Find out what Rosetta Stone can--and can't--do for you when learning a new language. Rosetta Stone bills itself as the best language learning software in existence. And it's good. But there are still a few critical flaws in this language learning machine.
The Best of the Best
Rosetta Stone software bills itself as the premier interactive language learning software. Pitched and used by everyone from Olympians to government officials to everyday you and me, it's supposed to be a fully self-contained learning environment. The creators of Rosetta Stone promise that, by using their software, you can learn a new foreign language by the immersion method without ever stepping out of the house, much less into another country. It comes at a price, too: Just one level of the three-level language learning program costs over $200.
This software isn't just an investment in money: It also takes a lot of time. But the payoff should be worth it. Right? Mastery of another language from the comfort and security of your own couch? Let's take a look at the pros and cons of Rosetta Stone software:
Rosetta Stone software is easy to get up and running. Once it's been installed and configured, you have native speakers with infinite patience at your very fingertips. Didn't quite catch that nuance of inflection or tone? Click the little circle button and she'll repeat the word or phrase. Over. And over. And over again. I guarantee that you'll get it before she runs out of patience, and that helps immensely when learning a new language.
Rosetta Stone also has some pretty slick speech recognition software. You can customize the level of difficulty--how close must you get to the native pronunciation in order to pass each exercise?--and if you're struggling with certain sounds, you can actually view a graphic of your pronunciation and the native speaker's pronunciation, compared side by side. Big plus.
It's obvious that the creators of Rosetta Stone put a lot of work into tailoring their language learning software to how people really learn. One of my favorite features is that instead of presenting everything in a strictly linear manner, the lessons are twined together to help you establish context. For example, you might do the core lesson for lesson one and a few other lesson one activities, then go on to lesson two. More lesson one activities are coming a little further down the line; this way you have the time, space, and context from other lessons to have thought about and absorbed more from lesson one than if you just plugged on through all of lesson one and didn't come back to it later. The other lessons are similarly entwined with each other. It's also a great way of providing lots of repetition--necessary for foreign language learning in any environment--without being monotonous.
Best of all, Rosetta Stone really does shortcut the urge to think first in your native tongue and then translate it into a new language. Because the only words you see and sounds you hear come from the new language, you start learning it immediately instead of using your own language as intermediary along the way. This is the keystone of Rosetta Stone pros, and cons might seem insignificant if the "virtual immersion" environment works for you. But Rosetta Stone software isn't perfect. Read on for some of the problems and frustrations you may encounter.
Rosetta Stone software falls prey to the same problem every language learning software program suffers from: You can't ask questions to clarify because you're not dealing with a real person. So when something isn't quite clear (does that word mean "cup" or the liquid in the cup? Or does it mean "to drink" from the cup?) you can't stop and clarify. You have to make your best guess and hope you're getting it right. While this does encourage the type of deductive thought process you need to learn a new language by immersion, it can also be very frustrating.
Since there's no way to click and see the words translated into your own language, there's no way to see if you've correctly divined their meaning. All you can do is go on and hope it becomes clear through context. Again, this encourages you to learn by context and immersion, which is after all the point of the software. But it would be less frustrating to have the chance of ducking out of that immersion environment every once in a while and reaching for the dictionary, just to ease the tension of uncertainty.
An inability to change perspective within the scenarios means that we miss out on vital pieces of conversation. Yes, we see how a little girl addresses an older person, but do we get to see how an adult addresses a child so that we can compare the differences side by side? Sometimes. It's up to the program, and except for hitting the "repeat" button when it does come up, there's not much we can do to request more information.
A final gripe: There's no way to access a basic primer for how different sounds and syllables come together. This is parceled out to you through the course of the lessons, a bit at a time. This is an effective learning tool, but with no centralized resource for review, if you find yourself unsure about what a combination of letters sounds like, you have to hope it comes up in a word and that you can catch it then. This may be the most frustrating of the pros and cons of Rosetta Stone software.
Rosetta Stone language software isn't perfect, but it's the closest you can get to having the language speakers of a different country in your computer, ready and waiting whenever you're interested in hearing from them. Knowing about the downsides of this language software can help you prepare: A basic grammar book, for example, and a pocket dictionary are useful companions that may be rarely used, but their presence still appreciated.
Once you've added a few basic tools like those mentioned above to your quiver of language learning possibilities, Rosetta Stone is indeed a valuable language learning tool. Once you consider all the positives and negatives of Rosetta Stone software you find that although it's not perfect, it's about as close as you can get with a computer. You might also be interested in our comparison of Rosetta Stone Online vs. the software version.