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Rosetta Stone Review — Updated and Just as Boring

Quick Review

2.7 

Summary

Rosetta Stone is one of the most well-known resources for learning languages. It takes an immersive approach to teaching and is widely used by corporations and individuals alike. High levels of repetition and an absence of translations or explanations are hallmarks of the course.

A Rosetta Stone course could be most suitable for learners that don’t mind repetitive exercises and prefer to learn from pictures and context rather than translations and explanations. It’s probably not a good option for anyone wanting to significantly improve their speaking or writing skills, or those looking for an engaging course.

Quality

The platform is a bit clunky on desktop, but the material is accurate and presented clearly; lesson mechanics are fairly intuitive.

Thoroughnes

Without much opportunity to build your own sentences, I don’t think you’ll reach a conversational level with any notable speed.

Value

I think there are many more efficient and less expensive ways to learn a language.

Languages

There are courses in 25 different languages — popular ones like Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and less-studied languages like Greek, Hebrew, and Swedish.

Price

Subscription Type Subscription Length Total Price* Price Per Month
One Language 3 Months $35.97 $11.99
All Languages 12 Months $179 $14.92
All Languages Lifetime $199 N/A

 

*This is the amount you’ll pay.

Chances are, this isn’t the first time you’re hearing about Rosetta Stone for learning languages. The company has been hugely successful since its early start in the computer-assisted learning scene in 1992, and part of that is thanks to stellar advertising efforts.

But, let’s switch gears for a second. What do you know about the actual Rosetta Stone — the one discovered in northern Egypt in 1799?

If your answer was something along the lines of, “Um, language stuff?” Yes! Language stuff. To be more specific: it was the key to helping experts learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The stone contained fragments of the same text in three different scripts: Hieroglyphic Egyptian, Demotic Egyptian, and Ancient Greek. Through these translations, it was possible to decipher the previously unreadable hieroglyphs.

It’s a pretty amazing piece of history, and I think certainly worth naming a language-learning tool after. Unfortunately, the name seems to be all that the artefact and the language-learning resource have in common.

Unlike its eponym, the program is famous for teaching languages without the use of translations or explanations. Instead, learners are exposed to words and phrases in their target language with accompanying pictures and audio.

While the company has added quite a few extra bells and whistles, including translations for some languages, the core material has remained remarkably consistent over the years.

About This Review

Rosetta Stone is fairly massive in scope — it teaches over 20 different languages, is available on desktop and mobile, has different curriculums designed for learners with different motivations, and includes extra features like videos, reading practice, and live lessons.

In an effort to gain a broad understanding of what’s on offer with Rosetta Stone, I tried out a subscription to the Latin American Spanish course and was able to complete the first two days of the Japanese course. I’m an experienced Spanish learner and near the absolute beginner level with Japanese.

I also sampled all of the features available with a subscription and tried out both the mobile and desktop platforms.

Getting Started with Rosetta Stone

There’s a little bit of set-up that’s required when logging in to Rosetta Stone for the first time. Your selections here will decide which lessons you study each week.

Choose Your Level

The first question has you select your level of proficiency in the language you’re studying. I’m an advanced Spanish learner, so I chose Proficient. For the Japanese course, I selected Beginner.

Choose Your Goal

After identifying your skill level, you’ll be asked about your motivation for learning the language. For Spanish, I chose Basics and Beyond and then got to see my study plan.

Basics and Beyond Study Plan

Curious how the answers to these set-up questions affected my study plan, I compared several different possible plans for Japanese.

At the beginner level, I compared the Traveler and Language Lover plans — there isn’t much difference, but that makes sense for such low-level material.

Traveler Beginner Study Plan   Language Lover Beginner Study Plan

At the Proficient level, the difference in study plans was more noticeable, as you can see below.

Traveler Proficient Study Plan   Language Lover Proficient Study Plan

I was glad to see quantifiable differences in the study plans, based on the answers I provided in the set-up questions. Not all resources seem to do a lot with preliminary set-up information, but Rosetta Stone does.

Platform

The desktop and mobile versions of the platform are fairly similar, and I thought they both worked well enough, though I found the desktop version to be somewhat clunky.

