If there’s one thing we know, it’s that videos make great language-learning tools.
You can listen to your target language being spoken.
You can stop, rewind and slow down.
You can add subtitles for reading practice.
Plus, videos allow you to see a huge range of different scripted and authentic situations.
And since everything’s online these days, it’s all available at the click of a button!
In this post, we’ll be looking at a platform that takes language videos and adds learning features to them: Yabla.
Yabla is an online language-learning tool that focuses on video content.
The philosophy is simple: By using a range of original and authentic videos at all levels, language learners can practice their listening and learn new vocabulary in context.
Yabla also features language games and written lessons to make the experience even richer.
So, is this language learning program right for you?
Check out our Yabla review below to find out!
Yabla Review: A Look at the Program’s Video-based Learning System
The main feature of Yabla is its video content, currently available in six languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese and English.
For the purposes of this review, I chose to try out Yabla’s French offerings.
In terms of the content itself, there’s a mixture of original content commissioned by Yabla and licensed content from other sources, including TV shows and films. All of Yabla’s videos contain native speakers, giving you an authentic experience.
Yabla’s licensed videos are pretty old, some dating to five years old or more.
For example, I started by watching two videos on Yabla: one from Extr@ French, a series of video lessons for beginners originally created around 2003, and a more recent advanced video report from Le Monde (The World), a well-known French newspaper.
Each video is accompanied by subtitles in English and your target language. You can switch these on and off as you wish. Each word in the subtitles is clickable and brings up translations from a built-in dictionary.
The clickable words are pretty straightforward: Each brings up a list of translations, but that’s as much information as you get.
If you want some more context from your interactive subtitles, there’s another option: FluentU.
Now, we’re obviously biased here, but since we’re well versed with how FluentU uses videos to teach languages, we’ll make comparisons between the two programs so you can get a better picture of what Yabla offers.
So, what is FluentU?
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Like Yabla, FluentU offers authentic content from around the web, though our program features some more options for recently released content, like the trailers to recent movie trailers such as “Avengers: Endgame” and Disney’s live-action remake of “Aladdin”—and much more.
FluentU’s interactive subtitles also offer translations, and additionally show grammar information, examples of the word in context and the ability to find the word in other video content in the program.
Further, Yabla’s video interface is older, reminiscent of the internet aesthetic that was popular when Yabla launched in 2005. FluentU’s video interface is slick and bright, making it easy on the eyes for learners. It all depends on the kind of aesthetic you enjoy!
Lessons, games and vocabulary materials
While Yabla is centered on video content as a learning mechanism, there are also other features. What features you have access to depends on the language you’re learning.
For instance, if you’re studying French, you can add to your learning by clicking on the “Lessons” tab.
This brings up lots of short articles that focus on a particular aspect of the language, like different ways of translating the word “when” into French, depending on the situation. The written explanations are supplemented with clips from Yabla’s video library to help you see how the language is used in context.
Yabla users can also play a series of fun language games and get on the leaderboard for their chosen language. While you’re watching a video, simply click the “Games” button to access enjoyable activities like “Comprehension” to test your understanding of the video you watched.
Learners of Chinese, on the other hand, are given a different set of tools. These include a pinyin chart to help you understand the different sounds used in Mandarin, as well as a flashcard utility so you can memorize vocabulary. Pretty useful!
So how good is Yabla, really?
The Strengths of the Yabla Program
Learning a language with authentic native content has many perks. Let’s see how many of these Yabla gets right!
Range of videos
Some people think that watching authentic video content is only useful at higher levels, but that’s simply not true! Seeing your target language as it’s actually used by native speakers is a powerful way to learn the nuances, rhythm and word usage at any level in a way that you just can’t get with content made for learners.
There’s a great variety of videos on Yabla, featuring natural language at every level. In terms of the number of videos offered, both Yabla and FluentU have 1500+ French videos (and plenty in the other languages, as well!).
The videos come with a simple rating system from one to five, which means that you can see at a glance how difficult the content is. You can also sort the videos by three categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
In addition to native content, you can see a mixture of language-focused original videos, both in acted scenarios and explanations to the camera. This means you can still get the explanations you need as a student of the language but you can also feel like you’re watching the same kind of thing as a native speaker would watch.
Yabla’s range of video offerings seem similar to FluentU’s on paper, but there are some meaningful differences. In addition to the fact that FluentU also uses authentic videos to teach a language, it also offers just as much if not more choice over the type of content to learn from.
For starters, FluentU allows you to sort videos by six language levels: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Advanced 1 and Advanced 2. These levels correspond more accurately with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), a standard for gauging language proficiency.
Further, FluentU offers both content for native speakers and content for learners, and it also has a special set of videos that act as a video course for common grammar and vocabulary topics in the language such as verb conjugation and gender and vocabulary for home and school.
There are a lot of different views out there on the best way to use subtitles when you’re watching videos in a language you’re trying to learn or improve.
Some people say that the writing draws your eye, distracts you from the spoken language and prevents you from improving your listening comprehension, especially when you have the translation into your native language. Others, however, believe that seeing the subtitles can help you connect their sounds of the words with their spellings and meanings.
Regardless of your view, you can choose to have the subtitles on Yabla in your target language, in English, in both or in neither.
You might find, for example, that the first time you watch the video you want to try to understand it without subtitles and then add them the second time so you can check how well you understood. Or you can do it the other way around—the choice is yours!
The other useful thing about the subtitles on Yabla is that you can click on a word to bring up the dictionary definition and translation. You can also add it to your flashcard list for later revision.
This same subtitle and flashcard functionality exist in FluentU as well, but FluentU allows you to simply hover over a word to get a quick translation rather than click. Further, FluentU’s flashcard system gives the learner more control over the process.
