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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. 

The philosophy is simple: By using a range of 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.

This is actually similar to the approach FluentU has with language learning. Like Yabla, FluentU features authentic native videos combined with study tools like interactive subtitles, quizzes and flashcards.

As a FluentU writer, I’ve often been asked about the difference between FluentU and Yabla.

Since FluentU’s specialty is language learning through videos, I’m very familiar with the space, and both programs have their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also tried a lot of apps and platforms in my quest to study more than seven languages.

When it comes to language learning tools, what’s important is for you to have the program that’s best for your needs.

Read on for an in-depth review of Yabla, including which features I like and which could use some improvement!

Contents

Key Features

Native speaker videos with clickable subtitles

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.

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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.

The clickable words are pretty straightforward: each brings up a list of several possible translations, as crowdsourced from multiple dictionaries. 

Here’s a video from Yabla that explains how it works:

 

Essentially, instead of you having to pause and manually check 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 that I wished that it gave a more straightforward definition that was already adapted to the context of the video instead of having to look through multiple translations. Still, you can usually find the right meaning in one of the translations, and you could always check the English subtitles if you get stumped. 

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 also other features. What features you have access to depends on the language you’re learning.

With all of the languages except Chinese, you can click on a “Lessons” tab.

This brings up lots of short articles that focus on a particular aspect of the language. You can choose from topics such as pronunciation, spelling, expressions, punctuation, vocabulary, grammar and 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 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!

Games for practicing different language skills

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.

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 out loud. Finally, you’ll have to type out the word from scratch. All throughout, 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, though, plus you can keep getting more hints and revealing more letters if it’s really hard to figure out.
  • Comprehension is great 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 is a pretty new game that’s still going through beta testing, where you have to translate a line in English into your target language. 

Each of the games has several rounds, with different questions showing up each round along with questions that you missed last time. The games are actually pretty thorough, and I felt like I was really maximizing each video. 

Automatically created flashcards with video clips  

Yabla also offers flashcards to supplement lessons. Every time you click on a word to check its meaning while watching a video, the word automatically gets added into your personal collection of flashcards. You can access them through the “Flashcards” tab.

Yabla’s flashcards are pretty unusual because there are no automatic reviews—it’s up to you to choose when you’ll review your flashcards. Instead, each flashcard has a bar next to it that shows how well you’ve mastered the word:

Yabla Flashc

When you click on a flashcard, you can see its multiple definitions, plus an example dialogue from Yabla’s videos containing the word along with its translation. It’s pretty cool because each flashcard also comes with a video clip so you can hear the word in action:

Yabla Flashcard Sample

Although you’ll probably get really familiar with the words from the games and flashcards in combination at the start, I feel like it’d be easy to forget the words long-term because the app doesn’t schedule regular reviews for you using old vocabulary. It also doesn’t use a typical spaced repetition system (SRS), which a lot of other apps with flashcards have.  

Given all these features in mind, 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!

Thousands of diverse videos in the content library

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, Yabla has 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. It can take a bit of trial and error, though, to figure out the right level for you, especially because the levels don’t correspond as closely to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), a standard for gauging language proficiency.

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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.

Dual-language subtitles that link to translations

With Yabla, you can choose to have the subtitles in your target language, in English, in both or in neither.

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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! 

For a study method that works with Yabla’s subtitles, one Reddit user recommends watching without subtitles first, and then studying the subtitles word per word before finally removing the subtitles again to focus on listening. A lot of Reddit users have also mentioned that Yabla’s videos can be effective for improving listening comprehension, thanks to the subtitles and range of videos with different regional accents. 

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.

When learners click on a word, it automatically becomes a flashcard that can be reviewed in the “Flashcard” screen. One downside is that Yabla offers no 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.

Video controls for adjusting speed  

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.

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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, and they also lack exercises for practice. 

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?

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 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. Because the entries are simply collected from multiple dictionaries, a lot of the translations were also repetitive:

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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.

Ideally, the app could come up with more specific translations that fit the context of the video better, or at least have a more concise summary of the translations. Aside from having to look through multiple translations, there are also no additional grammar explanations included in the videos, so you might have to do a bit of guesswork there. 

Only has six 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. In comparison, other native content-based apps can have as many as 10 or even 20+ languages available. 

The languages can 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, with a lot of videos featuring mainly warmup games like Multiple Choice, Fill in the Blanks and Vocabulary Review. Unlike the other languages in Yabla, Chinese also doesn’t have written lessons. 

New subscription needed for each language

Yabla costs $12.95 every month, with a 15-day free trial. It’s also possible to sample the videos, lessons and other features in Yabla without signing up. 

However, 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.

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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.

For instance, a user in this Reddit thread points out that Yabla’s more worthwhile if you’re only learning one language—otherwise there are other platforms that allow you to access all of the languages without a subscription. 

No flashcards in mobile app 

Yabla has been available on web for a long time, but they’ve also come up with apps for Android devices and for Apple devices.

The Yabla app can actually be pretty useful for watching on the go since it mainly lets you watch videos with subtitles and look up words in the app. There are also games available on the app for each video, but these tend to be more limited. 

Most notably, it seems that the app lacks flashcards. The app only tracks the games that you’ve played, giving you points for these, but you can’t save words as flashcards for later review. To make flashcards, 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.

Yabla Alternatives

FluentU

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 actually written and checked by experts.

When you hover or click on a word while watching, you see a concise definition that’s actually specific to the video:

You can look at grammar notes and example sentences for each word as well as a video dictionary. The subtitles explain slang, idioms and other cultural expressions too 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. FluentU gives you more options for organizing flashcards, though, and schedules regular reviews for you based on spaced repetition.

FluentU offers 10 languages—Korean, Russian, Japanese and Portuguese in addition to the six available in Yabla.

Lingopie 

Available on: Web | iOS | Android

Lingopie is another video-based language learning platform, but one major difference is its clips are longer, reaching around ten to fifteen minutes as compared to Yabla’s five-minute segments. Most of its clips 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, but this simply consists of matching-type or multiple choice questions about the words that you’ve clicked on in the subtitles. 

While Lingopie has more updated content than Yabla, there are a lot less options for reviews, and it mostly tests your vocabulary and not other skills, like listening, grammar and speaking. 

Lingopie is available in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean and English.

Language Reactor 

Available on: Web

Language Reactor is a set of Chrome extensions that lets you see automatic, word-for-word translations for Netflix, Youtube and even websites, books and other documents.

Its most developed extension would be for Netflix. With Language Reactor, 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 a description of the word.

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 or 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.

Final Thoughts 

Yabla has actually been around since 2001, so it’s one of the oldest video-based language learning programs—and it’s definitely a classic in the space.

Compared to your usual textbook studying, 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, from remembering vocabulary to improving your listening comprehension.   

On the other hand, Yabla’s videos are less updated compared to other platforms, which feature more videos about current pop culture or news. The interface feels a bit retro, 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.

There also isn’t a lot of support for grammar aside from the optional lessons. Another drawback would be having to do flashcard reviews manually—while other apps might schedule a daily review for you automatically, studying with Yabla long-term requires a bit more discipline.

Finally, if you’re planning to learn several languages, then subscribing to Yabla might not be worth it because you’ll have to pay for multiple subscriptions.

Luckily, Yabla allows you to test out their platform without signing up (and they have a 15-day free trial too). All in all, Yabla can be a nifty video-based tool to add as a supplement to your study routine, but its features can be limited compared to a lot of other language learning apps.  

 

What do you think? Has our review of Yabla made you want to try it out?

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!

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