The Best Video Player in Town
If you are already familiar with learn German with videos via Yabla and would like to know how to work efficiently with it, just scroll down a bit until you get to the list. The vocabulary for the Yabla preview video “Der Himmel” with Piggeldy and Frederick you will find on memrise here.
Yabla is a German language learning platform which uses different kinds of videos as main means of teaching or learning. They offer several languages and although I’ll focus on how to learn German with them, you certainly will be able to use the following approach for all their other languages. The problem with Yabla is that it doesn’t give you any guidance.
There are over a thousand videos on that site that you can roughly sort by level (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) or that you can browse by category (e.g. Documentary, News, Travel). I would lose interest very quickly being thrown into Yabla without knowing what to do with it. I see the immense potential of this platform, therefore I would like to guide those who are interested in improving their German skills to the hidden gems of Yabla. Follow me if you are ready.
Each video comes with a printable and switchable transcript in German and English. You have to check the transcript before you click on the video button. It’s a bit umständlich (=inconvenient) but with a bit of practice you will resist the temptation to click on the video link first. I suggest that you open the transcript and there click on the “printable version” button. Here’s a step by step introduction to using the transcripts:
- Below the video description you’ll find a blue menu-bar. Click on „Transcript“.
- Once you click on the “Transcript” button, you’ll get the option to access a “Printer friendly version”
- offering you three options which you will need for my approach below.
- Click on any word to get a word-per-word translation. I recommend using the “Both German and English” option in the dropdown menu for better results.
Learn German with videos – the video player
The video player is extremely efficient and easy to use. The two loveliest features are the “loop” and the “slow-function”. The “loop” repeats a sentence or element of the spoken text infinitely and the “slow” button slows the audio down while you will still be able to understand what is being said. Chapeau, Yabla. Just try it yourself. Here’s a link to their free preview.
I suggest that you make yourself quickly familiar with its shortcuts so that you can smoothly skip back and forth through each video and activate respectively deactivate the subtitles and transcriptions quickly. This will come in very handy soon. “Transcript” means: German text and “translation”: English text.
Piggeldy and Frederick
“Nichts leichter als das.” is what my clients often reply in their emails, when I ask them to do something for their homework. This phrase is taken from the “Herzstück” (=centerpiece) of Yabla, the animated series “Piggeldy und Frederick”, two pigs, brothers of which the smaller brother always asks the bigger one to explain things to him. While this is a show for children it is just lovely. The language is fine and useful and it’s repetitive elements make it the more remarkable and memorable. You should certainly go for that series with the smarterGerman technique that I will explain now. There are also plenty of episodes available.
How to Improve your Listening Skill in German
Here’s finally how to use Yabla to improve your listening skill and to work on your pronunciation. I’ll start with listening, as it is the most crucial skill to master when learning any language (except sign language obviously, although you could consider observing gestures as “listening”).
Pronunciation will follow soon. I will first provide you with an overview over all steps and then explain the benefit / reasoning behind each step afterwards. If you are not interested in those, you can simply skip that part and hop over to the conclusion.
12 Steps for a better listening
- Read the English transcript to get an idea of the content (you might want to print it out)
- Skim the German text and highlight/write down all (!) unknown words.
- Read German text with the aim to understand it. Highlight unknown important (!) words
with a second color or in any way different from those you found the first time.
- Create a memrise course and enter the new vocabulary there.
- Study the video’s vocabulary until level on memrise is completed.
- Read the German text again. Circle still unknown important words.
- Watch the video once with English subtitles.
- Watch the video with German subtitles. Pause after each sentence. Note unknown important words.
- Watch the video without pauses but with German subtitles.
- Watch the video without subtitles but with pauses after each sentence.
- Watch the video without subtitles and without pauses.
- Repeat each step as often as you feel comfortable with it.
An Explanation of Each Step
We seek to understand the world. Watching something without knowing what it is about is much less efficient in regards of German learning than knowing what you are dealing with as your brain is constantly trying to figure everything out. By feedi
ng it at least the context of what you are about to work with for the next coming hours is not only a smart move but also a gentle gesture towards you most important organ.
You need to know where you are when you work with texts or videos. By quickly going through the German transcript (see the part about the transcript in the beginning of this article) and marking (!) all unknown German words, you will quickly get a clear impression of where you are regarding your possible understanding or not-understanding of that video.
In any case please mark / highlight the new words with a colourful marker. Do not use a pencil or some ball pen. By highlighting the new words, you will instantly get an impression of the difficulty of the text. A pencil does not leave any significant impression on your brain. Don’t judge the words that you highlight yet. This step shouldn’t take more than five minutes. If you start thinking too long whether you should mark a word or not, you will waste time. And you should definitely mark any word at this stage that requires you to think as you haven’t mastered it yet.
Don’t despair. Your text might look like a Swiss cheese. Not so holy but maybe yellow from all the highlights. Now it is time to read for understanding and to separate the useless words from the useful ones. An important word is one without which you can’t make sense of a sentence or element of a sentence. Of course in the beginning this is rather difficult as there might be several words in a sentence that you don’t understand. In that case, don’t worry. Just mark them all as important. You will get better at picking out the good words very quickly. Also don’t worry if you don’t get too much of the text yet.
