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Language tech start-up Babbel raises $10m

Competition is hotting up in the online language learning world after German startup Babbel sold a US$10 million stake to help it expand internationally. The company also bought PlaySay, a language learning mobile app game last week for an undisclosed sum.

The service is used in 190 countries and offers over 6,500 learning hours for thirteen languages

Speaking to TechCrunch, founder Markus Witte said he hoped to break into the French, British, Italian, Spanish and Brazilian markets. “The money will go into building the team and ramping up marketing. We’re in the consumer market, so getting channels like TV right is a challenge,” he said.

“It’s well-positioned for explosive growth in the rapidly growing category of mobile and online language learning”

The service, which is used in 190 countries, offers over 6,500 learning hours for thirteen languages across web, iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows 8. Investors in the company now include Reed Elsevier Ventures and Nokia Growth Partners among others.

Tony Askew, general partner at Reed, which owns the largest share, said: “[Babbel] has built a large subscriber base which generates positive cash flow. It’s…well-positioned for explosive growth in the rapidly growing category of mobile and online language learning.”

Babbel’s major competitors include US-based Livemocha and Spanish firm busuu, as well as more established players such as Rosetta Stone, which is increasingly embracing digital channels.

According to the ed-tech blog Edukwest, all will be competing for a share of the US$30 billion Brazilian distance learning market in the run up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. In 2011, Livemocha announced a partnership with one of the most powerful education publishers in Brazil, Abril Educação in 2011, while busuu says Brazil is now its “most important market”.

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