My past experiences learning Spanish include a four-year university degree in the subject and a four-month immersion experience living with a Chilean family. It wasn’t until I’d had both of these experiences that I started to really feel like I was approaching fluency.
It’s hard for me to imagine a language learning journey that is efficient and truly effective that doesn’t include both of these elements: a structured learning program and real-life experience.
The Fluenz digital program attempts to bring one of these experiences into your home, and I think it does a pretty good job of it. The objective of the Fluenz software is to simulate a one-on-one instruction scenario. It does this by teaching languages through a series of recorded tutorials.
For this review, I tried out the Spanish Fluenz course, taught by Fluenz founder, Sonia Gil.
This is a resource for disciplined language learners that don’t need the learning experience to feel like a game. It simulates the classroom experience and is best suited for learners that enjoy this.
You’ll probably need to take notes and seek out some supplementary resources for speaking practice, but the instruction is thorough. It’s definitely not the cheapest resource out there, but I’m a fan of the Fluenz method.
Originally developed for English speakers who want to learn Mandarin, Fluenz has since branched out and now offers courses in seven popular languages.
Unlike resources such as Rosetta Stone, Fluenz offers English explanations for all of the material it covers. The approach was inspired by Gil’s first attempt at learning Mandarin, where she felt the instruction wasn’t taking into account the specific difficulties English speakers face while learning the language.
For the serious English-speaking language learner, Fluenz offers a one-on-one instruction experience that’s available on a wide range of devices and with offline functionality.
There are five levels in each language except for Mandarin where there are three. Each level is made up of thirty sessions, each focused on a specific topic and centered around a dialogue that showcases the session’s language points. There are tutorial video explanations of the language concepts as well as plenty of “workouts” to help you practice — they all refer back to the session’s dialogue.
This is the structure of each session. The introduction, tutorial and conclusion are where the explanations and instruction come from. All of the exercises in between use material directly from the dialogue you listen to at the beginning of each session.
I like this workflow. The exercises are scaffolded nicely so that by the time you get to the harder activities you’ve had ample chance to get familiar with the language. You can also move freely among them, choosing what you want to practice and when.
Unlike many other language learning resources, none of the Fluenz activities really feel like a game. There are no time limits or points, but you can see how accurate you are in the My Data section.
If you’re looking for a fun app that rewards you with jingles and fun animations, this isn’t it. It’s definitely geared toward the learner that prefers an academic approach, and to that end, I think it’s effective.
In addition to the sessions and levels that make up the material for each course, Fluenz offers a flashcard feature.
This feature is basic, but it helps to make the Fluenz program feel more well-rounded. In it, you can select which sets of vocabulary you’d like to practice, as well as the type of flashcard used. You can also elect to have the flashcards presented to you in linear, random, or “super random” order.
The options for flashcard type include old-school, writing, and super-mix. Old-school is your basic flashcard: there’s Spanish on one side and English on the other. Writing flashcards are just like the writing workouts you do as part of a session, and super-mix is a mix of both types.
The flashcards are a basic function that’s useful for practicing specific sets of vocab. Unlike other resources, such as Fluent Forever, which encourage the learner to associate images with the target language, all of this practice is translation-based. You can choose between English > Spanish translation and Spanish > English.
While this function isn’t especially engaging, I did appreciate the ability to bring together sets of vocabulary I wanted to learn. I like having this kind of control over the material I’m practicing.
This is a Fluenz community forum. A place to ask questions and get support for the program as well as look for supplementary resources, although the number of supplementary resources available is underwhelming.
I like the idea of a community forum where people can share resources and things that work well for them. Unfortunately, this forum feels more like an IT support center than anything else. In fact, I ended up using the forum for just that.
I was experiencing an issue while using the program in my browser and posted my query in the Commons. Within a day, a Fluenz representative had contacted me via email and solved my problem (he gave me a link to the downloaded version of Fluenz).
As a place to go for support and customer service, I’d say it functions great. As a place where users can share methods and resources, it’s just not that active. That said, it is possible to find the odd foreign language film or Youtube channel recommendation, but many of these are from posts that are several years old.