Each study session begins at the Home tab, where you’ll find the lessons you’re scheduled to practice that day.

Home Tab

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In Week 1 of my study plan, I was supposedly studying “correspondence,” but the Home page kept suggesting that I study “greetings and introductions,” a topic not quite suited for a learner at the Proficient level. I did eventually figure out how to navigate back to my prescribed plan, but I think — and hope — the frustrating misdirect speaks more to the platform’s shortcomings than my own.

Fortunately enough, you don’t need to follow your study plan if you don’t want to. This is especially relieving if you’re not a beginner, as there’s no way to test out of material that’s too easy for you or to speed through lessons that are below your level. You can instead choose which units you’d like to study at will.

Rosetta Stone Lessons

Depending on the language you’re studying, there are either 12 or 20 units of material, in addition to an introductory lesson. Each unit has a clear theme, and I think they each build on each other nicely. Scaffolding is something I think Rosetta Stone does really well, and we’ll see examples of this in the next section.

Lessons

Opting to teach languages through visual and audio examples instead of explicit explanations and translations, Rosetta Stone relies on well-structured lessons.

Even with good scaffolding and lesson progression, the method does require a healthy dose of patience and a tolerance for temporary confusion: the nature of learning concepts through examples requires that you see several of them, and you won’t understand everything right away.

Though the mechanics are intuitive enough, there is an introduction lesson that walks you through a few sample exercises. This doesn’t take long, as there is very little variety in the types of activities you’ll do throughout the course.

The image below is characteristic of just about all of the practice you’ll get with Rosetta Stone — your task is to match words to pictures.

Vocabulary Activity

In this particular exercise, it’s the first time the learner is exposed to the words for “boy” and “girl” in Spanish. To start you off, you’re given an example of each word in the top row, and are then tasked with labeling the bottom row correctly.

As with every lesson in the program, you’ll get to hear a recording of each phrase spoken by a native speaker. The audio is good, and it’s one of Rosetta Stone’s strong points.

As you progress, you’ll have to do more inferring to understand the meaning of a new word or phrase. The image below depicts a very basic example of this.

Vocabulary Activity Example 2

When the learner sees the above image, they’ve already learned the words for “boy,” “girl,” “man,” and “woman.” The word for “read” is new, but they should be able to guess what it means because someone is reading in each picture. This is scaffolding in action.

One area I could see the translation/explanation-free method causing difficulties is in teaching different verb tenses. In the previous example, the sentence says, “The man reads.” In the image below, the sentence says, “They are reading their newspapers.”

Sentence-Matching Activity

In both of these examples, the correct images depict people reading, even though the sentences use different verb tenses — it’s quite possible for sentences to carry more information than is available in images.

You may very well eventually pick up the difference between the two types of sentences above, but it’s something that could be explained to you in your native language in almost no time at all. I just don’t see the value in forcing yourself to learn different sentence constructions this way.

Other practice activities include fill-in-the-gap exercises and audio questions.

Multiple-Choice Activity

Listen and Match

Or, you’ll have to select the correct text from a group of three to match a picture:

Apart from activities that require using the speech recognition feature (which we’ll look at next), this is pretty much what all of the practice in the core Rosetta Stone course looks like.

It is, in my humble opinion, extremely boring.

Endlessly matching phrases to pictures is not exactly my idea of a good time, and it doesn’t help that the pictures don’t necessarily have anything to do with the language you’re learning. Maybe if I was interacting with pictures of Latin American food, relevant cultural activities, or with images that looked like they came from a Latin American world, I’d be slightly more interested in the material.

The lessons also progress rather slowly, which does nothing to lessen their dullness. The boring quality of Rosetta Stone courses seems to be a common acknowledgment among the reviews other people have written, and I empathize fully.

TruAccent Speech Recognition

This is Rosetta Stone’s proprietary speech engine, and it gives learners a chance to have their pronunciation evaluated. This kind of technology isn’t new, but it is always getting better. Alas, it’s still nowhere near as good as getting feedback from a real person.

Setting up the software is easy enough and includes some extra customization that I haven’t seen in other resources. You get to select your voice type and to choose between a bewildering 11 levels of scoring difficulty.

