Walter Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal has stated: “Rosetta Stone may be the next best thing to living in a country.” You’ll find other praise for the product used heavily in their marketing materials. The Rosetta Stone System is used by the State Department, NASA, and 9,000 other public and nonprofit agencies. It’s used by over 8,000 corporations and more than 20,000 educational institutions.
Yet Rosetta Stone has also drawn criticism from people, including higher education academics and professors who specialize in computer assisted language learning. This leaves language learners at a loss to know who to believe.
This 2013 article featured on the Modern Language Association website addresses some concerns: “Is Rosetta Stone a Viable Option for Second-Language Learning?”
One concern about Rosetta Stone is that a common set of images and base vocabulary are shared across different languages. For example, in the Spanish lesson below, one would expect to see culturally relevant images of people and places where Spanish is predominantly spoken. The man shown in the lower left picture has the Hindi “Om” written on the building behind him (perhaps at a temple). This image would be helpful for those trying to understand the context of the Hindi language and associated culture. However, in a lesson about Spanish it is out of place and disorients the learner.
There’s also been a concern that the program oversimplifies language learning by focusing only on vocabulary and simple dialogs without providing a substantive introduction to the grammar and phonetics of a language.
It may be that those who praise the product and those who criticize it are both wrong:
- The supporters of Rosetta Stone make lofty and glorified claims about what it can do – stating that the product is all you need to become fluent in a language.
- The critics of Rosetta Stone seem to be arguing that the product is completely worthless.
In reality, most language learners will rely on many tools and resources to learn a language. The more tools and experiences you have, the more deep and rich your understanding will be of a language and its culture(s). A mix of classroom learning, interactive software, and immersion in a foreign country are all helpful for anyone learning a language. Mobile apps, handwritten flash cards, YouTube videos, Skype sessions, and audio recordings are all examples of tools to consider.
The best way to evaluate Rosetta Stone is to try out the free online demo. The real question a language learner needs to ask is whether or not this or any learning tool is worth the cost for what it offers.
Here are a few apps and online resources to use as a comparison:
- Anki Flash Cards
- DuoLingo.com Website and iPhone App
- Language Media Center Resources Page