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Should software replace professors in introductory language courses? Should colleges be splitting fees with a software company for helping to provide credit for such instruction?
Depending on whom you ask, Rosetta Stone is either modernizing higher education or jeopardizing the quality of foreign language instruction by offering classes for transferrable college credit.
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association and a Spanish professor, calls the idea “scandalous.”
David McAlpine, president of the board of directors for the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), said teaching a Spanish class completely online threatens educational standards and leaves students floundering behind their peers in traditional courses.
But James Madison University officials say the academic demands in an online class they offer through Rosetta Stone are the same ones that students face in their Harrisonburg, Va., lecture halls. Of course, the people making these statements aren’t Spanish professors – many language professors at the university don’t like the idea, but weren’t in a position to stop it. The university’s foreign language department chair is skeptical, arguing the software is best used as extra practice for students and not a course in itself.
In April, James Madison became the first college to partner with Rosetta Stone , an international company that creates instructional language software, to offer a for-credit course to the general public in which instruction is provided by the company’s software.
For $679 and a $20 James Madison application fee – of which the college keeps $380 – anyone who has finished their sophomore year of high school gains access to a 16-week class designed to line up with the regular JMU curriculum.
Nineteen students have completed James Madison’s three-credit class since its launch, and five others are still finishing the work, university officials said. They were expecting numbers “in the triple digits,” but think enrollment will grow as word spreads. There have been talks about expanding the program to other languages or more advanced levels of Spanish, but nothing is imminent.
“If we don’t value the role a highly educated faculty member brings to the student learning process, then why should the public?”
–Rosemary Feal, Modern Language Association
Many of the first students are taking advantage of a corporate tuition reimbursement program or are K-12 teachers working toward a Spanish teaching endorsement, said assistant vice provost Jim Shaeffer. For them, commuting to campus might not be realistic, but earning college credit is a must.
None of the 24 are full-time James Madison students, which isn’t surprising, considering the idea is that anyone can take the course from Rosetta Stone – which isn’t an accredited college – and earn transferrable credit from James Madison – which is. On-campus James Madison students take traditional Spanish classes to fulfill degree requirements.
‘Buying College Credit’
Feal, the MLA director, said James Madison’s program “sounds like buying college credit.”
“If a college is charging tuition and essentially turning their students over to Rosetta Stone with very little value added, that is scandalous,” said Feal. “Why would a student need to go through a college for that experience?”
Feal doubts students are getting an authentic cultural experience through Rosetta Stone, and said the program raises bigger questions about the role of professors. “It sounds like what our worst critics of higher education say. If we don’t value the role a highly educated faculty member brings to the student learning process,” she said, “then why should the public?”
Despite the controversy, the plan isn’t without precedent.
Fort Hays State University drew faculty criticism in 2009 when it began offering $99 classes through the for-profit company StraighterLine. Going a step further than James Madison, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved all its Spanish 101 instruction online two years ago. The decision sparked similar criticism , but used faculty and graduate assistants rather than software like Rosetta Stone to teach the course.
James Madison faculty members screened the Rosetta Stone material before the class went live, said Carol Fleming, the university’s director for outreach and engagement. Professors then worked with the company to add content so the course would satisfy university requirements, she said.
But foreign language professors weren’t rushing to defend the program. The department’s chair, Giuliana Fazzion, an Italian professor, said she doesn’t think an online language course can equal a traditional one. “It is never like you have it in class,” she said. “They stress conversation, which is good, but grammar is not too much on their schedule.”
Lecturer John Tkac, whom Fazzion asked to help screen the curriculum, was careful not to criticize the project. He asked Rosetta Stone to add some grammar and vocabulary lessons to the course, and the company obliged. But Tkac said an in-person Spanish class is always better than an online one. “It’s a different idea,” he said. “The foreign language department was cooperative, but we were reluctant to give out Spanish 101 credit.”
“We’re dealing with a population that wants to learn differently and might want to take the course further than they could before.”
–Cathy Quenzer, Rosetta Stone
Faculty members brokered a deal in which the credit given for the online class is for a continuing education conversational Spanish class, not for the Spanish 101 class taught on campus.
Tkac is reserving final judgment until the results of a placement test come in, but he has concerns about college credit being awarded for a class in which all contact is with a Rosetta Stone tutor and not a James Madison professor.
Fleming remains confident the class is adequate. “We would not be granting the credit if we didn’t think the student was where they needed to be,” she said.
A 2009 study at Queens College of the City University of New York seems to back James Madison’s decision. Professor Roumen Vesselinov found that 55 hours of Rosetta Stone study was of roughly the same value as an introductory college Spanish course for a sample of adults.
The study is posted on Rosetta Stone’s website, but wasn’t cited by James Madison or Rosetta Stone officials in interviews with Inside Higher Ed.
In an online forum on the ACTFL website, the retired University of Southern California professor Stephen Krashen took issue with the Vesselinov’s findings. Among Vesselinov’s 135 research subjects, 40 percent had graduated college and an additional 36 percent had an advanced degree. Also, one-fifth of the students had previous Spanish experience.
That level of college education and previous Spanish knowledge led the researcher to overstate the software’s benefits for a typical undergraduate, Krashen argued. He estimated it would take 80 hours of Rosetta Stone work — not 55 — to equal one semester of college Spanish work.
The James Madison course uses a new version of Rosetta Stone software. Company officials estimate the class takes 45 hours to finish.
Rejecting Online Approaches
For some language professors, concerns about distance education extend even to courses with instructors. David McAlpine, the ACTFL leader, tried such an approach. For eight semesters, he taught a section of online Spanish at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
He has since stopped, convinced that his weekly conversations and other efforts to engage students weren’t enough for them to keep pace with their peers in traditional lectures. He did not use Rosetta Stone.
McAlpine doesn’t doubt technology can be useful. He shows his classes videos of cultural sites in Spanish-speaking countries and assigns online homework in which students must select correct verb conjugations.
That’s great, he said, but he’s skeptical of any wholly online course.
“You need to engage the students in what language is all about,” he said, “which is human communication. Not communication with a machine.”
But that argument misses the point, said Cathy Quenzer, Rosetta Stone’s senior director of education. James Madison requires 50-minute online conversations with native Spanish speakers who assess speaking skills and give students a chance to practice the language.
For some students, she said, commuting to a campus on a set schedule might not be realistic. For others, being taught online might just be more comfortable.
“For them, learning with a computer is not that unusual,” she said. “I’m not saying what’s going on in these world language classes is wrong. What I’m saying is that we’re dealing with a population that wants to learn differently and might want to take the course further than they could before.”
Feal believes there is a place for technology to aid in language instruction. She points to the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages , which combines close contact with native speakers, faculty interaction, technology and individual study for students learning Uzbek, Zulu and other languages that aren’t taught on many American campuses.
Phyllis VanBuren, a Spanish professor at St. Cloud State University and an executive committee member of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, said a Rosetta Stone course could be better than a poorly taught traditional class. But effective face-to-face teaching trumps anything today’s software offers, VanBuren said.
