I told you I wasn’t gone for good! Today I’m going to be mostly bashing Rosetta Stone’s language learning software. This review goes for Rosetta Stone whether you’re learning Japanese or any other language that this software purports to teach. It purports to teach because Rosetta Stone is particularly bad at teaching anything, except how to look at pictures and repeat words. It’s aimed mostly for travelers, but doesn’t really get you conversing, and it’s expensive to boot. Really, there’s only a couple things it does well, but this isn’t enough to make up for all the failing this software does. If anyone from Rosetta Stone actually reads this, please use the criticism to improve your software!
You probably already know that Rosetta Stone teaches you language easily, right? I mean, that’s what the advertisements always tell us! What Rosetta Stone tells us and what it actually does are like night and day, but if you really don’t know much about Rosetta Stone, here’s what allegedly does: Rosetta Stone sets out to teach you a language in the same way that we teach our children. Think Pimsleur or that Muzzy series. The difference between Pimsleur and Rosetta, however, is that Pimsleur actually does this quite well, whereas Rosetta Stone, despite its even more expensive price tag, doesn’t do this too terribly well.
What it does is it shows you a picture of something, such a Japanese woman on a street, says the word for “woman” and, hopefully, after it shows you this picture often enough, you’ll learn a new word, despite not being given an English translation and the fact that the native speaker says the word at the normal speed for a Japanese person to say it (fast!). You can also view the vocabulary words and sentences in romajii, kana, or a combination of kana and kanji, despite the fact that most people who start this program don’t actually know kana or kanji.
One of the things that Rosetta Stone does do well, however, is advertise! This isn’t so great for those of us who love learning languages, but it is a good business example. The bulk of that $500 price tag goes towards marketing the product even more. This is why everyone has heard of Rosetta Stone, but not as many people have heard of similar products.
I mean, think recently at the Olympics in Beijing, China. Rosetta Stone was all over that! In fact, some Olympic competitors accredit Rosetta Stone for helping them get along whilst in China. Now, if you follow the money trail (there is always a money trail), these people were paid to say these things, but you get the idea. Rosetta Stone knows how to look for great opportunities and doesn’t let them fly by.
Now that you know where your money is going, you might ask, “Do I get anything in return?” Here’s the other thing Rosetta Stone does exceptionally well: pronunciation. This isn’t so much of a problem in Japanese, but when you’re taking Mandarin, French, Finnish (there is no Rosetta Stone for Finnish as of yet), Norwegian, or any of those kinds of languages, pronunciation can be quite difficult. In fact, I avoid learning French at every turn because I can’t pronounce it worth a darn! However, with Rosetta Stone, this might become possible, as the software matches your pronunciation up with a native speaker and provides immediate feedback. Rosetta Stone, unlike a book or a tape, is able to provide feedback whenever you do anything and it’s able to compare you to a native speaker. Because of this, Rosetta Stone is like a virtual teacher.
This is also the reason why so many people start out liking Rosetta Stone. They instantly know if they’re doing something wrong and can correct it. Other language programs should try and incorporate this kind of instant feedback and interaction in their products, because, quite frankly, this asset alone isn’t worth the price tag.
However, despite its interactive qualities, it doesn’t do much else. As long as I’m mentioning the price, I’m going to strike this out as a negative thing. I said in my review of Pimsleur that it was an insanely expensive product and that the Stroll Learning Company pretty much demands a burnt sacrifice. However, Pimsleur is a.) not as expensive as Rosetta Stone, and b.) actually teaches you to communicate in a foreign language. For its price tag, Rosetta Stone certainly doesn’t do a whole lot that can’t be done somewhere else.
Pimsleur is a pretty good teacher when it comes to pronouncing words correctly, and there’s a ton of books that can do this well, too. Those NHK tapes are excellent and get you communicated effectively for even cheaper, and JapanesePod101 gets my highest recommendation as far learning via video and audio go! Rosetta Stone doesn’t do much other than show you pictures and hope you can figure out which part of the picture the vocabulary word relates to.
On that note, I said at the beginning of this review that Rosetta Stone teaches by showing you a picture, the word (or words) that relates to that picture, and expects you to memorize it and automatically know how it’s used in a sentence. It really doesn’t teach you how to say anything! I could go to Japan using nothing but Rosetta Stone and know that “zou” means “elephant” and that “kuruma” means “car”, but this isn’t really going to do anything for me while I’m there! I need to know how to actually speak with people to do anything. Other language programs focus on effective communication while Rosetta Stone focuses on vocabulary and assumes that you’ll pick up the finer points of grammar on your own. At least Pimsleur provides some explanation for what you’re saying, despite having the same basic philosophy as Rosetta Stone.
The final thing I’m going to slam is its unwillingness to teach any amount of Japanese writing. If you’re learning a language that uses a different alphabet or writing system (think of the Asian languages, or Russian or Greek), and if the ability to turn on this system is in the software, then you’d think that, for $500, Rosetta Stone would actually attempt to teach you how to read it! As such, you can turn it on, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to read what it says. What does this mean? It means that, while you can probably learn the kana on the Internet, you’ll have to pay for a good kanji book on top of the software, which is a blatant rip-off.
So, what do I ultimately think of Rosetta Stone? I don’t recommend it. Not at all. Just about every good thing Rosetta Stone offers can be found elsewhere and for a much cheaper price. Heck, you can take a class for cheaper than you can buy Rosetta Stone! Not to mention, you’d get a heck of a lot more out of it! All in all, stay away from this software. It’s expensive, doesn’t teach you much at all, and is downright ineffective at everything except for getting you to pronounce this correctly. Not to mention, for every several hundred dollars you spend on Rosetta Stone, someone else will see the advertisement you paid for and think, “Wow, that looks like a good software!” Nothing could be further from the truth.