Depending on your motivation you might be fine working with a text that you only understand 50% of. Others have a lower frustration limit and should better work with texts that they understand 70% of. Hardcore learners don’t care at all and work even with a seemingly hopeless text. It’s on you. My suggestion is not to be too hard to yourself and also to challenge yourself a bit every now and then as without leaving your comfort zone you will not come far neither in life nor in language learning.
All these new words need to be learned. And there’s no better tool than memrise. I personally don’t like Anki, but others just love it. I won’t discuss the differences here. Memories is just much simpler, more beautiful and as effective as Anki, hence my clear recommendation. You don’t have to agree with me. You can even use paper flashcards if you like.
On memrise create your own course. Call it the “Nichts leichter als das”-Kurs and create a one level for each video / transcript that you work on. Be careful: there are courses and levels! Do not just enter vocabulary into your freshly created course. That will become messy very soon!
To learn quickly you need to understand. You could listen to Chinese radio for every minute of your remaining life and would not learn any significant amount of Chinese unless you are already an intermediate learner. But even then your progress will be extremely slow as you still lack context. So, study your new words with memrise until you have completed that level which means all vocabulary of that video. I understand you might want to watch it right away but this would be like eating the desert before the main course. Behave. It will pay off soon. One last thing: Yabla has a built in vocabulary trainer which I personally find very sluggy and cumbersome to work with. It is also not really appealing nor do I understand it’s structure. I suggest to stay away from it until they upgrade it significantly.
After you have learned your German vocabulary, try to read the transcript again and see how much you understand now. Hopefully your understanding has increased. It will still require a lot of thinking and be pretty slow but that’s just the beginning and totally ok. Circling the remaining unknown words -now you might already be able to distinguish whether a word is useful or not- will help you visualise your progress. You will have a comparison to your former performance and a visual representation of your progress which is rare in German learning.
Now you may take a look at the video. Be gentle to yourself and turn on the English subtitles while watching it. Turn off the German transcript though. This way you will associate (and understand) the context to the individual scenes of the video. This enhances your understanding in the long run and is a very smooth approach to watching movies in German.
Watching the video with German subtitles (i.e. the German transcription) will help you to understand what is being said. I mean which words are actually pronounced by the persons or pigs in the video. You will also improve your ability to write what you hear which is helpful whenever you pick up words in movies or on the street and want to note them down or want to look them up later on. At the same time you will be able to guess the pronunciation of a word that you read more accurately. The pause after each sentence (!) is crucial in the beginning as they give your brain the time it needs to process the new and abstract information. If you don’t take these little breaks you will create something called “retrograde Lernhemmung” and “anterograde Lernhemmung”. A “Hemmung” is an inhibition. The other two words simply mean that the new stuff that you are learning will hinder the old stuff to settle and the old stuff you have learned will disturb your brain from taking in the new information. Or in simple words: Just take those breaks.
Once you are through the video in the stop-and-go manner. Take a short break and after that break you may watch it in one piece with German subtitles still activated. This way you will realise where you are standing now after only an hour or two and see or rather feel your progress.
Die Generalprobe. You might now be ready to watch the video without any further help. But I still suggest to hold the video after each sentence for a few seconds to process what you have just heard. “Eile mit Weile” is a saying that proves true when it comes to language learning. smarterGerman is an approach that teaches German very fast but also strongly pays attention to quality. Learning done consciously is far more time efficient on the long run than any quick-quick approach.
Die Königsdisziplin. Now you can eat the cake. Watch the video in one piece and without any breaks. Note how much of it you understand by now. You will most likely still have room for improvement and will have to repeat a few of the steps above in the coming days as review is the mother of all learning.
You won’t have to repeat each step over and over again. Just pick the steps that you think you could have performed better in. You will also become much more proficient in this procedure after a few videos and will be able to optimise a few steps as you proceed. Don’t change the order though. Order matters a lot here.
Yabla is an excellent tool to improve your German listening and pronunciation skill. Don’t be afraid of the 12 steps. It all looks way more complicated than it is in reality and I promise it is worth the effort. Once
you have mastered this approach after a week or two you will feel the difference in your German learning and can’t imagine anymore how you could have worked any other way.
They are working on a major improvement of their platform at the moment and I had the honour of peaking into one new exciting feature that will help you immensely with your listening and writing skills. It will make Yabla an even more powerful and worthy German learning platform. So stay tuned. I hope it will not take them much longer.
If you want to try Yabla you can use this link and support me and my work as I will get a provision from them if you subscribe via this link. It does not cost you anything more but I can create the next app and online course faster or maybe even the long waited for B2 German grammar course. There is much more behind smarterGerman than the naked eye can see but this is not the place for philosophy. Thank you for your time and for making a difference in this world.
You can try a limited part of Yabla for free or simply invest ~10 USD in your first month. I promise you if you work according to my instructions above you’ll get a lot out of it.