Speech Recognition Settings

In the pronunciation portion of lessons, you’ll do some listen-and-repeat activities, receiving an evaluation from TruAccent on your performance.

Pronunciation Rating Colors

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As you can see, you’ll need a green circle to move on to the next word or phrase.

Listen and Repeat

I generally found the speech recognition to be overly generous, having it set to the “normal” difficulty level. Indeed, I was able to intentionally say things poorly and have them still be marked correctly. I even threw some English into my sentences and was able to get away with it from time to time.

Then again, there were also several times where the feedback I received was far too harsh.

Failed Pronunciation Exercise

I’ve got more than a decade of experience studying Spanish, currently live in Mexico, and was allegedly unable to produce the word for “thank you” correctly! This happened a few times with different words that I just couldn’t say well enough to get anything but a red circle, no matter how hard I tried.

I did get some validation in finding out I wasn’t the only one having this problem. Several TrustPilot reviews were fuming about the very same thing, and Rosetta Stone responded to many of them acknowledging that there is an issue and that they’re working on it.

After several fails in a row, there is a dialogue box that pops up and allows you to report the issue if you’re sure you’re saying the word correctly. I definitely took advantage of this, and it was nice to have some kind of acknowledgement, but it didn’t directly change my experience much.

One of the most basic pronunciation exercises has you learn how to pronounce a word one syllable at a time — I think the idea is great, but the execution falls flat.

Pronunciation Exercise

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Teaching pronunciation by focusing on one syllable at a time can be really effective; it’s something a lot of resources do, and I usually find it helpful.

Unfortunately, the speech recognition never worked well enough for me to feel like I was getting quality practice, and the activity progressed too slowly for me.

Grammar Lessons

Believe it or not, Rosetta Stone does attempt to teach grammar concepts, just not explicitly. In its grammar lessons, you’ll find the same types of activities as before, except with highlighted text.

The colored text is the focus of the lesson, and you should be able to notice some patterns by paying special attention to it.

Grammar Lesson

I know what sounds some Japanese characters make, but I can’t read the language — at all. So I was surprised to find myself actually making some connections with the highlighted text in these grammar lessons.

This is the closest I came to feeling excited while using Rosetta Stone; I was getting lots of right answers, and I was starting to notice patterns in the written Japanese (that I still couldn’t read).

While it’s exciting to have the language slowly unravel into comprehensible strands, I finished the lesson with extremely low confidence in my ability to say anything that I had learned. Being able to click on the correct picture and being able to produce an idea in a foreign language are very far removed from each other.

I’m fairly confident that I would eventually be able to say all of these sentences with relative ease after using Rosetta Stone for long enough, but how long would it take? I’m pretty sure it’s longer than I could stay motivated with the content, unfortunately.

Review

Upon completing a lesson, you’ll get a chance to review any questions you answered incorrectly or skipped in that lesson.

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You can retry the activities you found difficult as many times as necessary until you’ve answered all of them correctly. I’m glad there’s some form of review for missed answers, but I might’ve preferred having comprehensive review options as well, something that covered difficult items from multiple lessons.

Extended Learning

I was excited about the Extended Learning section of the Rosetta Stone platform, as it does add some value to the course. It includes reading practice, a reference for useful phrases, and access to some audio tracks. Unfortunately, none of these features blew me away.

Stories

In this section, you get to practice reading! Regardless of how well it’s done, I think it’s cool that there is reading material here.

Stories Selection

Some things I enjoyed about this section were the high-quality narrations and pictures that accompany each reading. There were a couple of stories that I found genuinely interesting, enjoyed reading, and was able to learn from.

Stories Read Page

As per Rosetta Stone tradition, there are no in-program translations available in these stories. However, the stories are grouped by unit, and particularly challenging vocabulary is highlighted in blue and has a picture definition. In the image above, you can see the picture for arpón.

The stories work well on the mobile app, but you won’t get access to these picture definitions.

In addition to being able to read the stories and listen to them, you’ll get a chance to read the story out loud and have your pronunciation graded by the TruAccent speech recognition.

Stories Speak Page

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Again, TruAccent is far from foolproof, and it won’t tell you what to do to improve. That said, reading out loud is certainly good practice.

