Our Review of FluentU
The content quality on FluentU varies from video to video, and the flashcards feature isn’t the best we’ve seen. Additionally, the beginner level content isn’t very good. We recommend using FluentU as a supplementary tool in a balanced language learning study routine.
Ease of Use8
Engagement and Motivation2
Value for Cost5
FluentU helps learners study foreign languages through videos and click-to-translate subtitles. FluentU differentiates itself from standard language learning apps through its use of real world content.
The majority of the videos come from YouTube – cooking videos, product ads, movie trailers or music videos. If you click on any of the words in the subtitles you’ll see an English translation, plus images and example sentences. You can add any of the words you encounter into flashcard decks and then review them later on.
The app isn’t designed to teach you grammar and there are no actual “lessons” like you might see in other apps, but the abundance of real-world videos within an interface designed for language learners makes this app worth checking out.
Table of Contents
- How much does FluentU cost?
- What languages are available on FluentU?
- How does FluentU work?
- Our experience using FluentU
- FluentU’s flashcards are not very helpful
- The bottom line – can you learn a language with FluentU?
How much does FluentU cost?
FluentU subscriptions are a bit more costly than most other language apps and there are considerably fewer subscription options.
At the time of writing this article, there were only two subscription options for FluentU:
- Monthly: $30 per month
- Yearly: $240 per year ($20 per month)
Despite the relatively high subscription cost, FluentU offers a generous 14-day free trial which should give you ample time to figure out if the app is right for you.
What languages are available on FluentU?
At the time of writing, FluentU has 9 study languages available to English speakers:
How does FluentU work?
FluentU provides language learners with hundreds of videos to help practice foreign languages. The videos are sourced from YouTube, meaning the content is generally authentic and realistic.
You’ll find movie trailers, commercials, videos from vloggers, cooking videos; all sorts of things to help you learn everyday vocabulary.
You can filter videos by proficiency level or choose from a dozen different topics. We particularly enjoyed watching Travel videos – for example, we found an interesting Russian-language video about the Moscow metro system.
It’s worth noting that FluentU won’t actually teach you a language; there aren’t any lessons or explanations at all. Rather, FluentU is intended to be used as a supplementary tool for users who are learning the grammar elsewhere and just need practice material.
Click to translate subtitles and sentence examples
Every video you watch on FluentU has subtitles in English as well as in your target language. If you move your mouse into the gray box area the video will pause so that you can analyze what’s being said. You can also rewind to the last sentence and hit the “Repeat” button if you need some more time to get a grasp of what’s being said.
When you hover over a subtitle, you’ll see a popup with a translation and sometimes an image. FluentU’s video interface makes the process of pausing and analyzing sentences considerably more convenient, especially if you tend to have trouble understanding material in your target language.
Clicking on any of the words in the subtitles will open up a larger popup with more detailed information plus a few context sentences. The context sentences are especially useful since it’s sometimes hard to understand why a given word was used in a given sentence. You can also click the sound icon to play the audio for any of the words or sentences.
FluentU’s video player and click-to-translate subtitles make it easy to work through a video slowly, particularly for learners who are still bridging the gap between beginner and intermediate level proficiency.
If you struggle to understand what’s being said in your target language, FluentU might be the perfect set of “training wheels” to help you get to where you want to be.
Create flashcards directly from video subtitles
FluentU has a built-in flashcard review system that allows you to save vocabulary words from videos and review them later.
When you come across a word you want to memorize, simply click on it to open up the larger popup window then click the “Add to” dropdown menu. You can add that term to the default “My Vocab” list or you can create your own custom lists.
Once you have a handful of words saved, navigate to the “Flashcards” section of the site to view your decks. Within each deck you can see all of your cards and listen to the pronunciation. Clicking on any of them will show you their respective example sentences and images.
You can click “Learn” when you’re ready to start reviewing.
FluentU will have you work through a handful of different practice activities such as fill in the blank, multiple choice or typing.
Our experience using FluentU
We used FluentU to study intermediate-level Russian and advanced-level French. As we mentioned earlier, FluentU is not the best resource for beginner level content (if you’re a beginner, perhaps check out our review of Pimsleur).
Overall, FluentU is a useful program for practicing the material you’ve studied but there are a few areas that could use some improvement.
