FluentU Review (2020): Language Immersion App Put to the Test

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FluentU

$30/month
3.5

Listening Skills

4.3/5

Writing Skills

3.0/5

Reading Skills

3.0/5

Speaking Skills

1.0/5

Pros

  • One subscription gives access to all languages
  • Intelligent learning system
  • Kid-friendly videos

Cons

  • Price a bit high
  • Quiz feature a bit clunky at times
  • Video player too small in quiz feature

So you want to find out if FluentU is worthy of your money?

My FluentU review can help you with that.

FluentU is cool. It lets you learn a language through authentic video content and its learning system. 

But it’s not without its flaws.

Don’t worry. We’ll discuss it all in this review.

The First Criterion for Selecting a Language App

Before we get to the actual review, I need to share something important with you.

You see, even though I use them quite a bit, I’m not fond of electronic devices.

They are distraction machines. They screw up your ability to concentrate.

You get so used addicted to being distracted that you can’t focus your mind anymore.

And when you can’t concentrate, learning a new language will take much longer…if you ever get there.

But that’s not all, unfortunately.

Lest we forget…there’s also the boogeyman that is the electronic screen.

An electronic screen is a light bulb.

And you’re looking into it all the time.

How’s that NOT going to affect you?!

It does. In fact, it may cause brain damage, at least in children.

It’s also more mentally taxing to read from a screen, and you remember less of it.

A language app could be very advanced but, at the same time, less effective than a more traditional approach, not because of its content but because of its medium.

In other words, the learning advantage you may get from language apps gets canceled out.

So for me, a language app should offer something substantial that I can’t get without looking at a screen. If it doesn’t, I prefer audio and books nowadays.

What does this have to do with FluentU?

Simple.

FluentU is about learning a language with video. That’s its core concept. And video is only accessible through a screen.

It’s an immersion experience you can’t get without a phone or computer.

That doesn’t automatically mean it’s a great app — it has its flaws.

But it meets my first criterion for a language app’s usefulness.  

So with that out of the way, let’s get back to the review.

Learning a Language through YouTube Videos

FluentU is like YouTube for language learners.

It’s a collection of translated and subtitled YouTube videos in 9 languages. And the learning system allows you to learn the videos’ content by taking quizzes.

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 a YouTube-like experience.

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)
  • Spanish
  • French
  • English
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Italian
  • Korean
  • Russian
  • English for Spanish speakers
  • English for Japanese speakers
  • English for Korean speakers

One subscription gives you access to all languages.

However, not all languages have the same number of videos available.

But all have enough to keep you busy for a long time, and more are being added all the time.

To find out how many videos FluentU offers in your target language, check out the following graph.

The FluentU team, led by Alan Park, keeps adding new videos so you’ll probably never run out of videos to learn from.

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 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 is playing. While hovering over a word, you will also hear a robot voice saying it.

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.

A simple feature? Yes, but if you’ve done some language learning before, you’ll understand the usefulness of the Loop button.

Let’s say you’re watching a video segment that’s driving you nuts. You can’t hear what they’re saying. So what do you do? Just loop the segment until you catch on.

The useful loop button.


How FluentU Helps You Master the Content of the Videos

If you had to learn a video’s content just by watching it, it would take forever.

After watching it for the 500th time, maybe you’d understand five words.

Not very efficient…

What you need is some extra help. Some method or feature that could speed things up.

The loop button is one such feature.

Another one is FluentU’s Quiz.

After watching a video, you can access the quiz for that video.

The quiz takes the video apart bit by bit. It puts you to the test with fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice, and more.

Every question has accompanying video segments, but not necessarily of the same video. This is done so you can hear a word or phrase from different sources.

I think the FluentU team made the right decision here. If you learn a word from one single source in one single context, your learning will be limited. So, good call…

Another great feature is that the words you’re learning are automatically added to the built-in spaced-repetition flashcard system.

For those of you who don’t know:

Spaced repetition in its purest form, is simply reviewing or repeating learned material just before you would forget it. It’s been proven to improve memory retention.

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.

But despite these helpful features, the quiz isn’t perfect.

It sometimes feels a little clunky, but that’s not even my main gripe.

You see, what I don’t dig is that the video player used during the quiz is too small. I think they should keep the video pretty much in your face, just like they do with the main video player.

The quiz features the videos in a rather small frame.

By displaying the videos in a larger window, you’d feel more like you are really there. And that gets you pumped up. It’s motivating. It sucks that FluentU’s quiz displays the video segments in such a small frame.

