Excellent user experience. Highly intuitive. Polished interface. Optional online tutoring sessions. Includes phrasebook, readings, games.
Lacks cultural information and translations. No placement test for students with previous language exposure. Repetitive.
- Bottom Line
Rosetta Stone remains the best premium software for building the foundation of a foreign language. Its new pricing model and online classes make it more compelling than ever.
Surely you've seen the TV commercials, mall kiosks, and online ads for Rosetta Stone. It's the 800-pound gorilla of language-learning software. But is it any good? The answer is yes, particularly if you are brand new to a language and want to develop a strong base of vocabulary and grammar. It's well structured, clear, and moves at a comfortable pace. Use Rosetta Stone for a few months and you'll learn to speak, read, write, and understand basic words and phrases. Don't expect to become fluent, though. You're unlikely to reach fluency with software alone—any software. When considering all the online options, Rosetta Stone is the best full-featured language-learning software, and it's our Editors' Choice among paid programs. Duolingo is our Editors' Choice for free programs.
Rosetta Stone has a good selection of languages to learn, although not all its languages are available on all platforms. In total (excluding programs for American and British English), there are 28 languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Pashto, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish (Latin American and European), Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog (Filipino), Turkish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
If you need to learn a language that's not on the list, there are three other apps I recommend you consider. One is Transparent Language Online. It has programs for more than 100 languages. Courses for languages that are not in high demand can be short, but many of them are quite robust.
I also recommend trying Pimsleur, which is an audio-based program with courses in more than 50 languages. If you really want an app-based interactive course, Pimsleur is not a good option. But if you don't mind learning through headphones, give it a go.
The other place to look for hard-to-find languages is Mango Languages. It has programs for 68 languages, although I don't recommend starting with Mango, as it's one of the weaker programs I've tested. Still, it's an option if you're in a bind.
Duolingo has 22 fully developed courses, not counting languages from works of fiction (there's a course for High Valyrian that I just can't bring myself to include in the final count).
Pricing and Plans
In 2017, Rosetta Stone changed its prices and options—and for the better. The company used to have very expensive list prices for CD-ROMs or online access, but those prices were never what you actually paid because everything was perpetually on sale. It's a relief that the company has finally come up with more straightforward pricing.
For $179, you get a one-year subscription to the online program, which gives you unlimited access to all the materials in any one language. That price is in line with what other online language programs cost. A three-month subscription is $79, and six months is $119; both of those options are too expensive. If you're going to commit to Rosetta Stone, get the one-year subscription. There's also a two-year option for $249; that's a good deal if you're sure you're in it for the long haul.
If you'd rather own a copy of Rosetta Stone forever, rather than going with an online subscription, you can still buy CD-ROMs or a downloaded copy of the software, but you get less content with those packages. I'll list exactly what's missing in a moment. The cost of the CDs or downloaded software is based on how many levels you buy. Level 1 is $124. Levels 1-3 are $199. Levels 1-5 are $249.
Here's what you don't get with the CDs or downloaded software: the ability to use Rosetta Stone on any device, including mobile apps; a phrasebook; downloadable audio-only lessons; literary stories in the language you're learning; and TruAccent, a component meant to help train your pronunciation.
Other online language-learning programs charge roughly the same amount for a similar amount of content. Living Language Platinum, for example, also costs $179 for a one-year subscription. Transparent Language Online charges $199.95 for a one-year subscription.
Fluenz, which is similar to Rosetta Stone in quality but very different in pedagogy, has pricing all over the place, depending on the language and how many levels you want to access. To give you an idea of the rates, levels 1-5 of German cost $368. Mandarin 1-2 costs $248. With Fluenz, however, you get both downloaded software and online access.
There are many other language-learning apps and websites, but not all of them are full-featured programs. Those that are designed more for study and review tend to cost a lot less. For example, Yabla teaches by having you watch online videos in the language you're studying. It's great for people who already have experience with a language, but really tough for newbies. It costs $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year.
There are also many excellent free language-learning apps with low-cost upgrade options. Again, most of them are more suited to studying and improving language skills, rather than learning from scratch.
Finally, if you're on a budget but need full-featured language-learning software, check your local library. Many public libraries in the US and Canada, for example, provide patrons with access to Mango, Transparent Language, and even Rosetta Stone. You can often access the materials from your home computer by simply authenticating your library membership online, making it an especially convenient option.
