Struggling to learn a new language? I don’t know about your pop-up ads, but the ones I get suggest that this is people’s third most common problem, behind small penis and desire to become a mystery shopper. By far the most popular language learning software is Rosetta Stone. It’s all over television and airports. The things retail at $179 a level or $500 for a five level set. It’s expensive, but maybe not bad if you compare it to private tutoring.
Of course it’s not as good as immersion. You’ll still be conducting daily business, thinking, and dreaming in English, then spending an hour or two a day practicing your new language. And you also have the tendency to procrastinate. I often find myself humming along, conjugating verbs, and suddenly remember Dr. Jack Badofsky from SNL. Now Rosetta Stone is in the background and I’m browsing Hulu.
If you are also prone to this sort of digression it might be better to attend a classroom for that forced period of focus. It would also be invaluable to have someone in your life able to constantly correct your mistakes. A paid teacher is probably required as few of us have the nerve to subject our loved ones to endless hours of conversation with someone barely coherent in the medium.
So, given that it’s for those of us who need the convenience of home use, how does it fare? Pictures are displayed on screen and you speak, type, or click as the situation dictates. No English language instructions; you’re working purely in your target language. This bothers many users, but it’s really necessary. After all, ‘perro’ isn’t a Spanish translation of the English ‘dog’. ‘Perro’ is a word and ‘dog’ is a different word. Those two are just about equivalent, but more abstract words like ‘schadenfreude’, ‘honor’, and ‘schlimazel’ require you to think in concepts.
The pictures are well done, too. In only a few instances out of many hundreds did I have a problem telling what they were trying to indicate. Some of them are pretty funny. One has a middle-aged man riding a bus with no reference to the fact that he’s wearing a superhero costume. You’re only meant to learn how to describe a man riding a bus.
The software is easy to use when it works, but it’s quite buggy. If you do have a problem, Rosetta Stone’s customer service is notoriously bad. Even though I bought the program at retail prices, I find myself looking for hacks online rather than deal with their incompetent tech support. Also, the included headset is rather flimsy.
Either that or the voice recognition doesn’t work very well because I will sometimes have to try saying things over and over even though I’m sure I’m pronouncing them correctly, and at other times I will say the complete wrong word by mistake and have it get marked as correct. And typing diacritic characters can be a pain on a standard keyboard.
It’s a slow process with a lot of repetition. You know how kids are supposed to be great at learning languages? How long does it take them from birth to master a language? Four years? No doubt you were hoping to speak as well as a four year-old in less time. You can speed things up by skipping the review exercises. All of the actual information is contained in the core lessons. I did get a chance recently for a real world test of my Rosetta-acquired language skills.
I met a man who spoke Arabic but not English, so we tried to get along in French. It wasn’t successful. Being sub-native myself, I couldn’t really tell what his grasp of French was; and with scads of dialects for every language, a textbook-style learning isn’t better for anything but a supplement.
The Rosetta Stone method has value, even for the money, but the recurring software problems are a huge headache. Do not recommend.