Transparent Language and Rosetta Stone are two fairly popular online language learning resources. They offer courses to get beginners engaged in the language they’re learning in a matter of weeks, starting with the basics and progressively getting more challenging. They utilize a variety of different exercises for reading, writing and speaking practice.
For most learners, we wouldn’t recommend using either of these programs as there are much better alternatives available. The main differences between the two include the following:
- Rosetta Stone only uses your target language while the lessons on Transparent language also include English.
- Transparent Language offers courses in over 100 languages, including rare languages like Buriat, Kazakh or Turkmen. Rosetta Stone offers fewer, though still covers most popular languages.
Both programs are priced more expensively than competing (and better) resources. They’re both lacking in a number of areas, but if I had to choose one, it’d be Rosetta Stone. The only reason I’d ever consider using Transparent Language is if I were learning a very rare language, but even then, I’d probably look for a textbook first.
To find our top recommendations of language learning resources for some of the most studied languages, see the table below.
What I like about each platform:
- The resource offers up courses in an impressive number of languages, including those that are usually overlooked.
- There are a variety of activities to work through.
- The website’s content is clearly laid out, and it’s easy to navigate the interface.
- Lessons build on one another nicely, progressing from basic to intermediate level as the course advances.
- The “Extended Learning Pack” is a handy tool, offering additional features that add to language practice with a more laid back approach.
What I don’t like about each platform:
- The core material is seriously lacking, and there’s virtually no information on grammar or how to form basic sentences in your chosen language.
- Lessons and activities get very repetitive, which isn’t very enjoyable to work through.
- Courses don’t provide any cultural context into the language you’re learning.
- The teaching methodology expects you to memorize a lot of words and phrases in isolation.
- The units in the course are quite repetitive, which quickly becomes boring.
- There’s a lack of information about the material provided, which means having to infer meaning from the pictures alone.
- It’s higher in cost than similar, better resources.
Transparent Language boasts an impressive range of courses in over 100 languages. There are all the standard, more popular languages, as well as commonly overlooked languages like Hausa, Ojibwe, Tuvan, and Wolof.
You can learn a total of 19 languages on Rosetta Stone, including most of the popular choices. You can also choose from a limited number of less common languages, like Persian (Farsi), Hebrew, and Filipino (Tagalog) that other resources often don’t cover.
Transparent Language offers a free two-week trial period for you to sign up and try out all the languages you’d like. If you decide to pay for a course, subscription costs $24.95 if you pay month-by-month and $149.95 if you sign up for a whole year. Note that this is just for one course – if you want to pay for all 100+ courses, the subscription plan works out at $49.95 a month or $249.95 if you subscribe for a fixed year.
With Rosetta Stone, you won’t be able to trial a course or pay on a month-by-month basis. There is a thirty-day money-back guarantee, though, so you’re still able to give the resource a go to see if it’s your thing without completely parting with your money.
The shortest subscription period to Rosetta Stone is three months, which costs $36. For a fixed 12-month subscription, the cost is $179. For a lifetime subscription, the cost is $199 one time.
How languages are taught with Transparent Language
When you sign up to the Transparent Language Essentials Courses, you’ll be taken onto a welcome page displaying your learning path. You’ll see your chosen language at the top of the page, and when you click on it, you’ll start the course right from the beginning.
The welcome lesson for a course starts by teaching you how to say and understand a few basic phrases, like “hello”, “yes”, “no” and “thank you”. Following this, you’ll click through onto the next section, called “Preview It”. You’ll see each word individually, and a native speaker will read them aloud.
Afterward, you’ll read and listen to the same selection of words before speaking them yourself. You’ll be able to see how you did by the results of a little speedometer on the screen. It’s not clear how accurately this tool can rate your pronunciation, but it’s still fairly visually interesting.
