Have you always wanted to learn to speak Italian, but never got around to it? Maybe you could not afford the time or the money to take classes, let alone go to Italy to learn the language, so interaction with native speakers was not an option. Then again, maybe it was just the mere thought of having to learn grammar rules and memorize word lists that made your head spin. If any or all of the above are true, then the award-winning Rosetta Stone Italian Level 1 could be just what you need!
If only I could have had access to Rosetta Stone when I was a foreign language learner, eons ago. Language learning in the '70s and '80s was frankly not that much fun. Our learning material consisted of dry grammar books that contained one rule after another and many verb conjugations. Vocabulary was limited to long lists of words, with translations in your native language that you had to memorize. The only interaction with “real" language was provided by dialogues on records or tapes. I’m an Italian native who tried to learn French as a young adult with the traditional, old-school, all-grammar oriented method. Maybe that is why when I first went to France, after one year of French instruction, I wasn’t even able to ask where to find a bathroom, let alone understand the answer. This will not happen to you with the skills you’ll learn from Rosetta Stone Italian Level 1. You should be able to “survive" in all sorts of real-life interactions. In fact, Rosetta Stone is the closest thing to interacting with real native speakers at a level that is appropriate for you. If I eventually learned how to speak multiple foreign languages fluently, it was thanks to my frequent trips abroad and my interactions with the locals in their environment. Rosetta Stone can be regarded as a virtual tour. Or, at least (since, as I will detail below, it is a bit lacking in terms of authentic Italian cultural content) like meeting a bunch of nice and approachable Italian-native neighbors.
Based on the Dynamic Immersion method, Rosetta Stone is tangible proof that some advancements in technology can really be good for you. There is no need to panic, because you won’t have to try to make sense of complex grammar rules, memorize boring word lists, or translate back and forth from English. Actually, the method is such that you will be naturally guided, not translated, but rather gradually learn how to speak Italian (and maybe–which in my view is the ultimate proof of genuine, effective language acquisition--ultimately, even dream in Italian). You will be learning in the same way you learned your native language as a child, by connecting words, phrases, and sounds with images from the surrounding world. [see screen shot 1: Level 1]
Dynamic Immersion is a method that combines interactive technology with native speakers and rich visuals (see At the Market screen shot), to mimic the complete immersion process children use to learn their first language. The program really provides an immersive experience.
Rosetta Stone Italian Level 1 is designed, as the website (www.rosettastone.com) states, to build “a foundation of fundamental vocabulary and essential language structure." You will acquire basic conversational skills, including greetings and introductions, simple questions and answers, shopping, and more. It corresponds more or less to a first-semester college course. It is composed of four units (Language Basics, Greetings and Introductions, Work and School, Shopping). [see screenshot 2: Selection screen shot]
Each core lesson aptly focuses on all the main areas of effective language learning: pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, listening and reading, writing, speaking, and final review. There are four core lessons for each level. There’s even a “final exam," but Rosetta Stone had the good sense to rename it “Milestone," so as to not scare you, the learner. [see screenshot 3: Course Unit Outline] The entire experience, let me reassure you, is never scary.
Although a bit expensive, this software is a steal when compared to one semester of college tuition. It will allow you to work at your own pace and on your own time. What this type of language learning software requires, though, is perseverance. You won’t need to spend hours per day on it. However, you should be ready to commit to a half an hour per day, every day, for a few weeks. The attractive interface, graphics, and audio will make such a commitment easier for you. In fact, it will feel more like playing an interactive textual adventure game than “studying."
The complete suite is composed of three levels. The software I am reviewing is version 3 (on the CD-ROM there is also an online subscription option), which came out in August 2007, and has been implemented in ten of the languages that Rosetta Stone offers. Version 3 marks a significant improvement over previous builds, as it includes a number of new features: proprietary speech recognition technology; Contextual Formation, which uses real-world simulations (an implementation of the “rolplaying" concept of the present-day language classroom); Adaptive Recall, which tracks progress to reinforce your strengths and revisit needs; and Milestone, which lets you try out your new language knowledge in real-life simulations. Italian Level 1's progressive learning format also has been improved.
The speech recognition feature is effective, and works better than most similar software I have tried so far.
But is it boring? Are you worried that it may be just as tedious as your high-school language classes? Absolutely not. It is never tedious or boring. Rosetta Stone boasts that it provides “a captivating, game-like experience." As a video game player since 1977, I’m happy to confirm that claim. You’ll feel more like you are playing a drag-and-drop, point-and-click graphical adventure (with added and exciting speech and typing features) rather than learning a foreign language. And yet, there’s nothing “flaky" about this software.