“The technology might be a wonderful medium so that students actually get authentic reading and listening and viewing materials,” she said. “But for the exchange, I think face-to-face is better.”
But face-to-face isn’t always possible. On the Western Kansas plains, six community colleges have partnered to offer a series of online classes in all subjects. Many students live in rural areas or are full-time students elsewhere finishing their prerequisite work. Known as EduKan, the group has offered online Spanish courses through Rosetta Stone for three years.
Mark Sarver, EduKan’s executive director, is pleased with student performance. EduKan uses an older version of the software than James Madison, but combines it with scheduled phone calls with an instructor and traditional assignments.
If a student wants to one day become a Spanish major, Sarver would suggest they take a traditional lecture. But if they want to communicate at work or gain some knowledge while fulfilling a degree requirement, he sees the online class as a good option. “I feel like our class prepares you well,” he said.
Middle Ground at Liberty
At Liberty University, administrators feel they’ve found solid middle ground in the debate.
The college began offering online courses in Spanish, German and English as a second language this month. Geared mainly toward its 61,000 online students, Liberty’s courses combine Rosetta Stone software with faculty member interaction. A couple sections are also open on a trial basis to the 12,500 students on the Lynchburg, Va., campus.
More than 600 students enrolled in the first batch of classes, a university spokesman said, and others wanted to get in. Like James Madison, Liberty’s Rosetta Stone classes are listed as conversational classes. But unlike at JMU, where degree-seeking students don’t take the class, Liberty markets the courses to its own students in subjects like law and international business.
At the end of the course, Provost Ronald Godwin said, Liberty will give an independent assessment as its final exam. In addition to helping determine grades, Godwin said the test will show how much students are learning on the software.
If they’re not mastering the material, Godwin said he’ll scrap Rosetta Stone as they’ve done with other online classes where students weren’t mastering the subject.
But he thinks the combination of faculty interaction and the software creates the potential for success while keeping Liberty in control of the course.
“We’re not interested in being a wholesaler of Rosetta Stone,” Godwin said. “When you add what we’re doing to what they’re doing and then we’re doing our own assessing, we think we have a viable experiment going on here.”
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The Ultimate Rosetta Stone Review
- June 29, 2017
Rosetta Stone is undoubtedly the biggest name in language learning. Over the years the company has built the reputation of being the household name of language learning.
You’re probably here because you decided to learn a foreign language, you thought of checking out Rosetta Stone, but you wanted to do a little research before investing any of your hard earned dollars in the program. Well look no further…
This is the ultimate review of Rosetta Stone. In this post we dive deep into the famous course and examine the pros and cons behind their method.
We’ll also take a look at the opinions of academics, polyglots, and beginners; as each will chime in with their thoughts on the course.
Also at the end of the article you’ll find links to our language specific Rosetta Stone reviews, where we take a look at how well Rosetta Stone works with a specific foreign language.
We worked hard to write a review that holds nothing back. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.
Now, let’s dive in!
Review of: Rosetta Stone
Use: Language learning software
Works well with simple grammar but not with more complex grammar
Rosetta Stone has recently lowered their prices, but their courses are still a little on the expensive side
1 Lesson typically takes 30 minutes
Ease of Use
Extremely user friendly
Highly structured and walks you through a language step by step
- Easy to use
- Good for absolute beginners
- Good for basic use of a language
I Don’t Like
- Doesn’t prepare you for speaking
- Vocabulary is often impractical
- Not for intermediate/advanced learners
Summary: Rosetta Stone is a language learning software that is now also available through an online subscription. The Rosetta Stone method uses zero English to teach you a foreign language. Instead it relies heavily on pictures and audio to teach you through context rather than translation.
At it’s best Rosetta Stone does a good job of introducing new learners to a foreign language, it is effective at teaching foundational vocabulary and grammar.
For seasoned or serious learners are likely to be frustrated with the program though. It simply doesn’t provide much in the way of practical speaking practice. Also the method can feel a little slow at times.
The overall effectiveness of the course will vary depending upon which language you’re learning. Rosetta Stone works better with languages that are similar to English, and it falls flat with languages that have little in common with the English language.
Rosetta Stone isn’t as expensive as it used to be, but it’s still a bit more expensive than a lot of language learning courses.
Bottom line: Rosetta Stone works well if you’re casual or timid learner who wants an effective but gentle introduction to a foreign language. If you’re more experienced in language learning, have a higher level of proficiency, or really only care about speaking a foreign language then Rosetta Stone probably isn’t for you.
TRY ROSETTA STONE NOW
Is Rosetta Stone right for you?
If you’re an absolute beginner or casual language learner
Rosetta Stone is best for absolute beginners who have little to no experience in learning a foreign language. Rosetta Stone is designed for beginners and casual language learners. If you’re more experienced or serious than either of those two groups of people you probably won’t get much out of the product.
Rosetta Stone is especially useful to people who have no experience learning a foreign language. It you use it right it can be an easy and effective way to get your feet wet.
If your target language is closer to the English language
Rosetta Stone works better with languages that have similar grammatical structures to English. If you’re learning any of the romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian), some of the northern germanic languages (Norwegian,Danish, and Swedish), or other languages like Mandarin then you can except Rosetta Stone to work reasonably well.
If you want to learn basic to mid level vocabulary and grammar
Rosetta Stone isn’t a bad way to learn new words and fundamental grammar concepts. Admittedly their method isn’t the fastest but it does work.
If you’re tight on time
Courses are designed and separated into bite sized chunks. Longer lesson pieces could take 30 minutes but most take 5-10 minutes. The nice thing about this is that you can take it and leave it as your schedule permits.
Rosetta Stone works better for languages that are closer to English
If you’re intermediate or higher, or a serious language enthusiast
If you’re an intermediate learner Rosetta Stone does have value as a supplement to other language learning methods, but there are apps and courses out there that could work better for you and cost less.
More advanced students are probably not going to find Rosetta Stone’s courses very helpful because they are designed for beginners and the content won’t have much to over someone with a high level of proficiency in the language.
Also if you’re new to your target language but you are very serious and intent on learning it, then Rosetta Stone probably isn’t your best choice. These courses are designed to hold your hand and gently walk you through a new language. More dedicated language learners tend to jump right into a foreign language head first and Rosetta Stone just isn’t a good fit for that.
If your target language is far removed from the English language
The further a language is from English the less effective Rosetta Stone tends to be. Languages that share little to no grammar or roots with English are going to be harder to learn using Rosetta Stone (Think Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc).
If you want to focus on conversation skills
By itself Rosetta Stone will leave you ill prepared to have conversations with native speakers in real life. It’s one thing to learn what words mean and how to correctly make sentences. It’s a whole another thing to use all of that to convey your thoughts in a real conversation on the spot.
Rosetta Stone does have some features to encourage your speaking and listening skills, but they fall far short of preparing you for the real world.
What is Rosetta stone?
