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 is not the most complete way to study a language.
- The site is easy to navigate.
- Interacting with subtitles is easy.
- The videos are authentic and tied to practice activities.
- Exercises recognize Chinese and Japanese characters.
I Don’t Like
- Flashcards use robotic text-to-speech audio.
- Writing practice is limited, speaking practice is nonexistent.
- Practice activities aren’t very interesting.
- There’s no easy way to filter content by region.
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: $360/year
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.
FluentU 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.
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.
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
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.
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).
Fortunately, finding videos on FluentU is pretty easy. There’s a search function, intelligent filters, and easy-to-see 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A subscription gives the user access to material for all languages on FluentU.
Alternatives for Complete language courses
FluentU is a supplemental tool, therefor it doesn’t work as a complete course. However there are some more comprehensive courses out there, here’s some of our picks.
Olly Richards, the creator of I Will Teach You A Language, has written a series of books for beginner and intermediate learners to improve their conversation skills in several languages. He also has a Short Stories series.
Most of the languages use the most common words in your target language, with natural phrases that you would overhear locals using while conversing amongst each other. In the short story lessons, the plot follows the same characters and adventures, with some adjustments for cultural differences. Here is our review!
Pimsleur is one of the most popular and longest-standing resources out there for learning a foreign language. Its courses place a strong emphasis on aural and verbal communication skills, paying less attention to grammar explanations and reading or writing skills. There are over 50 language courses available with Pimsleur, and the bulk of the material is taught with audio lessons. Check out our full review here!
The things that Rocket Languages do well are developing a logical and thorough curriculum and providing ample practice opportunity. Some of the things that this platform has to offer are reading, writing, and listening practice. With Rocket Languages, you also get native-speaker audio that will give you a bunch of exposure to the language. This is just one thing that makes it so unique!
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.
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.
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.
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.