Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Blueprint Review — A Unique Teaching Method

Quick Review


Mandarin Blueprint is an online course for learning Mandarin Chinese. It teaches the language through videos and flashcards on the Anki flashcard app. It also makes use of the Hanzi Movie Method, which is a mnemonic memorization technique involving visualizations. The course is very thorough and designed for absolute beginners looking to build a solid foundation in Mandarin.


There’s some great teaching material, but the course relies on third-party resources like Google Slides and Anki.


The course is detailed enough to take absolute beginners to the intermediate level.


The initial phases are time-consuming, but serious learners will get a lot of value from the course.


Mandarin Chinese


A subscription to Mandarin Blueprint is $30 billed monthly or $288 billed annually ($24/month).

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Cudoo Review — I Wouldn’t Even Use it if it Were Free

Quick Review



Cudoo is an online learning platform that offers courses in over 160 languages. The platform also offers courses teaching soft skills and other professional development courses. Certificates are available upon course completion, and courses are provided to libraries and non-profits for free. We feel that the quality of the language courses is quite low, and that the prices are relatively high.


It’s nice to have native speaker audio, but I personally found the course to offer very little learning potential.


The course didn’t cover everything listed under “Course Content” and offers no explanations.


This course is way overpriced in my opinion. I wouldn’t even use it if it were free.


There are courses in over 160 languages on Cudoo. You’ll find languages as rare as Alsatian, Jerriais, and Navajo alongside more popular languages like Spanish and German.


Price varies by course, from $4.99 to $24.99, with language bundles costing up to $199.

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Yabla Review — Affordable and Effective Video-Learning

Quick Review



Yabla is a language-learning platform that uses videos with interactive subtitles and language games to help users learn a language. It’s currently available on the web and for iOS, with an Android app in development. Its videos are of varying difficulty levels and types, and are either sourced from the internet or originally produced, but all videos use native speakers.


It’s very easy and enjoyable to use, but the flashcard feature could be more developed.


While they vary slightly for each language, the video libraries are extensive and full of interesting content.


It’s most valuable for learners at the intermediate and advanced levels and is priced very fairly, but you’ll only get access to one language.


Chinese, Italian, German, French, Spanish, English


After a 15-day free trial, users can subscribe to one of the following options:

One Month$12.95
Six Months$54.95
One Year$99.95


FluentU Review — More Expensive than the Competition

Quick Review



FluentU is a language-learning platform that uses real-world videos and interactive subtitles to create an immersive learning experience. The videos take on a variety of forms, including commercials, music videos, interviews, and more. Accompanying quizzes give users the chance to practice language used in videos. 

FluentU offers videos in nine different languages and is available for iOS, Android, and on the web. Most of its content is beyond the beginner level, but it has videos for learners at all levels.


It’s very straightforward and easy to use, though not especially visually pleasing.


There is a wide variety of videos, but they’re short and disconnected. They also aren’t suitable for absolute beginners.


It’s not a very complete way to study a language, which makes it hard to justify the subscription price.


Chinese, Spanish, French, German, English, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Russian


After a 14-day free trial, users can purchase one of two subscription options. Subscriptions grant access to all FluentU languages.

Monthly Subscription: $30/month

Annual Subscription: $240/year ($20/month)

People love videos. We’ve been hooked on them ever since televisions started appearing in living rooms more than half a century ago. You may be more likely to get your fix from a computer or phone these days, but the appeal remains.

The resource in this review uses authentic videos in other languages to turn one of the most engaging types of media into a language-learning tool.

What is FluentU?

FluentU Chinese ReviewFluentU is a language-learning resource with a library of short, authentic videos and accompanying practice exercises. Its teaching methodology is centered around the idea that exposure and interaction with native content is the best way to learn a language.

The videos all make use of interactive subtitles to ensure understanding, allow users to save material for later review, and to make the experience more enjoyable.