It’s worth noting that there is more reading material for some languages than others. There were about half as many stories available in Japanese as there were in Spanish.

Phrasebook

This is a feature that’s only available for some languages. My Spanish course had a phrasebook, the Japanese course did not.

It works much like you might imagine it does. There are a handful of useful phrases, with available translations, organized by scenarios like “Meeting People” and “Dining Out.”

Phrasebook

The phrases are also accompanied by pictures and audio, much like material is presented in the core lessons.

It’s nice to have practical phrases like this readily available, organized by scenario, and with accompanying audio. It’s still not a major feature of the course and isn’t available for every language.

Audio Companion

I honestly don’t see a whole lot of value in this feature. It allows you to download MP3 versions of your lessons, but I don’t think the lessons translate very well to an audio format.

Audio Companion Page

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Each lesson comes with five different MP3 files, labelled as follows:

Pronunciation: Listen to phrases multiple times with chances to repeat. Phrases are broken up to make them more manageable.

Vocabulary: Listen to a list of individual words. Each word is said once, and there is a short pause between each.

Phrases: This is just like the vocabulary track, except phrases are read one after the other with pauses after each.

Speaking: Again, there are more individual phrases read aloud with space in between for you to repeat.

Conversation: Listen to a full conversation once without pauses, and then once with pauses between phrases. One speaker reads the parts of multiple speakers.

In the Conversation MP3 I listened to, one speaker read all the voice parts in the dialogue — she played the role of a mother, her child, and the neighbor. It was very confusing and felt nothing like listening to a premium language-learning resource.

The only way I can imagine someone getting use out of these tracks is by listening to them while they commute or while they’re doing something else, and I don’t think they would provide much useful practice — they’re extremely dry and boring. There are plenty of podcasts that could be used in the same scenarios that I think are much more engaging and efficient.

Seek & Speak

This is an extra feature that’s available exclusively on the iOS app (coming soon for Android). I don’t own any Apple products, so I wasn’t able to actually try it out myself.

The activity is currently part of the English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish (Latin American) courses — it uses object-recognition technology and your device’s camera to “turn everyday objects into conversation practice.”

Seek and Speak Activity

There’s very little information on the Rosetta Stone website about how this activity relates to language learning, and I fear it may be mostly gimmick.

Games

There’s still a lot of information in older online reviews and even on the Rosetta Stone website about Rosetta Stone language games, which used to be part of the Extended Learning section of the platform. These are no longer available because they ran on Adobe Flash, which is no longer supported by the platform.

There is no mention of reintroducing these language games on the Rosetta Stone website.

On-Demand

This is the last of the extra features, and it’s a refreshing departure from the bland core material. The On-Demand features seem to focus more on engaging with the contextual aspects of language learning than efficient study time, and I was glad to finally get some culturally-relevant language exposure.

Live Lessons

I was surprised to see that Rosetta Stone now offers Live Lessons for some of its languages. There seems to be one available each day that anyone can attend, although I was only able to try this feature out for the Latin American Spanish course.

My first Live Lesson was titled, “Family Song.” Aside from the title, time, name of the teacher and lesson length, there is no extra information about the lessons. I could see these live lessons being useful if it were possible to attend them frequently, but in my final week testing the product there were no lessons available. This is in contrast to other weeks where there seemed to be a lesson every day. I never saw lessons scheduled more than three days in advance.

The Live Lessons are currently only available for learners of Spanish, Italian, French, German, and English, and the lesson availability varies by language.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it became immediately clear that this wasn’t any kind of face-to-face lesson — instead, you get to watch the live stream of a lesson and have access to the lesson chat, where there are moderators helping learners out via message.

Upon starting the lesson, the instructor took us (virtually) to Colombia, his home country. He was able to ask some questions that the learners could answer in the chat box, something that continued throughout the lesson.

Live Lesson

The instructor was a skilled speaker and made the lesson engaging even though the material was very basic.

After the short introduction, the instructor laid out what exactly we would be practicing in the lesson. I was thrilled to see that we would be singing a song and couldn’t wait to see how that would play out.

Live Lesson Outline

Once we got into the actual target material for the lessons, there were more questions to answer via chat and pictures with blanks to fill.