I had always associated the Rosetta Stone name with language learning, but for the longest time I did actually know what Rosetta Stone’s courses were or how they worked. Rosetta Stone’s method is centered on pictures and audio. Typically you be shown a series of pictures and you’ll see a corresponding word or sentence in your target language as it’s read by a native speaker. Then you will have to remember what you learned as you’re shown similar images and are prompted to write, speak, simply choose the correct word or phrase.
Rosetta Stone’s method is built around pictures
That’s pretty much the RS method in a nutshell. All of their course content is built around this approach. Like any language course the words and concepts you learn with build on each other over time so that gradually you can start making longer sentences and communicate more complicated ideas.
What makes Rosetta Stone’s method unique?
RS is not the first company to make a language course based on images and audio, and they probably aren’t the last either. What separates their courses from others is their insistence on not using any of your native language. There are no translations in Rosetta Stone. With their method you are supposed to learn what words mean solely through the context of the images you are shown.
The idea is that using no translations better simulates language immersion. Rosetta Stone will often say in their ads or on their website that their courses are similar to how small children learn their native language. This could be good or bad depending on how you look it at. On one hand it’s a more natural and effective way to learn a foreign language. On the other hand it takes children years before they can even make the most simple sentences. As a result Rosetta Stone works slower than other language courses, but the slowness is a trade off for certainty. You can be sure of what you learn once you’ve learned it.
What do you get in a Rosetta stone course?
Subscription, download, or CD options
Rosetta Stone currently offers their course in 3 formats: CD, download, and online subscription. With the CD and download option you get the core Rosetta stone course. If you choose CD’s the course will ship to your house (right now RS offers free shipping). If you choose the download option you can instantly download the RS software. The course is identical on either format.
With the online subscription you get the core Rosetta Stone course is a string of bonus content including the option of purchasing live tutoring sessions, online phrasebook, audio companion, and stories.
The cool thing about the online subscription option is that you get access to all levels of Rosetta Stone in the language you choose. With the CD and instant download you can only purchase 1 level at a time or pay for the more expensive level bundles. So if you think you’ll work through multiple levels quickly the monthly subscription option could save you a lot of money.
Main course material
Rosetta Stone language courses are offered in levels. The more popular languages like Spanish and French have 5 levels but less popular languages will have 3 or 4. Typically you can purchase 1 level at a time or save money per level by buying a bundle of 3 or more.
Each level is broken into 4 units, and each unit is made up of 4 lessons. Lessons are centered typically centered on a specific grammar or vocabulary category like colors and sizes, making plans, around the house, etc. Every lesson has a core lesson which teaches you new material.
After the core lesson are 5-6 smaller lessons that reinforce what you’ve learned while focusing on a specific aspect of the language like pronunciation, grammar or writing. A full unit lesson with its core and mini lessons can take over an hour to complete. You don’t have to complete all of them at once. You start one and come back to it later. You also have the ability to skip around units and lessons if you want.
At the end of each unit there is a milestone lesson. The purpose of the milestone lesson is to simulate a conversation through words and pictures using all the grammar and vocabulary you learned in the unit. Conversation simulation works as sort of an audio visual slideshow where you have to speak or type responses in a given scenario.
The phrases is sorted in categories like dining out, time and money, and introductions. Each phrase is written out and includes a picture as well as an audio recording of a native speaker reading the phrase.
Rosetta Stone’s phrasebook feature
The audio companion feature lets you download a zip file containing the audio from unit lessons. The audio is direct rip from the lessons. A lot of the audio is pretty useless without the accompanying pictures and text. If you can’t see the picture you have no idea what the speaker is talking about.
An online subscription to Rosetta Stone also gives you access to the online Extended Learning Features. These are a series of online activities that help you practice what you learn with Rosetta Stone.
The first category “Play”, is a collection of 5 words games you can play by yourself or with another online Rosetta Stone user. The next category called “Talk” has 3 games that you can only play with another RS user (you can’t play them by yourself). The final category “Read” is a series of stories written in your target language. You have the option of listening to a native speaker read it aloud with or without the text, or you can try to use RS’s speech recognition to see if you can correctly read it outloud yourself.
Rosetta Stone’s read feature
Live tutoring sessions
After purchasing a Rosetta Stone you have the option of purchasing live tutoring sessions with a Rosetta Stone teacher via an interactive video class. Lessons last 20 minutes and come in two types: private or group sessions. The lessons are designed to fully complement the material as you learned in the core Rosetta Stone course. They’re highly structured and if you’ve worked through the core course you shouldn’t get lost.
You can purchase 1 private session for $19, or 6 private sessions for $99. If you decide to go with group lessons you purchase 5 group sessions for $69 or 10 group sessions for $99. It’s important to note that lessons are a premium feature that you have to purchase after you already buy the course.
Pros & Cons
What we like about Rosetta Stone
One thing I really like about Rosetta Stone is that it literally uses no English. The course is based on an immersion styled approach. A common gripe with many language courses is that they use too much English.
If you’re constantly translating from English to your foreign language (or vice versa), then that process will carry over to your listening and your speech.
So in the case of a Spanish student, “perro” doesn’t bring to mind images of the happy four legged creature you brought home as a child; instead it makes you think of the literal English word d-o-g.
This extra level of recall slows down your speaking and comprehension abilities because you’re always thinking in your native language first then translating. The end goal of fluency is to simply think in your language without any English interference.
Obviously you can the no English idea too far. Sometimes, especially with complex grammar concept, it’s just easier to explain or compare something with an English translation.
Rosetta stone is interesting because we like their English only approach, but it does get problematic when you start working with more complex sentences (more on that later).
No explicit grammar
I’m a big fan of language learning methods that emphasize practical use over grammar (at least in the beginning levels). There’s nothing worse than learning a language through the traditional high school classroom approach.
You stuff your brain with grammar tables, charts, and rules; then when you meet a native speaker you have nothing to say.
To be fluent in a language you will have to face its grammar, but in the early stages I think it’s much more important to get used to using the language to communicate.
Rosetta Stone doesn’t teach explicit grammar. Because it’s only words, sounds, and pictures you have to pick things up by inference.
This is be no means a replacement for speaking to real people but it is a lot more engaging than your typical textbook.
Works well for simple sentences
Rosetta Stone’s method works especially well with simple sentence structures. In the beginning it’s no trouble at all to figure out what’s happening in the pictures.
I also think that learning with words and pictures with no English is also more likely to make the new vocabulary stick in your brain than it would if you were just using translations.
Again it’s not the same as an experience with a native speaker, but it is an experience with the language that can help you recall what you learn.
Exceptionally easy to use
Another positive aspect of Rosetta Stone is that it’s extremely easy to use. Their method is decidedly simple.
Some courses expect you to do extra work, or at least have forehand knowledge, to fill in the gaps left by their course. Rosetta Stone virtually holds your hands and walks you through their method step by step. This is one of its main strengths, and the reason it’s useful to absolute beginners.
TRY ROSETTA STONE NOW
What we don’t like about Rosetta Stone
Copy & paste method
Though there’s no official way to confirm this, it’s likely that Rosetta started out as a Spanish course, and then the company used that course as the mold to “cookie-cutter” the courses for other languages. There was actually a Reddit AMA with former Rosetta Stones employees who talked about people in Rosetta Stone’s R&D department literally copy and pasting words and phrases from the Spanish course into other courses.
