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Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish Language Learning

By Larry M. Lynch

Considering learning Spanish? Know if your preference is the Latin American Spanish used in Puerto Rico, Panama, Ecuador, or Mexico or the Spanish language used in Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay? This review examines major features of the Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish online language course.

How Does the Program Stack Up?

Buenos dias Damas y Caballeros” or “Buenos dias Señoras y Señores

No matter how you say it in Spanish, much of the language is mutually understandable throughout Europe, Central and South American, and the Caribbean. So, how does the Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish online language learning experience stack up for those wishing to immerse themselves in the culture, customs, food, and language of Spanish-speaking countries?

Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish

The Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish online program is a very good attempt at helping Spanish language learners to develop, improve, or master the Spanish language as spoken in Latin American countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, among several others. The Spanish language is spoken in twenty-one countries worldwide as a first or official language and the Latin American Spanish version of the language program covers approximately sixteen of those countries. There is also a Spanish language version of the software for Spanish as spoken in Spain which has distinctively different pronunciation and some grammatical differences as well. This version of Spanish (from Spain) is also used in South American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile. In a three-week daily session trial of the online Latin American Spanish program, I found many good, interesting points and features in addition to a few fairly minor “flaws” and errors, but, overall, the material is intensive, well constructed, user-friendly, and generally well-done.

Better Lesson Directions Needed

The directions to the learner for how to do particular exercises and lessons should have been better. In level one in giving pronunciation, some of the images for the vocabulary are not clear. An example is one word “come” (eat), which is given showing a person eating a fruit, but the next word example “ella” (she) shows a lady drinking a glass of juice. Learners could easily think this a picture for “drink” and not the word for “her”. Instructions to the language learner need to be much clearer. Often I was placed in a situation where I needed to “figure out” what to do or what to do next. Lessons should be clearer and easier to understand. The lessons and units are not always clearly presented. An inexperienced language learner could easily get confused as to the exact meaning of an image, not knowing, for example, if the word referred to the action or the person being shown in the image.

Additional Sound and Speech Software Downloads Required

In order to effectively use the program, some software downloads are needed. Also, the learner’s computer should be equipped with a microphone for speaking-oriented lessons. The Rosetta Stone website checks the learner’s computer system and provides links for installation of sound and speech recognition software used during the Latin American Spanish language learning program lessons. A high-speed internet-connection is also helpful in progressing through lessons. Each lesson is “graded” by showing the learner a score via percentage and number of correct/incorrect answers to lesson activities. At the end of each lesson, the learner has the option to either continue on to the next lesson or repeat the lesson.

Latin American Spanish Lessons

The Spanish lessons are divided into three levels. In each level, there are lessons for:

  • Grammar
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Pronunciation

Each of these lessons in turn consists of from ten or so up to about 25 screens or views. Upon completing a full lesson, the time for which can range from ten minutes for short lessons to longer lessons that can last twenty minutes or a bit more, depending on the speed with which the learner is progressing through the individual screens and lessons. Although the program is an audio-visual one, there are no videos. Rather a series of images are integrated with sound clips by native Latin American Spanish speakers. This pronunciation of Latin American Spanish is important and well-done in the program.

Native Speaker vs. Language Immersion

There are a few errors in the speech/photo combinations. One is when the software says the boy’s Mother is fixing the toy. The picture clearly shows the boy’s Father fixing the toy even though there are no options to choose this. The learner MUST select an incorrect answer! Since there is no human interaction, none of this could be explained to the Spanish language learner even if they did uncover the discrepancy. Subtle but well-known differences in the use of vocabulary and language also can go unexplained making the comparison of Spanish program language immersion vs in-person language acquisition/learning an important and critical one. We all acquired our first language during a process of trial and error during actual speech and listening of the language with frequent corrections of on-going mistakes. This critical element is lacking in the Rosetta Stone program which might be further illustrated in the following lexical examples.

The words “tapia” or “mudo” (cement), the word “reja” (iron) while the word “cerca” is used for (wood) fences but this distinction is not noted. In general, distinctions between Latin American Spanish and the Spanish used in Spain are NOT noted in any way.

The word “lavaplatos” is used to refer to a dishwashing machine in the program but commonly refers to a kitchen sink in Latin American Spanish. A different term like “machina de lavaplatos” would be used for dishwashing machine. The word “fregadero” is used for kitchen sink in the program.

In other instances the terms used are more consistent with the Spanish of Spain rather than terms more frequently used in Latin America. Some examples include the following:

  • cubo de la basura (trashcan) more commonly used in Latin American Spanish basurero
  • techo (ceiling)
  • barre (sweep)
  • saco (take out)
  • fregadero (place to wash dishes or clothes)
  • encimera (kitchen counter)

Please continue reading the review on the next page.

Imagery and Verbal Culture Association

The pictures used are clear, interesting generic photos which illustrate vocabulary or situations but are not Spanish-language region specific. There are obviously other races and ethnic groups pictured although audio voices used are native Latin American Spanish speakers. The pictures and dialogues are reasonable for the images in which they are portrayed, but there is no direct relation between the pictures and specifically the Spanish culture or language.

Suggested Improvements

Since the program uses the “discovery” method of language learning for the learner, there is no initial input to teach the learner vocabulary or other language aspects in context. This presumes quite a lot on the part of the learner who must then know or find a way to record and practice grammar and vocabulary of the language. Written and listening examples in native Spanish speaker male and female voices, written and oral drills, and exercises are very well done but even at level 3 the program still lacks clear instructions on completing exercises for the Spanish language learner.