Yabla, FluentU’s main competitor, does this much better in most of its learning features.

Something for Everyone

The FluentU video database is sorted by difficulty, topics, and format.

The topics are:

  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Business Culture
  • 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.

This is significant.

If you read some word you don’t know yet…

Or you hear it while conversing with a native speaker…

You can look up the word in FluentU and master it through video content. 21st-century language learning, indeed.

Not all is peachy when it comes to FluentU’s video selection, though.

One disappointment, though understandable from the point of view of the FluentU team, is that there are few videos on a particular topic.

If you are a soccer fanatic and you’d like to learn French through videos about soccer, you can’t.

I find it works best to select a broad topic and then look for videos that interest you.

Since people can rate the videos, you can also sort them by popularity. This is a great new feature since not all videos are that interesting. For better video content, I recommend Yabla.

By sorting the videos this way, you can filter out the boring videos from the cool ones. The only caveat? Since this feature is rather new, many videos still don’t have a rating. But as FluentU grows, this will get better.

Speaking of the videos, did you know that FluentU can be a bit creepy?

Why?

Because…

FluentU Knows You…

Well, at least after 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!

How?

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.

By clicking it, the FluentU system learns that you already know the word. This ensures you won’t see that word featured again in either the quiz 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 personalizes your learning experience.

Green Bars

Below each video, you’ll see a green 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 green bar indicating how many of the words of a video you already know.

If you’re an absolute beginner, it will be accurate from the start, obviously.

But even if you’re an intermediate learner of your target language, FluentU is pretty fast in displaying a reasonable estimation of the number of words you already know.

It’s a cool feature. You instantly see which videos you “should” watch.

Watching a video of which you only know 15% of the words, is a waste of time.

Your time is better spent with a video that offers more familiar words, say 75% or so. This will help you learn from context, and thus 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, if you want, you can spend much more time on FluentU, but these amounts serve as a daily guide.

And FluentU tracks your day streak. If you don’t meet your daily goal, your streak ends.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not big on the current gamification offered by language apps. It’s more a distraction than anything else for me. Yet, I appreciate this particular feature.

Starting each day with a small-time commitment goal that’s easy to hit and easy to exceed, is helpful to keep you going in good spirits.

If you show up every day, it’s hard to fail. And most days, you probably exceed your daily goal.

Newbie Courses

If you’re just starting to learn a new language, FluentU may not work for you.

These types of apps require that you already know some stuff about your new language.

But of course, the FluentU team wants its slice of the pie and try to be everything to everybody. They also want to get beginner learners on board.

Thus, there are Newbie courses. But they are mostly audio-only and not as interesting as the video content.

You can skip these and move directly to the videos, but still, it would be nice to see the courses with more videos in them. FluentU should be about video, after all.

When you start your FluentU experience with a Newbie Course, you may find yourself thinking: Is that it?

Update 2020: The FluentU team has made some improvements to its app. There are now beginner playlists that consist of audios and videos that increase in difficulty. This is 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 to absolute beginners.

FluentU is a tool that primarily caters to intermediate and advanced learners. These people need to engage the real-world version of the language, not some course’s version.

For them, FluentU is a good tool.

And it’s fluent…

That is: they keep adding new videos all the time. So you can keep learning new stuff even if you’re at an advanced level.

In the quiz feature, you simply indicate which words you already know, and rapidly, you’re learning more of what you need to learn and less of what you don’t.

A more traditional language course/app can get you to an intermediate level.

Then, to become fluent, you need to converse and use real-world materials.

FluentU can help you with the latter.

Android App

FluentU also has an Android app.

It largely works 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. But it worked flawlessly on 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 it.

One thing I did notice is that in the app, you can’t sort the videos by popularity yet. (You can in the desktop version.) But since this is a new feature, I’m positive that you’ll be able to do so soon.

iPhone App

If you have an iPhone, you’re not out of luck either. There’s also a FluentU iPhone app. But since I don’t have 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. It only gives access to free videos.

For the rest of the videos AND all the features, you have to pay a monthly fee.

So, FluentU is not free… and it couldn’t be.

Why?

Because the FluentU team keeps adding new videos all the time.

They have to transcribe, translate, and subtitle them…and make them work with the FluentU learning system.

