Fluenz Mandarin Review – Don’t Waste Your Money

Is Fluenz Mandarin worth paying for?

Quick Review
Summary: Fluenz is an old-school (CD’s) course for learning Chinese. It’s made for absolute beginners and designed to teach you the basics. But, it’s not very good and is one of the most expensive products you’ll find.

You can download after purchasing or get the CD version. It’s obviously dated.
The content only covers the absolute basics and doesn’t even include Chinese Characters.
It’s old enough that you might find a copy for cheap at a garage sale or free from the library. Otherwise, it’s far too expensive.
I Like
Maybe it’s better than Rosetta Stone? I don’t know or care.
You could learn basic Chinese from using it.

I Don’t Like
Extremely expensive and not as good as free products.
Doesn’t cover much content and moves very slowly. It doesn’t even introduce you to Chinese Characters.
The course is clunky and dated. It’s obviously quite old.
It has an odd emphasis on typing pinyin.

Price: Fluenz Mandarin 1 + 2 + 3 costs $298 on their website. It’s slightly cheaper on Amazon.

Alternatives: I’m not going to bash a product without at least providing some alternatives. ChineseFor.Us has the most comprehensive beginner course for learning Mandarin. Yoyo Chinese is one of the most popular and best-designed websites for online Chinese courses. Their courses go from beginner up to the intermediate level. ChineseSkill and HelloChinese are two free apps that are better than Fluenz and will provide a nice introduction to learning Chinese.

Fluenz is one of those leftover products from an earlier generation of language learning that, in my opinion, is extremely overpriced and not particularly effective.

Ten years ago, Fluenz may have been one of the best products for learning Chinese on the market. However, in 2017, there are better free resources. Not to mention the countless affordable apps, websites, podcasts and tutors that will help you learn Chinese much quicker.

They spend a fair amount of effort comparing themselves to Rosetta Stone and explaining why they’re better.

I don’t know if Fluenz or Rosetta Stone is better and I don’t particularly care. Both are very expensive for what you get. I wouldn’t recommend either of them.

Let’s find out why I’m not a fan of Fluenz and what would be better to use in its place.

Lessons and Exercises

Non-native teacher

After purchasing Fluenz, you’ll be able to access it from either the CD, online or an app. It’s nice to have these options but not much different than competitors. The lesson style isn’t very unique either. They start with a dialogue. After that, there will be an explanation of the dialogue and exercises.

The majority of the teaching in the first two discs is done by a non-native speaker. She speaks okay Mandarin but it’s not at all fluent and she makes mistakes with tones and pronunciation. I found this very similar to Rocket Chinese and it doesn’t make any sense to have a non-native speaker doing much of the teaching.

That’s not to say that you can only learn Chinese from Native speakers. It can be helpful to have someone who learned Chinese talk you through some of their mistakes as they know where you’re coming from. But, in a format like this, where it’s a one-way conversation, there’s no benefit to having a non-native Chinese speaker.

In fact, I think it’s a major detriment. Many people, myself included, think that learning correct pronunciation early on is incredibly important. I wouldn’t recommend relying on Fluenz for this. There are a lot of better resources for learning pronunciation.

Fluenz Chinese Review

Fluenz completely ignores Chinese characters

There is an abundance of exercises to help drill what you learned from the lessons into your head. This is great that they focus on having you practice and use what you learned. However, there are some issues here.

Fluenz doesn’t use Chinese characters. Not at all. Most people who start learning Chinese will rely on pinyin in the beginning. That makes sense but ignoring characters entirely will only slow you down later on.

I’ve found learning characters to actually make things much easier. There are so many similar sounding words in Chinese. If you just know that the pronunciation is shi, but not the actual character, it’ll cause you problems. Maybe not immediately or at any point in this course. Eventually though, if you ignore learning characters you’ll regret it.

Zizzle is an interesting app that uses mnemonics and stories to make it easier to remember characters.

I’ve found lots of reading practice to be a great way to remember characters. The Chairman’s Bao and Du Chinese offer short articles based on Chinese level.

Fluenz doesn’t correct your mistakes

Many of the exercises are writing based. This forces you to type the pinyin and include the accent mark. I’m happy that they require the accent mark but they never explain how to know which letter to put the accent on.

When you make a mistake, the software only tells you that you made a mistake and not what the mistake was. This can be really frustrating as you don’t know if it was a misplaced accent or the wrong word order or any number of other mistakes. It may also mark an answer as wrong even if it’s correct just because it was an answer that they didn’t expect you to type.

There’s too much focus on writing pinyin

There are too many writing exercises compared to listening ones. The listening exercises are actually pretty good but lacking in quantity. It makes a lot more sense to focus on listening instead of writing when starting to learn Chinese.

This is pretty obvious. How often will you have to write something compared to understand what someone says to you? This is multiplied by the fact that you’re writing in pinyin and not writing Chinese characters. If it were the latter, you’d at least be reinforcing character recognition.

ChinesePod would be the best place to improve your listening comprehension. There are also exercises and tons of levels from complete beginner all the way up to native materials.

You can use italki notebooks to submit something you’ve written and get corrections from native speakers. The free version of Busuu also offers writing corrections from other native speakers. Skritter will help you learn to write Chinese characters.