There are videos available in nine different languages, and there is material for learners at all levels, though it probably isn’t the best resource for absolute beginners in any language.

How We Did This Review

For this review, multilingual video-master Catherine and I teamed up to test the resource independently and share our findings.

While this was my first real encounter with the platform, Catherine was already well-versed in FluentU and had been using it off and on for some time.

I tried out the material in Spanish, and Catherine took another look at the Chinese and French content.


I am an American vocalist and educator. I perform for multilingual audiences, mostly in English, Mandarin  and French. My interest in language apps is both personal and for my friends and students looking to supplement their study materials. At the moment I am casually learning Japanese and Russian.


I’ve studied Spanish off and on for about 15 years now and feel like I’m in “maintenance mode” with the language. I’m not as fluent as I once was, and I’ll take any exposure I can get to keep my skills up while not living in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m hoping FluentU is a viable way to turn interacting with native material into a more efficient study technique.

Quick Opinions

It turns out that Catherine and I have pretty similar feelings about FluentU, and they’re lukewarm.

We both like the fact that videos use native speakers, contain some interesting content, and are easy to interact with. We agree, though, that what’s on offer doesn’t quite feel worth the price. The practice activities don’t have a lot of variation, and you’ll need to find your own supplementary resources to fill out a study plan.

Catherine noted that it could be worth it for more advanced learners to pay for a month at a time once in a while to get some good language exposure, but not on an ongoing basis.

Here’s how we each rated the resource overall:

Catherine: 3/5 Stars

Brian: 3.17/5 Stars

Combined Final Rating: 3.1/5 Stars

Initial Impressions

Not too busy or overly minimalistic, the FluentU platform feels manageable and practical right away. There’s a way to view your achievements, videos to search through, and not much else.

FluentU Homescreen

I really appreciate a resource with an interface that doesn’t require a lot of getting used to, but there’s also nothing special about the FluentU aesthetic.

How important is an eye-catching layout? It might matter more to some than others, but I think most would agree that the language-learning potential is the important bit. There’s also something to be said for resources that are straight to the point and don’t distract from their primary use.

In that sense, I’m glad the FluentU made it easy to get practicing right away, though I did have to Google how to change languages (hint: it’s in Settings).

Finding Videos

Fortunately, finding videos on FluentU is pretty easy. There’s a search function, intelligent filters, and easy-to-see video thumbnails.

FluentU Video Thumbnails

I like how easy it is to see how many videos there are at each level, topic, and format. It’s also super easy to filter the videos by clicking on one of these categories.

As you can see, the majority of the videos in Spanish are for the intermediate level. The topic with the most videos is Everyday Life, and the most popular format is music videos. The distribution is pretty good between the types of videos available; there isn’t one type of video that dominates the library.

Most, if not all, of the videos are less than five minutes long. They won’t lend themselves to any serious binge sessions, but that’s not the point here. Instead, I think the relatively short length is just right for turning the content into small language lessons. Any longer and there would be too much content.

Watching Videos

This is what FluentU is all about! Watching videos on the platform is a pretty smooth experience, and there’s some extra information that makes it easier to turn it into a useful study guide.

Vocabulary List

Each video comes with a list of vocabulary that it contains. The list provides definitions, a “fluency” meter that shows how comfortable you are with the word, and an audio recording.

Unfortunately, the recordings here aren’t done by native speakers. Instead, they use text-to-speech technology, making for less-natural-more-robotic sounding pronunciations.

You’ll also be able to see a transcript of the entire dialogue, with the ability to listen to a recording of each sentence. Again, you’ll hear a robotic voice hear instead of the voices used in the video itself, which is a shame.

Ok, now to the fun part, what really drives the FluentU experience — videos with interactive subtitles.

Video with subtitles in Spanish and English

Let’s break down the features that make the subtitles interactive.

