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Rosetta Stone Spanish Review - A Rock-Steady Language Learning Program

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 4/5/2012

Rosetta Stone works with the human mind in ways that will amaze language learners. If you are a beginner, this attractive and powerful program--Level 1, Latin American Spanish--will provide you with a solid foundation on which to build with the other levels of Rosetta Stone products.

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    Introduction

    The Rosetta Stone products deserve the stellar reputation they have earned. They install easily and in less than a half an hour. Once you've installed, though, hold on to your seat! Rosetta Stone's "Dynamic Immersion" program results from its use of images associated with words, intuition about carefully designed patterns for modeling grammar concepts, interactivity that gives learners instant feedback, and finally, systematic instruction that incrementally builds by combining simple concepts into more and more complex sentences to create meaningful utterances. Thus, Rosetta Stone takes learners on a supersonic adventure in language learning that is revolutionary, not because any of the pedagogical concepts are new themselves (immersion is nothing new), but because technology has made it possible to harness the best methods and make them available 24/7, to allow learners to artificially immerse themselves anywhere they can use the program.

    Rosetta Stone uses what traditional wisdom has always known, but it uses technology to do it consistently and with intensity. The human mind naturally searches for patterns and makes deductions and inferences about them. That is how we all learned our mother tongues. What Rosetta Stone has done is to limit the choices learners are asked to make and the result is to fast-track the natural process of language acquisition. This allows the mind--dare I say causes the mind?--to correctly lay down new pathways for the second language you have decided to learn.

    Another reason Rosetta Stone succeeds is because it does not give in to the temptation that most "live" language teachers succumb to when they empathize with students' confusion and translate. All that is required of learners is that they work consistently, engaging their consciousness and paying attention. There are nearly 100 lessons in Level 1, distributed among four core lessons per unit. Lessons in each unit can take about 30 minutes, making it easy to budget your time. Rosetta Stone charts your course, evaluates your work, and even allows you to reset your score to zero and start again. What's more, it gives learners schedules and deadlines. The language recognition software is so impressive it seems as if science fiction has become a reality.

    Finally, no matter how much work you do or how successful you are with an automated system such as Rosetta Stone, good as it is, the time will come when you need to study Spanish Face to Face -- with a live instructor. And, good as such programs are to help you develop some fundamental intuitions about grammar, eventually, you will have to face the details. For that, you will need to master the pronoun system, the past tenses and the subjunctive. For some lively articles about language learning, visit this blog.

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    Aesthetic Considerations

    What's Hot:

    This is a beautiful program. The photos are exquisitely engaging. The icons, while abstract, are few enough that they can be remembered after an hour or so. The technology does not overshadow the learning it was designed to facilitate.

    What's Not:

    I have only one criticism--and it has nothing to do with the efficacy of the program. A great proportion of the photos are from non-Spanish-speaking cultures. I understand that the logic behind the selection of a variety of images is to create generalizations associated with a particular word. For instance, in one lesson, several breeds of dogs are shown when the word perro is presented. Then several types of cats with the word for cat, gato; finally, with no explicit prompt, learners are shown a cat, a dog and a horse, while hearing the word for horse (caballo), thus teaching vocabulary without translation. Even though the use of images from outside the Spanish-speaking world is sound language pedagogy, nothing would be lost if the same variety were sought by showing photos of the great diversity found within the Spanish-speaking world.

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    Help & Support

    What's Hot:

    Rosetta Stone has online technical support as well as phone support. The contact information is displayed prominently and in various places, including in the help. Registering the product is a must; why pay $209 and not take advantage of everything this great program has to offer?

    What's Not:

    The live phone help is only available during U.S. Eastern Standard Time working hours. The phone help line has voice mail and they do respond. My call was returned well within 24 hours; a good sign, considering that they almost certainly get a lot of calls (not because of any problem with the software, but because many people truly need help when it comes to computers). It makes sense that with more and more people living on the West Coast, they should set up some sort of satellite office or mirrored service for those of us who are up for several more hours after they go to sleep in Virginia.

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    Installation & Setup

    What's Hot:

    Rosetta Stone is a huge program that loads without a hitch. Like a huge stone cut to fit your needs, it rolls into place elegantly and is ready to use in less than a half an hour. The printed matter included with the disks includes two cards, one labeled Quick Start and the other Set Up Your Headset. In addition, there is a superbly informative, 52-page User's Guide (about which more elsewhere in this review). These two cards contained all the instructions I needed to confidently install the files on the two disks. It was easy to follow the screen prompts because they were displayed on the cards as screen shots and explained. There are two disks to load. One is labeled Application and the other, which contains the language program, is labeled Latin America Level 1. The headset, likewise, was easy to set up. Rosetta Stone thought of everything except the flashlight I needed to see where to plug in the headset, but all was ready to go in less than a half an hour. At which point I paused to examine the excellent User's Guide to get an idea of the structure of the lessons and what to expect.

    What's Not:

    The only confusion I had was when I activated the program and registered it in order to have full access to all the lessons and Rosetta Stone's technical support. One code is the activation code, a long string of numbers broken up in shorter numbers, printed on another card that is included in the box. The other was what caused me a moment of confusion: I was prompted for the version number printed on the CD that, as it turned out, was in the drive--a momentary glitch that the writers of the Quick Start card or the User's Guide could prevent if they added a line about this second bit of information so that users could jot it down. No problem, however. Since installation is complete by the time you get to this step, once I realized where it was, I popped open the CD ROM drive and entered the information, closed it and hit Enter. All was smooth sailing from then on.

