Language learning platforms are online programs that let you study a language in their own specific way. Some focus on writing or listening, while others might be more about vocabulary or grammar.
One language learning platform I recently discovered is Ilini. Founded in 2017, Ilini at first seems similar to FluentU, a platform I reviewed previously. But exploring Ilini, I quickly discovered some major differences.
Let’s take a closer look at the Ilini language learning platform. Could it be just what you need to take your French to the next level?
What I liked about Ilini
At first, Ilini seems like fellow language learning platform FluentU, but on a smaller scale. Compared to FluentU, there’s a much smaller selection of YouTube videos that actual French people would watch (news clips, music videos, vlogs from popular French YouTube stars) with the platform’s own subtitles. The selection is still good, though, and the various activities that go with each video will keep you busy for a while.
There are three different learning levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. You can toggle between them to select videos in different levels, which I like because if you tried a harder level and felt like it was too much, it’s easy to find something a bit simpler.
One way that Ilini stands out for me is that when you click on a word in the subtitles, you’ll get a very thorough definition, with multiple meanings listed (when applicable). This could seem confusing, since you have to determine which of the definitions applies to this particular context, but I never found it to be particularly problematic, and as someone who loves learning about words, I thought it was cool to see how a particular one is used and understood in different ways in French.
The Ilini subtitles offer several options. You can watch a video with English or French subtitles (here’s our strategy for how to use these progressively) . You can also slow down the French audio if needed.
Unfortunately, I found that on very rare occasions, the subtitles might bug just a bit. For example, when I listened to Christine and the Queen’s always awesome song “Saint Claude”, the subtitles would freeze just before the refrain. I tested this with a few other songs, and it didn’t seem to be an issue, so who knows? I might have come across the one single subtitle issue on the entire platform.
Another Ilini feature that I really like is that the quizzes that go with each video ask comprehension questions as well as vocabulary-related ones. Other platforms might only focus on one or the other.
That said, one downside is that the vocabulary part of a quiz can be a bit weak, since you’ll only be asked about the words you clicked for a definition while watching the video. Then again, this is actually kind of helpful, since it means you won’t have to go over or linger on words you already know.
I feel like that makes this platform better for more advanced students or for students who just don’t enjoy using the quiz format to learn vocabulary.
But if you’re worried that you won’t be able to really focus on words, don’t be. Ilini automatically generates flashcards for every word you’ve clicked for a definition – and they are great! Under “My vocabulary”, you can choose to view that list as flashcards. Click the French word to see and hear the English answer (if the word appears in English at first, toggle the language option on the left of the screen). You can also click “view details” to find out what video(s) the word comes from, as well as its definition.
As with a lot of other aspects of Ilini, the flashcard format is as close to an actual, old school physical flashcard as you can get – you have to “flip” this one over to get the answer.
If that doesn’t seem like enough to practice with, Ilini includes additional exercises, puzzles, and other activities that go with each video (answer keys are included). This is not only helpful for students; as a former EFL teacher, I couldn’t help but think how cool these would be for French instructors to use from time to time.
That said, while teachers are used to printables, not all students are today, and if that includes you, you might not be thrilled by the fact that only the quizzes that go with each video are online and interactive. All of the other learning materials are PDF’s that you have to download and probably print out.
Still, personally, I think this is a good thing. It’s another way to learn. For example, with exercises that ask you to put sentences from a video into the correct order, instead of just typing in words or copy/pasting, you can cut the phrases out from the printed sheet and (on your own, or with students or fellow learners) put them together manually. In addition to the fun aspect, this kind of hands-on learning can actually benefit some people, since they’re having to really pay attention and touch the phrases.
Even so, I know that many people might find it a bit strange that in our paperless era, these relatively simple exercises wouldn’t be integrated into the platform.
Another thing that might seem old-fashioned is that everything on Ilini is labeled. If you want to find something or understand what precisely to click on to, say, stop a video, you’ll find it neatly and clearly spelled out – often literally. Personally, I love this. If I’m using a platform to learn a foreign language, I don’t want to have to spend time guessing what to do or make silly and time-wasting mistakes like clicking on an arrow that doesn’t lead where I expected, which sometimes happens when I use more “intuitive” interfaces.
On the other hand, here’s one modern feature on Ilini: a built-in French-English/English-French dictionary that not only gives you definitions, but also shows if a word is spoken in one (or more) of the platform’s videos. I love that the dictionary doesn’t just include vocabulary specific to these videos – it’s a resource on its own.
What I didn’t like about Ilini
Much as I like Ilini, it suffers from what I see as the main flaw of many similar platforms: There isn’t much here that’s interactive or going to help you with grammar, usage, and speaking.
Other disadvantages of Ilini include a much more limited selection of videos compared to the somewhat similar FluentU, for example. There are also no purely audio resources. Neither of these may be permanent, though. When I reached out to Ilini founder Benjamin Rey, he told me that the platform is still evolving, with new features planned for this year.
And, as I wrote above, if you don’t like having to print out exercises and prefer a more modern interface, you might be a bit disappointed or at least a little thrown off.
So, let’s break this Ilini review down:
The Pros of Ilini
- Videos that actual French speakers would watch.
- Subtitles let you click individual words for a very complete definition.
- Lots of different exercises for each video.
- A built-in French-English/English French dictionary.
- Very thorough and easy-to-use flashcards.
- A straightforward interface
The Cons of Ilini
- Video selection is pretty limited.
- I experienced at least one subtitle bug (although this seems like it was a very rare occurrence).
- Mostly passive learning.
- No intensive grammar exercises.
- If you’re not into paper, besides the quizzes for each video, other exercises are PDF printables.
How much does Ilini cost?
If Ilini seems like the platform for you, there are two pricing options, and both are pretty reasonable. You can also use some very limited features for free.
The Learner Essentials plan costs 5.99 USD and offers unlimited access to the interactive player, online quizzes, My Vocabulary and flashcards.
The Learner Plus plan costs 9.99 USD and adds transcripts and translations as well ad PDF exercises.
Is Ilini the best language learning platform for me?
Much as I like Ilini, personally, it depends on what kind of learner you are.
If you like delving into details and doing a lot of different exercises around a particular video or set of vocabulary words, Ilini is a great choice.
Regardless, no language learning platform is complete enough to really help you grasp every aspect of French on its own. Here is a list of other resources you should find and use along with Ilini, to really improve your French in every way. Most of these resources are free, so you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If you’re looking for a way to practice listening and not only improve your vocabulary, but really get to know French words, (even words not included in any of its features, thanks to its built-in French-English/English-French dictionary), Ilini is the platform for you.
Why not get started by watching a video or using its dictionary to look up a word you’d like to learn in French? Amusez-vous et bon apprentissage (Have fun and happy learning!)!