That’s a lot of work. But it makes it 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 differences between the Basic and the Plus plan:

FluentU Basic Plan FluentU Plus Plan
 15$/month  30$/month
 120$/year  240$/year
Unlimited Video Watching Unlimited Video Watching
Unlimited Audio Listening Unlimited Audio Listening
  Unlimited Quiz/Learn Mode
  Unlimited Courses
  Unlimited Vocab Decks
  Unlimited PDF Printouts

FluentU Alternatives

Yabla

The most obvious alternative to FluentU is Yabla.

And while I used to favor FluentU over Yabla, I don’t anymore. I think Yabla, despite not being perfect either, gives you more of an immersion experience than does FluentU.

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. Its drama series are a motivational force. They keep you interested while you go about learning the videos’ content.

Yabla also keeps the videos more at the center of your learning experience, which is a big plus.

If you want to find out more about Yabla, read my review here.

CaptionPop

CaptionPop is a free FluentU alternative.

It works with any YouTube video that has subtitles.

CaptionPop has been improving recently. It now has a few interesting features, though not as streamlined as the paid options.

You can save video segments for later study, slow down the speed of the videos, and even do flashcards with your saved video segments.

Right now it’s not yet a serious competitor to FluentU and Yabla because of its technical limitations. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

Also, if you can’t learn your target language of choice with either Yabla or FluentU, CaptionPop may be an option for you. It’s free, after all.

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 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.

Simple!

And if that’s your comment, I’ll contact you with the details on how to claim your 12-month subscription.

Affiliate disclosure: (Some of) the links in the post above are affiliate links, which means I'll receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase the product. Please note: I only recommend products and services that I believe will add value to your life and your language learning. If you decide to purchase through one of the affiliate links, you’ll be supporting Smart Language Learner, which in turn will lead to an improved site with more helpful content for language learners. So thanks for that in advance. I appreciate it!
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30 comments

  1. Thanks for the opportunity!

    FluentU will make my language study way more interesting.
    It will end boredom and make sure I don’t quit my new language.

    thanks

  2. FluentU sounds awesome except one thing.. when will Portuguese (Brazil) be added to the mix? That would really help me where I live and family wise

    1. Alan Park, the founder of FluentU, just told me that it wouldn’t be among the next couple of languages they’ll offer but that they certainly want to add it in the future.

  3. I enjoy learning German with the video, but even some beginners one are difficult because the speakers speak fast and sometimes the volume is too low even if I strain my ears to listen.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      Really?

      I haven’t had a problem with the volume at all.

      Have you tried with headphones on?

      Also if it’s too difficult, make sure you enable the German subtitles.

  4. 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.

  5. This is my entry:

    Bye bye textbook.
    I don’t need you anymore.
    You never really loved me, anyway.
    All you did was hurt and bore me.
    But now I got someone better.
    Someone who wants me to grow and have a good time.
    His name is FluentU.
    Please don’t bother me anymore, textbook.

  6. What a great approach! FluentU combines all the things needed to learn a language including flash cards with audio and spaced repetition, video using real situations and you tube content, and all kinds of great content for direct written and learning interactions. And to top it all off, it remembers what needs more work and what is already learned and gives special attention to the areas that are weakest! I have tried just about all the language learning sites on the Internet, have tried private instruction and have tried immersion in my target country and consider this the very best overall approach and is certainly worth the subscription fee! Thank you FluentU!

  7. Because of my job in Vietnam I developed a working knowledge of the language. I could not, however, carry on a conversation with anyone. There are many Vietnamese in my area and this would help learning more about their homeland these wonderful folks.

  8. I have been passionate about language my entire life! My goal is to learn at least three new languages, and this program would be immensely helpful. Thanks for the opportunity!

  9. With a highly transient population where we live, FluentU would help me learn Spanish so I can communicate with my students instead of using an interpreter.

  10. I would love to win this for my grandson. He is going to be a senior this year and leads his schools ROTC squads. He will be going to a military college and learning several languages will be beneficial to his career.

  11. I live in Florida and I think learning Spanish is soo essential 🙂 Please help me out!

  12. Since taking a direct hit to the head by lightning and the 6 resulting surgeries I have problems processing new information. I feel the FluentU system of flash cards and many ways of repetition could be tremendously beneficial to me. Also already speaking French , German and English I feel learning Mandarin or Spanish through the FluentU program would help exercise my brain which I desperately need. Please consider this post. Thank you for your time.

  13. I think I’m giving FluentU a shot.
    I really need to regain hold of my French, so this would be great.
    Also a subscription might help.

