I got an email from the founder of FluentU yesterday, Alan Park, asking why I hadn't been on the site lately.  (Perhaps you got a similar email?) He asked if I could give him some tips as to what I think FluentU is missing.  "That's a great question" I thought.  Because as far as I can tell, FluentU isn't "missing" anything.  It's a great site that makes Chinese language media a lot more accessible to Chinese language learners.  It makes entertainment educational.  So why haven't I been back?    

Maybe this has happened to you with FluentU, or perhaps some other site: you get very excited about it at first but then your interest gets shifted somewhere else. So let me ask you:

  • Is this just the way it is for learning language online? 
  • If not, are there any online sites or services that you consistently use or revisit? 
  • What's the difference between sites / tech that hold your attention for just a short period of time and the ones that you ALWAYS seem to find your self going back to?

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This has been an enlightening discussion and it's one of the reasons I find SMC so helpful.  The members here are intelligent, knowledgeable and are proactively shaping the future of language learning.  

I certainly don't want to stop this discussion. I'm sure there are many more ideas out there that are valuable.  So please continue to comment if you have something to add. People are still listening, believe me.

But, I would like to summarize at this point.  As I said, these ideas are valuable (people pay for this kind of feedback).  And I'd like to make all our ideas easily accessible so that they can be further discussed and, hopefully, used by language tech companies that are looking for some guidance.  If you think I've missed anything don't hesitate to chime in.  I'm trying to give ALL our ideas the spotlight.  Here's my synopsis:

  • There always needs to be something fresh to keep it interesting.
  • The service needs to provide a sense of structure (e.g. an online class, sequenced learning).
  • The technology needs to enhance teaching and learning with a pedagogically sound method that uses authentic language.
  • The service needs to provide the learner with a sense of progress and give feedback: charts, stats, corrections, discussion, etc.
  • *The technology needs to be MOBILE: useable off-line and on mobile devices.
  • The service needs to to have fast servers so that there are no connection problems.
  • The service needs to be immediately responsive to clients and bugs.
  • The technology needs to have flexible settings / levels and can integrate with other technology.
  • The service needs to have a vibrant community of users.

If you have more ideas or if you think I've missed something, by all means let me know.  Thanks again to everyone who has jumped in on this discussion.  You're truly making a difference with your comments.   

Seeing the summary of comments is quite helpful. Thanks!

Thanks a lot for all of these valuable comments and for the support. It's encouraging for us and it's invaluable to know what we have to do to improve. 

@Jericho: we hear you loud and clear about the pinyin questions and timer. They'll be fixed shortly. 

@Mats: we know that the videos can be a bit too difficult, especially for beginners. So we're making our own video courses, which are designed with pedagogy in mind. Please feel free to check it out here: http://chinese.fluentu.com/courses/12/fluentu-dinner-with-a-friend/

@JP: great meeting you at ACTFL. :) Hope you enjoyed the "Dinner with a Friend" course and yes, please be that demanding user who keeps us on our toes.

@sikora: thanks for putting up this post that has given me a mountain of insight. And also for the helpful summary at the end. 

I will admit that I am a bit disappointed by this comment: "I think you nailed it when you said that 'for a lot of these companies, technology trumps teaching.'"  One of the things that we've taken pride in is that we're unlike other language learning startups for precisely that reason: we don't treat content / teaching like a commodity. We think that it should be core to a language learning product. That's why we've spent so much of our resources on producing translations, annotations, and even videos in house -- because we don't think it's secondary. Every translation and annotation that you see on FluentU is produced from scratch and vetted at multiple layers with the learner in mind. And we continue to experiment with having our own explanatory videos for grammar explanations. So I urge you to reconsider that assessment. 

@tyson: we are currently addressing the timer and pinyin issues that you mention. 

@ine: offline use of FluentU is definitely in our development roadmap. 

If you haven't been to FluentU in a while, I also welcome you to check out our completely revamped homepage: http://chinese.fluentu.com/home/#all

Thanks for the invaluable feedback -- please keep it coming because we are definitely listening (and working to implement them). 

Alan

I have never used these website you mentioned except SMC.

Really?  You should definitely see if you can use FluentU.  As Alan Park mentioned above, they've done a lot to update the site and it's awesome! 

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