The speaking exercises are done better elsewhere

You can practice your speaking skills with Fluenz, but again, I think other places do this much better. You’ll use a mic to record yourself speaking and then can compare that with the original recording. It’s cool that it’s here but there’s no way to really know if you’re pronouncing things correctly.

There are lots of good resources to learn Chinese pronunciation.

Speechling is a new app and website that I really love for practicing speaking skills. For free, you can compare your speech to the native speakers in a more intuitive and easy to use way. If you pay the $20/month subscription fee, you can submit unlimited recordings to be corrected by a native Chinese speaker. Save 10% with the coupon code “ALR123”.

Finding a tutor to practice with is another option for improving your speaking skills. italki is the cheapest and most convenient place to do this. Many teachers charge less than $10 per hour so it’s really quite affordable.

A slow pace – is less more?

The lessons on Fluenz move very slowly. This is intentional. They focus on learning less overall content but making sure that you learn it well.

For some more advanced students or simply those that prefer a faster pace, this will be a bit frustrating. Also, after completing Fluenz 1, 2, 3 you may only know a few hundred words. This can be a solid start but it won’t get you very far.

I actually think in the beginning, it’s a good idea to try to learn a lot of words fairly quickly using an app like Memrise or flash cards with Pleco or Anki. You need to learn a lot of words to be able to communicate and understand even simple things in Chinese.

Ninchanese is another good option that will help you learn a lot of words – plus speaking, grammar and listening practice. It also works like a game and can be quite fun.

If you’d prefer a course, both Yoyo Chinese and Chinese Zero to Hero! would be my preference over Fluenz.

Fluenz Mandarin Review

Fluenz is Too Expensive

Fluenz 1, 2, 3 is a little cheaper on Amazon compared to the Fluenz website. But, it’s still nearly $300. When you consider just how limited of a product it is, that’s far too much money.

There are tons of great paid resources that will make learning Chinese much easier. Even if you purchase or subscribe to a few different products, it’ll be cheaper than Fluenz and take you much further.

If you’re just starting learning Chinese, this post shares my recommendations on how to get started.

There are also some free alternatives that are just as good if not better than Fluenz. ChineseSkill and HelloChinese are two very good apps. They’re both free and I find the lessons to be more enjoyable and of similar quality, if not better than Fluenz.

Here you can find a huge list of resources for learning Chinese.

Don’t waste your money on Fluenz

It’s too expensive for what you get. Language learning software, apps, websites, and courses have come a long way in the last 5 to 10 years. It may have been a good option back then. Nowadays though, there’s no reason to pay for Fluenz. Even if I was given a free copy, I would probably end up ditching it for other resources.

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  1. Pingback: Mandarin Weekly #138 – Mandarin Weekly (每周中文)

  2. Before I begin I want to say that I’m very very impressed with all the reviews for the various Mandarin courses/apps that you have presented here. Your reviews are thorough and make it so much easier for us, the student, to navigate the minefield of Mandarin offerings out there. However I have to disagree with you on your review of Fluenz. I recently completed all three levels of Fluenz Mandarin, and at the pace of 1 to 2 hours per day, it took me 2 years to complete. For me, it was very thorough and gave me a solid foundation with Mandarin. I personally found that doing the writing exercises using Pinyin, helped reinforce the use of tone marks and it was not in the least bit confusing as to where to put those tone marks.
    My only disappointment with Fluenz Mandarin is that it left me on the floor of Beginer Level, and possibly Lower Intermediate Level. If it were not for the fact that I was able to seamlessly use it on my iPhone, thereby letting me study on the train on the way to work, it would otherwise have taken me much longer to complete.
    The course itself taught some very solid grammar language structures that I was able to use in other areas not covered by the course. The way Fluenz stands out the most, for me at least, was that I was able to remember everything in all levels and recall them with ease much later in the course.
    What I’m disappointed most is that they don’t have a Level 4 and 5 and that they have no plans to introduce such levels. The ease with which the Fluenz platform teaches was the biggest factor for me at least. Before I started I was an absolute beginner. Now I can speak Mandarin in some situations, although I do realize the need for me to advance to the next level, which is intermediate. This is where your reviews help.

    • I think what you mentioned is one of the things I dislike about Fluenz. I feel like if you studied for 1-2 hours per day for two years with different resources, you could be far past the beginner/elementary level, and do it much cheaper. This is especially true given, even after that time much time with Fluenz, you still won’t have been introduced to Chinese Characters.

      That said, the best resource for anyone is the one that they’ll stick with and actually use. If Fluenz works for you, then that’s all that really matters.

      • I also looked at Fluenz, and I am strongly inclined to agree with Nick.

        The issue here is not whether you can learn with Fluenz or not (obviously a person can, and there is valid content there). The question is whether it is (a) well-structured and comprehensive and (b) good value.

        The lack of character reading is a fatal flaw. Without reading you CANNOT properly learn Mandarin, and hence you need to start learning to read from day 1. Once you get past the basic level, the ability to read accelerates the learning process, because roughly 80% of Chinese characters have a pronunciation guide component built in (eg. the 羊- “yang” character indicates the pronunciation of 样, 洋, 佯, 氧 etc). This is why a foundation in reading is absolutely essential

        However a beginner cannot possibly know the importance of reading, so the learning platform MUST guide the beginner towards reading from the outset. Fluenz fails horribly on this front.