The Fluenz Blog contains articles about Fluenz, posts on Spanish language idiosyncrasies and mini-tutorials explaining Spanish language concepts. This could be a good place to start if you want to try out the Fluenz learning style. The videos on the blog are similar to the tutorials in the program and give you a feel for Sonia’s teaching style.
The blog doesn’t seem like it’s updated very frequently, and it isn’t of much use to someone who has already purchased the Fluenz program. Use it to check out the Fluenz teaching style and see whether it works for you.
The podcasts offered by Fluenz as part of their product are slightly elusive, but you can find them in the My Profile section of the app.
For each level of the course, there is a pronunciation and comprehension podcast. Except for level 5, they’re led by someone other than Sonia Gil.
The pronunciation podcasts aim to help the learner practice intonation and pronunciation through ear training. There are lots of listen and repeat exercises, and the speaker compares Spanish sounds to those produced in English.
I found the extra practice and explanation helpful, but for people that struggle with aural learning, this feature will be minimally helpful.
The comprehension podcasts focus on oral comprehension. They generally start with a monologue that is later broken down and translated into English. Each monologue covers the material from two to five sessions of the level. For each level, there’s an introduction track and then ten additional tracks to listen to.
Although the podcasts aren’t a front-and-center feature, I thought they complemented the other Fluenz features nicely. They’re easy to download and you can play them and listen from any device without having to navigate the app. This would work well for practicing while driving, for example.
In each language, except for Mandarin where there are three, there are five levels. In each of these levels, there are 30 sessions. Each session uses a piece of dialogue as its focus to teach and practice vocabulary and grammar concepts. The context of each dialogue is relevant to scenarios most traveling people will find themselves in.
After the very first lesson with Fluenz, you should be able to greet someone and exchange a “How are you?” in Spanish. After the second, you’ll be able to order a cup of coffee.
The relevance of the sessions is important. An academic approach like the one Fluenz takes can feel dry if it doesn’t feel relevant, but I think Fluenz does a good job of focusing on material that’s immediately usable in real life.
Each session begins with an introduction video.
The lessons all flow together and Fluenz does its best to make it feel like you’re really getting a one-on-one instruction experience. As the instructor, Sonia often refers to the previous lessons or what’s coming up next to make it feel as cohesive as possible.
The intros and tutorials are well done. It’s the closest you can come to personalization with video recordings. Since the same instructor does all of the tutorials, it’s important that you like their teaching style.
Fortunately, Sonia speaks clearly and was engaging enough to keep my attention. In nearly every video, she includes a bit of extra information about the culture of a Spanish speaking country or extra information about the language.
Next is the session dialogue. Fluenz recommends listening to each dialogue three times: once with subtitles in both languages, once with only target language subtitles and once without any subtitles.
As mentioned before, each dialogue focuses on specific grammar and vocabulary points and takes place in a useful context.
The dialogue is shown on the screen with the subtitles you’ve chosen and pauses after each speaker produces a phrase. You can then listen to the phrase again, go back to the previous phrase, or head to the next in the conversation.
This part of the session works well. The images they use are interesting enough to keep it from feeling too stale and the flexibility with how often you can repeat and navigate through phrases is great.
You may notice that the pace of the software feels slow when you first begin. It’s a tradeoff for how thorough the instruction is. As you progress and the material becomes more difficult, the speed may feel more appropriate, but some learners might still prefer practice at a quicker pace.
The tutorial is where the instructor breaks down the elements of the dialogue used for the session. There are in-depth explanations using English as a reference point and on-screen translations.
The tutorials are essentially lectures, and they do a good job of simulating the classroom environment. It’s helpful to take your own notes during these videos.
Of course, you aren’t able to raise your hand and ask any questions, but the tutorials are thorough. If you do have a language question, they can be posted to the Fluenz Commons. The tutorials go over everything from new vocabulary and grammar concepts to pronunciation specifics.
If you like the academic approach, you’ll enjoy the tutorials. I like seeing conjugation charts and getting explanations in English, so this worked well for me.
This exercise is very simple and doesn’t require much explanation.
Here, you get to listen to the new vocabulary as many times as you like, trying them out yourself. There’s also a “slow sound” mode that slows down the audio playback. This is useful for longer phrases or words with multiple sounds.
