Unfortunately, it’s not so simple to actually do this.
Things can get messy:
Finding interesting content that’s both comprehensible and challenging at the same time is hard.
And it gets even more complicated if you want more than just written text — which is, of course, exactly what you should want!
What many people don’t know yet is that there’s a website (and app) that could solve that problem.
It’s called FluentU. And although not free, it’s a promising language-immersion platform.
This is my review of FluentU.
Please note: The links to FluentU on this page are affiliate links, which means that should you purchase, I’ll receive a commission. Please know that this is an honest review of FluentU.
Learning a Language through YouTube Videos
FluentU is a giant database of translated and subtitled YouTube videos in 6 (soon to be 7) languages — coupled with an intelligent learning system that allows you to really learn the video content.
Now, YouTube offers much, much more videos than FluentU ever could — and I’ll give you some exact numbers in a minute — but in essence, FluentU allows you to learn a language through YouTube.
The Video Player
FluentU’s video player is where a big slice of the action can be found.
The distraction-free video player comes with:
- The possibility to listen to each individual word of a video as many times as you need.
- Bilingual subtitles you can enable or disable to your liking.
- Hover in-context dictionary you can even use while a video plays.
And of course:
- The Loop Button that allows you to infinitely loop individual parts of a video — giving you the time to really study the difficult passages.
It’s a simple idea, but very useful.
Even if a video would normally be too difficult for you, you can now still use and learn from it by looping the individual parts and spending a significant amount of time on each one.
The useful Loop Button
How FluentU Helps You Master the Content of the Videos
You really don’t have to spend that much time on a single video.
You can move through the videos at a much faster pace thanks to the Learn Vocab feature presented to you after each video. It takes you by the hand and helps you learn the content of a video by taking it apart, bit by bit, part by part.
It’s a type of quiz that uses segments of the video you’re learning.
The great part is that the words are automatically added to the built-in spaced-repetition Flashcard system.
For those of you who don’t know:
Spaced repetition in its most simple form, is simply reviewing or repeating learned material just before you would forget it.
And FluentU has got you covered:
When it’s time to review your learned vocabulary, you’ll get notified of this on the homepage of your FluentU account.
Here are the languages you can learn with FluentU:
When FluentU started it only offered Chinese.
Today, you can use FluentU to learn the following languages:
- Chinese (Mandarin)
- English for Japanese speakers
- English for Korean speakers
As of writing this, you can switch languages at any time. However, this option will disappear in the future for new users. That is: if you sign up before the change, you’ll be able to enjoy this feature for the duration of your account.
Not all languages have the same number of videos available.
But all of them have enough to keep you busy for a long time, and more are being added constantly.
Check out this graph to find out how many videos FluentU offers in your target language:
The FluentU Plus plan comes with downloadable transcripts, so you can print them out or read them on your e-book reader.
The FluentU team, led by Alan Park, keeps adding new videos so that you’ll probably never run out of videos to learn from.
Something for Everyone
The FluentU video database is sorted by difficulty, topics and format.
Here are the topics:
- Arts and Entertainment
- Everyday Life
- Health and Lifestyle
- Politics and Society
- Science and Technology
These topics are broad. You can look for more specific stuff by using the search engine.
You can even search for words or phrases you want to learn. The search engine will then return all videos in which the words or phrases appear.
One disappointment, although understandable from the point of view of the FluentU team, is that there aren’t many videos about a very specific topic.
If you are a soccer fanatic and you’d like to learn French through videos about soccer, you can’t.
I found it works best just to select a topic and then look for videos that interest you.
You can also sort videos by popularity as people can rate videos and FluentU keeps track of this. This is a great new feature since not all videos are that interesting.
By sorting the videos this way, you filter out the great videos from the bad ones. The only caveat? Since this feature is rather new, many videos still don’t have a rating.
Speaking of the videos, did you know that FluentU can be a little bit creepy?
FluentU Knows You…
Well, at least after a playing with it for a while.
You see, another feature of FluentU is that it tells you how many words of a video you already know, before you’ve actually watched it!
FluentU keeps track of the words you learn through the videos and Flashcards:
It does so by registering what words you add to the Flashcards (automatically or manually) and through the novelty that is the “Already Know” button.
If you click it, not only does FluentU learn about how many words you already know, you also won’t see that word featured again in either the Learn Vocab feature or in the Flashcards.
There’s also a “Don’t Know” button for when a question is still too hard for you.
With these features — especially the “Already Know” button — FluentU intelligently personalizes your learning experience.
Below each video you’ll see a blue bar indicating how many of the words in the video you already know. The more time you spend playing around with FluentU, the more accurate it becomes.
Notice the blue bars indicating how many words of a video you already know.
If you’re an absolute beginner it will be accurate from the start, but even if you’re an intermediate learner of your target language, FluentU is pretty fast in getting the information it needs to help you maximize your language learning.
It’s a great feature because you instantly see what videos you “should” watch.
Instead of watching a video of which you only know 15% of the words, your time is better spent with a video that offers more familiar words. These will help you learn new words faster.
You can leave that 15% video for later!
Don’t Break the Chain
Similar to Duolingo, FluentU now also has a daily goal feature. That means you can set how much time you want to spend each day on FluentU.
You can choose between: 1, 5, 10 and 30 minutes. Of course, you can spend much more time on FluentU, but these amounts serve as a daily guide.
