Rosetta Stone Language Learning

Foreign tongue acquisition software

The slogan “The Fastest Way To Learn A Language. Guaranteed” may sound like a gimmicky promise, but none of the other “language lessons in a box” that you can get without joining the military, NASA, or the US Diplomatic core even remotely compares to this computer-based immersion program.

The genius of the process involves using pictures to teach you how to listen, speak, read, and write, rather than teaching by translation, as virtually all other language programs do. So as you learn your new language you associate the new words, phrases, and grammatical structures directly with the pictures rather than mentally translating through your native language. Using this method, most people can use a Rosetta Stone program regardless of native tongue, cutting out a major limitation of the translation-based language programs.

After a salesman at a mall gave me a demo for Vietnamese (which I’ve never studied before), I ordered a three-month subscription to the Russian program. I studied Russian in both high school and college, and went to Russia on “People to People” in 1991. At one point, I was getting very conversant, but couldn’t say anything beyond the simplest phrases without mentally translating them into English. But after seven years of not actively studying Russian and rarely speaking it, my skills began to deteriorate. I was starting to be able to say things only on a very piecemealish basis (specific words, canned phrases, and common songs). Translation: I was losing my third language (I am fluent in Spanish).

Two months into the Rosetta Stone, which can be as as addictive as a video game, I was able to enjoy the fast-talking film “Nochnoy dozor” (“Nightwatch”) without the subtitles. I have also found that I can now think, speak, and read in Russian without doing a mental translation into English like I used to do. And I think that when I get the money to travel to Russia again, I will become permanently fluent.

It is true that I used the program as a refresher course, rather than to learn a language from scratch. But as a relative veteran when it comes to learning foreign languages with different teachers and methods — I’ve also studied German and picked up a good deal of French while traveling in Europe (forgot it in a matter of months) — here is my take:

If somebody wants to learn a language from scratch, most people could finish Level 2 with excellent conversational skills (a feat that took me 3 months, but would probably take a beginner more like 6 months). If you are starting from scratch, doing Level 1 would still be a good foundation and you could easily survive “in country” when it comes to day to day living [note: Rosetta Stone sells programs for 30 major world languages, but they only offer Level 2 for certain languages, and only Level 3 for Latin American Spanish and English (US)].

For the people who are learning from scratch, there might still be some value in more conventional methods of teaching. And, of course, being in a community where the language was spoken would speed up the process. A determined English speaker with a high aptitude for language could probably do the Latin American Spanish up to Level 3, and then zone in on fluency very easily with no other formal instruction. But for languages with non-Roman alphabets and more divergent grammar systems, conventional teaching would not become irrelevant.

If you studied a language in school and got good grades, but can’t really speak it, Rosetta Stone would be a really fun way to narrow the gap between book learning and real use. In short, I don’t think an excellent language teacher has anything to fear from this tool, whether he/she works in a public school, university, a private language school, or as a private tutor. But the makers of all those crummy “language in a box” tools on the market have reason to be very, very afraid for their business.

— Amy Scanlon

Rosetta Stone Language Learning
$180 (depending on level)
$299 (Levels 1 & 2)
$319 (Levels 1, 2 & 3: English [US] and Spanish [Latin America] only)
Available from and manufactured by Fairfield Language Technologies

[There are also online subscriptions that are cheaper. ex; In the case of Spanish Levels 1 & 2, $110 gets you three months, while $160 gets you six months of access — sl]

There’s an even cheaper alternative: free. Many public libraries purchase Rosetta Stone and some even make it available online. Patrons can access it free, anywhere, using their library card number.

Example: Palo Alto Public Library

— Marv K.


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