Again this isn’t official information, just hearsay. But if you’ve worked with Rosetta Stone before it does feel like it was copied and pasted from somewhere.
So how does this relate to your language learning? Well, the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone depends on which language you’re learning. Rosetta stone is most effective if the language you’re learning has a simple syntax (sentence structure), or at least one closer to English or Spanish. If the language you’re learning doesn’t, then Rosetta Stone will be much less effective.
Languages in the first category include the romance languages, Mandarin, and some of the Nordic languages.. The second category includes languages like Arabic, Turkish, and Japanese.
Vocabulary can be impractical
Unlike other language courses Rosetta Stone doesn’t try to use frequency words or provide practical day to day scenarios. You’re left with a lot of words and sentences that you’ll probably never use in real conversation.
“This animal is Australian. It does not speak English.”
If that wasn’t bad enough sometimes the pictures can be so odd that they’re funny and distract you from learning the language. Some of the scenarios aren’t only unrealistic…they can be downright awkward.
“Hello. What’s your name? My name is Robert. Nice to meet you….Bye.”
Rosetta Stone is a passive experience for the language learner. There’s little pressure to recall or respond to what you learn. Like with any course if you don’t practice what you learn don’t expect your speaking ability to improve. Rosetta Stone at its best is a tool for vocabulary acquisition and not conversational skills.
Voice recall stinks
Rosetta Stone knows that to really learn a language you need to be put under some pressure to speak it. They developed the voice recognition component for their courses. Rosetta stone advertises that it has the most sophisticated voice recognition software on the market. That could be true, but it still isn’t very good.
The voice recognition is good with single words. Once you start speaking longer sentences though the program often hears you incorrectly. It’s not hard to fool it with incorrect words. It also doesn’t account for your accent at all. Here’s a video of how ineffective the voice recognition can be:
Complex grammar is hard
One of Rosetta Stone’s strengths also becomes its weakness. The whole idea of immersion and no English is great, but at a certain point you will want or need English translations. This is especially true if you’re only learning with pictures.
As we said before this method works well for sentences that are short and simple but once you get into more complex constructions it can hard to figure out what exactly is going on.
It (Rosetta Stone) sucks. I have tried and tried. But it doesn’t tell you what you are looking at. It gives you a picture of a man riding a horse. And tells you to pronounce it. Well what are you trying to say. You don’t know. Did you say a horse? Did you say a man? Did you say a jockey? You don’t know. You don’t speak the language. It never tells you what it was about.
I’ve tried to use Rosetta stone for mandarin for a while now, and it’s fine for a while, but after a bit, it just gets confusing, because they don’t really give you any instruction in english. I think it would work better with german or spanish. The chinese is so complicated once you get into longer sentences / paragraphs, it’s just hard to parse from the pictures.
Historically price has been a major drawback for Rosetta Stone users. In the past Rosetta Stone has been sold anywhere from $200-$300 for a single level! That was back when there were a lot less language learning sources on the web and many people were still using language learning software.
In recent years the amount of language learning sites and apps has exploded. The increase in competition has probably forced Rosetta Stone to lower their prices. Many language learning sites are offering cheap $10-$15 per month subscriptions, and some are even completely free ( duolingo ).
Now the cost of a single course level of Rosetta Stone is better but still probably not the best value. It still feels a bit expensive compared to other courses and apps on the market.
The online subscription is what really redeems Rosetta Stone’s price point in my opinion. With the 3 month subscription you’re essentially much less.
The price per month is still on the high side for a monthly language learning subscription, so we’re listing it as a con. But it is a huge improvement on Rosetta Stone’s previous price points.
Does Rosetta Stone work?
There’s probably more controversy surrounding Rosetta Stone than any other language course. Some people love their experience with it, while others heavily criticize it. Whether or not it’s an effective course will depend on who you ask.
What the academics say
The University of New York did a study on the effectiveness of the Rosetta Stone Spanish course. It found that roughly 55 hours spent learning with Rosetta Stone was comparable with a 1 semester college level Spanish course.
So on one level yes. Rosetta Stone definitely works. If you use it you will learn a foreign language.
What veteran language learners say
However even though Rosetta Stone teaches vocabulary and grammar fairly well, it is debatable how well Rosetta Stone prepares you to speak the language.
In the language learning community college courses and Rosetta Stone are both often cited as expensive, slow, and inefficient ways to learn how to speak a new language. If you read online reviews of RS you will find a lot of polyglots and language enthusiasts ripping on Rosetta Stone.
Of course, many people would like to get eased into a language through a system like Rosetta Stone, and then feel prepared to dive into conversations at the end.
It sounds fantastic, only that I feel that after all 3 levels you would still not feel ready for the vast majority of conversations you are likely to have. You will have the struggle to speak no matter what.
If you compare it to easing yourself into cold water, I consider the amount you would learn in the whole system of 3 levels equivalent to dipping a toe in, rather than slowly easing your whole body or at least your legs in.
Every time I met someone who had learned a new language, I asked them how they learned it. When I asked people who were trying to learn Spanish, French, German, or some other language with Rosetta Stone, they never could say more than a few words. They couldn’t even ask a useful phrase like “What’s your name?” in their new language.
Brent Van Arsdell
What beginners say
Even though polyglots harp on the course, Rosetta is popular among people who have never learned a language before. This makes sense since the courses are designed and marketed for absolute beginners with no experience in foreign languages.
I took Spanish for four years long ago. I bought this program and only wished I got it sooner! I love the way you learn through this program and I find that I am able to retain the language because of how the information is taught!
Omg, what can I say, but I LOVEIT!!
Soooo easy to learn a new language. The games, modules, tests, etc. are fun, interactive, clear and enjoyable.
Makes learning that new language a breeze. Couldn’t give it a higher review; not possible. Awesome. Good investment.
Best way to use Rosetta Stone
Use it as an introduction to a language
Don’t dive into Rosetta Stone thinking that at the end of the course you’ll be fluent. That simply won’t be the case. I don’t know of any language course that can bring you to fluency by itself, and Rosetta Stone is no different.
Rosetta Stone can be a great primer for more advanced skills in your target language. If you consistently work through the courses you will walk away with core knowledge of grammar and good chunk of vocabulary. These assets are two of the first stepping stones on your road to fluency and conversational use of a language.
After you work through Rosetta Stone it would be a great idea to seek out a professional teacher or tutor, or start with a method or course that’s less hands on.
Use it as a supplement
Rosetta Stone also works well as a supplement to other language courses and methods. Because the content is delivered in bite sized chunks it’s easy to work through the courses as you please, which works great if you’re also learning with other materials.
Rosetta Stone can be an effective way to review what you’ve learned elsewhere or it can also be a fun way to pick up some new grammar or vocabulary.
Alternatives to Rosetta Stone
20+ minutes a day
Rocket Languages ‘ courses are built around recorded audio in the form of dialogues.
