FluentU Review: How to Use YouTube Videos for Language Learning


Do you ever find that every now and then there’ll be something that you know of but you don’t really know for a long time and then when you try it you’re kicking yourself for not doing so sooner?

FluentU is that.

Also congratulations if you understood that first sentence.

The name had been cropping up on Twitter and the like, and I’d even been mentioned on a couple of their blog posts, but I didn’t actually get around to trying out FluentU. Yikes.

Well, with the release of their new app, I decided it was finally time to sit down and check it out. You know I love me a good language learning app.

A FluentU review about how to use YouTube videos for language learning + an interview with the founder. Click through to get your bonus FluentU Planner! >>

What is FluentU?

A FluentU review about how to use YouTube videos for language learning. We've also been lucky enough to get an interview with a member of the FluentU team for this post.
FluentU uses genuine video content from the internet to create their video based learning. There’s a website, and now an app on iOS.

I’ve been testing the beta version of the app, and this review is mostly based on my time using that rather than the website. Current languages on offer are Chinese, Japanese, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Korean, Russian, and Portuguese.

So what’s it all about?

A FluentU review about how to use YouTube videos for language learning. We've also been lucky enough to get an interview with a member of the FluentU team for this post.
Here’s how it works. You browse the videos available for the language you’re learning by level, once you’ve spotted one that takes your fancy, pick it and watch. The subtitles appear below in both languages. You can also tap any word throughout for a direct translation.

When the video is done, you have the choice to ‘learn’ the words featured in the video. This is done by multiple sample sentences, some from the video and others not, ensuring that you can identify and understand your new vocabulary in different contexts. Smart idea, huh?

This is what’s normally missing for me when I learn vocab. I learn a word and then I remember it (or not) but I have no context. So for me, having different sentence examples is a big advantage.

In a nutshell then, FluentU is a fun and natural way to learn languages without feeling like you’re studying too hard. Pretty nifty.

The good stuff

A FluentU review about how to use YouTube videos for language learning. We've also been lucky enough to get an interview with a member of the FluentU team for this post.
It’s intuitive. Well, not literally. It’s not quite an emotionally sensitive boyfriend that will bring you ice cream when you’re sad. But it is smart. It uses our good ol’ friend SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) AND assumes what you already know.

For example, a big problem when starting to use a new anything when you’re learning a language, be it an app, a book, a website, or something else, is that they all begin with ‘hello/hola/konnichiwa’. Which is nice, but not when you’ve already done that .

If you mark your level as intermediate for example, FluentU will say “Ok, so you probably already know konnichiwa. Let’s mark that as a known word.”

This is really cool because it means even on videos you haven’t watched, you sometimes have a percentage of known words marked. Quite the confidence boost. This means your motivation stays high.

How much is it?

A FluentU review about how to use YouTube videos for language learning. We've also been lucky enough to get an interview with a member of the FluentU team for this post.
FluentU isn’t free. But stuff this good rarely is. However, the pricing is nice and simple.

You can join the free price plan, which is perfect for giving it a go. Beyond that there are two options: Basic at $15 per month and Plus at $30 per month, both of which, as it states on their website, are cheaper than 1 hour of tuition. You can also save if you join via an Annual Plan. So if you’re looking for something new to use regularly, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

Click here to visit their site and have a little look around before buying!

Let’s speak to FluentU!

The folk at FluentU very kindly answered a couple of my questions, giving us an insight into the brains behind the app. I spoke to Alan.

Hello! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Alan Park and I’m the founder of FluentU! I do a little bit of everything (product, content, marketing, and taking out the trash).

Nice to meet you! How did you think of the idea for FluentU?

I’ve been obsessed with learning Chinese, Japanese, and Korean since college (over a decade ago). Before FluentU, I worked as a management consultant in Korea, Japan, and China.

I found that I learned best from authentic content that I was interested in, like TV shows or music videos. But the process of learning from authentic content was slow and painful. It meant that I had to find content that was appropriate for my level. Then I had to look up words, write them down, create flashcards, and manage my learning. FluentU arose to make it possible to learn efficiently from authentic content without all of the pain.

Awesome. What’s your favourite feature of the new app?

This is tough! It’s a tie between our video player and learn mode. Our video player is the more passive way to learn – it supplements all videos with interactive captions. This means that you can tap on any word to look it up, and see an image, in-context definition, and examples, along with audio. It makes native content approachable even for beginners.

Our learn mode is the active way to learn a video. It dissects videos into personalized questions that show each word in different contexts. The questions get steadily more difficult, and by the end, you’re able to reproduce entire captions from each video.

Which language(s) have you studied with FluentU?

Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and French!

That’s quite the selection! Do you have any tips for people new to FluentU?

Pick a video that seems a bit too difficult for you. Try go back and forth between using the video player and learn mode. You’ll find your listening comprehension improve dramatically in just a few minutes.

Good idea. And finally, can you give us a clue as to which languages might be added soon to FluentU?

You know what, we’re really not sure! For now we are focused on improving the languages that we’ve already added. But Italian, Russian, Korean, and Arabic would all be strong candidates.

Thanks, Alan!

If you’re intrigued, click here to find out more and sign up for FluentU.

Your Free FluentU Planner!

Ready to use FluentU but worried you’ll fall off track and not use it and get your money’s worth? I’ve made you a free downloadable 31 day planner to keep you motivated and make the most of your subscription. Yay!

Click the image below to download it now.

Have you tried FluentU? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Lindsay Williams

Why hello there! I'm Lindsay and I do Languages. I blog, vlog and teach all things language. I blog about languages right here at Lindsay Does Languages, and about travel over at Mundo Trundle. If you're looking for language learning inspiration then stay a while. You might find just what you're looking for. :)
  • Hannah

    Very sad about lack of Android app, this looks quite fun 🙂

  • Oooh. They’re thinking about adding Russian?! I’m crossing my fingers!

  • Would be great if you could put the date of posting somewhere on the post.

  • Barbara Thomas

    Is FluentU appropriate for children? I have an 8 year old and an 11 year old who are just learning English. I’m concerned about them inadvertently uploading an inappropriate video. If FluentU isn’t the best choice for kids, do you have any suggestions? Thanks so much.

    • Hmm…good question. I’m not sure if they have any sort of filter or parental controls. It might be worth reaching out to their contact team and checking on that. It would be great if they do but I can completely understand your concerns if not. 🙂

  • Dried Peanuts

    Hey Lindsay, I use fluentu on my laptop. It has one killer point, which is it allows you to watch real videos in the target language and find out instantly what is being said, and analyze word-by-word if need be. Then you can do something I find really valuable, which is to easily watch something above your current level in the language. I don’t know of anything else that does this. Wish there were more videos, more languages. In time, I guess.