You've seen the ads.
You've seen the commercials.
You've seen the slick, internet marketing campaigns.
It's only one of the most popular language learning software titles - if not the most.
I'm talking about Rosetta Stone - the undisputed (at least according to its aggressive online and offline marketing) king of language learning software.
And thanks to this strong marketing position as the world's leading language learning solution not just for aspiring polyglots, children or adult, but also for enterprise clients, reinforces its image as the pre-eminent market leader.
So it is no surprise that its name precedes its reputation - it is as much a triumph of its marketing strategy as it is for its unique value proposition (which we'll get to in a minute).
However, this same aggressive marketing plan that worked so well to make it the leading name in language learning software also makes it hard for the casual language learner seeking to find the right program for his or her purposes - because each review is either a scathing condemnation of an overpriced product or a cringeworthy praisefest of how it is the silver bullet to the problems that language learners face in their respective journeys.
That being said, it's extremely difficult to find an honest-to-goodness assessment of Rosetta Stone, to great consternation of those who want to know as much about the product before parting with their money.
So where do we finally draw the line? Well, that's just what we're going to do - we're going to take an extended look at what Rosetta Stone is all about, so you don't have to look elsewhere...and finally come to a decision whether the course itself is worth the price of admission, and whether it can become part of a language learner's training regimen.
Ready to roll? Let's go.
A Brief Introduction to Rosetta Stone
Just a quick background to those who don't know yet - the Rosetta Stone Language Learning program is an autodidactic, computer assisted language learning program that uses a plethora of visual and auditory aids to teach languages in order to create, according to the company, an environment of "dynamic immersion" designed for students to learn a foreign language in the same way we all learned our first words: intuitively and instinctively. But how does this "dynamic immersion" work in practice? Let's find out.
How Does Rosetta Stone Work?
The basic underlying premise of Rosetta Stone's coursework for all the languages it supports is that of its patented "dynamic immersion" that does not make use of translations nor any grammatical clarifications and explanations of any sort, which would then theoretically lead to the user acquiring the target language as naturally as can be through intuition and context (and a whole lot of deductive reasoning as you progress through the levels).
Now, linguists may debate over the contention that Rosetta Stone's method of "dynamic immersion" is largely unnatural (i.e., carried out on software) - regardless of where that debate stands, what is unquestionable is the fact that for many of its happy users, the process works....provided that you give it an honest effort.
And the only way you could do this is for you to start the program from the very first module, regardless of your level of proficiency.
How is the Coursework Structured?
Rosetta Stone's immersion approach follows that every course should begin from the very first module of whichever language you are learning - and despite its best efforts at making learning engaging and fun using games, videos, sounds, and graphics, there will definitely be a lot of spaced repetition and drilling through exercises and quizzes until you really absorb words in the target language into your vocabulary as well as to improve your pronunciation, writing, and your listening comprehension skills. And this is a good thing, at least for completely new learners (to which the software is marketed anyway) - the structure and coursework is set in its ways, while offering lots of other activities on the side, such as language exchanges with language learners all over the world (as a result of its acquisition of SharedTalk, one of the largest language exchange sites then), offering live language courses featuring native speaking teachers, as well as a plethora of supplementary activities to the coursework that would ensure user engagement.
What Languages are on Offer?
The number of language courses offered by Rosetta Stone is unmatched - and rightfully so, being the leaders in the computer assisted language learning program scene. They have courses for 30 languages: American English, British English, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Pashto, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, European Spanish, Greek, Latin American Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Hebrew, Tagalog, Turkish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. And they are STILL working on yet more.
* You don't have to worry about endless discussions on grammar and semantics anymore: Are you the type of learner who HATES grammar? Then this just may be the course for you. The linear nature of Rosetta Stone ensures that sentence construction concepts are introduced slowly (expect to start with very basic sentences at the beginning) until working towards more complex structures as you progress onto more advanced levels. However, this could pose a problem for learners who have had experience learning languages, say, in a classroom setting, who are given the opportunity to ask questions regarding grammar and structure - Rosetta Stone takes its immersive approach seriously.
