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
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 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.
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.
You can also find a big list of other free resources in this post.
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.