My Experience With Rosetta Stone
Over the past decade, I've used Rosetta Stone both personally and professionally in Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, German, Turkish, Russian, and even English.
If you've ever used Rosetta Stone before, or even had a free trial, you're in for a familiar experience. No matter which language you choose, you're going to see a lot of the same images—the same goldfish, the same green bicycle, the same bowl of rice. You'll also see the same general look and overall structure to the course. On one hand, Rosetta Stone is consistent, predictable, stable, and reliable. On the other hand, it leaves out cultural context. Rice, bread, milk, and water are fairly universal, and you're going to learn those words no matter which language you learn with Rosetta Stone. But depending on the language and culture, it might be more useful to learn words like cabbage, potato, and sour cream, instead.
There's a lot of drill-and-kill style teaching, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for new learners. Rosetta Stone exposes you to the same new words over and over again. Sometimes you're asked to simply listen to them, sometimes to say them, sometimes to write them.
You learn a lot of universal basics: girl, boy, man, woman, eat, run, swim, drink, water, milk, cat, dog. The core material does not teach travel phrases or conversational skills, so don't expect to learn "Where is the bathroom?" and "Excuse me. Could I have two beers, please?" in the first few lessons. With the online subscription to Rosetta Stone, you do now get some travel phraseology from the new Phrasebook feature. Phrasebook is separate from the primary course material, and it focuses on handy survival sentences, like asking for directions.
Rosetta Stone Style
In terms of design, Rosetta Stone is a work of art. The interface is polished and graceful. The online version runs smoothly. Setting up microphones and running sound checks was simple and successful in my testing.
The program is extremely intuitive, with almost no written instructions. Despite that, however, there's no second-guessing what you're supposed to do. Lessons appear in a sequential order on a dashboard. If you move between the web app and mobile apps, your progress is always saved and synced. It's easy and downright enjoyable to dive right in. A sense of play surrounds the interactive experience without ever being juvenile.
Rosetta Stone prides itself on its immersive approach, meaning there is no instruction in English (or whatever your native language). The only English you encounter is in the help menus, settings, and title screens. Rosetta Stone has long used the phrase "natural language acquisition" to describe its program, but it's really much more about repetition and deductive reasoning.
Repetition is necessary to some degree with any language learning process. With Rosetta Stone, however, some users may experience fatigue after a few weeks because the heavy repetition comes without any cultural context or explanation.
When you begin, you see pictures and either see or hear (or both) words that are associated with that picture. After being exposed to them several times, you're then asked to speak or write the word. For example, you see a man smiling and waving, and then hear and see the German Guten Tag. A few screens later, the same photo appears, and you hear Guten Tag. This time, you're prompted to say it, too. A voice-recognition system decides whether you've said the word correctly, if you've enabled it. Later in the program, the photo appears yet again, and you have to type the word. The same words and images pop up again and again. That's the gist of it.
Deductive reasoning is another core component of learning in Rosetta Stone. You might see a picture of a sandwich and hear the word for sandwich twice. Then you hear the word for sandwich a third time and are prompted to pick the corresponding picture. The same thing happens all over again for the word egg. Finally, a new word you've never heard before appears alongside a picture of an egg, a sandwich, and a coffee. Deductive reasoning tells you that the new word must mean coffee, because you already know the words for egg and sandwich. The deductive reasoning gets a little more complicated when you have to suss out new verb forms or plurals (such as "he ran," "she ran," "they run"), but it's never difficult.
The deductive approach has its challenges, though. For example, there's no way of knowing whether "Erwachsene" means "people" or "adults." Is "Guten Tag" formal or informal, or does it not matter? Is "kaffee" filter coffee or any espresso-based drink? Rosetta Stone doesn't tell you.
I find Rosetta Stone very useful for studying gendered nouns and plural versus singular, but less practical for things I want to know as a traveler or business professional in a foreign country. While it's adept at helping you build or strengthen a base vocabulary, it's not great with complex grammar, nuance, or cultural context.
Rosetta Stone doesn't have placement tests, so if you've previously studied a language, it's hard to know where to start. But you do have freedom to explore all the different lessons and levels at will. That's different from Duolingo, where you can't jump ahead to a future lesson if you haven't done all the prior lessons or tested out of them. Duolingo does have a placement test, however.
Engagement and Interactivity
I appreciate the high degree to which speaking, writing, reading, and listening are blended in Rosetta Stone. In addition to the core lessons and units, there are games, chat boxes via which you can talk with other learners, and reading exercises. There are also optional tutoring sessions, held via video conference, which are helpful for practicing the language you are studying with real live human beings.