The lower level Spanish program materials may be the same for both Latin American Spanish and Spanish (Castellano) from Spain as some vocabulary and usage drills seem to indicate. Ultimately, this will be less of a problem, but if the Spanish language learner doesn’t have any strict reinforcement of Latin American Spanish, there could be some problems with their listening comprehension since different expressions and vocabulary are used in the program which are NOT typical of Latin American Spanish but are much more likely to be heard or spoken in Spain or Europe.

In reference to time, the Latin American Spanish program uses the expressions “retaso a horario” and “menos quince a la hora”, which aren’t typically heard in much of Latin America. More commonly used are "faltan quince para las tres" or "faltan cinco para la una" (or whatever the hour will be). Spoken examples and drills are clear and understandable, but they are also spoken a bit more slowly than in a normal conversational speed. Ultimately, this can cause listening comprehension problems for learners who develop a “practiced ear” for the slower conversational speed used in the program. Frequently used, alternative words are not illustrated in the program. For example, the word “derecho” is always used to mean straight ahead or forward and is quite commonly used, but the word “recto” is also frequently used in some Latin American regions, like in Panama and parts of Colombia.

Writing Spanish Right

In learning Latin American Spanish, a person should take some time to go through and write down the vocabulary presented in each lesson along with the meaning of the word or phrase as they understand it. This allows the learner to practice the vocabulary away from the program and computer. Doing so would allow the learner to extend practice sessions across their entire day no matter what their daily routine might be. Extended Spanish language input and practice could be well-extended and not just limited to practice using the program or while in front of the computer. The writing segments of the Rosetta Stone program are done via keyboard and I found more problems with keyboard input of written elements than the actual language itself. Some learners may also not have a Spanish keyboard which would not allow for letters like “ñ” and “ll” which are integral to Spanish but are not used in English.

Lunch Time Spanish Language Learning

Initially, a learner might not be able to complete an entire lesson during a lunch hour. Completing a pronunciation or reading practice section of a lesson is more likely. This could be especially true for language learners who may be experiencing some difficulty with the language. Lesson segments are “timed” to take from ten minutes for some up to thirty minutes for longer, more extensive lesson units. Learners are quite likely to need three or so repetitions of lesson units in order to obtain a better grasp of the grammar and material in context. Practice of a lesson unit or segment could then be easily done during the course of a one-hour lunch break provided the learner plans to repeat the lesson for reinforcement at a later language study opportunity. The individual sections can later easily be done in ten minutes or so once the learner is familiar with the exercise types and how to respond to questions and interactive activities. On some days and sessions, the software was very slow or sluggish, but normally functioned well even on “slow” days.

The “Discovery Method” of Grammar Learning

The Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish language learning program uses what is called the “Discovery Method” of grammar learning. That is, the learner “figures out” or “discovers” the significance of grammar usage in context while listening to and repeating lesson grammar focus points. The use of the definite articles and personal pronouns: “La”, “El”, “Ella”, “Ellos” are an example of this.

The language learner has the option upon entering the program, to select their level and lesson content. Lesson content can be:

  • reading, writing, listening, speaking
  • reading, writing, listening, speaking – extended
  • speaking and listening
  • reading and writing

So, the learner can focus on those language skills in which they need input and practice or just skip those areas with which they are already familiar. This allows the learner more autonomy and control over lessons, which I found to be important. The pronunciation lesson units are particularly important. It is a welcome feature that the language learner can click on sound/pronunciation boxes to repeatedly listen to and repeat the pronunciation of sounds. Since the alphabet in Spanish is very similar to the English language alphabet, pronunciation of recognized letters, consonants, and diphthongs is fairly simple and straight forward.

Further into Latin American Spanish Language Fluency

The program uses “Dynamic Immersion”, that is, all sections of each lesson are in the target language only. The learner must read, write, and listen to sounds pronunciation, phrases, and dialogues only in the target language. While this does promote greater fluency in Spanish at a faster rate, it also requires extensive support using other methods, especially for Spanish language learners who may be inexperienced or be having problems with language learning. By completing all the lessons, exercises and levels of the Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish online program, a learner will achieve a level of fluency in the use of the language, but not equivalent to a year of total language immersion with a formal teacher or an immersion experience of being in a Spanish-speaking country. The program is approximately the equivalent of perhaps a two or three month intensive Spanish immersion experience. In an actual immersion experience, a learner would learn far more cultural and practical Spanish-speaking ability than is provided for in the program.

The only distinctive differences between the Latin American Spanish and Spanish (from Spain) programs of the Rosetta Stone system are the pronunciation and listening modes in which the phonology and pronunciation are for each of the respective areas. An informal style of the Spanish language is used. The slides, photos, images and vocabulary used in both the Latin American Spanish and Spanish (from Spain) are the same. No attempt is made at teaching or integrating Spanish cultural elements into the lessons.

Program Summary

I am not a native speaker of Spanish, but since I’ve spent the last fifteen years living in Colombia with frequent, extensive travels in Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico, I found the Rosetta Stone program to be a very good one for learning Spanish. It is not however, especially geared for Latin American Spanish except for the pronunciation and connected speech elements of the language. No explanation of the differences is implied or given during the course of the program elements I reviewed over the course of four weeks using the online program elements. The vocabulary, images, exercises, and situations are the same but are pronounced very differently as is the case with Latin American vs. Spanish from Spain. It would be useful to provide more Spanish culture-related elements into the language learning program including the use of relevant images, names, and situations that would frequently involve a foreign language learner.