The dialogues have English explanations and usually teach the language in “chunks” or phrases versus individual words (this is great for conversational language learning).
The Rocket Language method isn’t quite as gradual as the Rosetta Stone method. Overall Rocket Languages is a more comprehensive course that does a good job of incorporating speaking and listening, as well as reading and writing.
TRY ROCKET LANGUAGES FOR FREE
30 minutes a day
Pimsleur is probably the second most popular language course behind Rosetta Stone. Pimsleur is entirely audio based and is specifically designed to develop your conversational skills.
They use a unique and effective question/recall/respond technique to get you on your feet in your new foreign language. With Pimsleur You’ll learn a limited but functional vocabulary and have a good sense of pronunciation.
GET YOUR 1ST PIMSLEUR LESSON FREE
Starts at $15 per month
5+ minutes a day
Fluentu is a site that helps you learn a language through native videos. Use in site flashcards, captions, and games to learn new words in context while watching native TV shows, movies, commercials, and more. It’s a great way to push your listening skills and vocabulary.
TRY FLUENTU FOR FREE
Language Specific Reviews of Rosetta Stone
More coming Soon!
Rosetta Stone is a viable option for anyone dipping their toes into a foreign language for the first time, as long as their target language isn’t too different from English. Rosetta Stone isn’t magic. It’s not very good for strengthening your speaking skills.
Even at its lower price it’s still more expensive that a lot of other courses, but the online subscription option makes it much more affordable than it used to be.
At the end of the day Rosetta Stone can be an effective if novel way to get comfortable the core grammar and vocabulary of a new language if you use it right. Rosetta Stone walks you through a language one baby step at a time. Some people will like this slow but sure approach, others may not.
TRY ROSETTA STONE NOW
About the Author Chris J
I’m definitely an unlikely language learner. I failed Spanish in high school. I started learning German as a hobby while studying abroad. Long story short…and a couple languages later…I love language learning!
13 Mar, 2018
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05 Feb, 2018
The 3 Most Common Questions About the Romance Languages
25 Nov, 2017
What’s the Best Way to Learn Danish? (There is one)
25 Oct, 2017
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23 Aug, 2017
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01 Aug, 2017
The Ultimate Pimsleur Review (Pros and Cons)
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This is a very detailed and frank review of the latest version of Rosetta Stone: version 4 TOTALe
Rosetta Stone is one of the biggest brands in language learning in the English speaking world (not to be confused with the Rosetta Stone that helped us decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, which it is named after). The problem is that it is out of the budget of many casual language learners, and budget travellers, so in almost a decade of travelling, I had never used it.
Running a blog as big as this meant I got asked the following questions very frequently: Should I buy Rosetta Stone? Does is really work? Is Rosetta Stone really the best (and most fun) way to learn a language? I polled my readers for their favourite and least favourite language courses and Rosetta Stone actually came out as the dramatic loser.
But perhaps many of those polled were just against the idea of something costing as much as it does, or they may have used a limited pirated version and simply not valued it much because of that. I wasn’t interested in hearsay. I wanted to use the non-pirated latest version myself intensively and properly, and write a detailed review of the disadvantages and the advantages as I see them.
My frank review of the latest version of Rosetta Stone
So I contacted Rosetta Stone to ask for a review copy and they were kind enough to send me one. I told them that I’d let them see this review before it went live to correct any factual mistakes (I did something similar for some of my other reviews), and they were very helpful in making sure there was no misleading information here, even to go as far as giving me a 2 hour long private video conference call and Q&A about the software.
They requested that I give a disclaimer that I have my own product, Fluent in 3 Months PREMIUM , that I sell, although I don’t see how that affects a balanced and honest review of something that I’m clearly not competing with. I’m a blogger and I wrote a guide about how I learn languages in general using the communicative approach, to help support this blog. I guarantee that you can learn a language great without ever sending me money , as I suspect the vast majority of readers of this free blog do. Just to be clear, I’ll say that I recommend you don’t buy anything I have to offer as a direct alternative to Rosetta Stone as it doesn’t solve the problems found in a specific language course that I discuss here.
Despite the free copy, I told them that I’d be writing a frank and informative review, and appropriately there is no affiliate link to buy it anywhere in this post, where I could earn commission (as in many “reviews” you’ll find online). As you read this, especially the latter part, you’ll understand why this is certainly not a promotional post.
They sent me the latest recently released version, TOTALe 4 and did so for Dutch, as I was learning it at the time. However, this review also covers every other language version for a (rather disappointing) reason I’ll explain below.
I was sent Levels 1, 2 and 3, but several distinct technical issues meant that I only made it to the mid point of Level 2. Since I run Windows as a Virtual Box within Linux, Rosetta Stone say they can’t fully support it on my system, so I won’t be discussing these technical issues.
I wanted to share three major things with my readers: 1. Details of how it works 2. Why does it cost so much? 3. Would I recommend it?
My particular independent learning style, and fundamental disagreement with aspects of how the software is organised, means that ultimately I have to say that I will likely not be using Rosetta Stone again to learn any language, even if I am given another free copy. While I point out some important advantages, I have to say that I cannot recommend this as an efficient investment, both in money and in the time you put into it.This review will hopefully explain why, while also informing people about what goes on behind the scenes and within this software as I saw it.
Despite being disappointed at times, I also greatly enjoyed some aspects of it and can see why you could write an entirely positive review about it. In fact, because of the first point raised below I actually understand why at least half of its price could be very fairly justified.
However, at this stage I have quite a lot of experience in language learning so I can appreciate the advantages and disadvantages much more than many monolinguals who may review it and consider its potential or enjoyment-factor rather than practical end applications.
I’m in Amsterdam and need to speak Dutch; so there is no guessing or estimation at how effective it has been.
First, I’ll start with the parts I liked, then I’ll be getting a bit more frank about why I can’t recommend the overall system.
Most useful feature by far: live lessons with a human!
Since any reviews I had read about Rosetta Stone were based on older versions, they didn’t mention a feature that I really enjoyed – I was surprised to see that I got live time with a native teacher through the program! I am skeptical of systems that hide you from human contact as I feel that’s the best way by far to learn , but seeing that Rosetta Stone do give you that contact brought my opinion of them up dramatically.
Once you complete a unit in the program, you can go to the “Studio” and schedule a 50 minute session with a teacher, where you can see them by video feed (they can’t see you) and both of you talk via the headset.
The teachers are friendly, patient very professional and clearly excellent and experienced teachers of the language.
One issue I had was that the available slots were incredibly inconvenient for someone in a European timezone; the earliest possible sessions during the week were at 10 or 11pm (usually booked out, with 2am or so being available). I’m told this is because Rosetta Stone’s version 4 has only been properly released in the states, and they say this month they will release it in the UK. Even so, this leaves a lot of time zones not covered and I had to work my learning around these strange availabilities which slowed me down. If you live in the states this likely won’t be an issue; although other timeslots may not be available as a consequence, such as if you prefer to do it late in the evening due to work restrictions.
Rosetta Stone reply to this to say that as they grow internationally, their services will expand correspondingly and suggest that they could take requests for time slots and attempt to accommodate you.
