My shin splints are on the mend thanks to ice, Arnica cream, and the couch. And while that ice is icing, I can take an on-line language learning class with Yabla. It’s not actually a class though. In fact if you’re a total beginner or someone looking for a traditional grammar-centered approach, it’s probably not what you’re looking for. Those of you who know me personally might think this is a shameless plug (I will admit I’m a friend of the founder). Think what you will, I use this website and count it as a class on the days that my body needs a rest from working out and/or something happens, like I get to class and realize that I forgot my sneakers. (This might have happened today. Yet another reason why classes in which you don’t need shoes– Yoga and Pilates or studios that provide you with shoes for indoor cycling are on my list of favs.)
Yabla is an on-line collection of videos with captions in the language you’re learning with an English translation (both of which can be hidden if you want). Its most helpful feature is the slow player which allows you to hear the audio clearly. Video segments are 3-5 minutes long so you can practice even when you only have a few free minutes. There are interviews, news shows, dramas, documentaries, and music from various Spanish speaking countries, all with authentic, native speakers. You can also play a listening game that tracks your points as well as review flashcards that are personally chosen for you based on words you’ve clicked on or looked up.
I first started using it as a beginner before I went on a trip to Spain 10 years ago. The music videos (especially the ones that had repetitive lyrics or Juanes) were my favorites. Yabla paired with a beginner’s book for learning Spanish had me on my way to a basic conversation. I’ve since taken several classroom classes and then private lessons while I lived in Argentina. Now that I’m more conversant, I still use Yabla Spanish to practice because it’s a fun way to improve my vocabulary and catch up on current events and music. I’m also now starting to use Yabla French in hopes of a trip to Paris, although I’d settle for Montreal too. I tried out a site called The Mimic Method for French which was amazing for learning pronunciation, especially since French spelling is so whacky.
Yabla (which comes in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Mandarin flavors) will run you about $10 a month or $100 a year, but with more and more research pointing out the benefits of learning a language (here’s on of my favorites) besides not looking like a stupid American when you travel, it seems worth it to me. It’s also a lot more fun than some of the free sites out there like DuoLingo which makes me feel like a grade school kid earning stars and getting nowhere fast, and it’s way less expensive than something like Rosetta Stone that makes impossible promises about language learning. The bottom line is that learning a language as an adult is REALLY, REALLY hard. The only real way to learn is to go total immersion. You might as well have fun and get to watch some cool videos on Yabla which is pretty close to immersion, in the meantime.