Misadventures with Rosetta Stone: An Educator’s Perspective

rosetta-stone
 

When I write a review I usually approach it from the standpoint of a language learner rather than an educator, but when it comes to Rosetta Stone, I have a little bit more personal experience to offer.

Prior to the creation of LATG I worked as the program coordinator for an ESL non-profit called the Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut.

I managed several dozen volunteers with their efforts to tutor adult ESL (English as a second language) learners.

These English learners came from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe; some immigrants, others just visiting; and from all levels: non-speakers with barely a handful of words, to fluent speakers looking to improve their accents.

Our organization was fortunate enough to have two decently sized computer labs at our primary offices designed solely for use with Rosetta Stone English!

  

Rosetta Stone – which you can read a real review of here for more product info – has a package available for schools and other organizations like mine that allows users to network several workstations to a single administrative computer.

That computer can then be used to create and monitor learner profiles; following their progress and even draw up some pretty thorough reports for use with organizational management.

Still, if you’re considering this product for your classroom or organization I would strongly advise against it!

Rosetta Stone has always been king…

No language learning product is more applauded – or more reviled – than Rosetta Stone.

For decades Rosetta has soared high above all competition; paid and free programs alike.

It has brought utterly staggering lingual mediocrity to millions of bored, mildly disinterested casual learners gearing up for that week in Rome in which they talk to English speakers, visit tourist traps with English speakers and eat at tourist friendly restaurants… with English speakers.

First problem: Rosetta’s price tag…

If you thought buying yourself a personal copy of Rosetta Stone was extortion, you’d be flabbergasted at the cost of a package such as this.

 

Four copies of the software, including the administrator disk, cost our organization about $3,000 – pretty much the entirety of a grant designed to outfit both labs with new software.

That covered less than half of our computers, leaving some users with a much older version.

But the fun doesn’t stop there.

Installing these wee beasties is a treat all its own!  

This is of course made worse if you have horribly networked labs with no Internet connections like we did.

That bit really wasn’t Rosetta’s fault, but they certainly could have made things easier by having more efficient tech support and a system compatible with technology made prior to 2000.

Without going into gory detail, it took about a month to install these four items on our Paleolithic computers, during which time the labs were essentially out of order.

After two weeks of back and forthing with a clueless support tech who had never handled anyone in our situation before, I was finally able to confirm the activation codes.

We had finally done it!

Too bad it wasn’t worth it…

OMG, Rosetta StoneRosetta’s administrator controls allow you to do all sorts of really cool things such as creating customized learning curricula for your learners and then identifying exactly which subjects they’re struggling with.

You can record data on how often they’re using the software and how their overall progress is going.

The statistics offered by the admin software were actually really great – so great in fact that they made it abundantly clear that the fancy new program just wasn’t helping anyone actually improve.

While some users were improving their scores, it was easy to determine that the learners who were experiencing the most progress were also attending groups, speaking at home and living in a more or less total immersion setting. Whereas those who only used Rosetta Stone stagnated tremendously.

We had some clients who came in every single day, for years, to use Rosetta Stone for a few hours and then leave.

We performed quarterly re-evaluations to assess learner progress: 

 

Not a single learner who exclusively used Rosetta ever advanced beyond their initial level. 

Rosetta Stone does not encourage real speaking confidence! It is absolutely essential that learners get real feedback from real speakers.

Sure, Rosetta’s voice recognition is decent, but matching your voice to a recording is not a legitimate substitute for a good, old fashioned pair of someone else’s ears.

Language learners need to know that they’re making progress that can be seen by someone who isn’t a computer, and they need to build confidence by speaking with and listening to real people. It doesn’t matter how good the computer is. Just the knowledge that they’re speaking to an AI instead of a person will change how a learner responds and gauges the situation.

Students will sometimes use programs such as Rosetta Stone, when made readily available, as a crutch to get out of actually speaking and overcoming the natural fears that we all experience while learning a new language.