With Yabla, learners click a word and then it automatically becomes a flashcard that can be reviewed in the “Flashcard” screen. With FluentU, this process is more intentional: To create a flashcard, the learner can click the “Add to” button on the top, right-hand side of the dictionary entry. From there, you can choose which deck you’d like to put the word in, and these decks can be completely curated by you whether sorted by topic, video type or French level.
Yabla offers no such control over flashcard sorting. Words are saved automatically and seemingly randomly in “sets” that don’t have an apparent overarching topic or level of difficulty.
I’ll discuss the finer details of Yabla’s built-in dictionary in the “Yabla Features That Could Be Better” section.
While testing out this program, I was watching a clip from the TV series “Le Jour où tout a basculé” (The Day Everything Changed) in French on Yabla. The show is based on true stories presented by a host and re-enacted by actors.
The host speaks so quickly! For this, I was able to use Yabla’s video controls to turn the speed down to 75% or even 50% of the full speed in order to comprehend it better.
This is useful when listening to authentic clips of native speakers. You can get into the rhythms of the language without worrying about losing the thread due to the pace being too fast.
Embedded video clips in lessons
Although they’re not available in every language, the lesson-style articles are a good addition to the program. By showing short clips of specific grammar or vocabulary, explaining them and comparing their usage, Yabla gives you a feel for some of the nuances of your target language.
You can take a look at these even if you’re not subscribed to the service. For instance, check out this lesson on German expressions of enthusiasm. The examples are given in English and German, and you just need to click on “Play Caption” to watch the clips.
While these lessons are a great resource for learners, there doesn’t seem to be a flow or logical order to follow the lessons. They also lack exercises for practice. Further, these lessons are limited to the predetermined lesson topics, unlike FluentU, which allows you to click on virtually any word to get detailed grammatical information to help you understand the nuances of any aspect of the language, not just those from a topic list.
Yabla Features That Could Be Better
There’s much about Yabla that can be beneficial for learners, but what are some drawbacks of this program?
Quality of Yabla’s dictionaries
One of the things I noticed immediately was the poor quality of Yabla’s translations. Like FluentU, Yabla allows learners to click individual words to see them translated into English. I was a little disappointed, however, to see that Yabla uses open-source dictionaries for its translation.
This means that some of the dictionaries haven’t been created by Yabla’s developers and are thus not catered toward Yabla users’ needs. Even the “Yabla Dictionary” leaves much to be desired: it’s a simple list of possible translations.
In fact, when I looked up the word descente in French, I saw that it had multiple definitions, many of which seemed unrelated to one another.
The translation that actually worked for the scene (“police raid”) was quite far down the list. Without a good basis in French, a learner might not have been able to figure out the exact connotation of this word within the scene. Instead, this dictionary set up might make the learner choose a different translation and misunderstand the video altogether.
In other words, Yabla leaves the learner to fend for themselves with no help from the program whatsoever.
Unlike Yabla, FluentU curates its own dictionary, complete with images, example sentences and grammatical information. FluentU takes the guesswork out of translations: Each time a learner clicks on a word in the subtitles, the learner gets the exact contextual definition of that word and its intended meaning in the video, even if there are multiple translations for said word.
Selection of languages
While it’s possible this will change in the future, at the moment Yabla only offers six languages to learn—French, German, Italian, Chinese, Spanish and English.
By contrast, FluentU offers real-world video-based learning in nine languages, as well as the ability for speakers of Korean and Japanese to learn English.
In fact, FluentU also offers the six languages for English speakers on Yabla, as well as Korean, Russian and Japanese (with a Portuguese program in the works).
Cost of new languages
Yabla requires a new subscription for each language. If you’re signed up to learn French and then you think you want to take up Spanish, you’ll need to pay a second, full-priced fee.
This isn’t a problem if you only want to learn one language at a time, but it’s a bit of a shame not to be able to explore alternatives without committing to them.
This is also in contrast with other platforms like FluentU, which does allow you to access all of its languages with a single subscription.
For a long time, Yabla didn’t have a downloadable app. This has changed recently with the introduction of their app for Android devices and for Apple devices.
Being relatively new to the app game, Yabla has had some rocky reception in this medium. Users have reported bugs and glitches, but in fairness, the app is being advertised as “early access” on the Play Store and the App Store, so I assume the app is still in beta form.
Most notably, it seems that the app lacks flashcards. You can only watch videos with subtitles and look up words in the app. For flashcard creation, you’ll have to log back onto the Yabla website.
However, the upside of this is that Yabla’s website is mobile responsive, so as long as you have internet connection, you can use your tablet or smartphone to study.
If you really want a dedicated app, you can find FluentU’s apps on Android and iOS and use the program to your heart’s desire on the go!
More About FluentU
As we mentioned in this post, FluentU has some excellent features for language learners who want to learn with video-led lessons.
You can use pre-made flashcard decks, or make your own based on what you want to learn:
FluentU also offers contextual definitions of every key word in all its videos. This means you always know exactly what each word means in that specific context, and are able to see sample sentences and even other videos that use the word in the same way.
Following every video, FluentU quizzes you on your understanding with fill-in-the-blanks exercises that are based on spaced repetition—that means that, if you choose to study a word again later, FluentU will be sure to show it to you right when you need to see it in order to really drill it into your long-term memory.
Aided by more learner-oriented options like full transcripts (with audio pronunciations!), phrase lookups, deck creation, awesome videos that are actually fun to watch and much more, FluentU is an excellent program for learners of any level.
And you can try it out for free with the FluentU free trial!
What do you think? Has our review of Yabla made you want to try it out?
All in all, despite a few drawbacks, the videos, games and lessons on offer make Yabla a really interesting way to use video content to drive your language learning in a fun and engaging way!