Live Lesson Gap Fill

I’m not sure how many learners were in the lesson, but someone always answered the question almost as soon as it was asked, sometimes even before. I found it hard to make myself type out the answer when five or more people had already written the same thing — what’s the point?

And finally, the lesson ended with the long-awaited musical performance.

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It turned out to be a pre-recorded video of the instructor singing a sweet song about family members. It wasn’t the awkward chorus of a bunch of Spanish learners leaning into their computer microphones that I’d hoped for, but maybe it was best this way.

Overall, the live lessons seem to me like a decent way to stay engaged with the language on a regular basis (if they’re available!), but that’s about it — the lesson I attended was almost entirely in English.

Videos

In addition to the Live Lessons, the On-Demand section of the platform is home to educational videos. For the Latin American Spanish course, there were around 25 videos available, none more than four minutes long.

Some of the videos focused on life and culture in different parts of Latin America, while others were more instructional in nature. Given how little the Rosetta Stone core material pays attention to the culture of the language you’re learning, having some videos that help you feel connected to the language in a more meaningful way are very welcome.

Video Lesson

These cultural videos were all less than four minutes, but they were entertaining to watch, and I enjoyed them. With that in mind, I have conflicting feelings about the fact that the host isn’t a very advanced Spanish speaker.

I think it could certainly be valuable and confidence-inspiring for learners to see someone getting their point across even without speaking perfectly (that’s what’s important, isn’t it?), but I also see potential for learning things incorrectly.

The subtitles are sometimes amended to show the correct Spanish in brackets; other times, as in the image above, there are minor little mistakes (qué es vs. cuál es) that go unchecked and could teach learners bad habits.

I appreciate these videos, but I think they would be more valuable if the host was a more proficient Spanish speaker or if more of an effort was made to convey the correct way to use the language.

Other videos contain basic grammar explanations or practical information like how to order a coffee or give directions. I found them all mildly helpful, and quite boring! For a language like Spanish, there are far better instructional videos available for free on Youtube.

Rosetta Stone Translate

There’s a translation tool available on the Rosetta Stone website that flashes the text, “Get Beyond Google Translate.” I compared the two to see if there was any difference, using phrases from novels, lines from a cereal box, slang, and a tongue twister.

They performed exactly the same on all accounts. Neither could handle the tongue twister (which is understandable, it isn’t realistic!), and they mistranslated it in exactly the same way!

Rosetta Stone Translate

Rosetta Stone does go on to highlight the shortcomings of machine translation, but I don’t know why anyone would ever use this over the DeepL translator or even Google translate. Both of these options work just as well or better and provide extra information like alternative translations or parts of speech for individual words.

Pricing

How much does Rosetta Stone cost? I found this question rather hard to answer. In fairly recent history, it was notorious for being one of the most expensive resources available. They’ve since lowered the price dramatically, but it’s still easy to find misleading information.

All on the same day, I was able to find three different price schemes for purchasing a subscription. The prices immediately below seem to be the standard going rate.

Rosetta Stone Prices

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However, by following a different link from the same Google search, “Rosetta Stone Price,” I was able to find the 12-month subscription on sale for almost half the price. Both of these offers came from the Rosetta Stone website.

Rosetta Stone Price

To complicate things even further, checking the price from the mobile app revealed more differences!

Rosetta Stone Mobile Price

I’m not totally sure what to make of this, but it’s frustrating, and I’d suggest doing a little bit of hunting around if you’re going to purchase a subscription.

At least two things do appear to be consistent: the types of subscriptions and that the unlimited lifetime subscription is $199.

I wouldn’t sign up for a subscription myself, but if I was going to, $199 isn’t a crazy high price for lifetime access to all the Rosetta Stone languages. If language learning is a hobby, or if you find yourself traveling to different countries with frequency and you like the platform, I think it’s a totally reasonable price.

There is a 30-day money back guarantee that comes with the purchase of each subscription, but note that your subscription will automatically renew unless you cancel it.

Alternatives

Thinking Rosetta Stone might not be for you? Luckily, there are plenty of great alternatives. Here are some of our favorites with instruction available in a number of different languages.

