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Rosetta Stone Language Learning Review: Chinese Mandarin

written by: Sonal Panse • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 3/2/2012

Rosetta Stone is widely considered one of the best language teaching courses you can find online. Having always wanted to learn Chinese, I checked out their Chinese Mandarin course. I found it to be a very enjoyable way to learn.

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    Rosetta Stone

    I'd been rather curious about the Rosetta Stone language learning courses. Were they really worth the hype and the high price? Well, I just had the opportunity to review the Chinese Mandarin language software and, you know what, I'm absolutely impressed. Rosetta Stone does live up to its reputation in this instance. I did have a couple of issues here and there, but minor ones. The overall teaching strategy is excellent and well-planned.

    Rosetta Stone and the Direct Immersion Language Learning Method

    Rosetta Stone teaches by the "Direct Immersion" method. This means when you start learning, it is in your new language, as opposed to your native one. You don't, for example, get subtitles in your native language. The idea is to pick up the new language the way you did your old one - by a gradual immersion process. That is, you start using the language from Day One. You just immerse yourself in it - learn words, then sentences, then concepts and ideas and so on and so forth.

    Rosetta Stone Learning Levels

    I did start out a bit doubtful though. It was my first time studying a language online; I had always used books and audio CDs before. Would the direct immersion method work with Chinese Mandarin? It always seemed such a difficult language. But, I guess, quite a few things seem difficult until you try them. In this case, with the first lesson, I was a convert. I've fallen in love with the Chinese language, much the same way I fell in love with the violin the first time I took it up. Absolutely delightful.

    At the beginning, I went to the Chinese Mandarin section of the Rosetta Stone website, and read the information about the language and the course. Then I logged on and waited - a loooong time - for the program to load. A list of languages came up. You pick the one you are learning and the level.

    There are three levels in the Rosetta Stone Chinese Mandarin language learning software. Each level has four units. You can start at Level One and let the software take you through the paces to Level Three. You can also click and select the lessons you want to learn, although progressing directly to Level Three would rather be pointless if you have no knowledge of the previous levels. Still, if you do, the program is flexible and can be adapted to your requirements.

    Rosetta Stone Chinese Mandarin Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3

    The first level is the introductory one and you learn about reading, writing and listening to basic words and actions. Topics include people, greetings, clothes, family relations, colors, time, days and months, etc. The new vocabulary is repeated throughout the level, so you really grasp and retain it.

    The second level takes you further on with Chinese Mandarin conversational and grammar skills. You learn how to tell the time, about locations and directions, and destinations. You learn the words for different celebrations, emotions and meals. You learn a bit more about grammar.

    The third level of Chinese Mandarin is the most advanced one, obviously. Here the idea is to make you comfortable with expressing yourself in a regular, everyday situation. So you learn to give your opinions and ideas in Chinese Mandarin, and expand your vocabulary to include financial, business, political and social terms.

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    Rosetta Stone Chinese Mandarin Teaching Method

    You are shown an image with words under it, and you make the connection. The screen shows four photographs and words in pinyin. Pinyin is Chinese Mandarin written in romanized letters. First you have photographs with words under them, so, for example, you are shown a photograph of an apple and the words "ping guo" under it. So now you know that "ping guo" means apple. You hear the translation, so now you are also familiar with the sound. Similarly, you learn that "nan ren" means "man" and "nu ren" means "woman" and "nu hai zi" means "girl" and "nan hai zi" means boy.

    Then you are shown pictures and you must choose which word goes with a particular picture. If you get it right, a green check mark shows on the screen; if you are wrong, an orange cross shows on the screen. You can try until you get it right.

    In this manner, you pick up vocabulary. The vocabulary grows into sentences and you start getting an idea about sentence construction and grammar. The sentences develop and take you from basic actions to more complex ideas. The software also takes you through grammar lessons. This is done in an easy, logical way. I liked this approach. Learn how to use the language and then worry about the grammar. Or rather, don't worry about the grammar, pick it up in a natural way.

    Alongside, you pick up listening and speaking skills by listening to the words and sentences being spoken out loud by native speakers. Using a microphone, you can repeat after the audio and check if your pronunciation is correct using the voice recognition software and the voice graph.

    You also pick up writing skills by writing the Chinese Pinyin letters. There is an online keypad with the regular and accented Pinyin letters. The software also acquaints you with Chinese Mandarin characters.

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    Cultural Points in the Rosetta Stone Chinese Mandarin Course

    The cultural immersion here is a multicultural one with a mostly U.S. American background. You won't learn much about China's thousand year-plus cultural traditions in this course, but, since the whole point is learning the thousand year-plus language, I don't think this is a very big deal. Besides, being myself from a Third World country that Westerners determinedly term 'exotic', it's actually a relief not to get canned culture about the 'oriental' neighbors.

    Comparison between Rosetta Stone Online Version and Rosetta Stone Boxed CD Version

    The Rosetta Stone Chinese Mandarin learning software comes in an online version and a CD version. You can get a six-months or an year-long subscription to the online version. It is less expensive than the boxed CD version.

    Since I haven't used the boxed CD version, my making a comparison is rather moot. However, I think the boxed CD version might be the better investment. You will always have the CDs with you and can keep learning for however long you want. With the online version, you only have six months or an year, and if you are a slow learner and don't finish the levels in time, you must either burn up with frustration or resubscribe. Here is a review on the differences between the online Rosetta Stone and the boxed Rosetta Stone.

    Personal Experience with the Rosetta Stone Chinese Mandarin Software

    I used the Chinese Mandarin course from 1 April to 24 April for two hours daily. The lessons, as I mentioned before, are very well-arranged, and learning was a complete pleasure. The only issues I had were -

    • The online software can be very slow to load. That is frustrating with a capital F, especially if you are pressed for time.
    • While it is easy to understand what a picture means, in a few cases it can be a tad confusing. Like a girl standing before a mirror in a purple sweater - so are we talking about the sweater or the color or the girl or the mirror? But this is a small problem, because as you progress in the lesson, the meanings make themselves apparent.
    • Trying to understand the sound variations of xiē (plural form), xié (shoes), xiè (thanks), and xiĕ (to write).

    Apart from the teaching method, I think that knowing Marathi (the language of Maharashtra, India) made learning Chinese easier for me. Marathi syllables are quite similar to Mandarin syllables, and Marathi written characters are phonetic too; not similar to Chinese, but when you are comfortable with one set of phonetic types, it becomes kind of easier to pick up others.

    It's quite wonderful how quickly you pick up the language. I went to the doctor's the other day and he was writing and I actually thought, "Oh, zhe wei yi sheng zai xie zi." (Oh, the Doctor is writing).

    Now I can't wait to get to China and have the natives understand me.

    I highly recommend this course.