As it is one of the most famous language learning resources out there, Rosetta Stone was always on my radar though I never actually got around to checking it out before this review.
I had heard varying opinions about whether it was any good or not with people either swearing by it or horrified by the high price and critical of its approach.
While I believe beginners and lower intermediates would definitely improve, I feel like Rosetta Stone has too many limitations and you can get a lot more value for your money if you look elsewhere.
One of the problems I found with the Rosetta Stone is that their immersive method means that they have to rely too much on photos to get the meaning behind the words across.
This means that every single exercise basically amounts to a series of pictures with you having to pair the phrase, question, word or sentence to the correct one. After a while, it gets very repetitive and monotonous.
Although beginners will quickly be able to pick up words and sentences, the lack of any explanations, cultural context, and the repetitive nature of the course means that many learners would likely get bored and give-up.
Of course, everyone has their own learning preferences and so some people will love the Rosetta Stone course while others will prefer another teaching format.
I tried Rosetta Stone Spanish for this review.
As I only tried out the Spanish course, I can’t be certain that Rosetta Stone will be the same for other languages, but I’d suspect each language to be very similar.
Overall the Spanish course has over two hundred hours of material for students to work on and the numerous exercises look at improving the learner’s speaking, writing, reading, listening and pronunciation skills.
In total, there are twenty units for you to work through and they steadily increase in difficulty with each unit building on the ones that came before it. They each have their own theme whether that is Tourism and Recreation, Home and Health, or Style and Personal Wellness.
While each unit varies slightly in terms of what exact exercises are available, they all generally follow the same format.
You start off by going through the first core lesson of the unit which takes you through some of the vocabulary, grammar, and phrases that you’ve studied in previous units before adding in new parts and complexity.
Following this core lesson, which should take around half an hour to complete, you move on to shorter exercises which focus on individual aspects of the language but retain the overall theme of the unit you’re working on.
While the number of exercises varies they inevitably are broken down into segments looking at pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening and writing with short reviews popping up every now and again.
Each unit has four core lessons to it and they usually have thirty questions for you to answer before you move on to the shorter exercises which look in greater depth at various parts of the language.
While these twenty units make up the core material of the course, there are a couple of other features that students gain access to when they buy the Rosetta Stone pack.
The ‘Extended Learning’ part has games, stories and a ‘Talk’ feature where you can play games against other language learners and there is also a limited phrasebook which you can access.
Once you have gained access to your account, it is very easy to get started and you just need to choose a couple of different settings and preferences.
Right from the start, you can choose from a couple of different courses which help you focus on a particular area you want to improve in, whether that be reading and writing or speaking and listening. Alternatively, you can select the option whereby you do everything.
After this, you have a couple of settings to select such as whether your voice is more akin to a male adult, female adult or child and this is meant to help with the voice recognition technology. You also set up your microphone and audio options.
After this, it is straight into learning the basics. The core section of Unit 1 Lesson 1 has some simple phrases which accompany pictures. Then you have to select which one corresponds with the captionless pictures.
At the same time, the phrase is read out so you can hear what it sounds like.
After a few pages of these exercises, the pictures start switching around so you have to pay attention and make sure you click the right option each time. The written phrases also disappear so you need to make sure you’ve been listening attentively and have remembered the phrases correctly.
At the end of each section, you get a little pop-up screen that tells you how well you did and how many exercises you got right or wrong.
After progressing through the core section of Unit 1 Lesson 1 which takes around half an hour, it is time to practice your pronunciation. Here the words are broken down into syllables for you to try out.
The voice recognition technology works pretty well here and you need to make sure you pronounce the syllables correctly each time.
After practicing your pronunciation of some of the basic words and phrases that have already been encountered, the next step aims to increase your vocabulary.
This section takes around ten minutes to complete.
Next up is a look at some of the basic grammar.
Initially, you start off by selecting the correct indefinite articles before choosing the correct sentence that matches the photo. After that, you learn some of the plurals of the phrases and have to match them to the corresponding images. Afterward, you select the plural or singular verb form depending on which pronoun you are given.
