Saturday, December 17, 2011

My current method of study

In the interest of sharing successes and failures with learning another language, I thought I'd share something I wrote a few years ago about Rosetta Stone (RS). We were using RS quite happily and successfully, so I decided to do some google searching to see what other people were saying about it. Surprisingly, it was almost all critical and dismissive. After reading many blog posts and comments ripping RS to shreds and me saying, "No! You don't understand RS or know what you are talking about..." I decided to write a little piece about RS.

Personally, I think it is good system, especially when paired with Anki. The available PDFs make for excellent Anki cards and just burn the content into your brain. Each lesson has about 120-150 cards, so when you make a reverse deck of same cards, you end up with hundreds of full, grammatically correct sentences based around a common theme/topic. My level 1 and level 2 decks have about 3000 cards each.


"While I understand many of the complaints and problems with RS, I think the overwhelming negativity and dismissal of the program is unfortunate, much of it based on misunderstandings of what RS is trying to do and fundamental concepts of language acquisition. This is a shame as it may scare some away from objectively assessing its effectiveness and perhaps finding the method that works for their personal style of learning.

I have been teaching a second/foreign language (English) in different countries for over 15 years, and in the last 30 years, I have seriously attempted to study at least seven languages. I have used books, private tutors, classes, audio cassettes, CDs, and numerous computer programs. I only say this to show that I have some experience in regards to second language acquisition. Also, I do not work for RS.

In my current attempt to learn Japanese in the last year, I have used RS, the Genki textbooks, Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji, Anki, Japanesepod101, and Human Japanese, as well as a class and a tutor here in Tokyo.

The two most important things in learning a language are TIME and MOTIVATION. You have to be willing and able to give a large amount of time to the process. There is NO WAY around this. So, anything method that makes you willing and able to give that time is fantastic and should be embraced.

My wife and I both find RS to be challenging, rewarding, and addictive to use. We give a lot of our time to RS. In that case, the cost is insignificant. Time is our most valuable and limited resource. If a method can get you to commit that resource, then it is priceless.

I have been reading a great deal about RS, and it seems that the majority of complaints come down to the following list. I will try to respond to each one.

COST – Yes, it is expensive compared to other options. However, if it leads you to your goal, what is that worth? Also, if you look at the amount of photos, audio files, design, etc., you realize this is not a cheaply made program. And yes, it is a very successful business that is very good at marketing itself. However, don’t dismiss a true evaluation of RS’s effectiveness just because of sticker shock. (Update - a friend recently paid about $1,000 for a ten-week, twice-a-week, two-hour per session class here in Tokyo. He also spends two hours every time on round trip travel, plus about $15 on transportation. How's that for sticker/time shock?)

LACK OF GRAMMAR/EXPLANATION – I, too, have been frustrated at times when I don’t understand a word or phrase. Yet, this happens in any language learning process. Many people become fluent without ever consulting a grammar book. RS is not designed to teach you grammar; it is designed to teach you the language. Also, it has to be accessible to speakers of any language. How could RS provide grammar/explanations in all languages? As a side note, there is research that indicates that studying grammar is NOT an effective way to learn a language.

EASY TO GUESS THE ANSWER – If you view RS – or any other language learning – as a race to get through or a system that you can ‘cheat’ your way through, then you are not serious about learning the language. RS will not teach you the language; you must teach yourself using RS. You need to study as a mature student, taking full responsibility for your successes and failures. Take notes. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you understand a concept before moving on.

DOESN’T TEACH SURVIVAL/TRAVEL PHRASES – Correct. RS is not designed for the traveler. It is designed to teach anyone the language, starting from the bottom up. It doesn’t care if you want to know how to say ‘Where is the bathroom?’ However, the fact that RS markets itself in that way is a legitimate complaint.

Now, for the good things about RS. I know these may not be true for everyone, but they are important for potential learners to know:

FUN AND ADDICTIVE – Need I say more? If it gets you to actually put in the time, then it’s a winner.

MATERIAL BROKEN INTO CONCISE AND OBTAINABLE BENCHMARKS/GOALS– The material is presented in a way that makes it easy to commit to and finish a section. Unlike more open ended studying, RS ‘enforces’ the process, creating learning opportunities with clear goals.

ALL IN TARGET LANGUAGE – Nothing but you and the language you are trying to learn. Yep, it’s hard. There’s no faking it. You either figure it out or you don’t. Suck it up, Buttercup!

FOCUSES ON LISTENING – Listening is the most difficult of the four skills. You will hear thousands of target language phrases in a focused listening context. (Update - there are also audio files available, which means you can surround yourself with the same content but in a different way.)

REPETITION ENFORCED BY THE PROGRAM – Yes, it can seem tedious at points, but you have to practice, practice, practice. If you follow RS’s lead, there’s no escaping it as much as you would like to move on. You can’t just say, ‘Oh I know that,’ and rush ahead to the next section.

Again, this is just my opinion, and I know that there are many different learning styles and opinions out. I just wanted to put in my two cents (sorry, it might be three because I wrote so much ;)




  1. I didn’t hear about Rosetta Stone method before. I’ve just visited Wikipedia and RS website. It seems that this is the only app that uses this method. What’s more. It is a proprietary app and does not work in Linux. There is no web version as well.

    It seems to be an interesting method. But is it patented? Are there other apps/web services that make use of RS method? I would like to hear more about it.

  2. Hey, actually there is an online app but it seems that only 1st level is included for English course.

    Just tried the demo and I can say I like it. I think that the method with other techniques would complement each other. :)

    Thanks for the post!

  3. One more thing. The course is quite expensive for Polish people. The 12-month on-line course costs €289 which is about 1300 zlotych. The minimum monthly net wage that amounts to about 1030 zlotych is very common due to the fact that employers exploit workers.

    I’m saying this because I’m furious since so-called Polish government decided to help other, much richer countries (Greece, Italy) to pay off their debts and to help save the new Soviet (EU) Union.

    Sorry for that rant. The Poles are very resourceful but constantly ripped of by the government. So-called Polish. Period. :(

  4. RS runs OK on Linux under WINE.

  5. Mex,

    What is WINE? I'm not very tech savvy...