This exercise is also very straightforward. With your mouse, drag and drop a phrase onto the correct translation.
This isn’t the most exciting exercise but it is helpful for when you’re just starting to get familiar with the language. There are no points or game-like features here — drag and drop until you get them right and move on. If this is too easy, you have the option to skip ahead to the next workout. If it’s too hard, you can check the answer at any time.
In this workout, the vocabulary you learned in the dialogue is associated with images. It’s the only time this happens.
It’s your job to match the word to the correct image. Again, pretty straightforward. Guess the right one, and the slide automatically progresses. Choose wrong, and you get to try again.
This is where you first get to practice spelling the words you’ve learned.
For Spanish, you have the option to toggle “challenge mode” on and off. When it’s off, you don’t have to worry about using accents correctly. When it’s engaged, you’ll only get the answer right if you’ve included the correct accent marks. There are some handy keyboard shortcuts you can use to do this; they’re intuitive and easy to use.
Writing in another language can be difficult, but this workout does a good job of building you up slowly with individual words.
This workout highlights a way in which Fluenz isn’t the most practical solution for everyone. Someone looking to learn quick phrases to get around in a Spanish speaking environment for a few weeks might not want to spend their time learning how to spell. If your goal is to quickly learn a bunch of usable phrases, there are more efficient ways to study.
This functions much like the last workout, except you’re now reading and writing full phrases.
In this example, you can see what happens when you select the answer button.
In the higher levels, the level of exactness required by this workout can be a little bit frustrating. If you’re practicing with the flashcards function, for example, you may forget the specific vocab that’s used in a particular session. Even if there’s more than one way to say something, you’ll only be marked correct if you use the language learned in that session.
I would prefer the option to get a hint upon getting the answer wrong. Even knowing which word was spelled wrong would be nice. Instead, the only recourse is to reveal the entire correct answer.
This workout tests your listening skills and writing ability. To perform this task well means you can identify and spell key words spoken in the target language.
You have both the slow sound and challenge mode options in this exercise in case you want to make it easier or harder.
The objective in this workout is to be able to reproduce entire phrases you hear by writing them with accurate spelling. You aren’t thrown full phrases right away; instead, they’re presented in more manageable chunks that prepare you for writing the full phrase. Here’s an example of the scaffolding:
At this point, you’ve had quite a few opportunities to interact with the language and test your knowledge. Now that you’ve had chances to practice the pronunciation, meaning and comprehension of language points from the dialogue, it’s time to revisit it.
The basic conversation workout is similar to the way the dialogue is presented at the beginning of the session, with the addition of a recording function and the ability to pick and choose which phrases you want to hear.
This workout is useful for comparing your pronunciation to that of a native speaker. By using the record function, you can listen back to your own voice and then to the native speaker, making adjustments to get yourself sounding as natural as possible.
This is your first chance to record yourself with Fluenz, and it’s a feature I liked. It’s fun to hear yourself speaking another language and it’s informative.
Learners who enjoy this type of activity but would like to get feedback on their pronunciation from a teacher might be interested in signing up for Speechling.
This workout comes directly after the basic conversation workout and is where you get to become a part of the conversation.
All the text in yellow labeled, “User?” That’s you. After selecting the start button, the conversation starts. When it’s your turn to speak, the program automatically records your voice until you select “stop recording.” Then it plays the next piece of dialogue.
When it’s all over, you can listen to the whole conversation as performed by you and, in this case, Claudia. You can also listen to the original dialogue to see how well your performance holds up.
This was one of my favorite parts of the Fluenz program. It’s interactive and you get to feel what it’s like to have a conversation, albeit a rehearsed one. Rocket Spanish does something pretty similar where it feels like you’re having a conversation with their computer software.
This is also where I was experiencing technical difficulties trying to use the online version of Fluenz. Fortunately, the support staff was able to sort me out quickly through the Fluenz Commons.
After you’ve taken part in the conversation and practiced your pronunciation skills, there are a few more activities in which you work with the session material. The first is a cloze exercise.
This is for practicing comprehension and grammar. It’s another way to interact with the language, but again, there’s no points or time limit. You are your own judge and you can progress at your own pace.
