I was contacted a few months back by FluentU because they thought I might be interested in trying out their platform as I continued to learn Mandarin Chinese. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to try out new language learning tools, I agreed and am I now a big fan.
I had hoped to publish my review earlier, but as you know, I’ve been out of the country the last month on tour and spent quite a bit of time beforehand preparing with little time for anything else. I also wanted to give FluentU the time it deserved before sharing my thoughts.
SO WHAT IS FLUENTU?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the platform, FluentU is essentially a collection of videos in various languages (Chinese, Spanish, French, English, German, Italian and Japanese) partnered with vocabulary lists, quizzes, and more, all at various levels.
The videos are collected from YouTube, but you’re given the added bonus of subtitles and translations as part of a spaced repetition learning system – arguably one of the best ways to learn a new language (or any skill for that matter).
A Review of FluentU Mandarin
When I first created my account, it gave me the option of signing up as either a teacher or a student. I selected “student,” and from there, I was given a pretty decent selection of levels to start from – newbie, elementary, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced and native. Although my comprehension is not terrible, I have not yet learned to read or write, so I selected newbie in order to work my way up. For Chinese, you are also give the option of learning traditional or simplified characters which is great because you can always select one and then change it up later by going into your settings.
There are currently over 1,300 videos to choose from on topics varying from basic introductions to the song “Let it Go” in Mandarin. Each video includes the “listen” and “learn” option with transcripts and word lists available. As the video plays, you can hover over the subtitles which will pause the videos and give you the translations for each word (the pinyin and English subtitles are already visible below each video).
THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT FLUENTU
I’ll start with the things that I don’t like about FluentU particularly because I enjoyed the software and I would like to end on a positive note.
When I first started using FluentU, there were still a few glitches, but it seems as though many of them have been worked out. One of the most frustrating glitches was that there were inconsistencies with the pinyin spellings of words. It was incredibly confusing, so I emailed them about this and they replied that the issue was with videos from a particular series and they were considering removing them (although it seems they are still up).
Issues with FluentU
Also, during quizzes, multiple audio clips played simultaneously and there were odd audio cuts. I also had an issue with the typing elements of the quizzes (I could not insert accents because the key commands were disabled), but they have since resolved this. Despite having fixed many of the issues I initially experienced, however, one still stands out to me. You can see some of the answers in the video subtitles for some of the words during the quizzes. However, FluentU is still relatively new and their team is visibly and actively working to continually improve the platform, so they definitely have that going for them.
THINGS I LIKE ABOUT FLUENTU
As a musician, I love the large selection of music videos available. It’s fantastic getting to read the lyrics in realtime along with their translations.
The other feature of FluentU Mandarin that I really enjoyed was that the videos are from native Mandarin sources (for the most part) and so the vocabulary is far more practical than what you would learn from a textbook or something like Duolingo/Busuu/etc which utilize the similar or not-so-practical dialogues and text examples. FluentU allows you to learn from news videos, songs, commercials, movie trailers and more – vocabulary and dialogues that are actually being used in day-to-day life by native Mandarin speakers.
I also loved the fact that the software keeps track of your progress. Each video shows you how much of the vocabulary you are likely to understand so that you can pick content according to your level as well as your interests.
Another great feature for polyglots or soon-to-be polyglots is that there are several languages you can choose from, and you can switch between them. When I’m ready, I’m definitely going to check out the Japanese content too.
As I hinted at before, FluentU has both free and paid versions of the software. The paid versions (there are two different levels) have more features and content than the free, but there is quite a bit of material to get you started on the free version.
Overall, I think that FluentU has a lot of potential and now that several of the glitches are worked out, I definitely plan on continuing to use it.
Click here if you’re interested in trying FluentU out for yourself!
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16 Jan 2017 - Language Resources