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FluentU Review – It’s Not Even As Good As A Free Alternative

Quick Review



FluentU is a popular platform for language learning that uses real world videos. They take videos from Youtube and add interactive captions. I really like the idea and design of the platform, but there’s a major lack of interesting content. Most videos last under one-minute long with a huge number being commercials. For me, FluentU falls far short of its potential.


The lesson library and video player have a great design. Unfortunately, example sentences use text-to-speech instead of native recordings.


Most videos are too short, disconnected to others, and not very interesting.


FluentU is fairly expensive and not worth the cost.


The Basic plan costs $15/month or $10/month if you pay for a year up-front. The Plus plan costs $30/month or $20/month if billed annually.

This review focuses on my experience trying FluentU to study Chinese. Although I thought it was pretty bad for Chinese, it seems like people have been happier using it for more popular languages, like Spanish

FluentU is the only resource I’ve subscribed to twice and canceled my subscription both times.

I really wanted to love it. Who doesn’t want to start incorporating real-life videos into their study routine?

The thought of being able to ditch the textbooks, podcasts, and other resources in favor of tv shows and movies sounds amazing.

While I think FluentU could easily be one of the best resources for learning a language, it falls far short of its potential.

I just don’t think it’s that good.

For this review, I primarily used it to study Mandarin. At the end, I’ll tell you about a free alternative that I actually think is much better than FluentU.

So what is FluentU?

FluentU uses videos from Youtube and makes them suitable for language learners by overlaying interactive captions and translations, along with some other features.

With a FluentU subscription, you’ll gain access to their videos and study materials in the following languages:

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

Their library has videos for six different language levels – newbie, elementary, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced and native.

I really love how FluentU is designed. Their video library is really nice looking and easy to browse through (Netflix could learn a thing or two from them).

You can filter content by difficulty, length or a variety of topics.

I like the design of the video player. It’s easy to use and allows you to quickly pause, loop, rewind, look up words and even get example sentences.

Another interesting benefit is that they have pictures included with the definition of each word. They may have the most complete picture based dictionary available.

Fans of Fluent Forever would likely be thrilled with this.

They include the dialog from the video for you to review, tell you how many new words you’ll encounter in each video and there are quizzes as well.

While the majority of the content on FluentU is videos, there are also flashcards and audio lessons.

Sounds pretty great but that’s exactly why it’s such a disappointment.

On paper (or in video), FluentU seems awesome but that’s exactly why it’s so disappointing.

There are quite a few issues that I have with it that prevent it from being something I’d recommend using.

Their videos are short and boring.

Using videos to study a language is supposed to be fun but the majority of videos on FluentU are dreadful.

Unfortunately, you’re not going to find a lot of interesting TV shows that you can dive into. Instead, you’ll discover that the majority of the videos on FluentU are very short and often times commercials.

Maybe it’s just me but I’m not about to pay money to watch commercials – even if they’re in another language.

For Chinese, at the time of writing, there are 248 videos at the intermediate level. Of these, 60% are less than one-minute long.

I’m not exactly a huge fan of Yabla either but they at least have lots of multi-part video series which make it easier to get into the story.

With FluentU, the videos are so short and disconnected that it becomes hard to get into a study rhythm.

One of the biggest benefits of using videos to learn a language is that they’re entertaining and great for telling stories. But, the videos on FluentU are boring as hell and too short to actually tell any story.

The Newbie and Elementary levels are pretty pointless.

I’m obviously not a big fan of FluentU, but I like it even less for those that are below an intermediate level in the language they’re learning.

For Chinese, there are 69 newbie and 129 elementary level videos. And remember, most of these are less than a minute long.

I understand that it’s hard to find real-life videos that are suitable for beginner learners. The lower number of videos in these categories isn’t even my biggest issue though.

The fact is, the vast majority of videos chosen for these levels, are from people on Youtube that made the video specifically for teaching the language.

That means that they’ve already explained everything in great detail. So, there’s not much benefit of using FluentU instead of watching for free on Youtube.

fluentu 1

There doesn’t seem to be much new content being added.

FluentU says they add new videos weekly and I’ll hesitantly choose to believe them.

If they are adding videos, there clearly aren’t adding very many and the number of videos in the library doesn’t seem to be growing. Maybe other videos are getting removed at the same time?

When Olle Linge of Hacking Chinese wrote a review of FluentU there were 2,441 audio and video clips. Nearly two years later, there are 1,827 videos and 460 audio files, for a total of 2,287 lessons.

Hopefully, the lesson library is growing more in other languages.

I would never use their audio lessons.

It may sound nice that they offer audio lessons. It’s pretty common that I’d like to study but can’t watch an actual video.

Unfortunately, their audio lessons are bad.

These aren’t in-depth podcast style lessons. Instead, they’re basically the same as the video clips, just without the video.

For Chinese, there are a total of 460 audio clips. At the intermediate level, there are 113 audio lessons with the longest one being only 1:22 long.

It’s hard for me to really express just how stupid these audio lessons are. There are countless free places that would be significantly better for audio lessons regardless of the language you’re studying.

It’s just an unnecessary distraction from the real reason people come to FluentU – the videos.

The sample sentences on the flashcards aren’t recorded by a real person.

It’s nice that their flashcards include some sample sentences. Unfortunately, these flashcards don’t have real recordings, instead, they rely on text-to-speech software.

This can be a pretty big problem as the pronunciation can sometimes be really far off.

fluentu1 1

FluentU isn’t cheap.

The basic plan costs $15/month of $120/year and the plus plan costs $30/month or $240/year.

I haven’t tried out the plus plan but I have a hard time imagining it’s worth spending so much money on it.

With the money that FluentU costs, you could get access to some much better study materials.


Yabla is the biggest competitor to FluentU. It’s a bit less modern but also cheaper. Overall, I like Yabla more because their video content is far more interesting.

That said, I’m not exactly a huge fan of Yabla either.

CaptionPop is not only better than FluentU and Yabla (in my opinion), it’s also free. With CaptionPop, you can look up Youtube videos in whichever language you’d like.

The Language Learning with Netflix Chrome extension is excellent as well!

Screen Shot 2018 09 04 at 4.46.57 PM

It’ll find videos that have subtitles in your native language and the language you’re learning. You can quickly look at some recommended channels that they have listed or search for whatever you’d like.

Screen Shot 2018 09 04 at 4.47.30 PM

Unfortunately, it only translates the sentence as a whole and doesn’t give you translations for individual words.

There’s a workaround for this though. Using a browser extension, such as Dictionarist, you can then click on any words and see a translation and example sentences.

The end result is something that’s comparable to FluentU’s basic plan but with content that’s magnitudes more interesting.

I can’t recommend paying for FluentU

Most reviews you’ll find for FluentU are extremely positive. You should always be at least somewhat skeptical of online reviews though.

The vast majority are from websites that are affiliates for them. This means, if you click a link to FluentU and go on to purchase a plan, the website will earn some money for each sale.

My site is no different. I also make money if you decide to subscribe to FluentU using one of my links.

I wouldn’t recommend doing so though.

Learning a language doesn’t have to cost money.

Sign-up to get a huge list of free resources tailored to the language you’re studying.

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Comments (14)

Thanks for the unbiased and honest review. I also think flientU is not cheap and after reading your post I’ll try the other alternatives first.

Thanks for the captionpop recommendation really liking it so far.

Thanks for captionpop recommendation

They should purchase the copyrights of a movie or series and then break all this into tiny pieces in order to offer more interesting content. And isn’t the close relationship between them and Youtube a little too frightening ? Depending on Youtube ‘s rules so what can occur if Youtube evoluates in the future ? Don’t know … Can’t deny the video player with captions still represents a fantastic tool ! Congratuations to the team of coders.

I found this review extremely helpful. Thanks a lot

a big thank you to you!!!

Maybe it depends what language you’re learning ? I’m using it for beginner Spanish (brand new learner) and finding it really helpful . More helpful than the quite popular Duolingo which is a free app . So far I’ve only used their free introductory trial but I will be joining up for sure. And I have nothing to do with FluentU, zero relationship! This is my genuine experience – I just found them online and got more from them than the other few apps I tried. As a beginner I like the simple but varied sentence structures with good balance of visual audio & speaking options, and clearly structured lessons

That’s a really good point that I should have touched on more in the review. I’m sure they have a lot more material for Spanish than some other less popular languages. Thanks for bringing that up!

I used it briefly for learning German and my experience was very similar to yours. The videos tended to be very short, which is just as well because most of them weren’t very interesting. As a result, I hardly ever used it despite paying for it for months. I stumbled across this review because I just received an email offering me a year’s subscription for half price and I was tempted, but your review has reminded me why I canceled in the first place.

I’m currently using a relatively new service called seedlang, from the people behind the Easy German youtube channel. It uses short video stories to train hearing comprehension and then records you as you try to repeat the phrases, which is helping me a lot with pronunciation. I think it’s still a work in progress and it doesn’t have as much content as FluentU but it’s fairly cheap and I’m using it almost every day.

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and mentioning Seedlang. I hadn’t heard of that one before but it looks quite interesting.

Or could hire me as your German tutor 🙂

Kidding aside, I really appreciate your review of FluentU as well as the additional resources you mentioned. Thank you.

I’ve been using FluentU for a couple of weeks now. I wanted to use it because when I watch Spanish movies, I don’t understand the speech, even if it turns out I know the words. I need to hear fast speech and be able to stop it to see what they are saying and how they are running words together. FluentU is very good about showing the captions and allowing you to hover over words to see the definitions. They quiz you on the words and sentences. But to me, FluentU seems like a work in progress. The quizzes could use some work. Often you have four choices and only one makes any sense at all. The others (the distractors) are not crafted to sound plausible; in fact, sometimes they are only a number, as if no one could think of anything else. Also, for some reason, I may get quizzed four times on one sentence at the beginning of a video and not at all on one near the end. Anyway, I think it will eventually help me learn vocabulary and understand more natural speech – if I don’t get tired of it first. It’s not a complete learning tool and I don’t expect it to be.

I don’t recommend signing up for FluentU. I think they have some deceitful practices. I signed up for their 14 day free trial one year ago, downgraded and was not charged then. However, one year later, they randomly upgraded my account and charged me USD$240. Tried contacting support with no luck, trying to dispute this with my bank now. What a scam. Wouldn’t recommend it at all.

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