What if you could learn Japanese by watching YouTube videos?
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.
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).
They do a pretty good job of that from a technical standpoint, although I'm not sure it's a very time-efficient way to be studying Japanese.
I'll give a brief overview of the site's features.
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).
Once you log in, you can see a list of videos available to watch.
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
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:
While the video is playing, they have captions running along the bottom. These captions include the Japanese, along with furigana (character readings) and English translation.
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.
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.
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. I don't think this is a great method of learning or reviewing new words, but explaining that will require an entirely separate article.
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.
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.
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 a valuable, not-boring tool for studying Japanese effectively. I'm looking forward to see this site grow over time.
How Should You Use FluentU?
If you decide to study with FluentU, I think it makes for a nice supplemental learning material.
Learning paths would need more depth and structure for it to qualify as a primary study method, though. I'm biased, but you could just use NativShark for that, then use something like FluentU when you don't feel like making the most of your study time but still want to do something productive.