What if you could learn Japanese by watching YouTube videos?
Well, that’s the concept behind FluentU (Japanese), which I got to take a sneak preview of earlier this month. It’s a pretty sweet site, to be honest.
I’ve been given permission to give 20 FREE private beta invites to this new, innovative method of studying Japanese.
Use this link to enter for your chance to get free access to this site.The giveaway has now ended, but FluentU’s public beta should open up in the coming months.
How does FluentU Work?
I was really interested when I was first introduced to FluentU, because it makes an effort to bridge the gap between active learning (e.g. flashcards, grammar books, boring stuff) and passive learning (movies, music, fun stuff).
And they do a pretty good job at it, from what I’ve seen so far.
I’ll give a brief overview of the site’s features.
Then, if you’re interested in getting free access before the site starts charging money, then feel free to enter for your private beta invite on this page. The giveaway has ended. Public betas will open up in the coming months. Go to FluentU to sign up.
The basic concept behind FluentU is to take real-world videos, and then add interactive subtitles that make it easy to look up every word you don’t know (and also study those words, if you use their flashcard system).
Right now there are only 81 videos available, but considering that they haven’t even opened up the site for its public beta yet, I think that’s pretty solid. I’m guessing that this number will increase drastically over the coming months.
Each video is divided by difficulty, all the way from Elementary to Native Level, so it should be pretty effective for people studying at any level of Japanese.
Aside from Difficulty Level, videos can also be arranged by Topics and Formats:
FluentU’s Interactive Videos
Anyways, let’s take a look at one of the videos. I selected an Upper Intermediate Video, which was a short and entertaining clip about how to present yourself in an interview:
It’s also possible to toggle the captions to show only the Japanese with no furigana or English, which can be helpful for those trying to increase their reading speed:
If I select only Japanese, then the furigana and English disappear:
The thing that really sets FluentU apart, though, is the ability to scroll over words in the captions that you don’t know, which automatically pauses the video and shows the definition.
I can’t stress how awesome that is for anyone who’s trying to learn Japanese. Aside from not being able to catch Japanese speaking at native-speed, it can be almost impossible to look up words if you still haven’t finished mastering the kanji.
If I scroll over a word I don’t know, the video pauses, and this is what I see:
A closer look:
That reminds me: the videos do not show romaji, only hiragana and katakana as readings for the kanji. Really, this is a good thing. If you don’t know hiragana and katakana, then you’re not taking your Japanese studies seriously. It takes less than a week to learn them, so what’re you waiting for?
When I was a beginner, I would have loved this site. I spent so many wasted hours either (1) watching Japanese videos that were way too difficult for me to understand or (2) watching Japanese videos with English subtitles… which basically adds up to no learning whatsoever.
With this system of being able to automatically pause a video, see the word you don’t know, then continue seamlessly, it may be possible to actually enjoy videos in Japanese at a beginner level. And I think that’s rad.
What I’ve talked about so far (interactive videos) is what I really love about FluentU. In addition, they also have flashcards to help you memorize vocabulary.
This might be helpful for some people, but it’s not really my style, as I have a completely different way of memorizing (thousands of) Japanese words.
However, for those of you who are interested, they have quite an interesting flashcard system in the works.
I’ll look at an Elementary Level video for this one:
You can see that they have a full list of the dialogue for videos, which you can read before you start watching, if that’s your style.
You can also check out a list of vocab that appear in the video:
Anyways, let’s say that I click on Learn:
This will bring me to an interactive screen where I can look at individual words and check how they show up in the video.
This might be useful for some, but it’s not for me. Looking at one kanji is a lot more complicated than just meaning + reading.
For example, the site tells me that the reading for 一 is いっ, which is true, but it’s only true when it comes before other characters in certain words. The site points that out, which is helpful. But even then, there’s no reason for me to learn this reading separately. I can learn the meaning of this character anyways when I learn the kanji. And I can learn the reading by learning vocab.
Once you look over the vocab that appear in the video, you can use their interactive flashcards to test your memory of it.
These seem all right. But with so many other interactive flashcards sites like memrise or iKnow! (they even have them on JapanesePod101), I don’t really see the need for a feature like this. As it is, the only flashcards I ever use are Anki flashcards, which I talk about on just about every page of this site.
Note: At the time of this writing (2014/09/29), this is the full extent of the flashcard system. However, I have spoken with the team at FluentU, and they explained to me that they have quite an interesting flashcard system in the mix, which is already being used on their Chinese site.
If you look at the example above, there is simple a box with the FluentU logo in the middle. However, as the site’s database of videos grows, this box will actually be populated with a number of videos based on your vocab history. This sounds quite interesting, as it’s less about studying a flashcard and more about seeing a word in context, relevant to your level, which sounds pretty sweet to me.
To quote a member of the FluentU team:
“You asked why FluentU was necessary when there were so many other flashcard sites.
There are 2 reasons:
1) Video context (learn the word while seeing the video context. No better way to experience, understand, and remember a word).
2) Personalization (the video context that you’re shown is personalized, different from other people who are learning the same word). ”
So, although I’m not really into using flashcards, it seems that they have extensive plans to upgrade them over the course of the next few months. It could be a great resource for some who are interested in a different take on reviewing and retaining vocabulary.
FluentU Japanese Review
Overall, I was impressed with FluentU’s interactive videos. I think that if they continue adding new videos to their repertoire, they will be able to build an extremely valuable, not-boring tool for studying Japanese effectively. I’m looking forward to see this site grow over time.
Once more, if you want to enter to get FREE ACCESS to FluentU’s private beta, please go to this page. I can only give access to 20 readers, so be sure to sign up soon!The giveaway has ended. Please check out FluentU to sign up, if interested.
p.s. For more Japanese-related awesomeness, get on this, yo: