Watching videos using Yabla is a good option for those looking to add more interesting video content to their Chinese learning. Similar to FluentU, Yabla uses native made video content to teach Chinese. It’s not perfect, but it’s faults are relatively minor compared to the value that it provides.
What is Yabla?
Yabla is a platform to learn Chinese (along with 5 other languages – for an additional cost) through watching videos.
Anybody who has spent much time studying a language eventually gets to the point where they feel burnt out. Learning Chinese is a lot of work and can become exhausting, repetitive and boring.
However, many resources, including Yabla, provide a way to make learning Chinese more fun. Watching native videos is a great way to make things more interesting. It can help you improve your listening and get used to hearing Chinese as it’s naturally spoken. The visual aspect of videos provides a lot of context that you don’t get from only listening.
Also, in my opinion, the best method to study a language is by doing what you enjoy. I personally am a huge fan of hip-hop music and there were a few videos I listened to several times, not because I wanted to study but because I liked the song and wanted to learn the lyrics.
Yabla isn’t the prettiest service (or the ugliest) but it is quite good. The interface is fairly standard. It shows the video, with Simplified Chinese characters, pinyin and English translation below. You can hide both of these if you’d prefer.
On the right-hand side is a big and fairly ugly English/Chinese dictionary. However, you can hide this and watch the video in full-screen. The interface allows you to easily go back to the previous scene, skip forward, pause, loop a scene or play slowly – which can be a very useful function.
If you click on a word, the video will pause and the pinyin, simplified and traditional characters will show up along with its definition (or definitions) on the right-hand side of the video. On mobile, this pauses the video and pops up over it. You have the option to auto-save any word you click on or can quickly save by clicking a different button.
They also provide “games” to help you review the material.
These are really more like quizzes that you can do and are multiple choice or fill in the blank using pinyin or the character. In this feature, you’ll watch a clip and words will be removed randomly and you have to fill in the blank with the correct word that you hear or choose it from the multiple choice options.
The questions you get wrong will be asked again in round 2 and you’ll get points depending on your performance. Another game-like component of Yabla is during the vocabulary review. This is interesting because there’s a timer that you can see counting down. You’re prompted by the character/pinyin and have to choose the correct English translation. Next, you’re given the English and you have to choose the correct character(s). Lastly, you’re given the English and you have to type in the pinyin. This is a pretty engaging way to review vocabulary and it tracks your results and adjusts what you need to study based on how well you do.
The biggest issue for me is that there is no support to export vocabulary. It’s quite unlikely Yabla will be the only resource a student uses and not being able to easily move your vocab/flashcards to different places is a major drawback. They also provide a transcript of each video with simplified characters, pinyin and English that can be a good resource as well.
I like Yabla’s videos quite a bit. You can choose the difficulty (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and sort by category. At the intermediate level, there are 691 videos. Most are between one and two minutes with some being longer and very few being shorter.
One thing I really like is that they create a lot of multi-part videos. So, while one video may only be two minutes, if there are 8 different parts, it can allow you to actually get into the story.
For me, this is awesome because a major benefit of videos compared to other materials is the ability to convey a story. For example, they have several episodes of a popular show called Ipartment (爱情公寓）. It’s a really rewarding feeling to watch a real Chinese TV show, even if you’re only watching 2 minutes at a time. This works out really well for me and I’ll often watch the next video, more because I’m enjoying the videos than because I want to continue studying.
Much like the Mandarin Companion book series, I find myself wanting to continue more for the story and because I’m enjoying the material than because I want to study more.
Strengths and weaknesses
I’m really surprised by this, but it seems like Yabla doesn’t support traditional characters. Another weakness is being unable to export vocabulary. I enjoy their videos but I’d much rather review vocab using Pleco and to have all my flashcards in one place. Another major flaw is that while watching videos on mobile, there doesn’t seem to be any way to save words or watch in full screen. This basically means that if I want to save any words, I have to leave Yabla and open a different app, for every single word.
While Yabla isn’t anywhere near perfect, I enjoy the content they’ve chosen to include. For me, that’s worth overlooking their other weaknesses. This is especially true when compared with something like FluentU where a huge number of videos are made up of commercials.
Yabla is priced at $9.95/month, $54.95/half year and $99.95/year for an individual subscription. They don’t offer a free trial but if you cancel your subscription within 14 days, you’ll receive a full refund. One additional benefit from someone living in China is that, unlike FluentU, I don’t need to use a VPN to use Yabla. Personally, I like Yabla because it makes studying more fun. While it’s not without faults, it makes up for these by being a solid resource that can make studying Chinese more fun.