But once I was in the class, I can say that my first ever experience speaking Dutch was indeed within the Rosetta Stone environment! My teacher was incredibly patient, and refused to switch to English (consistent with the program philosophy discussed below), no matter how much I was struggling; something I agree with is difficult to maintain but an obvious wise decision for the learner’s benefits. In my first two sessions I had a teacher all to myself and found each session to be incredibly useful. After that all my sessions were in groups, and I actually felt much more like I was back in a classroom to be honest.
Unlike private lessons I may occasionally take when learning a language, they have a very fixed program they follow and questions or games they need to get through in a 50 minute session. This is all part of the master plan of the program, which is fair enough, but I would personally have preferred to just chat with the teacher. The justification for this is that the program teaches you particular vocabulary before the session and from their overall plan it would not make sense to ask you random questions, since you wouldn’t be prepared to answer them.
Rosetta Stone reply to this to say that there are more unstructured conversation opportunities in the “Rosetta World” (Duo/Simbio) aspect of the program. However, as explained below this was not possible at all for my language combination. They also attempt to get learners to ask one another questions so at least some amount of independence is encouraged.
Luckily they were patient with me if I went off on tangents, so you can be somewhat flexible if you have a teacher to yourself, but of course less so in a group session.
There were no indications before entering the class if you would be alone or with others, or how many have signed up already. I would find this information helpful, even if people can sign up 15 minutes into a class or cancel at the last minute. You can sign up for fixed lessons an unlimited number of times, but since the same content is covered I can only see this as being practical for reviewing twice or three times maximum.
There are four units per level, so this could ultimately mean 12 very distinct (or more if you feel like repeating a lesson) private or very small group lessons included in the price. To me, this was the greatest justification of a higher price than the reasons I give below. You can hire teachers to get Skype lessons much cheaper elsewhere, but it would be hard to find people so integrated into such a complex system like this.
Despite some restrictions that I wasn’t a fan of due to simple disagreements in learning styles (I used to be a teacher; teachers are the worst students 🙂 ) I did indeed find each spoken session to be incredibly helpful, varying a bit depending on if I was the only student or with others. This was clearly my favourite part of the whole application and what I got the most value out of.
Without this to work towards (as it was in previous versions) I would have given up on using the program due to frustrations in the learning interface, but having something meaningful to work towards kept me going.
Interesting philosophy: Rosetta stone works with no use of your native language
It was explained to me that Rosetta Stone was founded by people who appreciated learning by immersion and had learned languages abroad in immersive environments.
They wanted to emulate this as closely as possible for people who can’t travel, while making it still affordable. Of course I have other recommendations if you can’t travel, but the base concept (even if there are aspects of it I disagree with) makes sense. I don’t particularly feel immersion is something you can package a generic version of, but they’ve done a good job of trying.
One interesting aspect is how they have no English at all in the program apart from the containing interface. They never present a translation of anything. It’s all represented in photos and untranslated audio and text. While I think there are major issues with this (discussed below), the idea of not using your native language is an interesting one that definitely holds a lot of potential.
I have to admit that I (as many learners) do typically learn a lot through English (i.e. your mother tongue), getting my vocabulary through flashcards (usually translation based in my case, but you can make them just in the target language), looking up words in bilingual dictionaries, reading grammar explanations also in English etc. I’m sure there is a danger of slowing me down and thinking viaEnglish at times, which is an issue this program successfully avoids. For people who are fans of “learn like a baby would” philosophies I think they would get a lot out of this program.
Rosetta Stone say that they aren’t necessarily promoting a “learn as a baby” philosophy because they get rid of the guesswork involved in trial-and-error approaches. But I find many similarities myself.
Such learning approaches have big advantages, but as those who read the blog know, I disagree with the concept and feel that we can take advantage the fact that we are adults and can have things explained to us in more complex ways than being presented with some images and audio. The devotion to learning in such a simple way (even though the research behind it is very complex) made me learn very slowly in Rosetta Stone. After days of using the program intensely, I felt I would have learned the same words and phrases dramatically quicker using other approaches.
Rosetta Stone reply to this saying that the goal is not “speed for its own sake”. They feel the technique they apply is better described as “certain” rather than slow, because their research over 30 years about when and how words should be introduced have proven to be very effective. I believe them that they have carried out this research, but I still disagree based on my experience.
I only made it half way through my set, but I can’t imagine how completing all 3 levels would get you out of what I would definitely call basic level. It’s a clever idea, but I don’t see it as a major improvement over alternatives.
Outside of the program, this native-only content is expanded to the audio. I copied the audio to my MP3 player and listened to it as I jogged in the morning, repeating all the phrases when requested. I tried something similar when I reviewed Pimsleur in great detail. Even though Pimsleur is entirely audio, and so you would think their audio would be superior, I actually prefer Rosetta Stone’s audio.
Apart from instructions (like repeat, listen etc., which are given in English in Pimsleur’s courses), everything is in the target language. It is based on what you would have gone through for that unit, so you should actually recognise everything and this is a great chance to try to work on your pronunciation and test yourself to see if you understand what’s going on.
Even though it’s an improvement on Pimsleur (whose audio is almost entirely English or repetitions), I still found it a bit tedious after a few sessions and think that actual native content such as a podcast would have been more helpful to recreate an immersive environment. But of course, it’s all part of the greater whole and philosophy of the program to only present you with words you should know already.
In this sense, the interconnectedness of the entire set; actual lessons, audio, games, live classes etc. is very intricately designed to rely on what you’ve learned. You won’t be put under much stress in this program to see or hear things you haven’t come across before. This makes it an enjoyable learning environment, although hardly a realistic one in my view.
Krashen’s input hypothesis
Rosetta Stone reply to this saying that the pace and structure is based on the (Comprehensible) Input Hypothesis of Stephen Krashen, whose research has made huge and important contributions to linguistics in the 20th century.
While I have issues with how far otherwise interesting research is being taken as being the basis of your entire learning technique, I have to admit that Rosetta Stone applies that approach the most effectively that I’ve seen so far.
Over the long-term, purely recognisable input as a learning strategy is more enjoyable than the stressful situations you would encounter in immersive environments, but you learn quicker with that pressure and it’s simply more realistic to how the world will present you with situations and words that you aren’t prepared for yet. The input-hypothesis is an “ideal” learning environment, and is thus not suited to a non-ideal world in my view.
Of course, many people would like to get eased into a language through a system like Rosetta Stone, and then feel prepared to dive into conversations at the end. It sounds fantastic, only that I feel that after all 3 levels you would still not feel ready for the vast majority of conversations you are likely to have. You will have the struggle to speak no matter what.
If you compare it to easing yourself into cold water, I consider the amount you would learn in the whole system of 3 levels equivalent to dipping a toe in, rather than slowly easing your whole body or at least your legs in. The immersive/communicative approach I apply takes a preference of diving my entire body straight in and getting the unpleasant part over with quicker, since it’s going to happen anyway (presuming you actually plan on using your language with natives).