Following the grammar exercises comes the reading section whereby a phrase is read out to you and you then repeat it, this also tests your pronunciation. In order to progress, you need to get it pretty close to correct.
Writing naturally follows and in this section, you write what you hear and see using the keyboard they provide.
At the end of the unit, the next core lesson of the following one covers everything that you’ve looked at so far so you get to practice your grammar, reading, writing and pronunciation skills and get an indication at how much of the material you have taken in.
With 140 questions, it’s quite comprehensive and it also covers some new material.
As with each of the twenty units on offer, Unit 1 has four core lessons to it and each takes around an hour or two to complete with them slowly building up in difficulty.
The lessons are well structured but would get really boring.
After having gone over the basics in Unit 1, there are another nineteen units for you to go through and each of them focuses on a particular topic.
Unit 2, for example, looks at Greetings and Introductions, Unit 6 is Past and Future, and the final one delves into Family and Community.
Each unit follows a similar format which each of them being broken down into four core lessons.
While the course slowly increases in difficulty, becoming more and more complex the further you get, the material and exercises, unfortunately, remain the same no matter how far you progress.
This is in part due to the nature of the Rosetta Stone method where you learn through immersion without any other language being used.
Although it is great that everything you learn is in your target language, it means that the course relies heavily on photos for learners to understand the meaning behind the words and sentences.
After a while, endlessly sorting pictures and captions gets pretty boring and I feel that the course could have benefitted by varying up its approach a bit.
Having said that, it is well designed and well-thought-out as each core lesson builds on the one before it and the shorter exercises also revolve around the main lessons in each unit.
In each exercise, you have to answer questions, match pictures to sentences and work on your pronunciation and you get a score at the end of each one. This allows you to immediately get feedback on how well you have done and the little green ticks on the main page let you know when you have satisfactorily completed an exercise.
Although certain exercises do focus on grammar, you obviously learn it through immersion and, while it is good that everything is in Spanish; sometimes an explanation would come in handy.
As such, the approach doesn’t really allow for an in-depth look at the grammar of the language as photos are relied upon to convey every meaning.
This also serves to make all of the exercises feel somewhat similar.
Whether it is repeating syllables and sentences with the corresponding photos below, learning grammar with the corresponding photos or listening to a phrase and matching it to a photo; it all blurs into one after a while and it becomes very repetitive simply matching phrases to photos.
Indeed this is what the majority, if not all, of the exercises consist of.
Another shortcoming is that the cultural context of the language isn’t explored in the twenty units that make up the core part of the course.
This is a shame and the pictures and topics of the units seem formulaic and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same translated versions are simply used for every language that Rosetta Stone offers.
Having chosen to learn Latin American Spanish, there were no examples of any differences between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from South America.
The only part of the resource where any cultural context was explored was in the ‘Read’ section of the ‘Extended Learning’ part.
Here you can find stories on what a quesadilla is, the Aztec Stadium in Mexico and Simon Bolivar. These were really useful and interesting so it would have been good to have the main part of the course draw inspiration from these stories.
As you progress through the units, the exercises certainly do get harder and another positive factor is that they always use native speakers who speak at pretty much a natural speed.
As they also use numerous voice actors, this means that you are getting to hear multiple native speakers which can only be a good thing.
Throughout the course, however, only short sentences are used during the exercises.
This again means that you have to rely on the ‘read’ part of the ‘Extended Learning’ section to hear any Spanish spoken at length. It would have been nice if this aspect had been incorporated into the main core lessons of the course.
In contrast to many other courses which only mention pronunciation in passing or only have small segments dedicated to them, pronunciation features quite prominently in the Rosetta Stone method and each unit has numerous pronunciation exercises.
While I think it is good that they break down various words and teach you how to pronounce them perfectly (in theory), I had a couple of issues with how it was done.
The voice recognition technology is just one of the reasons why the course is more expensive than most, but I didn’t actually find it to be that good or accurate.
Sometimes I would be stuck repeating a sentence endlessly until the technology randomly said that I had now pronounced it sufficiently well to advance to the next step.
This was quite frustrating and also served to make me question all the times that it accepted my pronunciation without any problems. Other times, I would clearly say something wrong and it would accept it without offering up any corrections.