LVEC’s learners really enjoyed using it for the most part, and I’m sure that a small portion of them did in fact benefit somewhat from its use, but despite their enjoyment; we saw that Rosetta Stone was having a detrimental effect on their overall progress – it caused them to stop showing up for personal tutoring sessions or attending conversation groups – the only place we could really help them with their problems.

We had successfully traded real conversation and personalized language coaching for pre-made electronic curricula with a pretty box and sound effects.


Rosetta Stone Sucks

Conclusion

  1. Spent $3,000+ for a system we were better off without. 
  2. Lost talented volunteer tutors who decided that their time was no longer valued.
  3. The time required to maintain and supervise the labs cut down on the productivity of an understaffed and underfunded organization.
  4. Saw an overall decline in the rate of improvement among learners who used Rosetta Stone as a crutch to avoid the more stressful ‘real’ conversations from tutoring or group sessions.
  5. Got some nifty yellow boxes to store office supplies in.

If your organization or school is still considering Rosetta Stone as a serious option my strongest recommendation is to restrict the time learners or students are allowed to use the computer. 

Very closely monitory their progress and communicate with them regularly about the difficulties they’re facing within the program. Force your learners to engage with teachers and each other more than with Rosetta.

I can’t guarantee that your experience with Rosetta Stone will be as negative as the one I faced with LVEC, but I can guarantee you that for the price you pay there are far, far better options.

 

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  • Konrad

    I love learning English with http://www.bellsenglishonline.com/. . I have tried for year to learn English but feel that this is a much easier investment than the time and money I spent on ther courses. I go to Great Britain every year and am thankful to have finally found a course that is really going to make it possible for me to talk in English.

  • Kyle Balmer

    The university of Maryland did some studies on the effectiveness of RS. They were asked whether US Government employees should use the courses. The results were…somewhat disastrous for RS.

    V2 of RS is covered in this article: https://d2gcdhp37krz23.cloudfront.net/uploads/Self-Study.pdf
    My favourite stat in there is that of 150 who participated in the trial a single person completed the programme. The academic label put on this is “severe attrition in participation”!

    V3 of RS is covered in this article: http://www.casl.umd.edu/sites/default/files/Nielson08_RosettaStoneFalls.pdf
    P7 is illuminating here – it shows how much the content differs between the Spanish and Arabic versions of RS. It’s a pretty unambiguous pie-chart where 92.4% (!) of the content is direct translation. Yowch.

  • I used both V2 and V3 (upgrading from 2 to 3 is the nightmare scenario I outline in the article, in case I neglected to mention that).

    I actually wrote another review in which I attempted to set my biases – detailed here obviously – aside and try to find a little bit more of a positive.

    I’ve linked to the article at the end of this post but there’s actually another study performed by Queens College that indicated surprisingly success that would appear to contradict that of UM.

    ………One person out of 150 is horrible.

    http://www.latg.org/2014/04/the-boy-is-under-airplane-review-of.html

  • Miri

    Hi Brian, I bought Rosetta stone in 2011 (French) and they had something that really helped me a lot, and maybe when you had bought the package you didn’t have? they had sessions with real teachers, for an hour about the specific session you just finished studying. And you could take unlimited sessions like that. I haven’t heard about iTalki and similar sites in 2011 (I think they are around from 2012), and anyway those sessions were really awesome for a beginner because they were only about the class material, and you had up to 4 people with you so you could compare yourself (and I like competition like that), and also many times it was just me and so I could venture to free conversation with the teacher. I think it was quite a good deal, even paying 350$ for it.
    I don’t recommend RS today though, because today they limit the session to 4 a month, and it’s 25 minutes only, and it’s just not worth it anymore, especially that there are so many options today.

  • flootzavut

    “It has brought utterly staggering lingual mediocrity to millions of bored, mildly disinterested casual learners”

    This shouldn’t be so funny, but it is hilarious, because it is just. so. accurate.