Review: Learning Chinese through video with FluentU


This week FluentU (who changed their name from Fluent Fix – which personally, I liked a bit more) announced that they now have over 300 videos available for Chinese study on their site. 308, at the moment actually, and more all the time. Congratulations to the FluentU team on all that hard work!

But what’s FluentU anyway, you ask? In their own words:

“FluentU is a new way to learn Chinese through authentic video content like music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks. With engaging and immersive content, we empower users to learn with fun videos exhibiting the diversity and vibrancy of modern Chinese culture.”

It’s still in beta, so they are still growing and evolving, but basically, you can watch short videos (usually less than 5 minutes long, and some lasting only 15 seconds or so) in Chinese, and learn new vocabulary in context. That’s a great way to learn, actually. Sure beats the socks off of your average Chinese University textbook.

The videos all have subtitles in Chinese characters, pinyin, and English, and you can adjust which subtitles you want to see in your settings. When you hover over the subtitles, the video will stop and there will be a popup explaining the new vocabulary word. Then you can easily add it to your vocabulary list to study later.

FluentU now has an SRS-based quiz to help you review all the vocabulary you’ve learned from various videos. It’s still in early stages, but it should turn into a really useful study tool. Personally, I’m still hopeful they will form an alliance with my all-time favorite Chinese SRS study site Skritter and make it easier to do what I’m going to do anyway — put all those new vocab words right into Skritter so I can study them on the go!

Speaking of on the go, I’d love to see FluentU develop an app. That would be a great way to free us poor Chinese students from our desktops and let us roam freely … while still studying away! Android as well as Apple, please, share the love!

There’s lots to love on their Web site though, including example sentences for new words; and fun content in the videos — which you can sort according to level and topic, as well as video format. You can input what type of videos you like, and FluentU will recommend some that you may enjoy. As the number of videos available grows higher and higher, this will become a more and more valuable feature.

Chinese Mama Mia – one of the videos on FluentU

They just recommended one to me which involved people singing Mamma Mia in Chinese, a new Ugandan movie, street artist Space Invaders, and artsy barcodes. I have to admit, the first time I watched it I was having so much fun and grinning like a fool that I forgot I was supposed to be studying Chinese! Had to go back and play it again so I could grab some new vocab.

New vocab like 妈妈咪呀 in case you wanted to know!

Of course, like any beta site, there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out. Sometimes I can’t find the link to their main site from their blog. The videos are all hosted on Youtube, which is, of course, blocked in Mainland China. There are some broken links and mysterious icons that don’t seem to do anything at the moment. The webmasters seem to be aware of many of these problems and working on solutions though, which is always nice to see.

I’m going to go back and watch that Mamma Mia video again, but if you want to sign up and find some Chinese videos that you are interested in and kick your Chinese study back into gear, check out FluentU.