicate, which is currently difficult to achieve online,” Wilson said.

Wilson did not rule out developing further tests beyond the beginner and intermediate levels in the future.

Recently, Cambridge English has shown its intent to increase its share of the digital learning market, last year appointing digital expert Saul Nassé as CEO and launching Write and Improve, an online tool developed in collaboration with iLexIR that automatically assesses a user’s writing skills.

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