Rosetta Stone is one of the ‘big daddys’ of the language learning software packages and boasts courses in 30 languages. It claims to be intuitive, interactive and visually engaging. It uses what it describes as ‘dynamic immersion’ to avoid translation or memorization of words.
Flexibility is there to tailor packages to various groups: personal, organizations, schools and home schools. The Rosetta web site is colorful and easy to navigate. Not a lot of information is given about their approach on the site, but there are a number of videos that show happy customers engaging with the software. I suppose this is to stay true to the vision of stressing immersion through hearing as opposed to learning through reading.
You can choose to take the course online, or buy CD packages in various combinations. Pricing reflects your choice. The Spanish version comes in levels 1, 2 and 3.
Getting Set Up
I chose the on-line version of the Latin American Spanish. The sign-on page has three introductory links. The first is a video that describes their ‘Dynamic Immersion’ process. The second gives you a practise session, and the third checks your system readiness.
Dynamic Immersion is described as Images, Intuition, Interactivity, and Instruction. The aim is to help you learn the way you did as a child – immersed in the language. I thought it sounded very similar to the Rocket approach.
The First Time User’s practice session was interesting. A nice man with a radio voice guided me to the exercise, but then left me to my own devices. Unfortunately I wasn’t sure what to do. Was this my opportunity to vocalize the words and have Rosetta judge my pronunciation? I looked at the four pictures and listened to the native speaker pronounce words. The word ‘Adam’ was spoken. My turn. I spoke into my monitor: Adam’…’Adam’…’Adam’. Nothing. Then I realized like an idiot that I didn’t even have a mic hooked up. I was supposed to click on the picture of the person the word represented. Oh I wish that nice man hadn’t left me. Anyway, I got through the exercise and returned to the opening page. A user ID and password gave entry to the course page.
The course page repeated some of the functions of the sign-on page. In addition there is a Quick Start guide (highly recommended) and under the Support tab, a detailed User’s Guide. (I wish I had had the Quick Start guide on the sign-on page.)
Once you choose your course, you are guided to a microphone setup page. Rosetta recommends a USB mic and I couldn’t get me plugin mic to work so had to buy one.
The lessons are organized into Units. Units are divided into sections in vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing and review that build on each other to reinforce learning. Each Unit ends with a Milestone. A Milestone presents a real-life scenario that allows you to practice what you have learned by participating in the conversation. The User’s Guide gives a full description of all the steps in the process should you want some guidance. I found the process logical, friendly and with enough variation to hold my interest.
The vocal interactive feature of the program is a great idea but could use refining. You can repeat a word spoken by a native speaker and Rosetta will respond with sounds to indicate you’ve done a good job, or not. However, deliberate mispronunciations of words were often judged okay by the speech recognition software even though I had set the sensitivity to ‘high’.
You can also click on an icon on each picture to see a visual representation (sound wave) of the sound the native speaker makes and the sound you make when you repeat the word. This is an interesting idea, but in practice I really didn’t see much benefit here for the average person (although I am willing to be proved wrong).
Rosetta Stone sponsors a web site called ‘Shared Talk’ that is dedicated to language exchange and language learning (see the Resources link). You can find a foreign language partner there to help you in your learning.
Customer support is extensive with a 1-800 number, fax, mail and email. Very impressive.
Rosetta Stone is a very detailed, well-thought-out program for language learning. One of its strengths is the cohesive nature of its design. Once you are in the program you don’t need to slip out to refer to other resources in order to augment your learning experience. And it keeps track of where you left off so you know where to begin the next time. The program not only covers the spoken language, but written language also.
Documentation is clear with lots of pictures and is easy to read. Additional learning resources are available for ‘learning on the go’ with MP3 capability.
To sum up, I would say that Rosetta earns its reputation as a top notch language learning program. My only major negative to report (sadly) is that their response to questions I have asked recently has been very poor.