FluentU’s interface while you are watching a video.
So I asked an invitation to the beta version of the software and tested it (the software will be released in early September).
FluentU is a database of Youtube videos in Mandarin. The videos are sorted by level of language proficiency (Newbie, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced), topics (Everyday Life, Science and Tech and so on) and format (Movie Clips, Commercials and so on).
The main feature of the FluentU’s database is represented by the well synchronized and readable subtitles provided with each video (Chinese characters, pinyin AND English subtitles).
And believe me when I say that finding interesting Chinese videos with decent subtitles may be as frustrating as accomplish The Twelve Tasks of Asterix.
The other important characteristic of FluentU concerns the fact that when you stumble upon an interesting word in a video, you can click on the subtitles stream and save the word into your list of favorites.
When you click on a word a new window will appear. Now it suffices to click on the heart to save the word.
What I like about FluentU
But that’s enough for the features of FluentU. Here why I think this is an interesting product.
- I’ve always been put off by the “fake” dialogues you find on virtually every language’s text book. I’m talking about those dialogues that feature some smart-ass Western students landed in Beijing to learn Chinese. These guys are usually introduced as perfect (AKA boring) students that keep asking each other interesting questions as ni de jia you ji kou ren? (how many people there are on your family?).
Are you kidding me?
Seriously, when it was the last time you asked a girl how many people there are on her family? And if you did any soon you should stop because it’s a terrible pick up line ; )
Conversely, as pointed out by the video below, listening to the everyday language (that is popular videos, commercials and so on) allows you to learn useful vocabulary and expressions in a funny way. I especially appreciate the fact that FluentU introduced the subtitles for the commercials as in my opinion commercials tend to mirror the mainstream values/customs of a country (advertisers know how to sell stuff : P).
- Looking for videos in Mandarin with decent subtitles is a pain in the ass. You believe it or not, in the past I even wrote a script to synchronize the random subtitles I found on the Internet with the corresponding videos. I admit this was about the most useless script I wrote as then I discovered that there were several softwares that accomplished the same task (all better than my script).
Anyway, the point is that I’m fed up with looking for decent videos & subtitles. Watching FluentU videos was a much more relaxing experience. I attribute it to the (obvious) fact that every video has synchronized subtitles and to the interface, which at the moment is simple and intuitive (see the two screenshots on this post).
Since the product is still in Beta my guess is that the developers will be tempted to add more features. I think this must be done carefully as they risk to complicate too much the interface.
- FluentU will release both a free and paying version of the database (clearly the paying version will contain more features).
Some suggestion to improve FluentU
- This is a Beta product so it’s normal that there is still room for improvement. I’m going to state the obvious when I say that at the moment the database of videos seems quite limited. My guess is that the guys at FluentU know it and they are planning to constantly add new videos (this is the way ChinesePod became so popular).
- FluentU is based on Youtube videos, which are not accessible in China unless you have access to a VPN paid service. In my case (a bit special, I know), even if I pay for a VPN I can barely access Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. I have no idea whether this is feasible or not, but it could be interesting to also have access to a database of videos pulled from Tudou or Youku (the Chinese clones of Youtube) in order to make the life easier for the victims of the Chinese G.r.e.a.t. F.i.r.e.w.a.l.l.
- I believe in cooperation and I would love to see an automatic way to export my list of FluentU words to an Anki card (sorry, I know there are a lot of SRS out there but I just happen to like Anki). From a technical point of view I have no idea how do to it but I think it would be a cool feature.