Show or Hide

Each video comes with quality subtitles and translations, and you can toggle both of these on and off as you wish. The option to do this is nice, as it can be easy to accidentally rely on the translated subtitles.

Toggle subtitles on or off

It’s also nice to be able to turn off subtitles completely, in case you want to test your listening comprehension on its own.

Hover to Show Translations

Hovering over any word in the subtitles reveals its translation. Hovering over the subtitles also automatically pauses the video, which Catherine and I agree makes for a smoother experience.

The translations do a good job of recognizing context, which is important. If a word is being used as part of a phrasal verb or expression, for example, selecting the word will show the translation of the entire phrase.

You can see what this looks like in the example below.

Translation of an expression

Clicking on a word or phrase brings up extra information, including example sentences, other video clips that use the language item, and the chance to add it to a flashcard deck for later review.

Extra language information for

This is a cool feature. The ability to see a new word or phrase in multiple contexts is certainly useful.

Navigate and Repeat Clips

The dialogue in each video is broken up into segments, and navigating between them is fairly simple — there are big arrows on each side of the subtitle box that allow you to easily scroll through clips of dialogue.

There’s also a repeat button that, when enabled, causes the video to loop the current clip over and over. This is handy for tricky bits of dialogue that you might not grasp the first time around. It’s definitely better than manually rewinding the video to hear a small bit repeatedly.

The repeat feature is nice, but it also brings up a feature that’s missing from FluentU and makes it a little less valuable than it could be. There’s no option to slow down playback. For particularly tricky passages of dialogue, slower playback can help in a way that endlessly repeating a clip sometimes can’t.

The lack of a “slow-mo” button isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but I found myself missing it. This is something other language-learning resources frequently offer.

Video Practice Exercises

In addition to watching videos, the FluentU platform allows you to partake in various exercises to practice the language in the videos you watch. They’re pretty simple and largely uninteresting, but they’re useful nonetheless.

Fill-in-the-blank exercise

In the above exercise, the user fills in the gap by typing the missing word. For extra help, you can listen to an audio recording of the sentence.

Sentence construction exercise

Here, the task is to put the words in the correct order. The sentence comes from the accompanying video and you can watch/listen to the video for help. The English translation is also visible.

There are also some multiple-choice questions that ask you to choose the correct word or translation, but they’re all very similar.

While I really like that these quizzes are available, they’re also pretty repetitive and uninteresting. It wasn’t long before I lost interest in them and wanted to move on to the next video.

I also found myself wishing there were questions to test my comprehension. Especially for intermediate and advanced learners, an opportunity to watch a video with or without subtitles and then test comprehension would be very valuable.

This type of listening happens all the time in real life (where you’re not totally sure what you’re hearing and have to make educated guesses), and a resource that helped learners practice this skill would be a great asset.


There are two subscription plans for FluentU: annual and monthly. The annual plan costs $240/year and the monthly plan costs $30/month.

FluentU Price Options

A subscription gives the user access to material for all languages on FluentU.


There are a handful of very similar options when it comes to language learning through videos, and Catherine and I tried out several of them to see how they stack up against each other.

FluentU turned out to be the most expensive option and not necessarily the best. Read on to see what we thought of the others, and check out Catherine’s video to get a more detailed look at what’s available.


This is probably the most similar resource to FluentU, and it’s half the price. It’s got some other major advantages as well — the practice activities are more interesting and varied, there are more videos, and the platform is slightly more enjoyable to use.

Unfortunately, there are fewer languages on offer here; there’s no Japanese, Korean, or Russian. You’ll also only get access to one language per subscription. Here’s our Yabla review. Also read our Yabla vs. FluentU review.


Learners of Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian – you’ll want to check this one out. While there are some videos that ask for payment (less than $2), the vast majority of the content is totally free to use and interact with. There are all kinds of videos to watch here, and the slick interface makes it easy to look up words and add them to a study list.

