A Bright Hub Education writer reviews the Italian version of Rosetta Stone Online, available--for a cost--from any computer with an Internet connection.
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The Online Version
You may be most familiar with Rosetta Stone as the expensive language learning software in the bright yellow box. Although effective, Rosetta Stone costs upward of five hundred dollars for all three levels and can only be installed on one computer at a time. Rosetta Stone Online offers the same capability as the installed software, accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, for a little less money.
However, there is a catch: Rosetta Stone Online is subscription-based, so if you have not finished the entire course by the end of your initial six-month or one-year subscription and want to keep going, you will have to pay again. You can read more about the difference between Rosetta Stone Online and the installed program in another Bright Hub Education review.
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Like the installed software, Rosetta Stone Italian Online plunges you immediately into the world of Italian. Don’t confuse this with being plunged into Italy. In fact, many of the pictures I encountered in the Rosetta Stone Italian program were exactly the same pictures I’d found in the Irish program, and scanning through other language versions showed a number of duplicates. However, enough of the images--I would estimate about half--were specific to the Italian program, so I found myself nonetheless slipping into the immersion learning experience immediately. I cannot take away from the overall Rosetta Stone Online review for repeated pictures, because it doesn't directly affect the language learning experience--but seeing uniquely Italian people and pictures would make sitting still for the amount of repetition required much easier.
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One of the beauties of Rosetta Stone Online is that, just like its installed software cousin, you can sit down and complete most of the lessons in 5 to 15 minutes. The core lessons, in which new vocabulary words and concepts are first introduced, take about 30 minutes. This makes doing a few of the short lessons or one core lesson at a time over the course of a lunch break, for example, both feasible and effective. Bright Hub Education also offers a series of tips on how to get the most out of your Rosetta Stone experience, whether online or installed.
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An Italian Approach
The Italian Rosetta Stone experience starts simply, introducing basic nouns like man, woman, boy and girl. Next up, you are exposed to the simplest of verbs. Run. Eat. Drink. Swim. Sleep. This is a subtle yet effective way of demonstrating sentence structure or, at the very least, how subjects and verbs go together. Since there is no introductory material--no primer on the basic rules of Italian--to speak of when you begin with Rosetta Stone, you are left to learn everything through experience and context. This approach, beginning with the simplest of subjects and then adding the simplest of verbs, is natural, common sense and necessary. That doesn't stop the Rosetta Stone Online review experience from being just as frustrating as any immersion into a brand-new country with a brand-new language; it takes a while to get your sea legs. If you are curious about the Rosetta Stone Online experience for other languages, check out this review for the Irish version.
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Learning from Native Speakers
I had always assumed that the “excess of feeling" in what little spoken Italian I had heard was an affectation of screen or radio personalities. However, with Rosetta Stone Online, it is clear that you are listening to native speakers. It is just as obvious that the ups and downs in intonation are authentic. What’s more, being able to practice intonations in the privacy of my own home and not a public class made me feel relatively comfortable. Note that you will hear the same speakers and see the same images in both the online and installed versions of Rosetta Stone.
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Rosetta Stone excels in leading you through a sensible progression, building from simple vocabulary to more complicated phrasing and complex sentence structure. It’s not that terribly difficult to plunge into the second or third lesson in the first level right away and put together a fairly decent idea of what’s going on. The pictures do, after all, speak volumes. Being familiar with Spanish also helps, as the two languages are so very similar. However, even with that familiarity, a quick skip ahead to level two as part of this Rosetta Stone Online review had me pausing and fiddling with what I knew of Spanish and Italian. Yes, I could figure out the meanings of the phrases I saw--to a point--with a long pause and a lot of translating back and forth between English, Spanish and Italian. This is exactly the sort of thing this program aims to avoid: Its goal is to teach you how to speak in Italian without having to translate through another language first.
A quick peek into the third level showed that the level of Italian being spoken was completely incomprehensible to my basic understanding--at least without having first progressed through all the lessons of the previous levels. In a way, this is reassuring. It shows that the long slog through basic lesson after lesson is in fact both useful and necessary. It also shows that, if you have some background in the language already, it is possible to skip ahead to more challenging material. While it is difficult to draw an exact comparison between levels of Rosetta Stone and classroom language courses, I would say that the first level is roughly approximate to the first semester of learning a new language. Admittedly, your vocabulary will be smaller than that of someone who has sat through an entire semester of Italian, but you can always remedy that with a dictionary once you get used to the basic rules of pronunciation.
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Only a Few Faults
One of the biggest lacks I found during this Rosetta Stone Online review was the absence of centralized reference material. If you are familiar with other romance languages such as French or Spanish, the similar structure and even similar words give you a running start. Even so, having a quick picture-dictionary you could click to would have been supremely helpful without compromising the immersion experience. As it is, there is no way of referencing words or concepts that were addressed in the previous lessons unless you repeat the lessons. Given that everything tends to blur together after you have been through a few lessons, knowing which lesson to go back to is just about impossible.
Body language is another vital component that is missing. Body language varies between languages and cultures, and observing it is an important part of the immersion experience. There is a limit to how much Rosetta Stone can reasonably do, and let’s face it: They have already done a lot with what they offer. If you really want to enjoy not just the language but also the faces and the scenery of Italy, there comes a point at which you will just simply have to go to Italy. To conclude this Rosetta Stone Online review, I'd rank it as the next best thing to actually taking a trip--but only if you're willing to pay the price and, more importantly, put in the time. I give Rosetta Stone Online a five-out-of-five overall rating, despite its few flaws.