And FluentU tracks your day streak. You have to meet your daily goal. If not, your streak comes to an end:
This FluentU review wouldn’t be complete without some criticism.
I really like FluentU but it isn’t perfect.
There are some things that could be improved.
Most notably, the Newbie courses offered within FluentU for some of the languages. These are mostly audio-only and are not as interesting as the video content.
You can, of course, skip these and move directly to the videos, but still it would be nice to see the courses with more videos in them.
When you start your FluentU experience with a Newbie Course, you may find yourself thinking: Is that it?
Update 2019: Some improvements have been made. There are now beginner playlists that consist of several audio segments and videos that increase in difficulty. This where you would start as a beginner learner of a language. It’s good progress, the App’s getting better…
Still…I think that:
FluentU is not Really for Beginners…
Learning through videos simply doesn’t lend itself very well for absolute beginners.
FluentU is a tool that especially caters to the intermediate and advanced learner. These people need to engage the real spoken version of the language instead of the courses’ version.
And FluentU is fluent…
That is: they keep adding new videos all the time, meaning that you can keep learning new stuff even if you’re at an advanced level. In the Learn Vocab feature you simply indicate which words you already know, and rapidly: you’re learning exactly what you need to learn.
A traditional language course can get you to an intermediate level. To become fluent you need to converse and use real world materials.
FluentU can help with the latter.
FluentU also has an Android app.
It works largely the same as the desktop version and you can sync between them.
Since there are so many different smartphones, some people have reported problems with the app. However, it worked fine for my Samsung J4. The FluentU team is pretty proactive when it comes to correcting bugs and improving the app. You can even shake your phone to report problems with the app.
One thing I did notice, is that in the app you can’t sort the videos by popularity yet. But since this is a new feature, I’m sure that you’ll be able to do so in the near future.
If you have an iPhone you’re not out of luck either.
There’s also a FluentU iPhone app. But since I don’t own an iPhone, I can’t comment on it.
How Much Does FluentU Cost?
The Basic Plan costs $15 a month and the superior Plus Plan costs $30 a month. You can get a 33% discount for both plans if you purchase a year-long subscription.
Though FluentU also offers a stripped-down free version, it’s pretty limited in its use. It only gives access to free videos.
For the rest of the videos AND all of the features you have to pay a monthly fee.
So the core of FluentU is not free… and it couldn’t be.
The FluentU team keeps adding new videos all the time:
They find new suitable Youtube videos and transcribe, translate and subtitle them and make them suitable for the FluentU learn system.
That’s a lot of work. But it makes it so it’s unlikely you’ll ever run out of videos to watch and learn from.
Mainly because of this continuing expansion of the FluentU video database, they charge a monthly fee.
Check the table below to get to know the difference between the Basic and the Plus plan:
|FluentU Basic Plan||FluentU Plus Plan|
|Unlimited Video Watching||Unlimited Video Watching|
|Unlimited Audio Listening||Unlimited Audio Listening|
|Unlimited Learn Mode|
|Unlimited Vocab Decks|
|Unlimited PDF Printouts|
The most obvious alternative to FluentU is Yabla.
Yabla’s main strength is its video database, which is more engaging than FluentU’s video content.
Yabla’s content is more aimed at adults. Especially its drama series have a motivational force that keeps you interested while you go about learning the videos’ content.
However, as an overall learning tool FluentU beats Yabla, but I find Yabla more entertaining to work with. Its videos are simply more interesting.
If you want to know more about Yabla, read my review here.
CaptionPop is a free FluentU alternative.
It works with any YouTube video that has subtitles.
It doesn’t have a real learning system (probably because it’s free). So you’re on your own if you want to squeeze as much out of the videos as “possible”.
CaptionPop is basically just videos with subtitles and a few extra features: You can save video segments for later study and slow down the speed of the videos but all-in-all it’s rather limited compared to FluentU and Yabla.
Still, if you just need to watch subtitled videos in your target language…or you can’t learn your target language with either Yabla or FluentU…CaptionPop may be a good choice for you.
Win a 12-month Subscription to FluentU!
Update: The contest is now closed.
The winner is Rasheda with the following comment:
“After attempting to learn Spanish in many formats (School, Teach yourself, Assimil, Pimsleur) over the last 20+ years this is the one format that makes the most sense to a visual learner like myself. In the past I’ve tried to create my own videos but the process was overwhelming and in the end I gave up on my umpteenth time of trying to learn Spanish. That’s the beauty of FluentU someone else has done all the work for me so all I have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”
It was tough to pick a winner but I considered this comment the best and most balanced overall. So, Rasheda will get the 1-year subscription to FluentU.
If you are Rasheda, then please check your email.
Here’s your chance to get first hand experience with everything that FluentU has to offer.
We’ll be giving away a 12-month subscription to the FluentU Plus plan.
The Plus plan gives access to all the features and all the content. It’s by far the best package FluentU offers and it’s the one you’ll want if you’re serious about learning or mastering a language through interesting video content. It normally costs $30 a month ($20 when billed annually).
To enter the competition all you have to do is:
1. Get to know FluentU better by visiting their homepage through the link below. You can also create a free account there that gives you full-featured access to free content only.
2. Tell me in the comments below how FluentU would help you in your language learning.
I’ll then select the “best” comment as the winner.
And if that’s your comment, I’ll contact you with the details on how to claim your 12-month subscription.