Rosetta Stone is a comprehensive computer-based tutor for learning a foreign language. It expects no previous knowledge or experience in learning your target language, or even in languages in general, instead relying on a purely visual stimulus approach of discovering vocabulary and grammar - just the same as we all did when we learnt our mother tongue as infants.
Rosetta Stone has been producing language software since 1992, and in its latest iteration some small but very useful amendments have been added. New Version 3 courses are available for 25 languages, including all the major European languages, plus others such as Chinese mandarin, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Persian Farsi. We took a look at Rosetta Stone Russian Version 3.
Installation is not entirely straightforward as the company has locked down the program quite tightly to deter additional distribution beyond one household. Unlike previous versions, you're no longer required to keep a CD disc in the computer to authenticate. But you do need to get the installation authorised via an internet connection before it will start.
You're limited to two installations per copy, and if you wish to transfer to another computer, you're expected to deauthorise one machine first before transfer to the next.
The course starts very simply by teaching you simple nouns such as ‘boy' and ‘girl' by showing relevant images on screen, accompanied by the name in the language's script along with a voice reading it out loud. USB-connected headphones are included with a boom mic, which is pivotal to the Rosetta Stone goal in teaching you to speak in the chosen language.
With the new Version 3, not only do you get to repeat back words, phrases and complete sentences on prompt, but you can see a visual waveform of your voice on-screen. This helps you to master the exact pitching and intonation required to get authentic pronunciation.
Repetion exercises start simply, with just a single word or simple sentence comprising a noun and verb (for example, ‘boy runs' in the Russian language which dispenses with definite articles) and soon builds up to create sophisticated sentences.
But it pays not to be too complacent from the start, even if the exercise do seem too facile. We had to think carefully why we were scoring wrong answers on one exercise before we realised that Rosetta Stone was already introducing the concept of perfective and imperfective verbs of motion, a thorny topic in Russian, depicted with subtly different visual stimuli to differentiate.
Later in the course, full challenge and response situations are created, at Milestone points, based on potential real-life scenarios you might encounter when meeting native speakers in their home country.
There are many capitalised American-style buzzwords accompanying the software, such as Contextual Formation, Adaptive Recall and Dynamic Immersion. And the cue images, while very colourful and generally superbly photographed, are generic across all courses, so don't expect images of China, for example, to accompany the Mandarin course.
But in structure and pacing - which the individual student can take as fast or slow as they wish - we found this Rosetta Stone package to be masterfully well designed and an inspiration to keep learning.
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