Babbel

Like Rosetta Stone, Babbel is widely popular and offers structured courses in quite a few languages. Unlike Rosetta Stone, Babbel is full of explanations, translations, and a variety of practice exercises. It’s a resource that could appeal to the learner that wants well-structured lessons and a balanced educational approach. You’ll get practice with reading, writing, speaking and listening all in pretty equal measure with Babbel.

We think it’s more engaging than Rosetta Stone, but it can also get repetitive, and you’ll have to rely on imperfect speech recognition for pronunciation feedback. Here’s our full review of Babbel.

Busuu

Busuu is another mega-popular resource for well-structured language courses, but it does things a little bit differently. Namely, it includes a social feature that’s built-in and free to use. It’s one way of getting around the speech recognition method of pronunciation feedback — users can submit spoken or written answers to questions to be evaluated by other learners.

Aside from the social feature, the platform has an exceptionally nice layout and provides language practice in a variety of skills. We did find that there were significant errors in the Chinese course, that some translations were missing in review activities, and that grammar practice opportunities could have been better. Read our Busuu review here.

Pimsleur

Aural learners, listen up. Pimsleur takes the stuff of a thorough course and packages it as audio lessons. And this resource has been around even longer than Rosetta Stone, if you can believe it. Although the lessons are all audio, they do require active participation. Prompts to repeat and to answer questions are frequent; there’s no idle listening with this one.

Pimsleur is similar to Rosetta Stone in that it doesn’t place any emphasis on grammar instruction, so it’s probably not the ideal solution for learners interested in grammar specifics. It’s also not a great option if you’re particularly interested in learning how to write. You can find our full Pimsleur review here.

italki

This is one of the most recommended resources on our site. It’s an online marketplace where learners can find teachers of many different languages at an incredible range of prices. There are so many teachers that finding one with a schedule, teaching style, and price that fit your needs is almost a guarantee.

There are also some free community features that are available through the italki app that allow users to get feedback on pronunciation or writing from real people, something you won’t be able to get with a Rosetta Stone subscription.

You won’t find the same kind of structure here as with other options, and it can be intimidating for absolute beginners to take online lessons with teachers, but there’s a lot of potential value. We’ve written a full review of italki here.

Duolingo

This is one that seems to get grouped together with Rosetta Stone a lot, but they couldn’t be more different. Whereas Rosetta Stone is rather serious and expensive, Duolingo is gamelike and free. It’s another one of the most popular language-learning tools out there, and many people seem to use it in conjunction with Rosetta Stone.

Before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that Duolingo has its drawbacks. The audio isn’t always great, and the types of practice are fairly limited. As a supplemental tool or as an introduction to a new language, though, it just might hit the spot. This is our Duolingo review.

Final Thoughts on Rosetta Stone

The method Rosetta Stone uses seems to be its biggest selling point, but is it really that effective?

Yes, infants learn language intuitively, but they also learn through thousands of hours of exposure. They also wouldn’t be able to take advantage of explanations and translations even if they wanted to.

I think the intuitive approach does work, to a degree. You’ve got to be strongly motivated, actively engaged, and patient — learning through osmosis just isn’t a thing.

In my opinion, the main problem with Rosetta Stone is that it’s extremely boring. It’s hard for me to believe that looking at pictures and trying to make connections between them and a foreign language is an efficient way to learn. I also don’t imagine I’d find the resource engaging enough to stay motivated over a long period of time.

Finally, I don’t think the Rosetta Stone material prepares learners to be able to produce the language they’re learning with confidence. For the price, this is something I would expect from a language-learning resource.

We often find that the best resources for learning a language are those that were created specifically to teach that language. For our top-picks in the language you’re learning, be sure to check out the table below.

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Comments (2)

After several months of using this program through the online subscription, I have to agree that your review is spot-on. My teen is bored and asking for some sort of materials that will help explain the lessons. There are no additional materials. Think it’s time to move on.

I am already halfway through the Rosetta Stone Spanish course, and I am very pleased with it. My level was high-intermediate at the outset, so I am zipping through the lessons. For me the main value is the remarkably increased confidence I now feel when having a conversation in Spanish. This was exactly what I was hoping for when I purchased the course. I highly recommend Rosetta Stone to anyone hoping to achieve fluency in conversational Spanish.

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