The fastest way to learn nothing, guaranteed

Ok, so I have no idea if anybody who reads this blog is interested in learning foreign languages. I have no idea if anybody who will ever see this post has any interest in languages. However, I still feel the duty to warn consumers of the biggest, fattest lie in the language-learning market.

If you’re from the US, you’ve probably heard of Rosetta Stone before. Their ads are impossible to miss, bearing enticing slogans like “learn through immersion” and “learn a new language like your first one” have proven to be very successful marketing techniques, no doubt, but don’t be fooled: The fact that Rosetta Stone is a household name doesn’t negate the fact that the actual product is mostly useless.

So, why is Rosetta Stone a crappy product?

It’s easy to fall for Rosetta Stone’s slogans (guilty), but they are B.S. How much “immersion” can you possibly get from sitting at a computer? Children don’t exactly learn languages by sitting at a computer and clicking on pictures; they learn by play and experience of the world around them; you can’t simply put that into a box. Their pseudoscientific pitch about connecting you directly to your new language is similarly ridiculous; adults cannot use the same region of the brain to learn a language as small children can.

However, I suppose you can’t expect a company to provide a completely accurate representation of its product in its ads, right? Rosetta Stone could still be an excellent resource for learning new words in an innovative manner, right?

Wrong.

The product itself is actually nothing more than a short series of beginner-level words drawn out into 5 levels that take about a month each to complete (assuming that you do  a few hours a week) Each exercise involves a few different activities, such as matching words to pictures, choosing the right word to fit a picture, etc., all with about 3-8 pictures per screen. There are periodical reviews of old materials, and tests at the end of each lesson. However, there are a number of problems with Rosetta Stone’s approach.

1) There is very little content. After the first level, you’ll be able to ask a few questions in the language and you’ll know a few complete sentences, but nothing past that. The later levels don’t have much more; even after the 5th level, you won’t be at the level where you can just go up to a native speaker and just start a conversation. You’ll be able to talk about a few things, but considering the amount of time it takes to finish the program, it’s not worth it.

2) The few things you do learn are hardly useful at all. Much of the early units consist of phrases like “The man has a ball” or “the woman is drinking orange juice”. These phrases need to be learned at some point, but I think “What time is it?” or “Where is the airport?” are more important to learn when learning another language.

3) You will not learn the culture of the country that speaks the language you’re learning, guaranteed. Most of the pictures included in the exercises were shot within the vicinity of Washington D.C, and since the program was created using a template, it will not take into account the nuances of different languages. In the German version, for example, they teach you “Vielen Dank” for “thank you”, although “Vielen Dank” is not the phrase you’d use in an everyday situation.

4) It’s so easy not to learn with Rosetta Stone.  The program re-uses a lot of its pictures, so it becomes easy to choose the correct word just from remembering the picture instead of learning the words.

5) You will not learn actively. While this is hard to accomplish using language software, the speaking exercises are nothing more than “repeat-after-me” deals, turning into pronunciation exercises, and the writing exercises end up becoming nothing more than spelling exercises. Will you learn how to speak and write actively? Nope.

So, what good is Rosetta Stone?

Admittedly, it’s not all bad. You will learn a few (emphasis on the word fewthings, and no translation is a decent concepts, but for a $600-or-so program, the dearth of information is just appalling. I suppose that they’ve improved a little bit since I’ve used the program; Version 4 (I used Ver.3) TotalE includes an online feature in which you can chat with other learners, but what are you going to say to them? “The eggs are over there”? If you used RS as your sole source of learning, that will be the end result, so I can’t see those new features doing much apart from raising the price.

All in all, Rosetta Stone is a good buy if you are willing to overpay and spend too much time on learning beginner-level material in another language. However, if you want a software program with enough substance to carry you past the “beginner” level, I recommend TELLMEMORE. It’s not a perfect program by any means; it isn’t as aesthetically appealing as Rosetta Stone, and it does have a few embarrassing technical issues that a full-blown software program shouldn’t have, but with multiple times more material at a better price than RS ($400 to Rosetta’s $500-$600), it’s no contest. You will actually learn a language with TELLMEMORE, and learn a bit of culture while you’re at it. If you’re looking to learn a language using software, you can’t go all the way with any software, but stay away from the massively marketed ripoff that is Rosetta Stone.

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