Rosetta Stone Latin - a software review

Tuesday, October 23, 2007, 07:35 - Latin Language, Reviews, Software

This post is going to be a fairly long one, since I have always been fascinated with new ways of language learning, and Rosetta Stone truly is something special. I am expanding a review that I had written previously.

The challenge

If someone wanted to come up with an innovative language learning software package, something that would truly stand out among the competition, what should they do? Surely, claiming that their language program uses "an immersion method" would be far from unique. Many a language software developer from the time when computer instruction became a fad until now has announced to the world that a potential user should expect to be fully immersed into the desired language, perhaps in a manner that resembles how children acquire their native languages. It is also important to assure users that they will not have to learn any formal grammar rules, do exercises and memorize countless rules, exceptions, vocabulary and speech patterns. Really, it would be a challenge to find a language software package that does not claim to be based on "immersion". There may be a simple explanation for this. While books are still being published to accommodate traditional methods of language instruction the world of multimedia creates a general sense that some shortcuts can be taken. You just pop a CD in a computer, put on headphones and voila! in a few hours you know French! Does it really work that way? You guessed it, it doesn't. But what does work? How is it possible that Rosetta Stone, one of the methods that claim to be using this "immersion technique", clearly stands out from the crowd and enjoys a growing popularity?

The principles

The most important component of the Rosetta Stone software-based method is what I call "a four squares screen". The user is presented with a page that shows four pictures of various objects or entities. A prerecorded phrase or word is played back and the user must click on the square that contains a visual answer to the question or best illustrates the concept. If the user answers correctly a little "ding" is heard, a check-mark appears on the screen and the program advances. That's all folks! I dare say that this process has absolutely nothing to do with "immersion" or how a child learns her mother language. Hopefully, not too many adults have haunting memories of their parents hovering over them with perpetual sets of objects (always four of them!) demanding to pick one in order to take yet another step in language acquisition. But does this work as a method for learning adults? Oh, yes it does!

The promise

One might wonder why it is not enough to simply know that the Rosetta Stone method is an effective and worth-while method of learning a foreign language. Indeed, not every language program is picked by "U.S. Army, NASA, major corporations such as Deutsche Telecom, IKEA, Royal Dutch Shell, and over 10,000 schools worldwide" as the website claims. In my opinion, language learning software packages don't have a good reputation with too many of those folks who have actually tried to use a couple of these programs. Being a bit of a language junkie, I have acquired over the years a little collection of such packages. They never amounted to anything more than some additional material that could be used on top of a more traditional language course. But when I first saw Rosetta Stone Dutch, very quickly came the realization that if shortcuts in language learning are possible at all Rosetta Stone comes pretty close to providing some! So, if someone sits out there in disbelief regarding the very feasibility of computer-based language learning (regardless of the claims made by various manufacturers) I think I can offer some insight into why Rosetta Stone works.

The secret of Rosetta Stone

So, why does the Rosetta Stone method work? At the very center of the Rosetta Stone approach is the idea of constant encouragement. Every step of the way the user receives positive feedback from the program. Rosetta Stone takes you through a rapid succession of multiple choice questions. Given that there are only four options per question it is not difficult to answer every question even if you don't get it right away. This process turns into a series of gratifying experiences. It is uplifting and encouraging to see yourself doing well at a difficult task of learning a foreign language! Compare this to the level of feedback one receives from any other language learning software, not to mention a textbook. It is difficult to gage the progress, and the user is not padded on the shoulder nearly as much. As a result we have uncertainty, perception of poor performance and general lack of success. A user is much more likely to quit such a course, and it should be known that not quitting is probably the single most important requirement when learning a foreign language. Truly, any modern textbook will at least provide a student with correct information, even though it may not be presented in the most efficient and pedagogically suitable way. Rosetta Stone system creates language courses that a motivated student will not be likely to give up on.

Rosetta Stone and Latin

One major complaint about Rosetta Stone was that the photographs used throughout the program were mostly taken in American Suburbia. This made them look out of place when it came to learning most of the non-European languages. This problem has been recognized and new pictures were reportedly added in the new version. I have not seen an updated version of Rosetta Stone Latin, but I hope it includes pictures of Catholic priests in Vatican City, because this is the only place on Earth where Latin has an official status of a spoken language. And it just so happens that Rosetta Stone is designed to teach spoken languages. Latin may not have been a good choice for this program. Unfortunately, the Rosetta Stone method will not do a whole lot for you if you want to learn how to read Cicero. There is just way too much complicated syntax and vocabulary that needs to be covered. So, unfortunately my verdict on Rosetta Stone Latin is not such a happy one. It is probably only good for some initial stages and might not even introduce one to the very demanding body of knowledge that is the Latin language. The good news is, however, that Rosetta Stone is available through many public libraries. If you promise yourself to follow Rosetta Stone with some traditional studies, it may serve you well. And it is still extremely useful and rewarding if you want to learn one of modern spoken languages.


Saturday, March 15, 2008, 09:18
what a took a week after i purchased the online version 3 to get it up and running the support staff were good at appologizing but did not know a thing about the product. then a week after i got started finally the speech recognition went out the program if it worked would have been good....if it worked i give it a 2 out of 10

Teresa Roguski

Thursday, July 10, 2008, 03:02
I have a question about the Latin version of Rosetta Stone that perhaps you could answer. I suppose that the Latin version uses the same photos as the other versions -- I'm wondering about the vocabulary used for modern things like cars. What words were used, for example, for car, newspaper, pen, coffee, sandwich? I'm wondering if the translator was in touch with the modern community of Latin speakers and writers, or whether he/she just made up words on his/her own. I would like to get the Latin Rosetta Stone for my kids (with whom I speak Latin); we're starting Hebrew with it and it's a pleasure to use - not only well designed pedagogically but "cool", too! It's hard to find cool computer or video stuff for Latin. But if the modern part of the vocabulary had nothing to do with what anyone these days is saying/writing, I wouldn't care to use it.

No, Rosetta Stone won't take you to the grammatical heights of *any* language, but it seems like a good way to get a functional start -- even (or should I say especially?) if you're studying a language mostly to read it.

Administrator (In Rebus)

Thursday, July 10, 2008, 14:01
Yes, the pictures are all modern. Some of them, however, were apparently updated for the "ancient" look. For instance, they used a sundial with Roman numerals for a clock. I never went through the whole program, but from what I have seen, they tried to stay away from items that might cause problems. I do not recall seeing a car there, they replaced cars with boats (scaphae) it seems. Anyway, I am pretty sure that the translators would never just invent words.

Teresa Roguski

Thursday, July 10, 2008, 22:24
Gratias tibi ago quod respondisti! Your answer was helpful.


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