Elyse asked me to comment on Rosetta Stone (the language learning method, that is, not the artifact that enabled us to decipher hieroglyphics).
Rosetta Stone claim they are used by NASA and the US Army, and that their method “unlocks your natural ability to learn a language.”
Having taught Applied Linguistics, teaching linguistics to teachers who teach language, I’d have to say that the claimsÂ made by Rosetta Stone are overstated for the most part, but it’s what they don’t say that consumers need to know.
Rosetta Stone, Berlitz, etc. are Computer-Assisted Language Learning programs. These companies claim their products can be used as stand-alone methods for learning a second language. However, I would say that they would be most useful as a tool used in conjunction with face-to-face classes. NASA and the US Army might well use Rosetta Stone, but this software would be complementary to classes. The US Military use organizations like the Monterey Institute of International Studies for this purpose.
This is not to say that a student couldn’t develop skills in a second language solely through software, although autonomous learning makes the task considerably more onerous. It’s not comprehensive learning.
Rosetta Stone reviewers Donald McRae and Mark Kaiser see some limited pedagogical value in the software. However, they both encountered linguistic errors in the software, culturally inaccurate information, an English-language bias, and a lack of conversational instruction. Hmm…
Computer assisted learning is all good and well, but Rosetta Stone also claim they offer accelerated learning – and this is utter codswallop… Learning a second language is subject to the student’s effort or lack thereof -Â it can take several hundred hours to develop a basic vocabulary, pronunciation and the foundational elements of grammar. It takes many hundreds more to become fluent in a second language. (The saying is ‘about 800 hours’, but this depends on the quality of learning.)
The myriad of “Speak in a Week” books and websites make for catchy titles, but this is marketing, not reality. If you’re parachuted into Russia with one of these books, by the end of the week you’d still only be able to order a vodka, find the Kremlin, and swear at a few people in Ruski.
The claims would be far less amazing if they called the books by the more fitting titles: “Learn how to speak ten words in French, conjugate the copula and make some clumsy attempts to mimic the French accent in a week”, or, “Learn Swahili in 128 weeks”.
Accelerated language-learning courses are a bit like supposed speed-reading. If you ‘speed read’ you’ll only pick up key words and concepts; and if you speed learn you’ll speed forget.
The most important factor in learning a second language is motivation; economic, political or personal factors are likely to influence your drive to learn, and the speed with which you learn. For example, do you need to learn English because you’ve moved to a foreign country, you’re immersed in English, but can’t speak or understand it and won’t find work without it? Do you need to learn French fast because the only language you and your boyfriend speak is the lingua franca of love?
Rosetta Stone’s claim that their product “Unlocks your natural ability to learn language” is a marketing euphemism for ‘humans have the evolved ability to create, learn and produce language – now get off your arse and learn.”
Simply, there’s nothing quick and easy about acquiring a second language.
These (expensive) programs can be somewhat useful, if you do in fact use them… a lot, over time, and only as an aid.