Languages: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Spanish (Latin American)
A top class language learning product and possibly the best in its field. The main advantage of Fluenz is the way it sets out to teach you as an adult. They recognise that adults learn differently to children and that they have a solid foundation of native language to build upon and compare to, and Fluenz uses this to great effect. They also recognise the importance for most language learners to learn vocabulary that is relevant and useful from day one, e.g. learning words like cellphone, and taxi rather than apple or dog. The method of instruction with Fluenz is also top draw. Although it doesn’t contain as much material as some of the behemoths of the language learning world (Tellmemore for one) it does deliver the material in a way that will keep learners interested for much longer than the majority of language courses. The one-on-one video instruction from Sonia Gil gives a personal touch to the proceedings and her careful breakdown of the conversations was like sitting and working with a personal tutor. The video tutorials are what really sets the Fluenz courses apart from the rest, but the interactive exercises are just as well made and just as important. The eight different sets of exercises for each lesson mean that each conversation and vocabulary set is supplemented and supported by extra work until you can understand, speak, read, and write each group of vocabulary with ease.
Overall, the Fluenz language courses are just possibly the best way to learn a language on your own ever devised.
I just wish they had more languages to choose from.
Fluenz is one of the newest kids on the language learning block and is a completely brand new, built from scratch product, which means it comes complete with all the bells and whistles you could possibly want from a modern language learning course. The course itself was designed with adults in mind and with the knowledge that adults learn differently to children in that they have a well founded grasp of their own language to compare and to build upon.
The course is centered around a video tutor named Sonia Gil who gives us a human interaction that very few language courses offer. She begins each course with a short video introduction in front of a black background and discusses what has already been learned and what skills will be learned during that lesson.
When Sonia has finished her introduction (or you override her with a click on the ‘next’ button) you are played a brief conversation between two people that introduces the new vocabulary. The conversation can be played with subtitles of the foreign language only, the foreign language and the English language equivalent, or no subtitles at all. Fluenz recommends you play each conversation at least three times, beginning with the foreign language subtitles only, to give you an ear for the sound of the words. When you feel you have a good grasp of the conversation, you continue through to Sonia again. This time Sonia breaks down each piece of conversation word by word using some clever and memorable video manipulation of the words, and relates them to vocabulary and sentences learned in previous lessons.
When you are sure you have the lesson’s vocabulary securely stamped in your mind you can move onto the exercises. There are several exercises that will test what you have learned: The first is a simple replaying of the vocabulary, where you are asked to repeat the words aloud (which like most audio language courses, I would strongly recommend that you do). The second is to match the words or phrases learned with their English counterparts, and the third and fourth are to write the foreign word and phrase respectively from the English given. The fifth and sixth exercises are both audio and ask you to write the foreign word or phrase that is equivalent to the English that you hear being played. Fluenz provides a tones menu so you can add the tone marks to the words when writing if the language requires. The seventh and eighth exercises are conversation exercises: These allow you to take part in basic and more advanced conversations using voice recording software (if you have a microphone) and play back your responses to check your pronunciation. When complete you can move onto the next lesson.
Each Fluenz package also comes with audio CDs, which supplement the video course, Downloadable podcasts, and the Chinese package comes with Fluenz mobile—a complete reproduction of the contents of the course for Windows Mobile.
The Fluenz language courses are possibly some of the most effective language learning systems ever made for adults. The whole idea was designed with adults in mind and concentrates on teaching the vocabulary that is the most quickly useable for the majority of people in everyday life. This is one of the benefits of FLuenz over some of its language software rivals: it does not try and teach you as a child and force you to learn vocabulary that is not immediately useful. It teaches you relevant language from the beginning and teaches it in such a way that makes it not easily forgettable. The use of video and the enigmatic Sonia Gil is another boon for the users of this software as it allowas a connection to be made, not unlike a teacher-student connection in the classroom, and the way the vocabulary is broken down makes it easy not only to learn the words, but to understand the structure of sentences within the target language.
When compared to its nearest rivals, Fluenz possibly does not teach as much vocabulary throughout its entire course, but it is taught in a more mature fashion. Students will realise they are learning from day one, whereas some courses can often leave students hanging for weeks until they realise they have learned something constructive, often because of the childlike method of association that they employ.
The exercises that Fluenz includes are also top-notch: They build the different skills of listening, reading, writing, and speaking, and although it does not include voice recognition software, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent line-up and is barely missed at all. There is a voice recorder after all, and most people will easily tell if their pronunciation is good or awful when played next to the native speaker.
The one small gripe I would have with this software (and I assure you it is small) is that Sonia Gil is not a native speaker of the language. Although she is obviously very adept at speaking the languages that she is teaching, it would possibly have made more sense to use a native speaker of the language for authenticity. That said, the people involved in the conversations (some native speakers, some not?) all seem to have excellent pronunciations and accents and I am sure the fact that they are not native will not harm anyone’s chances of learning the language. Overall, Sonia Gil is an excellent choice for the presenter and she has the right amounts of charisma and authority to be believable as our teacher.
I would certainly take her an apple.
The Fluenz course covers 150 hours (110 hours for Mandarin) of interactive and video instruction as well as two audio CDs (one for mandarin) and the Fluenz navigator—a booklet of vocabulary translated into English. This is quite an impressive amount of content to be getting on with, and can obviously be increased by reviewing lessons that you have seen previously, or re-doing older exercises to ensure you keep sharp. This is easy to do from the easy-to-use main menu and navigation page which allows you to return to any lesson quickly and painlessly.
As well as repeating the material, you can transfer the audio CDs to your mp3 player and practise listening to conversations as you travel around. The CDs provide ‘engaging audio workouts that mirror the progress of the actual tutor-led software’. It is a good idea to repeat these CDs several times to gain a good ear for the language.
Finally, Fluenz provides language podcasts for their customers which you can download to your ipod or mp3 player to supplement what you have learned throughout the course. They offer a more relaxed glimpse into the life of your chosen language and allow you to see the language in use in several real-world situations.
Overall, Fluenz will certainly keep you busy for a long time to come.
It doesn’t get much easier than this. Many software packages can be a little confusing as they have many choices and settings, and often have you learning like a child through image association, which can be quite bewildering to adults in the beginning. Not so Fluenz: The lessons and exercises are set out in a linear fashion, one after the other, each one carefully planned to teach you the relevant vocabulary and then reinforce it again and again; you are given control over your learning ,however, with the simple ‘next’ button which allows you to skip any part of the course. Naturally, as with everything with Fluenz you can go back and do it later if you wish, simply from the main menu.
There is nothing complicated about the Fluenz language products, but that does not mean they are basic. They have managed to compile a powerful set of interactive language lessons in a simple and intuitive format.
The one thorn in Fluenz’s side is the price. The price for the first two courses combined is between $350 and $420 depending on your choice of course. This is expensive whichever way you cut it, but is not wildly different to its main competitors in the language software business. What you have to realise also is how much time, effort, and I presume money was spent in developing and producing the videos and the interactive exercises.
Fluenz is a multimedia feast of audio and video, and its price tag, which obvioulsy reflects this, is actually a reasonable price to pay for such an effective and fun package to use.
If it only costs you $400 to learn a language (and Fluenz certainly makes it easier to learn and less likely to get bored) then surely it is worth it in the long run. They also sell the courses seperately for about $220 each which is easier on the pocket, but if you can afford it I would certainly advise getting the two together.