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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.