I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the claims of Rosetta Stone to be the best language learning application available. Well, I don’t know about best since I haven’t tried them all, but I find that I like it much more than I thought I would.
My son made the interesting choice of Irish Gaelic as his language course, and I have to keep up with him. It isn’t easy, since I’m still working on my own language goals and having to keep up with my daughter’s Italian, too, but it’s a fun language. I find I like a challenge, and it’s one of the most challenging languages I’ve looked at. It’s the pronunciation. And the spelling. And the multitude of inconsistencies.
Yes, I find that fun. Or at least intriguing.
Up until this fall, we’d used Duolingo for our Irish studies, along with a little supplementation from a book I found and some Irish-language news sites. I’m a fan of Duolingo. I think it’s generally a quality tool, especially for Romance languages and German, and it’s free. For this particular language, though, Duolingo is lacking when it comes to pronunciation, which can be frustrating.
So, I decided to spend the money on Rosetta Stone. Since there are only three levels of Irish, the cost was $165. I would have paid the $199 for all five levels if they had been available.
I didn’t expect it, but I’m impressed. Every lesson has a variety of modules, and they cover everything from pronunciation to sentence structure and grammar. Finally, some help with the pronunciation!
My favorite thing, though, is that it doesn’t use English at all. There is no translating a word or sentence to English or from English to Irish. New words are introduced in sentences that contain familiar words, and they are accompanied by pictures that indicate what they mean.
I’ll admit, the first time I came across words I didn’t know, it was a bit strange. It took a couple of slides before I figured out what they meant. But I did, and that was pretty cool.
Rosetta Stone claims to teach you to think in the new language (or at least I seem to recall this claim from a commercial), and I can see what they mean. It encourages you not to translate in your head before responding – which is what real fluency is – by never asking you to translate anything. I don’t know that it’s completely effective, though. I still find myself thinking, “Oh! Those mean ‘big’ and ‘small’! I get it!” And though after that I try not to think about it in English, I know a small part of me still does. That’s not the software’s fault, though. It’s just the natural tendency to make associations with what you already know. I’m waiting to see if that goes away. I’m also curious to see how it works with more complex concepts.
The part of me that works for an international software company loves the idea of not having to make different versions for different languages. You may have to wrap it in a localized splash screen or startup menu and add localized help, but the app itself doesn’t require localization. That’s a nice way to save time and money.
Of course, the consumer in me reacts by thinking, “Well, they should lower the cost, then!”
I absolutely adore this app — except for the price. $199 will get you either the full downloadable software that is licensed for up to five users, or a year of the online program that includes the lessons, as well as games and a mobile app, for one user. I had some trouble finding information on the web site for what happens you buy the software and want to add the online capabilities, so I spoke to someone from their support chat. She told me that the pricing schedule ranges from $14 per month per user to $99 per year per user.
For someone who is focused on a single language, it can be doable. For someone like me, who dabbles more than I should and/or who has multiple language learners in the house, it’s way too much.
We’ll definitely continue using it for Irish, and I might consider purchasing it for my daughter’s lessons, too, because I like the structure. Other than that… Well, I can’t afford to just buy all the languages I want. And, of course, there is no Hungarian version, or I would happily be eating ramen* for a while to pay for it.
*I am really, really not a fan of ramen.