Once you've reached certain milestones, you can sign up for one of these live 25-minute tutoring sessions. They are small classes of only a few students. You can see the instructor, but the instructor cannot see you. The instructor can only hear the students and text-chat with them. These sessions used to be an hour, and I'm glad they're shorter now because they can be exhausting. The instructor only speaks in the foreign language and doesn't veer off script, which can feel restrictive. Classes are plentiful, however, and it's not hard to find an open slot.
Because the instructor only uses the language being taught, you can't ask questions in your mother tongue. What's covered in the online class is an extension of what's in the program, so don't expect a rich and engaging place to ask all your burning questions.
Living Language also offers e-tutoring, and I found its programs to be much more engaging. Those instructors might speak in English to explain something that's not in the core material. This is more to my taste, and it puts me much more at ease when I'm in the class.
As mentioned. in the Rosetta Stone class, you can see the instructor, but she or he can't see you. That means if you don't understand or if your audio cuts out momentarily, the person can't tell from your facial expressions what's happening. There is a chat box that you can use to communicate with the instructor if you're having problems, but there's no guarantee she'll speak your native language.
I found the classes challenging, mostly in a good way. They force you to think and generate ideas, which software alone can't do. My instructors have been overwhelmingly positive, even when I was stumped by questions. Sometimes the questions sound bizarre coming from a human, but in the software they didn't sound so wacky. For example, in the software, you might see a picture of a girl riding a horse, and the question will be, "Does the girl drink?" You'll see an option appear on screen that says, "No. The girl does not drink," which makes sense. If you're talking to a real human being, however, and you don't see any such option, you might think to yourself, "What the heck is she talking about?"
The Rosetta Stone tutoring sessions are fine, but they are not at all comparable to being in an actual classroom.
Games and Mobile
A section with bonus content and games, both single- and multiplayer, offers more ways to study and learn. The games are engaging, much more so than the ones you find in say Living Language.
One of the games shows a grid on top of a desert island. Along one axis are different items, such as a pair of plants, a flower, a shirt, and so forth. Along the other axis are colors. You choose a square on the grid and have to say aloud whatever the combination shows, such as "The pants are green" or "The flower is yellow." When you say the correct sentence, a shovel appears and digs for buried treasure on that spot of the island. I was impressed that the game managed to incorporate speaking so well.
I also like the bonus content for reading. There are short stories designed to be within your reach, and you can listen to them, read them silently, and read them out loud, or any combination of those options. My only complaint is that the readings are designed to be exactly within your reach, whereas reading longer texts often makes for an ideal opportunity to stretch beyond your comfort zone. From context, you should be able to figure out some unfamiliar words, and that can help you learn in a different way.
If you are looking to flex your reading muscles, I recommend picking up Beelinguapp in tandem with Rosetta Stone or any other program or course. Beelinguapp provides texts for a variety of skill levels and on different topics.
Rosetta Stone has mobile apps for iOS and Android. The mobile app content mirrors the lessons available online, so when you log into the mobile app, you're able to pick up your learning from the place you left off. I spent a bit of time using the iPad app, which was recently redesigned to have a more simplified interface. All the mobile apps now look less busy.
The voice recognition works better than expected on mobile. As with the web version, the mobile app has settings that let you opt out of speaking exercises if you're in a place where it would be awkward to start having a one-way conversation in German into your phone.
Build a Foundation With Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone is a wonderful, polished, and technically competent language learning program, one that's especially good for beginners who are looking to build a foundation of knowledge on their own time. It's our top pick for paid language-learning software. If true fluency is your goal, you will probably want to also consider other types of instruction, such as local classes or private tutoring, but Rosetta Stone can definitely help you build a solid foundation.
If you have prior experience with a language, Rosetta Stone might not be the best initial fit, as it doesn't have any kind of placement test for you to know where to begin. You might be better off dabbling for a while in Duolingo, which is free. Duolingo is also a great way to develop a strong foundation, but it doesn't offer as many languages as Rosetta Stone, and it doesn't use the same deductive learning techniques.
Jill Duffy is a contributing editor, specializing in productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the weekly Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Her first book, Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life is available for Kindle, iPad, and other digital formats. She is also the creator and author of ProductivityReport.org. Before joining PCMag.com, she was senior editor at the Association for Computing Machinery, a non-profit membership organization for… More »
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