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    Price to Value

    What's Hot:

    This might border on blasphemy for a university language professor to say, but I will: no one will dispute that taking Spanish, or any language, is much different from learning it. Remember Mark Twain's famous line: "Don't let your schooling get in the way of your education"? Well, if earning college credit isn't your prime motivation, but learning is, and you don't want to spend hundreds of dollars per credit hour--just so you can sit in a class full of students who may not be as excited about expanding their horizons through foreign language study--and if you know you have the maturity, determination, and self-discipline to stick with the program, then by all means, you should rush out, yes, and spend $209 on Rosetta Stone's Latin American Spanish Level 1. This program is simply the best language-learning software on the market, in every way, bar none.

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    User Interface

    What's Hot:

    Working with Rosetta Stone is delightful. It only takes a little practice to get used to the timing of voice prompts. This is the most important thing to master, after learning what to click and where, since the program is essentially a surrogate conversation partner. Learners need to get used to the sequence used when they are expected to listen and repeat. First, the word, phrase, or sentence is heard, modeling the native pronunciation. Then a small box with a blank appears above an image. At that moment, learners are to repeat the segment, after which the program repeats the segment before proceeding to the next. At any point during speaking practice, it is possible to see a wave graph comparison and get several tries at pronunciation. There is an icon inside the box containing the segment, which navigates learners to that feature.

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    Performance

    What's Hot:

    Pardon the pun, but Rosetta Stone's performance will leave you speechless. It responds at a speed that corresponds to the timing of normal conversation and smoothly transitions from exercise to exercise, lesson to lesson, and unit to unit.

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    Product Features

    What's Hot:

    Rosetta Stone's program for Latin American Spanish Level 1 consists of four units: Language Basics, Greetings and Introductions, Work and School, and Shopping. Each unit is divided into four Core Lessons. Each of the lessons has nine activities through which the learner is taken in the following sequence: Pronunciation, Vocabulary, Grammar, Listening and Reading, Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, and finally a Review, in which select exercises from the different activities are presented again.

    After each unit, there is a Milestone. The Milestone integrates all the material of the unit into an interactive "conversation" in which the program is the learner's conversation partner. The learner interacts not by typing, but by actually speaking, deducing what to say from the real-life situations portrayed. For instance, the learner sees a flower shop, but all the flowers are yellow. The learner, having learned colors and how to form questions, and having been exposed to the flower shop scenario earlier, is presented with an answer that "not all the flowers are the same color" and thus deduces that the question he or she is being prompted to ask is, "Are all the flowers the same color?" Naturally, the Milestone is the most exciting moment in the process, because learners can feel the success of having mastered the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and other material in the Core Lesson's exercises.

    The exercises are the heart of the program. Because no translation is used, some may wonder how the program can teach grammar. One example (which I found ingenious and difficult for a lone teacher to duplicate in a classroom) should suffice to convince readers how effective the program is and to show how it uses the mind's own natural ability to seek patterns and make connections between situations, images, and language. When teaching the concept of subject-verb agreement and conjugation, a series of six photos appears. Each photo contains varying numbers of people (from one to three) and either one or more bunches of red roses. There is one person who appears in all the photos. In one, she is alone, holding a bunch of roses, seeming to speak to the learner. In another, she is pointing to someone with her who is holding them, but looking out at the learner. In another, she appears with two other people; each of them is holding a bunch of roses and all of them are looking at the learner. The learner hears a series of declarative sentences, such as "I have flowers," "she has flowers" and "we have flowers," which he or she is to match with the photo by clicking inside it. In this way, the connection between subject, its corresponding verb endings, and the situations in which they are used are all reinforced without any need to translate! Ingenious indeed, and only technology can do it, unless schools and universities want to put three professors in every classroom of their level one Spanish classes.

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    Images

    [inlineImage|sectionimages||ExploreActivitiesThisUnit|][inlineImage|sectionimages||FourCoreLessonsMenu|][inlineImage|sectionimages||GrammarActivity|][inlineImage|sectionimages||Listening Grades Showing|][inlineImage|sectionimages||Listening Reading Activity|][inlineImage|sectionimages||Pronunciation Activity|][inlineImage|sectionimages||Reading Activity|][inlineImage|sectionimages||SpeakingActivity|][inlineImage|sectionimages||Vocabulary Activity|][inlineImage|sectionimages||Writing Activity|]
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    Suggested Features

    Could Rosetta Stone find a way to bring learners into cyberspace as digital holograms of their real selves so they can interact with other learners (selected for language level) in a virtual 3-D environment? I don't think I'm kidding after seeing what they have already done.
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    Conclusion

    In a language professor's perfect world, everyone would want to master at least one language other than their mother tongue. In that world, Rosetta Stone would do the heavy lifting for all of what are called basic, foundational, or, to use that ugly academic word, required language classes in college. Indeed, in a perfect world, Rosetta Stone would be used (in some form) in preschools and in K-12 settings. It would be used in a disciplined and regular way. Rather than impoverish university language programs or displace them, in this perfect world, college freshmen would be bilingual and go to Spanish literature classes just as they now go to English literature classes. Rosetta Stone has the potential to repristinate foreign language education and its image and value. For the individual consumer, that perfect world can start with you.
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