A few months ago a new start-up Chinese learning company called FluentFlix contacted me wondering if I would try, then review, their new website. (I give kudos to their research team if they managed to find my blog.) I finally got around to checking out their website, which just launched a beta version a few days ago, and I wanted to write a brief review.
Overall impression: Me likee.
FluentFlix whole thing is learning Chinese through watching videos. As a semi-lazy, pop-culture loving language learner this is right up my alley. Actually, in my english classes I often show short, funny videos to my students. It’s way more interesting to watch a fun video then listen to some stilted dialogue, or boring news story.
And I’ve actually been wanting to get more into Chinese videos, but I wasn’t sure where to find them. I mean, China has Youku, Chinese youtube, but how to find the funny videos? (You know, the Chinese Epic Rap Battles of History or Bad Lip Reading.) With Fluentflix, you just tell them what categories you are interested in, (such as entertainment, music videos, news, culture, mini-movies, health and lifestyle etc.) and they lay out several videos in each category for you to watch.
I think some of the videos are chosen ironically (like the hilarious Chinese ad for shake weight), but most are just interesting little things
While your watching the video, underneath they have the transcription of the video in characters, pinyin and English (you can turn off the pinyin or english. I do that because if I have english, I tend to just read it and not pay attention to the chinese). You can scroll over any of the chinese characters and it highlights the character (or characters) and gives you the translation. Sometimes, when the character is part of a grammar structure, it highlights both pieces of the grammar structure which is really helpful.
You can also click on a word, which stops the video and instead shows you the word, its meaning, and several usage examples. You then can add it to your vocab list and the video automatically restarts. Then later you can review your vocabulary list. I haven’t played with it long enough to really begin memorizing words, but it is a nice little feature.
You also get to pick your level. I started with intermediate, watched some videos and then just to test it out, I changed my level to newbie. The videos didn’t change that much. They just added some kinda boring simple dialogue videos, but in the different categories, such as health they had the same videos.
Youtube. All the videos are hosted on youtube which is blocked in China. I’m not sure why a company focused on Chinese would base their product on a service not available in China. I use a VPN, so it’s not a problem, but not everybody does, and I can see it being a real downer. In their FAQ they say they are trying to make it accessible to everyone, but I’m not sure how that will work.
Also, a lot of the videos had not only chinese subtitles, but English as well. Like I said before, if I have English, then I just look at the english subtitles and ignore the Chinese. (Cause I’m lazy like that.) It’s not their fault, the videos are uploaded on the internet using with the subtitles already on them, but it is a little annoying. Even the intermediate level videos had a lot of English.
Also, make sure to check out their blog. I just wanted to look at it quickly and I found myself reading it for about 45 minutes. It has some really interesting entries and they explain grammar structures really simply which I like. (I’m waiting for them to do one on 就 because right now that’s my most hated piece of grammar.)
So while I don’t think just watching videos will get you fluent in Chinese, I do think it is a great compliment to other sites such as Skritter (which focuses on writing) and ChinesePod (which focuses on speaking and listening) to really round out your chinese learning. I think FluentFlix is a site definitely worth checking out. (And it’s free, so you really have no excuse.)