This review has been updated: October, 2020
When you first start trying to pick up a language, you may be able to acquire new words rather easily, even just by listening to music and audio. In the case of Japanese for example, you might decide to listen to J-Pop or watch anime to acquaint yourself with words and phrases. But the speed of natural Japanese—or any language for that matter—might make listening in and gathering information extremely difficult, especially for those who are just beginning their language learning journey.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a service that meshes language lessons together with real TV? That’s where FluentU comes in.
But is FluentU — a popular language learning app — worth your time?
Let’s find out.
FluentU Review: Overview
Directly from the website, FluentU claims to bring “language learning to life with real world videos”! The makers of FluentU scour the internet for videos from around the world in hundreds of languages then painstakingly translate and transcribe the dialog, then add those subtitles to short video clips for you to study. You can simultaneously listen and read languages spoken in real time to aid with comprehension.
Upon selecting the 14-day free trial or one of the subscription options, you get access to the following:
- Video content from television, YouTube videos, music videos, and more in various languages, like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, French, German, and more
- Content categorized by level—absolute beginner all the way to advanced
- Bilingual subtitles
- A hover-over option to learn the meanings of words as they are spoken
- An auto-loop option for video clips to repeatedly listen
- A learning center that gives you a flashcard system and dictionary
The platform is easy to understand, for it is set up much like YouTube. You can select videos on the left side by difficulty, topics, and formats. So, if you want a newbie video on Health and Lifestyle, you should have no problem finding it.
Overall, it is an ideal system for reviewing languages. However, there are some disadvantages to consider as well—but more on that below.
What We Liked About FluentU
Thousands of Videos
Whether you are learning Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Spanish, or something else, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of videos and audio clips for you to use. Every video is expertly captioned, and the content is posted for you as well—either within the dictionary or as a tool-tip by hovering over words. This prevents you from having to pause every 5 seconds to take notes or look a word up.
FluentU is a great way to learn common phrases used to day-to-day communication. Subscription gives you access to a huge toolbox of language-learning utilities, like flash cards and quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks.
Because of the vast collection of videos, your library offers up a chance to learn hundreds of new words and phrases straight from native speakers in real time.
Easy to Use
The process is simple and intuitive. Just like watching TV or streaming anime online, you can watch short clips from videos or movies. It kind of feels like Japanese karaoke. Additionally, the flashcard system makes it easy to find words you might not have understood and quiz yourself on them. Everything is extremely easy to use, making note-taking a punch.
What We Didn’t Like About FluentU
No Course Structure
If you are someone who loves structured practice and coherent themes, such as focusing on basics or adjectives or certain topics, then you are out of luck with FluentU. Despite the variety of videos, there is nothing tying the videos together. Since every video is a clip or a short commercial, you get introduced to thousands of new words but have no way to tie these words together—unless you are studying with other platforms and using FluentU as a supplemental listening practice.
Naturally, a lack of structure might be a positive for some. You can work through things at your own speed, after all.
Lack of Speaking Practice
One of the biggest problems with FluentU stems from the lack of speaking practice. The site does not offer any way for you to practice pronunciation or conversation. While you can read the sentences on the videos and try to match what people are talking about, this does not teach you how to command and construct sentences in the language you are trying to learn. It’s based more on rote memorization, and that doesn’t always lead to fluency. This prevents FluentU from receiving a higher rating.
Repetitive and Uninteresting
If you are a beginner to a language, there is absolutely no benefit to watching the beginner level videos on FluentU. The videos are too short and uninteresting. You can get more detailed and interesting videos on YouTube for free and have the instructor give you all the information you need more directly. Furthermore, you lose out variety when it comes to audio and video. The audio lessons are ripped right from the videos, so you end up hearing similar scenarios again and again.
Sample Sentences Aren’t Spoken By Real People
The flashcards are a bonus, but there is also a downside. FluentU relies on text-to-speech software. This issue this that the pronunciation for words can be downright horrible.
What Are The Lessons Like?
