Yabla Review: Fun Video Learning Approach That’s Limited for Beginners and Polyglots
Yabla is an online language learning tool that focuses on video content.
I’ve found it’s excellent for immersive learning with authentic content, but it’s very limited for beginners and anyone learning multiple languages—and the dictionary and grammar elements are lacking.
I’ve tried many programs in my quest to study more than seven languages and in this post, I give you my honest, in-depth review of Yabla.
Description: A video-based language learning program that's been around since 2001.
Languages offered: Spanish, French, Italian, German, English and Chinese
Offer price: Monthly subscription at $12.95/month, $54.95/six months or $99.95/year
Yabla provides an immersive way to gradually pick up a language through watching clips of TV series, movies, cartoons and other interesting videos. Although the games are more like quizzes, they cover diverse skills. On the downside, the interface feels a bit retro, there’s not much grammar support, you have to pay for multiple subscriptions to access more than one languages and the dictionary isn’t contextual.
User friendliness - 6/10
Delivers on promises - 6/10
Authenticity - 9/10
Value for price - 7/10
- Thousands of native speaker videos with clickable subtitles
- Written lessons that include video examples
- Games and flashcards for practicing different language skills
- Dual-language subtitles that link to translations
- Video controls for adjusting speed
- Too many definitions in Yabla’s dictionaries (no contextual dictionary)
- Only has six languages
- New subscription needed for each language
- No flashcards in mobile app
- Key Features
- Yabla Features That Are Great
- Yabla Features That Could Be Better
- Yabla Alternatives
- Final Thoughts
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Native speaker videos with clickable subtitles
The main feature of Yabla is its video content, which is currently available in six languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese and English.
For this review, I chose to try out Yabla’s French program.
Regarding 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 immersive experience.
The first thing I noticed is that Yabla’s licensed videos are pretty old, some dating back five years or more.
I started by watching two videos: one from Extr@ French—a series of video lessons for beginners created around 2003—and a more recent advanced video from Le Monde (The World), a well-known French newspaper.
Each video comes with clickable subtitles in English and in your target language. You can switch these on and off as you wish.
The clickable words are pretty straightforward: each brings up a list of possible translations, as they’re crowdsourced from multiple dictionaries.
Here’s a video from Yabla that explains how it works:
Instead of pausing and manually checking a dictionary for every new word, Yabla shortcuts the process for you.
While I like how Yabla made understanding the videos so much easier, there were times I wished it gave a more straightforward definition that was already adapted to the context of the video instead of having to look through multiple translations.
Further, Yabla’s video interface is older, reminiscent of the internet aesthetic that was popular when Yabla launched in 2005.
There’s a lot of information (and buttons!) all at once on the screen, and it can take a bit of getting used to at first.
Written lessons that include video examples
While Yabla is centered on video content as a learning mechanism, there are other features. What features you have access to depends on the language you’re learning.
With all languages except Chinese, you can click on a “Lessons” tab.
This brings up many short articles that focus on a particular aspect of the language.
You can choose from topics such as pronunciation, spelling, expressions, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar, slang and idioms.
For instance, with French, you can read about different ways of translating the word “when” into French, popular vocabulary related to exercise, or genders for animal nouns.
The lessons are written in a clear, friendly tone, and they feature a lot of example sentences and dialogues from the clips in Yabla’s video library.
Although Chinese doesn’t have lessons yet, learners are given different tools, like a pinyin chart to help you understand the different sounds used in Mandarin and a flashcard tool to memorize vocabulary.
Games for practicing different language skills
You can also play fun language games and get on the leaderboard for your chosen language.
While watching a video, click the “Games” button to access activities like “Comprehension” to test your understanding of the video you watched.
The available games vary for each video, but most videos will include the three warmup games:
- Vocabulary Review quizzes you on the most important words in the video, starting with multiple choice questions about the word definitions, followed by speaking questions where you have to say each word aloud. Finally, you’ll have to type out the word from scratch. There’s a timer for each question so you’ll be kept on your toes.