This is a good place to go for free access to content with quality translations and extra language information, but it doesn’t come with its own practice exercise. You’ll have to use another resource to practice words you learn here, for example. There is material in Ukrainian, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian, but most of the videos are in Russian.


LingoPie only offers content in Spanish and Russian, but it’s a significantly less expensive alternative to FluentU. The videos here are longer in length and far more binge-worthy, making it feel like a foreign-language Netflix, but there are some tradeoffs.

The site isn’t super easy to navigate as there’s no search function, the review opportunities consist of one very basic flashcard system, and some of the translations aren’t totally accurate.

Language Learning with Netflix

The most exciting thing about this option is that it’s free! If you already have a Netflix account, that is. It’s an extension for Google Chrome that turns your Netflix sessions into language-learning time. View bilingual subtitles, click on words for definitions, and make use of the auto-pause feature for optimal practice. You’ll have to be fairly self-directed in your study with this resource, and the content available to you will depend on your language pair. Fortunately, there’s this incredibly handy catalogue that makes it easy to find suitable videos.

Language Learning with Youtube

This Chrome extension is still being developed, but it works similarly to Language Learning with Netflix. It’s free, and the huge bonus here is the incredible amount of content on Youtube, in pretty much any language. There are still some bugs to be worked out, and it won’t do as your only study method, but it is free and worth checking out.


This site does the work of searching for Youtube videos with captions for you. You can then interact with these captions as you watch the video and save words for practice with a flashcard activity. The interface is fairly clunky, and I found it too difficult to find enough good material to consider using it seriously. There’s a free version and a premium version starting at $10/month.

Final Thoughts

FluentU definitely has its merits. It’s got a decent amount of content in several languages (all of which you’ll have access to with one subscription), and it comes with practical study exercises.

Catherine has used it in the past, but she tends to only pay for a month before canceling. This is the major drawback with the platform — the price doesn’t quite feel right.

If it offered a greater variety of practice activities and didn’t require learners to involve as many supplementary resources, it would be a different story. As it is, FluentU has got potential for quality language learning, but won’t be worth the price for most.

The highest-rated resources for learning a language are usually those created with one specific language in mind. Check out the table below to find our favorites in the language you’re learning.

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The 25 Best Podcasts To Learn Chinese In 2020

Improving your listening comprehension is one of the most important things you can do while learning Mandarin.

The reason is pretty obvious.

If you don’t understand what people are saying, how are you going to communicate with anyone?

Luckily, improving your listening comprehension isn’t terribly difficult if you have the right tools, and there are some excellent podcasts that can help you out.

One of the biggest hurdles when working on your listening skills is finding materials that fit your level. If you only listen to materials that are too challenging, you’ll likely get frustrated and not pick up much. On the other hand, listening to materials that are too easy won’t push you to improve as quickly as you can.

In this article we’ll look at a variety of podcasts while taking into account the levels they’re best for, though there’s quite a bit of overlap for some of the podcasts.

I’ll also share some podcasts related to language learning and China that you may find interesting. (more…)

Best Apps for Learning Mandarin Chinese: We’ve Tried Them All

There are a ridiculous number of apps out there for learning Chinese, and, while having plenty of options is certainly a good thing, finding the ones that are best for you can seem daunting.

Hopefully, we can help with that. We’ve tested dozens of them, and have included the standout performers in this list. These are apps that will help you improve a number of language skills, and we’ve categorized them based on whether they’re best for speaking, listening, reading, or writing.

The major benefits afforded by language apps are that they’re convenient and inexpensive, often free. Since this post focuses on apps, it will leave out some great resources that simply aren’t available as apps.