To start a lesson, you simply select the video you would like to watch and click it. You will be taken to the viewing screen. FluentU sets up every single video lesson in the same way: A short video with layers of subtitles. In Japanese, for instance, depending on your level, you might see the hiragana and katakana, kanji with furigana, and the English translation. You can also hide the subtitles and listen multiple times.
Every single word in the subtitles are linked to the internal dictionary, so when you hear or see a word you don’t know, you can move your mouse over the word (or tap it with your finger) to get the instant translation, complete with a picture that illustrates the meaning. Any words you have yet to learn will be highlighted in the subtitles.
As you watch the videos, you can skip around to different sections by user the slider on the frame bar at the very bottom. Want to listen to audio instead? It is the same as video, but you don’t have to watch anything.
However, you should keep in mind that this isn’t truly a lesson. No one is teaching you anything, and the grammatical points are not being discussed by an instructor or native speaker. The videos have merely be translated, and you are independently studying the content to enhance your understanding of the target language.
You enhance your independent studies by using the flashcard system to review whatever vocabulary you are having trouble with. You can even do fill-in-the-blank sentences to test how much you comprehend. Therefore, the usefulness of FluentU depends on you and how far you are willing to go by yourself.
Who Is FluentU For?
FluentU can be advantageous for many people, including:
- You consider yourself an intermediate learner
- You want to practice listening to native speakers at a native pace
- You want to independently study new vocabulary on your own time
Who Is FluentU NOT For?
FluentU, like any other program, does have disadvantages that might not help some people, including those who fit into the following categories:
- You are either an absolute beginner or advanced
- You have no understanding of Japanese grammar
- You want to practice speaking dialogue
- You do better in a structured learning environment
Language learning software comes in many flavors. Some are sweet deals, while others, well, leave us feeling a little bitter. That said, everyone has their own unique way of learning, which means what works for you might be entirely different for someone else. So, with that in mind, how does FluentU stack up against its competitors?
FluentU vs. JapanesePod101
JapanesePod101 uses video content and podcasts to teach you how to speak Japanese. As you listen to the dialogue, you can also read it below. JapanesePod101 is not just audio but a complete language resource. For example, you also get PDFs with notes to study in your free time. JapanesePod101 makes it easier than FluentU to listen, read, and understand grammatical patterns in Japanese, because you are not just listening passively, you are being taught.
FluentU vs. Yabla
Yabla is very similar to FluentU, because it calls itself “smart subtitle technology.” You can access videos in hundreds of languages with interactive elements. The video content is noted to be more interesting that what FluentU offers, because they use movies and documentaries instead of commercials and advertisements. However, Yabla is not as up-to-date as FluentU, and the platform can feel outdated and clunky.
FluentU vs. italki
Do you prefer getting speaking practice? Then you shouldn’t just listen, you should be conversing with native speakers. That’s where italki comes in. The software comes with online lessons that can be streamed from anywhere in the world while providing you the opportunity to pay-per-lesson for one-on-one tutoring. If you are serious about learning to speak a language and not just translate, give this a try.
Is FluentU Worth The Money?
FluentU isn’t cheap. The cost of the program continues to rise, and the free trial of 14 days will go by too quickly to learn much. A few years ago, the basic plan was around $15 a month, but it is now $20 a month, while the annual plan has remained the same. It is clear that FluentU is pushing the annual membership.
While you might want to try FluentU for a few months to get in some practice, the levels and the lack of engaging content may damper your motivation—especially once you try other applications and programs. The free trial may be worth your time, but there are alternatives that cost less and provide more informative videos.
FluentU Review Conclusion
A Good Resource, But It Shouldn’t Be Your Primary Study Method
Although FluentU is an excellent resource, it should not be used as your primary means of learning a language. The goal of the program might be to immerse you into a language, but without the speaking practice, you are just memorizing set phrases without understanding their context or usefulness. Videos are great, but you should be studying more than patterns!
Ideally, you would use FluentU as a complimentary resource for vocabulary and listening and study from more structured, educational programs, like JapanesePod101. Doing so will expose you to both correct grammar, verb tenses, adjectives, and provide you with chances to drill all of that in through listening. All in all, FluentU is what you make of it.
You can sign up for FluentU’s free trial here.