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Mar 8, 2011

A Look at Rosetta Stone

When I first began to attempt learning Japanese, I decided to go with Rosetta Stone. I'd watched the ads on TV and seen countless ads in magazines, so I figured it had to be a good way to learn another language. I played around with the program for a month or two before realizing that I wasn't really learning anything, which is what led me to finding the methods that did work. So what exactly is wrong with Rosetta Stone? I'll tell you.

First of all, Rosetta Stone has it right about needing to immerse in the target language in order to really understand, but what Rosetta Stone fails at is giving you authentic Japanese to sink into. When I first began using the program, I had no knowledge of hiragana, katakana, or kanji, so I was cruising along in the land of romaji (Japanese written in roman characters). Yes, romaji. For anyone who knows anything about Japanese, you're already aware that romaji is useless. That was the first big problem with Rosetta Stone – it didn't tell me that I was learning something completely useless.

About the time I realized I was learning something that wouldn't actually help me with the language, I switched to using kana only. I once again started learning, but it was taking ages to get anywhere because I had not actually learned the hiragana in any solid way. In fact, I couldn't write them at all – I was doing my best to just recognize and read them. During that period where I was struggling to read kana, I found out that real Japanese is all about the kanji. I tried using the kanji, but I just couldn't make sense of them. They were these big, complicated assortments of lines that made absolutely no sense – and Rosetta Stone certainly wasn't going to explain them to me. Shortly after attempting kanji, I quit Rosetta Stone and never looked back.

The experience I just explained relates the largest fault of the Rosetta Stone learning method – it doesn't handle characters well. The method would probably work really well if used for learning French, Spanish, or some other language that uses the roman alphabet, but for learning something completely different it's lacking too much. At best, Rosetta Stone could be used as a vocabulary supplement to other methods of learning, but who wants to spend hundreds of dollars when you could get the same (or better) vocabulary building tools for free with Anki?

To sum things up, Rosetta Stone is a tool that could work for building your knowledge of Japanese – but only if you already know a lot. In order to really learn from Rosetta Stone, you need to have a firm grasp of the kana and be capable of learning new kanji relatively fast (or have already learned them through Heisig's Remembering the Kanji or Kanjidamage). The problem is that if you have already done these things, then you have really already overcome the greatest barriers in Japanese and no longer need Rosetta Stone. Which means the only thing Rosetta Stone has to offer is its voice recognition/pronunciation practice – which is trivial at best.

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  1. >but who wants to spend hundreds of dollars

    I'm pretty sure most Rosetta Stone users haven't paid a cent for it.

    I've never tried using it for Japanese but from what you say it really doesn't sound like an effective method at all.

  2. I've not heard much good about it, I'll avoid it in the future

  3. When I was in highschool I had a Chinese friend, and I asked him if he could teach me how to speak his language.

    He's a linguist and already speaks many languages, including Greek, Spanish, French, Italian, just about everything you could think of, so he was thrilled in bringing me into the world of linguistics.

    As he started teaching me Chinese, he was teaching me with pinyin, which I assume is like romanji. I asked why I was learning with roman characters instead of with Chinese characters and he said that learning Chinese characters takes a long time and a considerable amount of effort, and that anyone would agree with him in telling me to start off with vernacular speech and then move into writing.

    I don't know much about Rosetta stone, but IMO you should've stuck to it a little longer, maybe get a Japanese friend to help you out if you had one.

    I ended up not learning Chinese, but it wasn't because I was getting nowhere, since I was, it was because I ran out of time.

  4. First to the blog author, I generally agree with you about Rosetta Stone. My take on Rosetta Stone is that it is not worth the price. I think if it cost more like $50, then it would have a good value for beginners in a language. But Rosetta Stone does not deliver $500 worth of value. Furthermore, Rosetta Stone is of no value at all to anyone past a very low beginner stage. It is like if I were selling oranges. If I told you my oranges had essential vitamins and was good for combating scurvy and the common cold and then I sold you my orange for a buck or two, well, that is a good value, right? Ok, what if I told you my oranges could cure lung cancer overnight and charged you $10,000 for an orange? Are my oranges a good product in the latter case? And that is the problem with Rosetta Stone. Also, Rosetta Stone likes to throw around the term "immersion" as if it fits in anyway the meaning of immersion. Rosetta Stone is NOT an immersion program. I can call myself a duck but if I am really an elephant well, then...Enough said I hope.

    In response to the poster named "A," you can't compare Chinese to Japanese. Their writing systems are in no way the same. Chinese does not use a syllabary. It is a whole different kettle of fish. To be blunt, only your near ignorance of the one and your complete ignorance of the other even allow you to come to the conclusions that you did about the similarity of their writing systems. The Japanese adapted some Chinese Characters to their own uses and beyond this the two systems are widely divergent. What might hold true for learning Chinese in no way dictates what is effective for learning Japanese in many ways.