How does Rosetta Stone's online service match up against having the Rosetta Stone software installed on your own computer? Find out in this Bright Hub Education review.
No matter how you slice it, the Rosetta Stone language learning system is pricey. All three levels of Irish, installed, cost $274 when purchased together. (Some languages have more levels available; check for your favorite on the Rosetta Stone website.) You can buy a subscription to the same lessons online for less--$224 for a year of access to all three levels--but once the subscription period is over you no longer have access to your investment, whereas the installed software is still sitting there ready for review. The subscription now auto-renews after the initial period, and you can call at any time to cancel, but it is an additional cost.
Whether the online system is a worthwhile investment or not will depend largely on your commitment level and how much time you have to invest. If you're planning on studying for at least an hour or more every day, you'll probably get through at least one or two levels before a six month subscription runs out, and if you're capable of continuing that level of focus you'll definitely burn through all three in the space of a year.
So the online version gets 4 out of 5--good--because even though it costs a lot and will not save you money over the installed version if you're a slow learner, it offers a fast-track option that will save you money if you're focused and persistent enough to take advantage of it.
The Rosetta Stone software, when installed, usually runs flawlessly if you're on a compatible computer, but older operating systems or older, slower processors--I'm not sure which--can occasionally cause it to "hang" or freeze and suffer internal errors. I experienced some limited "hangs" or pauses in the online program that don't happen with my installed software; both online and installed versions were run on the same computer, so I assume that the Internet connection was to blame.
The online system seems reliable--no outages or server down times were reported during the testing period--but because it's a remote connection, you're completely at the mercy of your Internet provider. If they go down, your access to Rosetta Stone is down as well. So the advantage of being able to learn from any computer with an Internet connection and always pick up where you left off is balanced out by the potential failure point of the remote connection.
Rosetta Stone Online gets 4 out of 5 for availability, and an extra thumbs up on the side for doing a system check every time it loads, with a clear, easy-to-understand display that shows whether your system is ready to run the online program or not. I did have to download a small file to run the speech recognition component of the online program, even though I already had the full version of the same language installed on my computer. But finding the file in question was easy--I just clicked the link Rosetta Stone gave me, downloaded the file, and was ready to go.
The online Rosetta Stone experience is, if you discount the occasional hang time that I filed under "Availability," a pleasant one. Rosetta Stone's trademark bright yellow screen immediately created a visual "branding" effect--I see that yellow and I immediately know that Rosetta Stone is coming my way. The photos used are all high quality and the interface works exactly the same online as it does with the installed software--the program even calibrates your microphone the same way. The controls and preference settings available are identical between the online and installed versions, and the online version saves both your progress and your settings every time you use it.
I would have given Rosetta Stone 5 out of 5 here but, alas, it does have one major flaw. If you purchase the software to install on your computer, you can set up multiple user accounts. In other words I can have my own progress saved while my sister can use the same program on the same computer and have her own progress saved individually; when the program starts up, it'll ask us which user account we'd like to load, or if we want to make a new one.
With the online version, it looks as though you're stuck with what you've got--if someone else comes in and uses your account, there's no way to separate their progress from yours and you'll end up either repeating their lessons after them or missing out on lessons because the system thinks you've already done them.
The photos, phrases, and the order they're presented in is exactly the same between the online and installed versions. This is to be expected--after all, they've put a great deal of time and effort into creating a fine product, and if it ain't broken, why fix it?
But oh, Rosetta Stone, why do you show me a Japanese woman in the Irish learning module? Why is there an Indian man in the Irish pharmacy and then again in the Irish bakery? While diversity is a beautiful thing, people are logging on to your software or online system to be culturally immersed, not culturally diverse. The fact that I'm using language learning software in the first place is a pretty good clue that I'm not in that language's country of origin.
Since I'm not in Ireland, I'd hope that the software I use would immerse me completely in as Irish-centric an experience as possible. Once I get there, I'll celebrate the diversity of the place and the different people from different cultures that I encounter. But for now? Filling my brain with images of everything Irish may be the only way to teach me about the culture as much as the words. I wish Rosetta Stone delivered on that account.
You lost another mark in this section, Rosetta Stone, because when I betrayed my Irish roots and wandered over into the Italian version of your program, I found the same photos. Yes, the words and the voices were pure Italian, but there was the same Japanese woman and, while I didn't stick around long enough to find out, I'm pretty sure that, had I done so, I would have encountered the same Indian man in the Italian pharmacy and the Italian bakery.
I'd estimate that easily more than half the images in any given language are unique to that language and culture--there were some unquestionably Italian people in the Italian module that have not once shown up in the Irish module--but still, seeing the same images repeat between languages took something away from the idea of being culturally immersed at the same time I'm being immersed in the linguistics.
Despite the high price tag and the occasional Internet connection hassles or program hangs, Rosetta Stone online delivers the same immersion learning experience that the installed software does--excellent and, above all, effective. If you're willing to spend time on the lessons, the program takes care of the rest, whether you've got it installed on your computer or are accessing it online. Be sure to check out our tips on how to make sure you're getting the most out of Rosetta Stone, online or installed.