General Courses Available as Apps

Best Communication Skills App: Pimsleur

Best Interactive App: HelloChinese

Best Gamified Course: Ninchanese

Best HSK Test Prep App: HSKOnline

Apps for Learning Vocabulary and Grammar

Best Dictionary App: Pleco

Best Easy-to-Use Way to Learn Vocabulary: Memrise

Best for Learning Words in Context: Clozemaster

Best Customizable Study Tool: Anki

Best for Grammar Practice: Chinese Grammar

Apps for Reading and Listening Practice

Best for Learning Chinese Characters: Outlier Linguistics

Best for Reading About Current Events: The Chairman’s Bao

Best Reading Practice for Beginners and Up: Du Chinese

Best Interactive Reading Practice: WordSwing and M Mandarin

Best Audio Lessons in a Podcast Format: ChinesePod

Apps for Speaking and Writing Practice

Best for Learning to Write Chinese Characters: Skritter and TOFU Learn

Best for Writing Feedback: italki

Best for Pronunciation Feedback: Speechling

Apps for Tutors and Language Exchange

Best for Finding an Affordable Tutor: italki

Best for Structured Lessons: TutorMing

Best for Language Exchange: HelloTalk and Tandem

Best Q&A App: HiNative


17 Minute Languages Review: I Wouldn’t Recommend Using It

Quick Review



17 Minute Languages is a language-learning program that uses spaced repetition and native-speaker audio to teach a wide variety of languages. In our opinion, the courses aren’t very engaging; the courses we tried included significant errors and didn’t offer any language-specific explanations. There are leaderboards for comparing your progress with other users and a language forum that’s available after four days of use.


Native speaker audio is the only thing that impressed me in the courses I tried; mistakes and glitches were many.


Explanations are lacking, which I found made some material misleading.


I think there are far better ways to spend your time and money studying a language.


There are courses in 80 languages. 


The Beginner’s Course is $39.95 and the Complete Package is $97. There is a free 48-hour trial.


Speechling Review – I Didn’t Know I Was Saying That Wrong!

Quick Review



Speechling is a website and app that makes it easy to improve your speaking skills in several languages. The free version is an incredbily valuable resource that makes it easy to practice mimicking native speakers. The Unlimited Plan provides unlimited corrections of your recordings by a teacher.


Speachling makes it easy to improve your speaking rhythm and pronunciation.


Lots of different ways to practice speaking.


The free version is better than most paid resources and the paid version provides outstanding value.


The Forever Free Plan is complete free. A monthly subscription to the Unlimited Plan costs $19.99 per month.

Use the promo code “ALR123”” to save 10% on Speechling’s Unlimited Plan.

Languages: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese


Rocket Languages Review: Some Courses Are Ok, Others Are Bad

Quick Review



Rocket Languages is a comprehensive resource offering courses in several commonly learned languages. There’s a range of quality between the different language options. Some aren’t very good, some are worth looking at, but none of them are truly outstanding. While the material is often well-structured and full of practice opportunities, uninteresting content and repetitive exercises often keep the experience mediocre.


The platform is well-designed and easy to use, but the content is often uninteresting.


There are lots of explanations and practice opportunities, but exercises are repetitive.


The price is on the high side for what competing resources offer.


Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, English, and Sign Language


The price seems to change semi-regularly with frequent discounts. At the time of writing, they are:

$99.95 for Level 1 

$249.90 for Level 1 and 2

$259.95 for Level 1, 2, and 3


Speaky Review: Better Than Other Language Exchange Apps?

Quick Review



Speaky is a social language-learning app for people interested in language exchange. It’s available for iOS, Android, and the web. Users can chat with other language learners, share photos, leave voice messages or even have voice calls. The basic features on Speaky are free to use, but access to more than five translations per day requires a subscription.


There are some dedicated language learners on Speaky but not as many as similar apps.


The platform is easy to use but lacks advanced features.


Speaky is mostly free to use, extra features are available for a subscription.


There are over 100 languages on Speaky. These include popular languages like Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, etc.


The basic features on Speaky are free to use. A premium membership is available for a subscription.

1-month Subscription$5.99/month
6-month Subscription$4.83/month
12-month Subscription$3.91/month