As you can see there were quite a few things that I didn’t like about the Rosetta Stone method.
While I do believe that it would help beginner and intermediate learners improve, there are certainly better alternatives out there for you to spend your time and money on.
The lack of cultural context, in-depth look at grammar and sheer repetitiveness of the course coupled with the high-ish price, makes it hard to recommend.
To really learn a language, I think you would have to use it in conjunction with a couple of other resources to help improve your speaking, reading, and writing.
This is because too much of the Rosetta Stone method focuses on short sentences and there are no long conversations or dialogues that feature anywhere on the course.
Although it is certainly a sleek product, well-designed and easy to use, the content could definitely be improved and it would really benefit from varying up its approach from time to time as otherwise, it is pretty boring to use.
Although I am sure that some people would find it to be a very effective learning tool, for me the Rosetta Stone just has too many flaws to justify its price.
Plans and Prices
While the Rosetta Stone is one of the most famous learning resources out there, it is also renowned for being one of the priciest.
Although prices have gone down significantly, it’s still more expensive than most competitors.
Currently, there’s no monthly subscription. The 3-month plan is the shortest duration available, costing $79. A six-month subscription would cost $119, one year costs $179, and a 2-year subscription is $249.
Thankfully, however, there is a thirty-day money back guarantee so you can give it a go and see if it suits your learning needs before completely parting with your money.
So is it worth paying for?
I don’t think so.
While the material itself isn’t bad, the method does get very repetitive and, as the Rosetta Stone method relies on full immersion; they need to rely on pictures to get the message across. This means that every single exercise has to have pictures for it to make any sense at all to language learners and it gets a bit tiring doing the same thing over and over again.
The course, however, definitely does progress in difficulty so beginners and intermediates will improve if they keep at it. I would be surprised though if many people would be able to put up with the monotony of the lessons over a whole year.
For this amount of money though there are definitely better and cheaper resources out there where you’ll get to speak more often and learn about the cultural context of the language you’re learning through a more varied teaching method.
While it would definitely be worth trying if it were free, the hefty price, repetitive nature of the lessons and the numerous limitations it has makes it impossible to recommend.
The ‘Extended Learning’ section somewhat helps to break the monotony.
While the main course that the Spanish lessons are based on is pretty monotonous, repetitive and boring, there are a couple of extra features which are actually pretty useful and at times quite fun.
In the ‘Extended Learning’ section, you can play games in Spanish as well as against other language learners. These make learning Spanish a bit more fun and help to relieve the monotony of the core lessons when they get too much.
The best part of the section is the ‘Read’ part.
Here, there are a couple of stories in Spanish for each unit of the course. They cover a wide range of topics and actually help you to learn a bit about the countries of Latin America, something that the course doesn’t touch upon. You can either read the stories yourself or listen to a narrator read them to you.
Those that want to add more reading to their language learning may want to consider using LingQ.
At the top of your Rosetta Stone homepage, you will also notice a phrasebook. While it is helpful, it could cover a lot more topics rather than the few that it does. Although it is certainly better than nothing, it does seem something of an afterthought.
Yet another feature is the chat function. Here you can ask questions you may have about the material to other language learners or practice your written Spanish with them.
A well-thought-out and well-designed resource, Rosetta Stone looks and feels very professional but is actually severely lacking in a number of ways.
For instance, no explanations are given for any of the grammar, no cultural context is included and no conversation practice is involved throughout any of the twenty units on offer.
In addition to this, the exercises are very repetitive and learners would almost certainly have to use it in conjunction with a few other resources if they ever wanted to become fluent.
Despite its many shortcomings, the immersive method means that you only speak, hear and see Spanish as is spoken by native speakers and that can only be a good thing. Indeed, beginners and intermediates will almost certainly improve through the numerous exercises and units of the course.
While there are undoubtedly positives, the numerous downsides to Rosetta Stone make me recommend using other resources instead.
The resources I’d suggest using depends on which language you’re studying, though subscriptions to Pimsleur or Babbel would generally be good options. The links below will take you to my top recommendations for each language.