  14. Your review of FluentU sounds fantastic! Every time I have tried to learn a new language, I end up getting bored and frustrated. But when I went to France a few years ago, I learned more in a week from actually hearing people speak the language than I did in years of classes and books. Since I cannot afford to go live in France for a year, I think a subscription to FluentU would be perfect. Your description of all of the various features ( I especially like the loop function) makes me think I cold use this program and not just get bored and give up. Thank you for your most thorough review

  15. it would help me learn conversational Spanish so that I can actually speak to someone beyond just conjugating verbs

  16. It would help me to make friends and communicate with people that I would have not otherwise done so.

  17. I teach a Russian Martial Art called Systema, and would love to be able to communicate to the top level instructors in their native tongue. I also think it would be an excellent example for my students.

    At 51, I can show them (and others) that all is possible regardless of age. . . I mean experience!

    I live in the Greater Orlando area and there are not many (non-Internet) opportunities to speak this language.

    Spacibo!

  18. I am doing right now an internship in Germany. So far, I have developed a huge interest in German language and I want to speak the language fluently. I started using FluentU for this reason, it went pretty good since it combines Learning and Fun.
    I think it is really a powerful website for learning languages in a funny easy way.

  19. I need to learn Spanish so that I can better communicate with my Father-In-Law. Having a language barrier with someone in your own family is not only frustrating, it’s heartbreaking. I would love to get to know him the way I was supposed to. It sounds like FluentU can definitely help!

    FluentU has many amazing features. I’m easily distracted, so having, Distraction-Free Video Player access would help me to stay focused on the material. The Loop Button within the video player would ensure that I am really understanding & getting everything I need from a particular lesson, even if it takes several tries! The Vocab Learn feature can automatically add new words to the integrated Flash-Card app, making it stress free. But if I’d like, I can manually add words, personalizing my lesson as I see fit. The In-Context Hover Dictionary ensures that I am really understanding what I am learning. FluentU sounds fun & easy to use, but best of all, it has high potential to keep it interesting.

    If FluentU is a, “Modern Language Learners Dream,” then I don’t ever want to wake up!

  20. This seems like a wonderful way to learn. It would be great for me to learn Spanish, as it is very fluent where i live and this could help me communicate better within my community. I would be able to do more things in my area if I could actually speak fluently. Also would be to make new and lasting friendships. Love it!

  21. He buscado y usado muchas alternativas para aprender Inglés en línea, para tener un mejor trabajo y porque no me queda tiempo (duolingo, livemocha, memrise, bliu-bliu….) y había buscado una que me ayudara a complementar a duolingo. De las que he probado Fluentu me parece la mejor, es parecida a memrise pero con sus videos cortos tambien puedo aprender conceptos de gramática aparte del vocabulario. Llevo una semana usándolo y estoy satisfecho con lo que he aprendido (A continuación traduzcon a Inglés con la ayuda de google translate):

    “I searched and used many ways to learn English online, to get a better job and because I have no time (Duolingo, livemocha, Memrise, bliu-bliu ….) and had sought a supplement to help me to Duolingo. Of those who have tried Fluentu I think the best is like Memrise but with short videos can also learn grammar concepts apart vocabulary.I took a week using it and I am satisfied with what I’ve learned.”

  22. I would love to be more fluent in my native spanish. We were not allowed to speak much Spanish when my mom married my stepfather. I can understand it well but would love to be more fluent so that I may teach my children to speak and understand it. I would also love to have a full conversation with my grandmother who only speaks spanish without making it hard for her to understand my broken spanish.

  23. FluentU offers video-based language learning instruction that allows learners not simply to study new vocabulary and grammar of their language of choice, but more importantly to feel the emotions, see the sights, engage in history and experience the modern-day culture of their chosen language right in front of their eyes — no travel or study abroad immersion needed! Unlike traditional language-learning platforms that teach using only the printed word and limited, context-independent audio, FluentU provides a video-based interface that integrates elegantly with features including audio transcripts, spaced-repetition software, dictionaries and sentence banks that capture your attention and maximize your learning. An additional benefit is how on the mobile app in particular, the FluentU platform achieves that elusive sweet spot of making studying both addictive and distraction-free, and has managed to distill the vast contents of Youtube into a veritable goldmine for language learners. In the language-learning market, this platform is truly a breath of fresh air. I have already improved my Chinese tremendously thanks to FluentU and can’t wait to begin to tackle the rest of their languages. (My lifelong goal is to gain advanced proficiency in ten languages, which makes FluentU an indispensable tool to have over the decades to come!) Bottom line: with FluentU, you’re not just LEARNING a language: you’re LIVING it. Why not start today?

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