There are a lot of options for consumers looking to learn a second language. I get asked about Rosetta Stone quite a bit. And although Rosetta Stone is very popular and has benefits, there are a few things you should understand before making such a large financial commitment to one product that may or may not work for you. Here are the top five reasons I do not recommend the software:
#5 Word associations don’t work
We’re all familiar with flash cards, right? You show me a photograph of a cat and I tell you that cat in Spanish is “el gato”. A major part of Rosetta Stone’s curriculum is to flash images in front of the student and the student must remember how to translate the name of that image into Spanish. For example, the student may see a photograph of a cat under a table and should be able to recall that "cat under the table" translates to “el gato está abajo de la mesa.”
In my experience, the effectiveness of flash cards/word associations decreases dramatically as you increase in speaking ability and comprehension skills. The exercises can be effective for helping beginner students progress to a point and improve their Spanish pronunciation, but it doesn’t offer the rich and refined language learning experience that is needed to develop useful speaking skills. The Rosetta Stone curriculum relies so heavily on these word associations that many students become frustrated as they advance through the software.
#4 Learn like you learned how to speak your first language
Years ago I would hear the Rosetta Stone radio ads claiming that they would teach you to learn a second language the same way you learned your first language. There are some major flaws with that methodology and frankly it just doesn’t work. I hope they move away from this claim as it is entirely misleading.
After about 7 years, human brains begin to lose the ability to learn the way we did when we were babies. Think about it. Notwithstanding all the laughing, cooing, and crying, a newborn child doesn’t know how to control the muscles in his mouth to form words, sentences, and ideas. This is learned over time as the baby watches his parents, mimics their mouth movement, and copies the sounds coming out of their throats. A lot of trial and error occur as baby attempts to form words for many years before he is ever able to speak a complete idea.
Most adults wanting to learn Spanish as a second language simply cannot learn this way. It’s just not practical as we don’t have time to spend 100% of our day in full Spanish immersion. Even for those who work with Spanish speakers or who listen to Spanish all day, they’d still need a healthy amount of grammar rules and language structure explained in order to have success learning to speak. When we reach adolescence, our brains begin wanting a bit more structure and clarity. I’ve found that adult brains really like step-by-step instructions, logic processes, and formulas when learning to speak Spanish.
#3 Rosetta Stone is too expensive
Rosetta Stone’s level 1 Spanish course is $179. That is too much to pay, especially for those who are testing the waters when it comes to learning a second language. A much better approach for a student new to the language would be to find an inexpensive course that provides effective curriculum that has been proven successful.
First, I love businesses. Especially those that employ people, create great products & services, and serve to advance our society. That said, businesses and shareholders have a fiscal responsibility to increase shareholder wealth and increase the company's stock price. Sometimes a higher stock price is achieved with product improvements, breaking into new markets, lowering costs, etc. But in today's age of fierce competition and race to increase market share, frequently companies will take shortcuts to riches.
If you take a close look at the curriculum and exercises contained in the Rosetta Stone language courses, you’ll immediately notice similarities between them. And while it may make sense to replicate a proven model for teaching Latin-based languages that are similar, it certainly doesn’t make sense to apply that same model to Mandarin, Japanese, Finish, and other languages that have entirely different roots.
In the eyes of shareholders, a repeatable approach to teaching language to the masses works perfectly well because it maximizes profits. More replication of language material across multiple languages means a larger consumer base and more opportunities to generate revenue. Unfortunately, the students receive less effective instruction, they get frustrated, lose their money, and don't achieve their goals of learning Spanish.
#1 Lack of focus on grammar
Finally and most importantly, Rosetta Stone lacks the actual teaching that is so critical to new students. Imagine a group of people attempting to cross a wide gully. The only way to cross is by constructing a bridge. Some of the people have materials, tools, and instructions on how to build the bridge and others don’t. Rosetta Stone essentially sets up their students for failure right at the beginning because their courses do not provide the materials, tools, and instructions that are necessary when building a bridge to Spanish fluency.
It is absolutely crucial that new students be given a pathway to success. One of the steps on that pathway is a clear understanding of grammar principles and how subjects and verbs interact. This is what I refer to as the foundation of the Spanish language. If the student does not build a solid understanding of this basic foundation, her chances of success are virtually zero.
This is where we chat about all things Spanish. Feel free to ask a question, challenge me, passionately disagree, or rant about whatever. Just make it interesting.