If you are a fan of Krashen’s research then you will love Rosetta Stone. I agree with a lot of what Krashen says, but think that most people take it too far.
Reasons for why Rosetta Stone is so expensive, and is it worth the money?
If one typical small spoken group class would cost you $10-20 and 12+ are included in this, then the live lessons aspect of the program discussed above actually justifies over half of the price in my eyes (even though I would personally recommend you get private lessons tailored to your needs rather than based on a generic course). For the rest of the article I’ll be looking at why I didn’t get value out of the other “half”.
One great aspect of doing this review was that Rosetta Stone put me in touch with people high up in the company. We had a fascinating discussion where I was given a live tour of the software and explained intricate details of what goes on in the background.
One of my first questions to them was about the price tag; why does it cost several hundred dollars when you ultimately receive what physically costs much less to produce (a USB microphone, one software CD per level for your computer and 4 audio CDs per level, packaging and an activation code).
Now from Rosetta Stone’s perspective, the price tag (changes often; was around $500 a while back, but is now $329) does indeed make sense. It’s the investment they‘ve made into it. And as I say above, I do feel the 12 50-minute sessions with a native must count for something in this.
But I did get other justifications, which I will discuss now and present my scepticism about them really helping to justify the price from the end user’s (not Rosetta Stone’s) perspective:
Research Rosetta Stone uses to justify its approach to learning a language
Rosetta Stone have actually spent a fortune on linguistic research, consulting cognitive scientists, PhDs, neuroscientists and more. And these are incorporated into every single aspect of the software; from the positive reinforcement of harp sounds (that I promptly turned off; I felt it lost it’s impact entirely after several hours of constantly hearing it), to the meticulously planned photos (which I also had an issue with, described below).
As you all know, I am certainly no linguist (I studied and worked as an engineer initially). Linguists produce a body of fascinating and incredibly useful research that can help us understand how languages work. A small number of linguists also work specifically on second language acquisition, and to be totally honest, people with experience (or education) in this are who I would most like to be dominating research when language learning is being discussed.
With Rosetta Stone leading a team of people from such a varied and incredibly focused aspects of learning, brain functions, psychology etc., all focused on producing a great language learning system, it would be logical to presume that it would lead to the best system in the world. But I disagree here. I feel like the research is tailored more to how can we make a product that sells well and is scalable as a preference over how can we ensure people definitely learn this language as efficiently as possible.
As you can imagine, Rosetta Stone disagree with this. Their reply is “In our view, a program is truly effective only if it offers genuine language learning value to the widest possible diversity of learners”
However, this preference for scalability was my feeling as explained in various points below. So I’m afraid the research they invested in is not something I hold that highly.
Another reason to justify the higher price is how much research has gone into developing their speech recognition from the ground up. Unlike speech recognition you’d come across for automated telephone calls, this was developed especially for non-natives speaking a foreign language and is all Rosetta Stone’s own research.
When you speak it analyses your recording and approves it or requests that you try again based on how you did. If you have particular trouble, you can open up the wave analyser and visually see the difference between the native’s speech when slowed down and your own.
While I like the idea, since it gets you speaking to the program and gives you feedback, I found several problems with it including registering a sneeze as a correct answer or needing to repeat myself several times and not understanding what was different that I got right. This may be due to one of the technical issues with using my own microphone since the USB microphone wasn’t porting through my Linux-based virtual box. Rosetta Stone recommend that you use their headphone and do not support use of others, even though initially my headset didn’t give me problems, and they say you can use others if you wish.
It may also be due to the variable sensitivity; by default 3 out of 10. You would have to play with this when using the program to find a level that suits how good your pronunciation is, so that you aren’t rejected too much while also being corrected when wrong.
In the above image you’ll see a slot on the right to analyse the tones for a tonal language like Chinese. As you can imagine it’s just a waste of space and deactivated for European languages.
One surprise I saw was how bad the examples used to train my pronunciation were. For example, “Baby” was used, and it was split into two syllables with the ‘a’ pronounced rhyming with may and emphasised as important. Baby is a loanword from English and Dutch does not pronounce ‘a’ this way normally. This was very misleading, as this part of the program was supposedly teaching me Dutch phonetics. It’s clearly only there as a remnant of words copied and pasted to all versions as discussed below.
Luckily the reading exercises are native content and the pronunciation you will learn from this is more useful. You can also get a more detailed pronunciation guide for the alphabet within the help menu of the program.
Games & other features: Is it really fun?
As well as the core course, there are other features of the program, such as a review, very basic writing test, grammar lesson (contextual of course; some grammar points are very difficult to explain with nothing but examples and photos!) and text reading.
I did like the text reading as it was like a mini-podcast with a native speaking more consistently than the rest of the program, and got you used to reading while listening at the same time to associate spellings with sounds.
The games were enjoyable guessing games and bingo with core vocabulary. Not my cup of tea, but certainly useful for many people.
Then there were multiplayer games that you can play live with/against another learner or with someone learning your language, while you learn theirs.
This sounds like a great idea until you stop and think about it for a second. How many Dutch people do you think have bought Rosetta Stone (especially considering version 4 is only available in the states and some time soon in the UK), and are learning English? Nobody in this country that I talked to has ever heard of Rosetta Stone, nor would they get much use out of it because all the lessons are too basic for what most adults’ level of English would be.
So basically, I would not have anyone to play Duo with in this language combination! It makes sense for languages with a larger or more balanced proportion of language learning partners e.g. Mandarin & English; Spanish & English; French & English etc. But for Dutch, I really don’t think this part of the program was thought about logically at all.
Photos for “natural” language learning
It wasn’t mentioned as a major reason for the price, but I suspect that taking professional photos, hiring models, and finding the right places and lighting etc. can be a huge expense. It was explained to me that while taking the photos, very precise care is taken to make sure that everything is perfectly right; right down to which direction the model is looking as they are performing the action, as this can dramatically alter what is interpreted.
This is shown as the photos are indeed very well done, and you do get a good feeling for the action they are performed in a natural way. Their research for precisely how to represent a word without using your mother tongue in just images is an interesting way to present it and the foundation of the way the software works. In most cases it’s pretty clear what is going on; although I did have one or two cases where the photos simply weren’t helping and I had to go find a dictionary to figure out what the word meant.
I would consider myself at least a mildly “visual” learner (whether such a label has any merit or not is up for debate), but I can’t say that four (or more) images is a great way to present every concept in the world.
Rosetta Stone reply to this saying that they aren’t attempting that, but that it has been based on advice from cognitive psychologists about how the brain likes to learn. Once again, this stems from my frustration in how the preference is to get people from so many fields on-board, who don’t have experience specifically in language learning. I don’t doubt that images are fantastic learning tools, but they are not suited to language learning when used in this way in my opinion. As a side note, I had a difficult time inferring meaning about what this guy’s doing with the tacos, because I was so successfully distracted by his mustache/sideburns combo.
Learning a language by clicking your mouse on multiple choice options is not even remotely emulating the immersion learning environment; without the spoken lessons that lean on them the usefulness of these clicking lessons would disappear entirely in my view.