- Multiple Choice and Fill in the Blank are both straightforward. For both games, a clip from the video plays, with a sentence below it that’s missing a word.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the vocabulary in each video, you can move on to the workout games:
- Scribe is pretty challenging because you have to watch a clip from the video and then actually type out what you heard—it’s basically dictation! Yabla lets you see how many words are in the line, and you can keep getting hints to reveal more letters if it’s really hard to figure out.
- Comprehension is excellent for developing your listening skills. It takes a clip from the video, and then you have to answer questions about it in your target language to make sure that you really understand the clip.
- Recall asks you to translate a line in English into your target language.
Each game has several rounds, with different questions in each plus questions you got wrong the last time.
The games are pretty useful, and I felt I was maximizing each video.
Automatically created flashcards with video clips
Yabla also offers flashcards to supplement lessons.
Every time you click on an unknown word while watching a video, it automatically gets added to your flashcard deck found in the “Flashcards” tab.
Yabla’s flashcards are pretty unusual because there are no automatic reviews—it’s up to you to choose when you review them.
Instead, each flashcard has a bar next to it that shows how well you’ve mastered the word.
When you click on a flashcard, you can see its multiple definitions, plus an example dialogue from Yabla’s videos containing the word and its translation.
It’s pretty cool because each flashcard also comes with a video clip so you can hear the word in context.
Although you’ll probably get familiar with the words from the games and flashcards at the start, I feel it’d be easy to forget the long-term words because the app doesn’t schedule regular reviews.
It also doesn’t use a typical spaced repetition system (SRS), which many other apps with flashcards have.
Yabla Features That Are Great
Learning a language with authentic native content has many perks. Let’s see how many of these Yabla gets right!
Thousands of diverse videos in the content library
There’s a great variety of videos on Yabla, and there’s content for all levels. Regarding the number of videos offered, Yabla has 1,500+ French videos (and plenty in the other languages, as well).
The videos come with a simple rating system from one to five, letting you see how difficult the content is at a glance.
You can also sort the videos by three categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
It can take a bit of trial and error to figure out the right level for you, mainly because the levels don’t correspond very closely to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), a standard for gauging language proficiency.
Yabla also has several original videos that feature acted-out scenes and explanations to the camera, which is especially useful for lower levels.
Dual-language subtitles that link to translations
Yabla lets you choose to have subtitles in your target language, English, both or neither.
One Reddit user recommends watching without subtitles first and then studying the subtitles word-for-word before finally removing them again to focus on listening.
And as I already mentioned, you can click on the words and add them to a flashcard deck.
One downside though is that Yabla offers no control over flashcard sorting.
The words are saved automatically (and seemingly randomly) in “sets” that don’t have an overarching topic or difficulty level.
Video controls for adjusting speed
While testing this program, I watched 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 very quickly. To help with this, I was able to use Yabla’s video controls to turn the speed down to 75% or even 50% of the full speed to understand 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 an excellent 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 read these even if you’re not subscribed to the service.
For instance, check out this lesson on German expressions of enthusiasm. The examples are in English and German, and you need to click “Play Caption” to watch the clips.
Yabla Features That Could Be Better
Too many definitions in Yabla’s dictionaries
One of the things I noticed immediately was the quality of Yabla’s translations.
Yabla allows learners to click individual words to see them in English. However, I was disappointed that Yabla uses open-source dictionaries for its translation.
Even the “Yabla Dictionary” leaves much to be desired: it’s a simple list of possible translations.
For example, when I looked up the word descente in French, I saw that it had multiple definitions, many of which seemed unrelated. Because the entries are collected from multiple dictionaries, a lot of the translations were also repetitive:
The translation that worked for the scene (“police raid”) was quite far down the list.
Aside from having to look through multiple translations, there are also no grammar explanations in the videos, so you might have to do a bit of guesswork there.
Yabla only has six languages
While this may change in the future, Yabla only offers six languages—French, German, Italian, Chinese, Spanish and English.
In comparison, other native content-based apps can have as many as 20 or more languages available.
The languages also have different features.
For example, while Chinese has extra options for pinyin and English subtitles in videos and games, it also tends to have less games available per video.
