FluentU is a language learning resource that I’d heard about plenty in passing, but had never made the time to check out. Embarking on this FluentU review, I do have to say that I have serious regrets about that!
FluentU is a powerful language learning resource that fulfills a need that most other language learning resources miss: practice material based off the foreign language content that’s already out there. Let’s dive in!
FluentU review: getting started
FluentU has what I would call a mild to moderate number of languages. These languages are:
Though they may only have a few languages, FluentU is more flexible than a lot of the competition: you’re welcome to switch languages as you please! I love this, because having to choose a language, or even pay double to learn more than one language – is something that tends to bother me.
Another thing that FluentU does right: pricing!
I don’t normally address prices until I get further along in these reviews, but the onboarding process is so smooth and the FluentU pricing is are so digestible, may as well just stick them where FluentU sticks’em, yeah?
The FluentU price comes with 14 days for free (which is, again, better than a lot of the competition), and then very simple pricing that’s…not too bad. But whether or not you feel it’s worth that price? Let’s see what you think after this FluentU review.
Anyways. Next thing you tell FluentU is your current level.
There is no native “assessment”, so it’s up to you to figure out what level you’re at. Fortunately, not only can you freely switch between levels, but hovering over those question marks gives you a brief description of each level:
Beginner: build a strong foundation with essential vocab and phrases, very basic grammar, and full – but short – sentences.
Intermediate: keep moving along with trickier vocabulary, longer sentences, and more grammar
Advanced: start feeling like a native speaker with exposure to high-level topics and scenarios, as well as all kinds of advanced grammar and vocabulary.
Last but not least, you choose a daily goal.
I do like that it has you set a goal, but 1 minute a day? Yeesh! I’m all for setting small, low-pressure daily goals, but I’m not sure 1 minute should even count.
I mean, if the point is to get people on the app in the first place with the assumption that they’ll stick around for a bit that’s fine, but please don’t set an actual daily goal of 1 minute!
Regardless, FluentU takes it a step further and sends you a notification every day to remind you to get your points in, which is really helpful for consistency!
First I went with beginner Spanish, so I could get an idea of just how beginner FluentU gets.
Yup, that’s definitely Spanish 1.1!
FluentU has their own native lessons for you get your bases in, like the above screenshot. Once you get a bit more comfortable, there’s also a ton of natural content from all over the web that’s also stuck into this format.
You get a video and a really big text box that includes captions in both the language and English. If you’re getting along just fine, let it play and read/listen along.
If you’re not familiar with a word, mouse over the text area and it’ll pause automatically. Mouse over any unfamiliar words and you’ll get a translation, and the option to easily add it to a vocab set.
Feel free to go through this video as many times as you like – it won’t automatically continue. Instead it’ll just stop and wait for you to make a decision.
Do you want to watch it again? Or do you want to use one of your other options (look at the transcript, take the quiz, choose another video, etc.)?
If you decide to take the quiz, it’ll run you through the words it’s registered as important (easy enough for FluentU’s native content, but I’m not sure how it assesses that vocab for its other stuff) as if you hadn’t watched the video.
From this, I can definitely tell that you should be working through videos that are just above your level; if you stick to your current level, watching the video and then being taught these words/phrases individually is redundant.
On the flip side, if you’re speeding through vocab that’s just out of reach in the video and then getting it dissected in the quiz, that’s a pretty solid vocab strategy.
You’ll go through the vocab, seeing and listening to it, with the option to tell FluentU that certain words aren’t new to you, and to stop showing them to you.
Then you’ll get quizzed.
FluentU switches up the nature of these quiz questions pretty well, so you’ll get an actual understanding of how the vocab is spoken, written, and flows; it’s not just a brainless activity.
You can choose to just go through the native content for a while, or you can branch out and find something that really interests you. Just hit Browse and you can look through all the content in the language you’re learning!
Don’t rush, though: I’ve found that if I type too quickly, FluentU doesn’t register some of my letters, and I’ve gotten words wrong because of that.
If you really want to, you can switch the level on your account by going into settings and making a different selection. But realistically, it doesn’t really matter. You can literally just go into the different levels of content straight from the FluentU library and see what works for you.
Here’s an example of a video I found in the intermediate section.
There’s a couple things to note here.
First: ” no tienes remedio”. That’s not a word, but a phrase. While you can select individual words to go into your vocab lists, you can’t select that whole phrase to study just on FluentU.
LingQ does this with written materials, where it always provides you the option to select potential phrases (because you never really know with new languages). I’m disappointed that FluentU doesn’t.
Second: usually when language learners study Spanish, they make a choice between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish. FluentU doesn’t seem to even mention this difference, so the assumption is Latin American. Which sucks for me, because I’m more familiar with Castilian.
Nonetheless, if you need some more info on a new word (besides which country it’s from), just click it.
You’ll keep a couple more sentences for context, a couple of grammar notes, and the option to add it to a vocab list so you can remember to review it later.
And if you can’t understand ANY of the words and just need to study all the vocab before you go through the video? No problem!
Take in this new vocab word-by-word to memorize it, or do so in the context of the sentences spoken in the vocab. Both options also include audio clips of how they’re said in the video.
And then FluentU takes it one more step forward: transcripts!
The transcripts aren’t pretty, but you can choose to download them with or without the English translations, and you’ll see the timing of the dialogue in the upper right-hand corner, which can be helpful.
In this transcription, I notice something interesting, particularly in that second line: “for that reason”. That is the direct translation, but it’s not the natural translation; the natural translation would be “that’s why”.
This is a helpful way to get your brain thinking in Spanish – you’ll naturally put those two together. Languages put together their words differently to say the basic ideas of different words and phrases, and it’s an important way to make sure you’re thinking the language, not just translating it.
And of course, you can take a quiz on the video, just like in the native content.
Everything that you do or make note of is saved in the My Content section.
This includes a history of the content you’ve consumed, the vocab you’ve stashed away to review later, any other vocab lists you’ve made, and the vocab you’ve labeled “already known”.
You can separate them by the kind of content you’re looking for, too, so if you watched a video a while back and want to go back to it and see how much easier it is for you (which, by the way, is one of my favorite ways to see how much better I’ve gotten in a language), it’s not hard to find.
While you can see the level that all this content is at, I wish you could organize them by beginner/intermediate/advanced, at least. There is a big difference between the three levels (both in vocabulary and speed), so it would make reviewing content just a tad easier.
FluentU app review
FluentU will suggest you install the FluentU app from the get-go, and I don’t see why not! The FluentU app is just as smooth and digestible as the desktop version, so it’s great for on-the-go language learning.
The FluentU app is nice and smooth and fun to use…but I do have one complaint.
I mean, from a usability standpoint, it’s just fine. But…just look at that. Why is it so ugly?
There’s this HUGE empty space in the middle of what you’re watching/listening to. Why is that there?
Could they not put in more helpful content there? Could they not make the English translation a bit bigger? Anything?
Who FluentU is for
Now that we’re at the end of this FluentU review, the question remains: how do you know if FluentU is right for your language learning goals?
Fortunately, FluentU has content for language learners of literally all levels (as long as you’re studying one of the languages offered).
Plus, there’s even a list of future improvements that FluentU is working on!
FluentU is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the language naturally and easily – a lot of the videos are just content from YouTube or something like that, and they’re all outfitted with transcripts, dialogues…the whole nine yards.
So basically, if you want to up your listening comprehension and your vocab, FluentU is your guy. You won’t get much help with grammar, and no help whatsoever with speaking, but I gotta hand it to’em – this FluentU review proves they do their job well!