There are many ways the software presents images to you. Sometimes it simply asks you to repeat phrases, sometimes it explains one photo and gives a similar one with slightly different context you have to guess. However the vast majority of your work in lessons is based on multiple choice (usually just 2-4 options) and process of elimination.
You are given a phrase or word and you have to click the right photo. I find it hard to express fully how unnatural this feels to me for language learning, but apparently Rosetta Stone’s linguists disagree; once again I feel that neuroscientists etc. may be studying learning in general but out of context. This photo-centric presentation is a fundamental aspect of the learning system I can never agree on.
A similar system was copied from Rosetta Stone by some websites , and it’s even less effective there.
But forgetting the way the system works for a moment, I had two major issues with the photos themselves:
- Some of them were badly photoshopped.
This surprised me quite a lot. The vast majority are real, and some require some editing (such as to show a clock in the corner or a number somewhere to suggest someone’s age, or a flag to suggest a country), which is fair enough.
But some were terrible jobs of plonking people in front of places like Rome’s Colosseum. I don’t even do photo editing, and I can tell they are photoshopped. The girl in Rome here was obviously shot in professional artificial lighting, not on a sunny day in Rome. And the contrast is terrible in the Moscow shot compared to the model. Surely they could have hired someone to change the lighting and contrast to make it more realistic, or taken this into account when shooting in front of the green screen? Or… you know, actually have someone really there?
Rosetta Stone reply to this saying that they don’t endeavour to pass these off as authentic, and that the focus is on the language value of the image, and they are used with a wink and a nod so to speak.
In some cases they were abroad, so I don’t know why they photoshopped in others. But for a system based on photos and which prides itself on how professional those photos are, making them up is just lazy. Apparently how annoyed some users may be at this was overlooked in all thatresearch. Maybe I’m alone in this and nobody else using the system would get frustrated by these images?
- Cheesy political correctness instead of cultural relevance
I’m all for political correctness. I love that Star Trek had a black, female and even a bald captain to star in their shows. Presenting a varied cultural set of people in photos is great if you are teaching children to have open minds about the world , especially in multicultural environments. But it’s distracting if you are learning a culturally relevant language.
For example, when learning the word “Newspaper”, the newspaper’s text in the image was printed in Arabic and I’m not learning Arabic right now. This doesn’t help me at all and is part of the copy-and-paste use of all images discussed below.
But even forgetting this for a moment, most culture presented in the photos screams U.S.A.
When learning about Dutch, I want to see photos relevant to the Netherlands and how Dutch people act (or Belgium/Belgians); their body language, their smiles etc. I do not want to see cheesy American poses. Even the culturally sensitive ones of Islamic families act like Americans just wearing different clothes.
In one image for example someone is presented a big pitcher of water in a restaurant. They don’t do that here in Amsterdam. I can’t imagine how many culturally irrelevant aspects of photos there are once you compare it to non-western cultures!
Every time I started using the program I felt like I was leaving the Netherlands and back in America. It’s hard for an American to appreciate how obvious this is in most of the photos. As a non-American who has lived in different countries I can say that this is doing nothing to help you prepare for any kind of immersion.
There’s a good reason they do this, which brings me to my biggest pet peeve of all with Rosetta Stone:
A copy-and-paste approach for drastically different languages
When I was getting the live video tour, I noticed that the content of the lesson (as well as the photos) was exactly the same in Swedish as it was in Dutch. I asked about this and it was confirmed that it’s the same in Chinese, Spanish, French, Italian, German , Japanese, Russian or other very different languages.
When something is drastically different, they do take that into account. For example, one lesson showed me how to distinguish two Dutch words for “family” depending on if it’s immediate or broader. But this is more out of necessity since it would just be wrong to teach me that the same word counts for both as in English.
What Rosetta Stone have done is researched one way of presenting a language learning system and simply translated the content (audio and otherwise) to every single language. I was told that this is because a “completely customised language” (i.e. a unique course for each unique language) would increase costs. I was assured that the content is developed for each language separately, and that nothing is ever directly translated from one language to another, but I’ve looked at videos online of people’s Rosetta Stone, seen several slides of the Swedish version and I see precisely the same content that I came across in Dutch.
Even if “just” 80 or 90% of that template is the same, that’s far too much in my opinion.
The extent of how far this may negatively affect the content isn’t so clear, but I could feel some lessons as being just way too irrelevant for me learning Dutch.
An English speaker learning Dutch has obvious advantages over the same person learning Chinese, Arabic or Russian and to clump learning any language together as following the same generic vastly similar (even if not identical) content, photos and steps is madness. This holds no benefits at all to the end user and is nothing but a lazy shortcut to be able to scale a system to every language in the world.
While there are aspects of Rosetta Stone I do like, this really got on my nerves and it’s one of the many reasons I simply can’t recommend the system to people. The one-size-fits-all content you cover is everywhere (audio, games, courses, what guides live spoken lessons) and what the whole system rests upon.
Active language learners always do better
Some people will get benefit out of Rosetta Stone. I can see how it would happen. I did indeed learn something from this program, including having my first ever conversation in Dutch, which gave me an enormous boost of confidence. Injecting this confidence is something that Rosetta Stone does very well but to be honest the time would have been much better spent on other tasks.
Talking about blue skies and red balls made little addition to the conversations I needed to have with people. This has always been an issue I’ve had with generic courses; they try to teach you everything and in doing so teach you almost nothing that you really need. I didn’t even see the word “please” until Level 2!
People feel that throwing money at the problem will solve it. You can actually learn a language entirely for free by finding learning material relevant to grammar and vocabulary online or in your local library, and then meeting up with natives in person (without needing to travel) or via language learning sites.
The problem is that doing so for free or inexpensively requires that the learner be active. Rosetta Stone attempts to spoon-feed the information to you so you do not need to plan anything at all. They retort this to say that the learner is quite active and needs to interact a lot with the program, which develops their skills to help make the language stick. I disagree; the system is indeed complex, but in such a way that almost too much is organised for you.
Relinquishing responsibility (apart from the time investment) before even beginning is hardly a good approach; active learners even with limited resources can do much more, and tailor what they learn to what they are interested in and what they talk about, rather than a generic system designed for the entire world and all languages.
The few people I talked to who had reached fluency using Rosetta Stone, when pressed said that they had actually used other systems along with it, which I would argue were helping them more than they think. Those promoting it have not demonstrated much progress or even completely misunderstood basic aspects of the language .
This has been a very long review (6000 words!!), because I wanted to present it in full detail, explain everything that I did get out of it, and explain why I can’t recommend it. I quoted Rosetta Stone’s own comments about my criticisms too because I wanted this to be balanced. Since the review is neither promotional, nor one endless rant, but focused on presenting as much information as possible, I feel it is perhaps unique online, at least for its depth!
If you’ve somehow made it this far, thanks for reading and if you have any comments or experiences with Rosetta Stone to share, or want to discuss particular parts of this review, please do leave a comment below!
Benny LewisFounder, Fluent in 3 MonthsSpeaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, IrishFun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one .
View all posts by Benny Lewis
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