Fluenz

Rosetta Stone Fluenz Tell Me More Transparent Language Rocket Languages Livemocha And more...
 



Catch Phrase
“We are not children and don't learn like them. Explanations matter."

The Background
Fluenz takes Rosetta Stone head on, in case you missed the barb about us not learning like children. "Rosetta Stone believes in fully immersing the student in the language, without using any English to explain phrases. Fluenz believes adults learn best when they can relate the grammar and syntax of a foreign language to the structure of the tongue they already know,” their advertising copy states. They are the anti-Rosetta.

The Approach
There were times during my year with Rosetta Stone when I yearned for an online instructor to give some explanation. Be careful what you wish for. Each Fluenz lesson opens with a 7-minute introduction, for the first two volumes (in the French version, at least) by Sonia Gil, one of Flunz's founders. Welcome at first, her presence soon becomes a distraction, especially that lock of hair that she keeps tossing away from her face and the theatrically raised eyebrows. For the third volume she turns class over to a student teacher, the Ice Queen, a young woman so cheerless and expressionless you wonder what must have befallen the poor thing as a child. Still, the explanations are helpful, and, unlike Rosetta Stone, Fluenz tries to throw in a little culture as well (although Sonia never delivers on her promise to explain the bidet).

Once you've cleared the lecture, you start, as with Rosetta, an unvarying routine: A short slide-show dialog that introduces the lesson's themes, and then drills, always in the same order: match the English to the French, repeat the words you hear (although without speech recognition you have no idea if you're pronouncing them correctly); type the words you read, then the phrase you read, then the phrase you hear -- with Fluenz, there is a lot of typing. I mean, a lot. And since most of us are far more interested learning to understand and speak a new language than in writing it flawlessly (one typo stops you cold in your tracks in the typing exercises), this emphasis on typing is the biggest flaw. Still, if you want a directed approach, with conjugations, explanations, and an on-screen instructor, Fluenz might be a viable option for you. Just keep you fingers loose.

Vocabulary
It feels not as extensive as Rosetta Stone (comparing the respective 3-volume versions), but perhaps it is slightly better targeted for the prospective tourist. But one gaff hugely damages their credibility. Can we trust a language course that advises you to summon a waiter by calling, "Garçon!"? No one has done this and successfully gotten fed since Edith Piaf!

Hot New Feature
Podcasts with supplemental material

The Skinny

  • Pros
    1. Explanations (in English) begin each lesson
    2. Vocabulary targeted for the prospective tourist. You'll be able to order lunch after completing the course.
    3. Better audio CD's than Rosetta Stone
    4. 30-day return policy
  • Cons
    1. No voice recognition, which means...
    2. Lots of typing, typing, typing...and more typing
    3. A tad pricy for what you get (see pricing below)
    4. Even more tedious than Rosetta Stone, if you can believe that
    5. No portable (iPad, iPhone, Android) version
    6. Only a 30-day return policy
  • Available languages: Spanish (European and Latin American), French, Italian, Mandarin, German
  • Version reviewed: French 1-3, version f-2
  • Cost: $500 for the full, 5-volume set. $400 for the 3-volume set.
  • Verdict: While I like their approach in theory (I agree: we're not children), if you're going to live with an instructor for several months or more, it'd better damn well be someone you really like. It ain't. (See, by contrast, my review of French in Action. And did I mention the typing is a killer?
Website: Fluenz.com
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