Let's speak Busuu or Foreign Language Learning 2.0


What's the best advice you've ever heard about learning a foreign language? Yep, you gotta practice your newly acquired skills in real-life situations. This is absolutely essential to any language learning setting, whether you are a diligent student taking formal language classes, or, like myself, can't bother to sit in the classroom and prefer to learn languages from audiovisual materials at home instead. In any case, you absolutely have to take those freshly mastered verb forms and bring them to a shop or bar and practice, practice, practice them.

But what if you live, say, in a small Moldovan village and want to practice your German? Where in the world are you going to find those real life German-speakers who'll guide you through your newly acquired sense of verb conjugations and articles? Aber kein Problem, just go talk to your friends on busuu.com.

Busuu.com is an online language learning community. What I like about it is not only a very modern and funky business concept which can satisfy a popular demand for foreign language practice, but also the speed at which this start-up came to exist. Busuu.com was started by my two MBA classmates from Instituto de Empresa who managed to translate their own international lifestyles (one is from Austria, another from Liechtenstein, and both reside in Madrid) into a creative business idea. Just a year ago, they were presenting their business plan in entrepreneurship classes at our business school, and shortly afterwards, while other classmates were knocking on doors of large corporations trying to get secure jobs, the two young entrepreneurs were working into the small hours of the morning setting up their linguistic venture.

Busuu.com went online in May 2008 and currently has 40 000 members. The site allows you to create your own profile and "grow" your language tree, which is a symbol of how you progress with your language learning. You can follow thematic mini-lessons posted on the site, and you can practice foreign languages with Busuu peers by video chat. The more of these activities you pursue, the bigger your tree gets. The site also has a community area where Busuu members can interact and clear grammar and vocabulary-related doubts.

The Busuu.com team accompanied the launch of the site with a dynamic promotional campaign. It included, for instance, shooting a video about the almost extinct language from the Canaries, Silbo Gomero, and using it for the purposes of viral marketing. Reviews of Busuu.com were featured on popular technology and Web 2.0 blogs. The site was officially named UNESCO's partner during the International Year of Languages (2008, that is).

In my view, the founders of the site have been quite consistent with communicating their brand values throughout the early start-up stage. They've managed to communicate that Busuu is all about being international, young, and suitable for the Internet-addict Facebook generation. It's also about preserving rare languages. In fact, Busuu is the name of an apparently almost extinct language of Cameroun.

As busuu.com evolves, the founders should further define and develop the elements that constitute their brand's DNA. And this can be done only by listening to the users of the site and understanding what they value about the site most, as brands are born in the hearts and minds of customers.

Building a strong brand and communicating its values in a consistent manner will be very important when busuu.com begins to consider monetizing itself. Will the site users be willing to pay for their busuu.com membership? Or do the founders have another idea of how to turn the site into a profitable venture? Let's keep an eye on busuu.com, and meanwhile, brush up on our foreign languages.