A lot of videos featuring mainly warmup games like Multiple Choice, Fill in the Blanks and Vocabulary Review.
Unlike the other languages on Yabla, Chinese also doesn’t have written lessons.
A new subscription is needed for each language
Yabla costs $12.95 every month, with a 15-day free trial. You can also sample the videos, lessons and other features without signing up.
However, Yabla requires a seperate subscription for each language.
If you’re signed up to learn French and 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 others without committing to them.
No flashcards in the mobile app
Yabla has been available on the web for a long time, but they’ve also come up with apps for Android devices and for Apple devices.
The only downside is that the app lacks flashcards.
The app only tracks the games you’ve played, giving you points for these, but you can’t save words as flashcards for later review. You’ll have to log back onto the Yabla website to make flashcards.
However, the upside of this is that Yabla’s website is mobile responsive, so as long as you have an internet connection, you can use your tablet or smartphone to study.
Available on: Web | iOS | Android
Like Yabla, FluentU also teaches languages through authentic content made for native speakers, including movie and TV show clips, music videos, interviews and documentary samples.
However, its interactive subtitles and translations are written and checked by experts.
When you hover or click on a word while watching, you see a concise definition specific to the video. Compare this to Yabla, which provides a long list of possible dictionary definitions.
You can also look up grammar points and vocabulary words in the video-based dictionary, which then gives you an instant definition, pronunciation, example sentences and other videos that use the word or structure in context.
The subtitles also explain slang, idioms and other cultural expressions, so you don’t have to do any guesswork.
Similar to Yabla, there are post-video quizzes where you can type and even say your answer out loud.
But unlike Yabla, FluentU gives you more options for organizing flashcards and schedules regular reviews based on spaced repetition.
FluentU currently offers 10 languages—Spanish, English, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Korean and Portuguese.
Available on: Web | iOS | Android
Lingopie is another video-based language learning platform, but one major difference is that its clips are longer, with some reaching up to 40 minutes compared to Yabla’s five-minute segments.
Most of the videos are also part of a series, so you can watch a show from start to finish, and the interactive subtitles give you a quick description of each word.
Unlike Yabla though, it’s better suited for intermediate or advanced learners because the descriptions sometimes lack detail and there are no grammar explanations.
For reviewing, Lingopie automatically saves any words you click on as a flashcard so you can do SRS-based reviews later.
Lingopie also has a pop quiz after each video, which consists of matching-type or multiple-choice questions about the words you’ve clicked on in the subtitles.
While Lingopie has more updated content than Yabla, there are fewer options for reviews, and it primarily tests your vocabulary rather than other skills like listening, grammar and speaking.
Lingopie is available in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean and English.
Available on: Web
Language Reactor is a Chrome extension that lets you see automatic, word-for-word translations for Netflix, YouTube and even websites, books and other documents.
Its most developed extension is for Netflix.
You can watch a Netflix video, choose a language pair to generate dual-language subtitles and then click on any word you don’t know while watching to see its meaning.
Unlike the other programs mentioned above, Language Reactor relies on machine learning or AI rather than being checked by people—so the definitions aren’t always precise, especially for idioms and other expressions.
You can also use it for YouTube, although it often relies on auto-generated subtitles.
Language Reactor’s focus so far has been on comprehension and not reviewing, but they’ve recently added a flashcards feature for remembering new vocabulary.
Yabla is a nifty video-based tool best used to supplement your study routine, but its features can be limited compared to many other language learning apps.
If you’re planning to learn several languages, subscribing to Yabla might not be worth it because you’ll have to pay for multiple subscriptions.
But luckily, Yabla allows you to test out their platform without signing up (and they have a 15-day free trial too).
The videos are less updated than other platforms, and if you’re a beginner, you might have a hard time at first because you’ll have to browse through multiple dictionary translations for each word.
But in the end, it’s an immersive way to gradually pick up a language through watching clips of TV series, movies, cartoons, and other interesting videos with multi-purpose quizzes.
What do you think? Has my review of Yabla made you want to try it out?
Despite a few drawbacks, the videos, games and lessons available make Yabla a really interesting way to use video content to drive your language learning in a fun and engaging way!