Does Rosetta Stone Really Work?


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I had my six-week progress evaluation last week to see how my Spanish is coming along. I am estimated to be a 2/2+, or a 2 in speaking (limited working proficiency) and a (weak) 2+ in reading (between limited working proficiency and professional working proficiency) according to the ILR scale.Although anything with the word “limited” in it doesn’t sound that good, I’m really happy about this. I had been worried about how much Spanish I’d really be able to learn in eight weeks at FSI, and it turns out, I’ve learned a lot.But I wasn’t starting from 0, thanks to Rosetta Stone.rosetta stone level 2, spanish, learning spanish, learning a new languageI’ve written about learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone and its limitations, but I can say now, nine months after I first used Rosetta Stone and six weeks after starting an immersion course at FSI, that Rosetta Stone does absolutely work.BUT (of course there’s a caveat), that depends on your definition of “work.” For me, I wanted to learn as much Spanish as possible to have a strong enough base so that when I arrive in El Salvador, I’ll be able to get around, express needs and have basic social conversations. I knew that learning a new language would be an ongoing process that would require more practice and learning-on-the-go once we get to post.This was before I knew I’d be able to enroll in eight weeks of Spanish at FSI. Afterwards, my objective changed slightly: I wanted to build a strong enough base so I could place into the most advanced level possible, given that my time at FSI is limited. But my overall view of language-learning is still the same: It takes work, whether that’s using teaching software like Rosetta Stone, taking a class, practicing with native speakers, reading, watching movies and listening to podcasts or all of the above.Now, I realize that most people do not have the luxury to spend several hours per day in an immersion course. My Spanish has advanced in such a short amount of time only because I’ve had the opportunity to speak and hear Spanish for 20-25 hours per week — with at least one and sometimes three of those hours in one-on-one settings with a native speaker. For this, I am truly grateful. My previous Spanish teacher said she always thinks to herself, “¡Qué suerte!” that we are able to have this opportunity to learn a new language in such an ideal environment.I do think it is possible to successfully learn a new language — definitely enough to get around on a vacation or feel comfortable if moving to a new country — without taking an immersion course, particularly using a tool like Rosetta Stone. But I think your chances of learning are better the more you do, so I would recommend the following as well, particularly if you want to apply the language in a professional working environment:

  • Read. A lot. (In the language you are trying to learn, of course.) Newspapers, magazines, blogs, simple books, anything and everything you can. Try to interpret the content (note: NOT translate, word for word, but derive the overall meaning of the text) without using a dictionary. Then, look up words you don’t know. Which leads me to …
  • Make flashcards. Lots of them. I know. Rosetta Stone’s whole thing is about learning new vocabulary without making flashcards or having to do things by rote memorization. And it can get you far, but if you’re interested in being able to talk about current events or say, an obscure hobby you love like blogging and website development, chances are, Rosetta Stone will not contain the vocabulary necessary for you to really carry on detailed conversations about these things. (See: talking about sailing vs. talking about economic growth in Spanish.)
  • Listen to the news. This relates to the above. Rosetta Stone really does cover a lot of vocabulary. But it may not have all the words necessary to describe, say, a national crisis over the country’s Supreme Court. Or how a gang truce has reduced the murder rate.
  • Practice talking. It helps if you have a significant other or friend who is also learning the language (even better if he/she already speaks the language!) because you can practice having a conversation. As great as Rosetta Stone is with its listening, pronunciation and speaking lessons, it still lacks the spontaneity and improvisation that a conversation requires. Honestly, probably the biggest benefit I’ve gotten from studying at FSI was getting over the embarrassment factor. Yes, I still feel like an idiot every time I open my mouth and speak Spanish, but I am forced to do it everyday, for hours a day. And that’s what has to happen because you won’t improve unless you put all you’re learning to real-life use.

