If you have ever googled for French courses, advice on learning Spanish or any other language, I bet you've seen one of Rosetta Stone's adverts. The company is one of the leading names in the business of providing materials for self-taught language learners.
Rosetta Stone promises natural, fun and easy learning methods. The courses are available on CD-Rom, iPad or online. I cannot offer any personal comment, as I have never tried them - partly because the products really do seem quite dear (£299 or $500 for a 3 level set). But it does make you wonder - how much benefit does it really deliver?
Randy Glover is from the US. He started with Rosetta Stone German at age 57, perhaps a latecomer to language learning but a passionate one nonetheless! Since then, he's studied German, French and Italian, trying out a vast amount of language learning methods ranging from Michel Thomas to yours truly. He's been kind enough to give us some insight into his experiences.
The Good: Voice recognition and vocabulary range
Overall, the verdict is positive. Randy says "I have continued to use Rosetta Stone in my language learning primarily because it provides the structure I need to study independently and it allows learn a great deal of vocabulary rather easily and quickly.
The software's voice recognition capabilities are very good in training you to speak the new language – not perfect – but very effective. I’ve tried practically every self-teaching language software, app, online course, etc. that I could find for German, and in my opinion none of them topped Rosetta Stone in terms of depth and usefulness of material presented for learning vocabulary and practicing pronunciation by myself.
Some Drawbacks: Limited grammar training and pedantic exercises
"The software provides no explanations of the rules of grammar that apply in a given situation. Instead, you're left to either use the online tutoring option (it comes with the program but expires after 3 months unless you pay extra), or infer from the context why a particular tense or gender should apply. Further, it is often far from clear what the photos you are viewing are intended to represent.
The program does include writing exercises, which are somewhat helpful. They require you to listen to a short sentence and then type the words you heard - good for listening skills. However, I find the writing exercises very frustrating. If you miss even one letter you get a “miss” for that panel. There's no credit for getting it 99% correct. You can click the “pause” button and check your answers as you go, but then you are doing little more than copying what you read. Several slight misses in one set, and you have to redo the entire lesson before moving on to the next one. I have never been able to complete a writing lesson without checking my answers multiple times during the exercise.
The Verdict: Is it worth its premium price tag?
In answer to this question, Randy gives us a cautious yes. He advises learners to "purchase it with the understanding that it has its limitations and that you will need to do much more than complete the five levels of a given language to become fluent. Rosetta Stone is different from other self-learning programs that I have tried because of its voice recognition capabilities. It is an excellent resource to use along with separate instruction and practice in acquiring vocabulary, listening and pronunciation skills.