This is very similar to the “write the phrases you hear” workout, except that there is no scaffolding. You simply progress through each line of the conversation exactly how they are.
Once you’re able to do this, you’ve probably got a good handle on the phrases produced in the dialogue.
To make sure you understand the phrases in the dialogue in addition to spelling them out, there’s a matching activity that tests comprehension.
These phrases are slightly altered from the original but use the same language points. You should be able to match all of the phrases if you completed the previous activities successfully.
I appreciated that in this workout you get to work with the language in slightly different manifestations. It’s nice to be able to take what you’ve learned from the dialogue and apply it to understanding new phrases.
This is another place in which the pace might feel slow for some learners, however. To go back to a matching exercise after you’ve already performed the conversation dialogue feels a bit like overkill, especially at the beginning. Again, this is the tradeoff for the thoroughness Fluenz offers.
This is really a second part of the previous workout, and it’s the last of the session. After testing your ability to find the translations of the new phrases, you get to practice saying them.
I think the flow of workouts in each session mostly makes sense, even though they end with repeating phrases that weren’t exactly in the dialogue you were otherwise working with the entire time. They still use the same language points.
The end of each session closes with a video of the instructor.
This adds to the one-on-one instructor feel that Fluenz is going for, and it works pretty well. It’s motivating to have a human tell you they know what you’ve just completed. Sonia uses these videos to offer motivation, informational tidbits regarding coffee in different cultures, and even advice for avoiding Montezuma’s revenge. It makes the otherwise academic process feel more personal.
That said, serious students looking for private instruction in Spanish might really like Baselang. It’s a platform where you can take unlimited 1-1 online classes each month for a reasonable fee.
There a few different price options depending on how much you want to purchase, but they’re all one-time prices. There are no subscriptions or monthly payment options.
For all available languages except for Mandarin, there are six different package options to choose from. The full set, which includes all five levels of the language, is $408 (currently discounted to $378).
If you only want to purchase Level 1 or 2, it will cost $187. If you plan on taking Fluenz as far as it can go, it really only makes sense to either purchase the full set or the package with levels 3, 4 and 5 if you aren’t a beginner. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying much more if you decide you want to do more than you originally purchased.
For Mandarin, there are three levels, and the corresponding prices are similar to those of the other languages. The full, three-level set is $322 (currently discounted to $308), and just one set costs $187.
They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. This isn’t the cheapest resource out there, but it offers quite a bit of content. The thorough English explanations, podcasts, and extra value added in the videos throughout the course help to justify the price.
Still, Fluenz is a hefty investment and probably only worth it for those who really like the learning style and are very serious about learning the language.
Fluenz is often compared to Rosetta Stone, and it’s usually to highlight their differences. The methodology for each of these resources couldn’t be more different.
Rosetta Stone aims to teach through immersion and exposure without English explanations of the learning material, and Fluenz offers lengthy English explanations of just about everything you learn.
Fluenz is a bit more expensive than Rosetta Stone, but you get what you pay for. The layout of Fluenz is more engaging, the material is less repetitive, and it’s packed with content.
Of course, there are many other alternatives worth considering as well but our recommendations will vary depending on the language you’re learning. You can find our favorite resources for some of the most popular languages in the table below.
Fluenz isn’t for everybody, but is anything? Sonia Gil set out to provide a language learning solution for the native English speaker looking for a one-on-one tutor experience. In my opinion, the Fluenz program comes about as close as a piece of software can.
There’s no substitute for real live practice with a tutor you can actually speak to, and for people searching for fluency, they’ll still have to seek this out. Fortunately, there are software solutions for this, too, such as italki.
In addition to the price, the major turn-offs one might experience with Fluenz are the slow pace, lengthy explanations, and that there’s nothing game-like about it. Then again, these could be exactly the things one loves about it.
Personally, I fall into the second category and think the price is just barely worth it. To see how you feel, check out the videos on the Fluenz Blog or take advantage of their money-back guarantee.
I’m a former EFL teacher turned freelance writer and self-proclaimed language enthusiast. I can’t quite seem to kick the habit of moving countries and have lived and worked on four continents so far.