Learning German with FluentU

If you’re living in Germany or about to move here, it’s helpful to know at least a little bit of a language, and if you already know some German, it never hurts to know more. While there are a lot of good ways to get practice in a foreign language, today I want to tell you about FluentU, a new language learning program that utilizes real-world videos.

(Edit, 9/2014: The public beta is now open and can be accessed free at http://www.fluentu.com.] At some point I’m sure they’ll change it over to a paid service but I don’t know when that will be. For now anyone who signs up has free access.)

FluentU offers multiple languages (German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French, and English), and users can access all of the languages with one account. When you choose a language, you can pick one of six levels from newbie to native, so you don’t have to go through lessons covering the basics if you already have some knowledge. Each language is tracked separately, so you can be at an advanced level with one language while being a newbie in another. If you start at a level and discover it’s too easy or too difficult, you can always change your learning level from your home screen, and you can watch videos from other difficulty levels at any time without changing your settings.

Users get to decide what videos they want to watch and in what order, and the videos you choose are saved on your home screen so you can easily return to them if you want to. Videos are categorized by difficulty level ranging from newbie to native, topics (like arts and entertainment, culture, and science and technology), and formats (like commercials, movie trailers, and mini-movies). Many of the videos are short, usually a minute or two long, which is great if you don’t have the time or attention span to focus on longer videos. Each video includes German subtitles with a smaller English translation below it.

The videos come from YouTube, so some may wonder why they should use this program if the videos can be found there. Well, I’ve used YouTube to find videos in German, and it’s not a bad place to start, but it can be hard to find German videos with English translations and even more so to find those that have both German subtitles and an English translation. There’s also no way for a learner unfamiliar with the German words to know if the YouTube user’s translation is correct, and often it’s not. Translations are also often buried in an ‘about’ box, which can be difficult to follow along with while watching the video. FluentU offers everything you need all on one screen. I also find it easier to rewind or jump to a particular section of video with FluentU than with YouTube.

Another advantage of FluentU, which does not come from watching the original videos directly on YouTube, is being able to access a dictionary definition and example sentences for any word/phrase in the video at any time. When you scroll over the word or phrase, you’ll see a bubble with an in-context definition and information related to the type of word it is and gender for those words that have one. The video pauses, so you won’t fall behind, and it resumes when you move the mouse away. With YouTube, you’d have to pause the video and turn to a dictionary (which might be really difficult without German subtitles telling you how the word is spelled or if you’re trying to look up a phrase, especially if it’s slang). If you need more information than the scroll-over provides, you can click the word and get the definition with example sentences and hit play when you’re ready to continue.

Beyond the ability to watch German videos with the German and English subtitles, FluentU offers several ways to help you retain what you learn. You can add words that you want to study later to a vocab list by clicking the word while the video is playing and clicking the ‘Add to Vocab’ button. After that, the word is highlighted when it appears in that video as well as subsequent videos until you indicate you’ve learned the word.

When you choose a video, instead of clicking ‘Watch’ you can also click ‘Learn’ which will take you to a flash-card type screen with a vocab word or phrase, the definition of the word or phrase, and an example sentence with a picture or short clip. You can click ‘Next’ to allow the word/phrase to come up in the lesson, or ‘Already Know’ so you don’t have to waste time “learning” something you’ve already mastered. After the words have been presented, there are several possible activities that might pop up such as picking a correct translation from four options, filling in a blank word box with the word/phrase missing from a sentence, and organizing scrambled words into the proper order. If you miss a question, you’ll see the correct answer and have another chance to get it right later.

At the end of each ‘Learn’ section, a score is displayed including accuracy, the percent of the video learned, and the percent of the video mastered. You can either click ‘Return to Home’ to pick a new video or ‘Continue Learning’ to learn more words/phrases from that video.

Under the Vocab’ tab, you can access the words you have saved including their definitions and what videos you added them from. If you click the green plus sign, it tells the program that you know the word and it’ll be removed from your list. You can also import words from outside the program. The program also offers an option to make your own ‘deck’ of words which will be presented in flash-card like screens and activities like the ones offered when you click ‘Learn’ on a video.

Personally, I started off using FluentU for German at the intermediate level. I like that I can scroll over an unfamiliar word and find out what it means without having to grab a dictionary and that I can save the word to practice it later. I have an easy time with sight recognition of words that I’ve learned but a harder time recalling the word if I have to type something from memory, so I appreciate that FluentU has exercises that require me to practice that. I have enjoyed the variety of videos available, and there have been many more added since I started. A secondary benefit beyond practicing the language using FluentU is that many of the videos have taught me about topics I didn’t know about before. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my experience with FluentU and encourage anyone wanting to learn German or to improve their existing skills in German to give it a try. For a limited time, Germany Ja has a limited number of free private beta access slots. Comment below using a valid email address if you’re interested in trying it out.Viel Spaß! (Have fun!).

(Edit: The public beta is now open and can be accessed free at http://www.fluentu.com.] At some point I’m sure they’ll change it over to a paid service but I don’t know when that will be. For now anyone who signs up has free access.)

 Note: The author of this post received free private beta access for herself and a limited number of readers for the purpose of writing a post introducing the program on her blog Embracing Adventure. She enjoyed the program and wanted to tell more readers about it, so she requested additional slots for Germany Ja readers. She was not otherwise compensated by FluentU for either post.