The video quality could be improved
FluentU is a good source of comprehensible input if you’re looking for immersive practice material, but the content has its limits. The platform features hundreds of real world videos sourced from YouTube (movie trailers, posts from vloggers, short documentaries, etc.), however the quality varies from video to video.
FluentU’s beginner-level videos are not very good
The beginner level videos, for example, are often videos intended for children, or even clips of children’s shows. Some people might not mind using that type of material, but we would find it annoying to study a foreign language by watching, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
Videos are short and unorganized
Sometimes the videos are very short, perhaps less than 30 seconds long, which can be annoying if you’re looking to practice with more detailed content. Additionally, the videos aren’t very organized.
In the screenshot below a single video is separated into 21 different clips. They aren’t organized however, so the interface ends up feeling cluttered.
It seems that FluentU only uses content that is available for free on YouTube, resulting in incomplete clips or lower-quality content.We enjoyed some of the videos but found many of them to be uninteresting, incomplete or simply irrelevant.
FluentU’s interface makes it easy to study with videos and the click-to-translate subtitles are truly unique, however the poor quality of the content detracts from the overall learning experience.
FluentU’s flashcards are not very helpful
The concept of adding words from video subtitles directly into flashcard decks is innovative and creative, though there are a few drawbacks that limit the user experience. We suggest using a different app, such as Anki (our review here).
Not possible to make flashcards with multiple words
First, it’s not possible to add multiple words as one card unless FluentU has specifically tagged them as such. In a French-language video about “Making Lemon Cheesecake” we came across the word “parfumé au citron (lemon-flavored),” but were unable to add it as a flashcard – you can only add the individual words.
Flashcards do not display words in dictionary form
Additionally, when you add a word to your flashcard decks it will be displayed in the form in which you encountered it in the video, rather than its dictionary form.
For example, if we save the word “grammes (grams)” as a card in our deck, it’ll always appear as “grammes.” In general when studying a foreign language, it’s best to learn a word in its dictionary form, i.e. “le gram (the gram).
Memorizing “grammes” (it’s plural here) can lead to confusion since we might not remember whether it’s masculine or feminine (le/la).
This becomes considerably more important for languages like German or Russian which have complex case declension systems. Russian words, for example, should always be memorized in the dictionary form to avoid confusion since one word can often appear in a handful of different forms.
No spaced repetition system or learner encouragement
FluentU also doesn’t seem to have a very well-developed spaced repetition system in its flashcards feature. The app is currently telling us we have three words “Ready for Review,” however we’ve been building and studying our flashcard deck for several days. Learners should be encouraged to review some amount of vocabulary every day (ideally encouraged to set a daily goal) in order to properly memorize and retain it.
With FluentU’s flashcard decks it felt like we were very much left to our own devices.
FluentU’s flashcards feature is acceptable, however we would recommend using another program to memorize the vocabulary you encounter.
Interface feels clunky and outdated
FluentU’s interface feels slow, clunky and outdated compared to other language learning apps. This is especially true in the flashcard player. From a design perspective it feels unorganized and very text heavy, as if it hasn’t been updated in a decade.
Additionally, FluentU uses stock images for many of their vocabulary words. It definitely helps to have an image attached to a definition, however we felt that a lot of the stock images look unrealistic and cheesy – they make the platform feel a bit like an ad on a tabloid website.
The bottom line – can you learn a language with FluentU?
Can you learn a language with FluentU? Is FluentU worth your time and money? The short answer is – a little bit, but we’d recommend using it as a supplementary tool in a balanced language learning study routine.
FluentU offers hundreds of videos you can use to practice your target language plus a well-developed video player with click-to-translate subtitles. The ability to watch videos while scanning the subtitles and clicking to view translations and context sentences is very useful, though there are some drawbacks to the platform that we feel detract from the overall learning experience.
The content quality varies from video to video and the flashcard feature isn’t the best we’ve seen. Additionally, the beginner level content isn’t very good at all. We would recommend FluentU for intermediate and advanced learners who want to improve their vocabulary, though we would advise you use a different tool for memorizing vocab (such as Anki). At a steep price of $30 per month, we would recommend checking out other apps before using FluentU.
– written by Drew Grubba for Smarter Language. Drew has ACTFL-certified proficiency in Swedish, German, Portuguese, French and Spanish. He’s also studied Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian and Dutch, and is currently learning Russian.
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