- Course comes on 2 DVD-Roms and 2 Audio CDs
- 2 Levels with 30 lessons each
- Classroom-style learning environment with a tutor
- Homepage: Fluenz
Fluenz is an excellent package for those who are looking for something a little more serious than some of what is available at the moment. It’s riddled with technological annoyances, but despite that is still one of the most comprehensive tools for learning a foreign language on the market today. It is still geared up for tourists and travel, and if you’re looking for something that is going to help you to become fluent, then this isn’t the one for you. There’s a hefty price tag, but if you can put up with the software issues, it’s still a great program.
Coming on two DVD-ROMs and two audio CDs, you certainly feel like you’re getting your moneys worth. You do need to keep the DVDs in the drive as you are using it though; there isn’t the option to work from uploaded content on your computer. While this can be a little annoying, at least in this particular pack there are only four discs to think about, due to the much-needed shift to DVDs for information storage over CDs.
Depending on which particular program you choose to follow, there are two to five Levels of study, with thirty lessons on each level. These lessons mimic a classroom, and are headed by a tutor. While the classroom feel might not be for everyone, I feel that this really enables the learner to feel motivated and encouraged to progress to the next set of lessons.
There are a few practical issues with Fluenz’s software, which I will discuss in more detail further on. While they don’t really interfere with what you’re doing most of the time, they are still a little bit of an inconvenience, and you will probably find yourself thinking of the price tag and shaking your head. For example, you can only use the program in full-screen mode, and not in window mode. Anything else running at the time, like music, has a tendency to confuse the program, so it’s best to give it your full attention.
There are some fantastically useful functions, like that of the subtitles. You will ordinarily listen three times to a sentence, with the option of subtitles, which really helps to get the language into your head. It is always much more useful to learn in a variety of ways, and even something so simple as having the words to read on screen while you associate them with an image and are speaking them yourself is the sort of thing that gives this course an edge.
The software recognizes voices very well and the playback function is also incredibly helpful in getting you to see exactly where your strengths and weaknesses lie. To hear your own voice compared to that of the fluent speaker really highlights exactly where you’re going wrong. However, you will need to adjust the microphone to your computer, and if you’re using Windows then you will certainly have a little difficulty installing it. However, there are steps on Fluenz’s website as to how to deal with these problems.
Surprisingly, one of the stranger technological annoyances, given the relative modernity of this foreign language package is that it works much smoothly on a less high screen resolution. 1024 x 768 is the optimum setting, and anything higher tends to skew the graphics or even makes the program decide that it isn’t going to work.
Absolutely suitable for both beginners and those looking to brush up on their language skills, Fluenz takes a very different approach to a lot of language courses. Instead of simply working on vocabulary lists, or using picture association techniques, the emphasis is very clearly on a more cohesive approach. Choosing not to focus on these tried and tested means of language learning, Fluenz tries to give the learner the intellectual tools that they need in order to construct and deconstruct sentences, and therefore the language, themselves.
This program is by no means the kind of simplistic language lab style learning that some of us might remember from the 80s and 90s, but really tries to give you an overall sense of the language as well as giving necessary focus to what are often considered the “boring” bits (like grammar and sentence structure) by other contemporary language courses such as Rosetta Stone. You start building up the ability to form your own sentences independently from the very first lesson that you have, while simultaneously building up your vocabulary. This really is the way to build up your knowledge of a language, and any course that says that it can teach you to understand a language without the understanding of the parts of it that might be a bit more difficult or challenging, is clearly not going to actually be giving you the best education that it could be.
The variety of the exercises is refreshing, and gives the learner a welcome break from the tired old activities that they might have worked through in school. The multimedia aspect of this course gives the learner more control over how they learn, although there still isn’t the option here if you know what kind of learning suits you best, to just focus on those skills. Still, the videos are some of the clearest I’ve used, and most people that I know that have used this program either love the teacher (Sonia Gil) or hate her, with the emphasis being on the former. This sort of direct instructional tuition combined with more practical games than you might find elsewhere, e.g. the game where you try to type what you hear, is by far the most focused way to learn, instead of relying on wacky cartoons or flashy games that don’t really teach you anything.
The great thing about Fluenz is that it doesn’t restrict you to one level of study. You can skip ahead if you’re following the classes really well, and l. One of the most irritating things I found in certain other programs is that you aren’t allowed to skip ahead until you’ve finished a section, which is great in theory, but if the software is malfunctioning and you are certain you’re getting it right, it can be very annoying to have to wait on one Level. Here, even though it doesn’t save your progress and you have to skip through each lesson again to get to the one that you need, you can dive into whichever section is interesting you. Also, the navigation around the classes only goes one way – forward! – so if you miss your section, you have to go back and start again to find it.
Here’s the catch. With all this great software, and innovative methods of learning, one would expect Fluenz to be absolutely fantastic. At the very top end of the language learning market, this package is one of the most expensive that you can buy, and quite rightly so, for hundreds of dollars you would expect the software to be perfect and the course to be great. While the course certainly has the ability to broaden your language knowledge, the software is riddled with bugs and freak-outs. If you asked me if I thought Fluenz was a great foreign language package, I would say yes, but if you asked if I thought it was worth the price, I would have to say no.
Despite the broad classes, and easy to use interface of Fluenz, the fact remains that they have a lot of work to go on their programming, and it’s debatable as to whether this version should even have been released at all without more testing. There are bugs in every lesson, and while some of them are small annoyances like the computer asking you to type with accents even if you’re in “without accent mode”, some of them are incredibly frustrating like writing words down as you hear them only to be told that you are wrong when you know that you are not. You can see the quality shine through with other aspects of this course, but there are just so many problems with the software that I would definitely advise waiting until the next wave of Fluenz material comes out on the market. On a more positive note, Fluenz at least seem aware of the problems that they’ve had, and will be sure to fix them by the time the next generation of foreign language packs comes out.
Though this is a very stylish looking program, and one of the few products of this sort clearly geared up for more use on a Mac than a PC, Fluenz will not, as the name suggests, made you fluent in whatever language you have chosen to study. Still, this program is a really great way to begin learning a language. It’s perfect for beginners, without feeling like it is talking down to you, and is one that I would certainly recommend to adults (particularly tourists) who don’t feel comfortable with the immersion technique so frequently discussed in contemporary foreign language courses.
Pro & Contra
|private teacher environment||bugs in every lesson|
|good explanations on grammar||sometimes missing explanations|
|varying exercises||usability problems|
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