This session is followed by a “Listening Recognition” exercise, where you listen to a native speaker speaking the words you’ve just covered, and choose the correct meaning. You’ll then have to match the words with their English equivalent before you move onto “Produce & Say It”, where you’re given the English words and have to say them in the language you’re learning.
The welcome lessons offer a variety of elements, but they get fairly boring after a while, especially as you’re focusing on the same five phrases for every single exercise.
In lesson 1, you’ll need to complete a “Language Comparison” section. This presents you with a list of words, which you can play out loud to hear what they sound like. You’ll then be prompted to pronounce the words yourself and check out your accuracy score.
Next up is a matching game, where the words on four squares flash up one at a time, before turning over again. You then need to choose the word that corresponds with an English word you’re given. There was no way to slow down the exercise’s rapid pace, which made it fairly difficult at times.
After this, the “Pronounce & Say It” section prompts you to try and remember the words you’ve just learned, before saying them out loud. Finally, the “Dictation” part lets you listen to the words and phrases that you’ve just gone through and write them down. There’s a fair bit of repetition involved, and all the sections are pretty similar.
At the end of each unit, you’re assessed to determine how well you’ve picked up the content you’ve learned. Annoyingly, some of the vocab you learn in lessons isn’t actually relevant, and there are a lot more useful words and phrases that could have been taught instead.
Essentially, everything boils down to repetition and memorization, which is far from the most enjoyable way to learn a language. Grammar is very stripped back, and you’re mostly just learning words and phrases in isolation.
How languages are taught with Rosetta Stone
For this review, we tried out the Spanish course on Rosetta Stone. With that in mind, we can’t comment on Rosetta Stone’s other courses – but it’s likely that they’re designed similarly across the resource.
There’s plenty of material to keep you busy in the Spanish course, and the variety of exercises and lessons allow you to get to grips with the language on a basic level.
You’ll need to work through a total of 20 units, which progress in difficulty as the course advances. They each have a different theme, such as tourism or recreation, and these themes are repeated in the exercises throughout the unit.
The first thing you’ll start with, once you’ve selected your chosen course, is a core lesson. This takes around half an hour to complete.
Above is the Spanish core lesson in unit 1, level 1.You’re prompted to pair simple words and phrases with pictures. The words are read aloud so you can hear what they sound like.
After you’ve got through a few pages of these exercises, the pictures start switching around, and the written words disappear. You’ll need to pay attention to make sure you’ve remembered the phrases correctly.
Each section ends by showing you your activity score, which lets you know how well you did and the number of lessons you got right or wrong.
Once you’ve made it through the core section, you’ll move onto practicing your pronunciation. This breaks down words into syllables and uses voice recognition technology to make sure you’re pronouncing the words correctly each time. As with all resources, you can’t count on the voice recognition technology.
The next step of the unit is intended for building your vocabulary, followed by grammar. After grammar comes a reading section, where you’ll need to repeat a phrase that’s read out to you, and then writing, where you write what you see or hear using the keyboard provided.
Once you get to the end of one unit, the core lesson at the start of the next unit will cover everything you’ve looked at so far, to test you on your grammar, pronunciation, reading, and writing. With twenty units to get through, this makes quite a bit of material.
Despite being well-structured, it doesn’t take long for lessons to get boring. The course also relies heavily on photos for getting across meaning, so vital explanations and an in-depth look at grammar are missing.
Transparent Language and Rosetta Stone are both below-average and overpriced language learning tools that we wouldn’t recommend.
Unless you’re keen to learn a really obscure language, Transparent Language is a terrible option. The courses themselves don’t mix up material enough, and there’s virtually no guidance on grammar and sentence-forming.
It’s a similar situation with Rosetta Stone. Although courses are better thought-out than Transparent Language, they’re severely lacking in grammar explanations, cultural context, and conversation practice. The exercises are also very repetitive.
We’d recommend finding a resource that offers higher quality instruction and better value. The table below highlights our top picks for language learning tools based on the language you want to learn.
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