* Sleek, appealing, and intuitive interface: Rosetta Stone's interface undoubtedly blows every other computer assisted language learning program's out of the water - its slick, glossy interface makes the Rosetta Stone's immersion approach easier. And this is what makes Rosetta Stone so appealing ever since it came out; they really worked on creating a great interface for their method. It's fully intuitive just as their method is, and everything - your progress, your lessons, your coursework, everything - is laid out on the dashboard, neatly and orderly. It's almost as if you'll want to start from square 1 if you've had previous language learning experience!
* Much improved learner engagement and interactivity: Rosetta Stone did a well-thought and executed job for blending the disciplines of speaking, reading, writing, and listening in the target language for its programs. It has come a long way from its inception in this regard - now, as part of your regimen under Rosetta Stone, you'll be able to chat with other learners, interact with fellow students in live language classes handled by Rosetta Stone-certified teachers (that you'll be able to "unlock" as you progress through the course), and practice speaking with native speakers all over the world.
* Inconsistent voice recognition system: This is a common lament with a lot of computer assisted language learning programs - that of a balky voice recognition system. Rosetta Stone's voice recognition system is miles ahead of its competition, but for the price point, you would expect a flawless one. It's undoubtedly come a long way from when it was introduced, and it's better than most other language course software programs out there, but there's always that problem of inaccurate voice capturing when doing pronunciation and speaking exercises.
* Slow, even glacial learning pace: Now, for me, this is my main bone to pick with Rosetta Stone as a language course - especially to those of you language learners who KNOW what learning style works for you (that doesn't involve a comprehensive course that you have to start from literally square 1). Yes, Rosetta Stone's coursework is designed to be taken from square 1, or for learners who want a systematic, formulaic way of learning - but for more advanced learners, this will be a very repetitive, and very boring course despite the leaps and bounds the course itself has made over thet years. You will start of with very basic vocabulary and very basic sentences (that will not be too useful from the get-go), and learners who dislike this style of language acquisition (that of Rosetta Stone's dynamic immersion) will find themselves quitting the course entirely before they get to the content that they will find useful. Far from the marketing, Rosetta Stone is actually suited for a specific type of language learner - particularly to those who have no prior language learning experience at all. In fact, I would personally say that it is better to learn using resources such as italki (where you could practice with a native speaker for free, or learn from a professional teacher at a good price, or from a community tutor at even better prices), than you would going through the entire Rosetta Stone coursework. So if you're decided with taking Rosetta Stone, be forewarned of the fact of its slow, deliberate pace. Don't give up!
* Extremely high prices: Many people complain about the seemingly exorbitant prices that Rosetta Stone charges for - but then again there are people that would criticize anything with a price tag. That being said, Rosetta Stone has listened to its customers and has since offered it at discounted prices most of the time, especially when you order through the official site. But then again, Rosetta Stone's prices compared to the wealth of free and better-priced resources and solutions out there pale in comparison - considering you can get a class from a native-speaking professional teacher at italki for below $10.
Rosetta Stone is expensive for a reason - and that's because of its position in the market. That being said, there are oodles and oodles of free and inexpensive resources and solutions out there that can do a better job, if not being totally better at what Rosetta Stone does, provided you do the minimal legwork it requires for you to set up the necessary accounts and download the corresponding material.
I must note however that Rosetta Stone does have its purpose - especially for organizational and classroom settings. For my money, however, the coursework's pace is too slow for me to fuly enjoy myself when I could get a one-on-one session with a native speaker for 1 hour at a fraction of a price (and proven to improve all aspects of your language learning). Again, it's a great supplement to your learning especially if you're the kind of learner who enjoys a steady, deliberate pace, and if you are patient enough to see the entire course through. However, if you are planning just to learn the basics of conversation for a trip to, say, the Netherlands in a couple of weeks, your money will be better spent opting for solutions like italki, busuu, or your local listings for native-speaking teachers.
Don't let the pricing turn you off for the great supplement to language learning that Rosetta Stone is - if you really have long-term goals for your language learning (say, preparing to move to a totally different country, or staying there for a long time). At this rate, it's a great addition for libraries, schools, organizations, and companies the world over, and for me, for students who have had no prior experience of learning languages through the methods I've already mentioned.
Temper your expectations about the product, use it as a supplement to your existing learning, and see the course through (or ditch it, if it is too slow for your tastes) - Rosetta Stone is a fine language learning product. Probably the best computer language learning program out in the market, for that matter.