A lot of one’s success in learning a new language also depends on his or hear learning style. So some of the other things techniques that I do — learning “by the book” (i.e. verb conjugations and other grammatical rules), doing verb conjugation and vocabulary drills online — won’t necessarily work for other people. But it might work for some, so if you’re the kind of person who thrives with order and routine, have at it.I also should note that learning Spanish is not the same as learning Mandarin. Or Hindi. Or EnglishSpanish is probably THE ONLY other language I can learn. (I tried French but that didn’t work out.)Those are my language-learning tips. Of course, becoming a Foreign Service Officer (or marrying one) and being able to study a language full time trumps online software any day, but you’ve got to work with what you have. Even better if you have both, like me! (Thanks, Kara, btw for letting me borrow ALL FIVE LEVELS of Rosetta Stone, which cost like a million dollars.)I have my Spanish exam next week. Like, the real deal. Wish me luck!What language did you study in high school or college? Have you considered taking a class or trying Rosetta Stone?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

14 thoughts on “Does Rosetta Stone Really Work?

  1. I actually had a Spanish minor in college and did a study abroad program in Costa Rica. I love the language, but I never speak it anymore, so I’m getting really rusty. Maybe I need to try Rosetta Stone!! It’s awesome that you are so dedicated to learning it. Good luck with your test!

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    1. Thank you! I think it’s worth it, if you want to keep your language skills up. You probably wouldn’t need to start at level 1 given your background. That being said, you could probably find all kinds of free language-learning resources online, but I like the structure that Rosetta Stone provides.

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  2. Thank you so much for this review! I’ve been thinking about giving Rosetta Stone a try once things calm down a bit and it’s great to hear from someone who’se used it!

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    1. I think it is definitely worth it, at least the first level or two. I don’t think anything can beat complete immersion (i.e. being in-country — which I will hopefully be experiencing SOON) but it’s a good foundation-builder and provides some structure to learning. I would try to do 30-45 minutes a day, but sometimes I would go days/weeks without even touching it, and it still worked out. Good luck!

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  3. Instead of flashcards, you could use a program like Mnemosyne to learn words or phrases. Basically, it’s like a flashcard, but it builds a model of what you know and don’t know and comes up with an optimal schedule for when you should be presented with a particular word or phrase. It’s supposed to work well, and that concept is the basis for Rosetta Stone’s ‘Adaptive Recall.’Glad to hear Rosetta Stone worked out for you. Full disclosure: I worked there for 3.5 years, ending back in May.

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      1. Hm, that program sounds interesting though. I use a flaschard app that has built-in decks or the option to build your own decks but I still mostly just make my own cards from readings and other words I learn. What did you do for Rosetta Stone?

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      2. I worked on their institutional offerings – so, if you got Rosetta Stone from AID, then I worked on the system that allowed the AID administrators to give you Rosetta Stone and also allowed the administrators to report on your progress.

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  4. Thank you for providing this review. My husband is from South America and I am not comfortable practicing my Spanish with him until I have a better base. Do you think Rosetta Stone would work to establish a high comfort level to practice speaking one on one?

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    1. You are lucky to have someone to practice with! I definitely think Rosetta Stone is helpful in terms of establishing a base, particularly with basic vocabulary and simple present and past tense. At least the first couple levels (there are five and they are pretty pricey). I’m a very structured person and the thing I found most difficult is that there isn’t a formal structure where it teaches you all the basic conjugations and endings all at once (yo hablo, tu hablas, ella habla, etc.) but it just teaches you how to say phrases, supposedly in the same way people first learn to talk as young children (i.e. you learn to say “I am hungry,” and then later “I was hungry” or “she is hungry”).But overall I am very glad I started studying with Rosetta Stone, just to get a foundation before I started the immersion course and started really talking to people. I ended up getting a 3/3 on the language test at FSI and now I am working full time at a local NGO here in El Salvador, where I need to communicate (speaking and writing) at a professional level in Spanish. I am still learning though! I would not have been able to get here without a combination of things — Rosetta Stone, FSI class, obviously living in El Salvador, meeting with a tutor/continuing to take classes and working in an environment where Spanish is spoken.Suerte!

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