A Revised Review of Rosetta Stone

A couple years ago I wrote a negative review of Rosetta Stone. I acknowledged the program’s good points, such as its high quality photographs and novel “dynamic immersion” approach, but ultimately I gave it a thumbs down.

That review has been a thorn in my side. It’s generated enough negative feedback from readers in the site’s comments and on social media to make me reevaluate my position.

A Cafe in Venice, Italy

A Cafe in Venice, Italy — © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, [CC BY-SA 3.0], Image Source)

Has My Opinion Changed?

I still stand by the following criticisms:

  • I didn’t get nearly enough results with Rosetta Stone considering the time I put in (3 months of daily work). Other programs, such as Pimsleur, Duolingo, and Babbel were all much more effective for me.
  • I haven’t met anyone in real life who has had significant success with Rosetta Stone, including the dozens of people I know who have tried and committed to the program and ultimately didn’t get anywhere.
  • I’m not crazy about Rosetta Stone’s price, although it is admittedly lower than some other classes and programs.
  • Its pace is, in my opinion, too slow.

Personally, I will not be using Rosetta Stone again. And if my friends were to ask my advice, I’d recommend they try another program first. And most importantly, if you didn’t have success with Rosetta Stone, then that does not mean you are not a good language learner. It simply means that this particular program didn’t work for you, and you are definitely not alone.

So has my opinion changed? No. But it has softened. I think I was too harsh.

Why Rosetta Stone Isn’t All Bad

So if I still believe all that stuff I just said, why am I bothering to revise my review?

A few reasons.

First, I didn’t try the live tutoring. At the time I used the program (late 2010, early 2011) I lived in Germany, and the available tutoring times weren’t convenient, so I didn’t bother. A lot of people, however, have praised the tutoring feature, so I admit it’s not fair to judge a program harshly if I didn’t use one of its key features.

Second, I reviewed Rosetta Stone as a complete, out-of-the-box, all-in-one, comprehensive language learning system. To be fair, that’s how it’s marketed. But I have been happy to recommend other programs for use as a supplement or in conjunction with other learning activities, so I held Rosetta Stone up to a higher standard than I did other tools.

Third, my original review hinged on one point: I didn’t think Rosetta Stone worked. At all. But I was wrong. Readers of this site have let me know that they have indeed got good results from Rosetta Stone.

Rosetta Stone Success Stories

A commenter on the original review let me know that he got some success with the program:

  • Eddy from Brazil used Rosetta Stone to study Italian. In five months, he didn’t become fluent, but he did make very good progress. It’s worth nothing that he tried RS German afterward and made slower progress, but made progress nevertheless.

Also, a few readers left comments on my Facebook page letting me know that they’ve had some success with Rosetta Stone. (You can read their full comments on the actual post here.) Some stories:

  • Wendy used it to learn Italian and estimated that she was at an A2 level (advanced beginner) after using all five levels. She was then able to segue into other programs and methods.
  • Nicole used it to learn Italian as well. (I’m seeing a pattern.) Took her about nine months to complete the program, and she reviewed for another three months. She says that RS gave her a good conversational base, and when she was finished, she “continued to expand through reading, watching films, talking with native Italians over Skype and using free apps such as Duolingo.”
  • Stephanie, one of my favorite language bloggers, has been using RS recently to study Tagalog. She can’t say for sure how well it works, since she’s still going through the program. But she finds the program interesting and she praised the live tutoring. Best of all, she had been thinking of abandoning Tagalog altogether, but RS gave her some motivation to keep going. That alone is definitely a win.

The Bottom Line

On my site, I give honest reviews–honest in that they’re based on my actual opinions. I want to help people navigate through all the marketing muck out there.

I also want to be fair. Despite what I had originally thought, it’s clear that Rosetta Stone does work, to an extent. Will it, by itself, get you up to the highest levels of language proficiency? Probably not. Will it make you “fluent”? I doubt it. But all of that’s true of most self-study programs.

This doesn’t mean that Rosetta Stone doesn’t have use as a kick-start or as a supplement or as a way to get back on track.

If you have your own success story, let us all know in the comments.

(And thank you very, very much to the people who took the time to contribute their stories to make this review possible.)

  • http://fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    You’re so nice, Ron. I still think Rosetta Stone is overpriced rubbish and I stand by that opinion. I’ve looked at the Russian version. Yes, I looked at it briefly, but in that short time, I found outright mistakes. There was stuff that people just don’t ever say. There are so many good language learning resources on the internet if one takes the time to find them. :)

  • http://whatwedomatters.blogspot.co.uk/ Emma Sibley

    I’ve also tried the Russian one (many years ago), and didn’t find it very helpful. Perhaps it has improved since then, but I wouldn’t be intetested in re-trying. I’ve read too many bad reviews, and the price is off putting. Different things work for different people though, so Rosetta stone might be just fine for some. Especially for those studying languages where material is difficult to find.

  • carla

    I find it’s not very helpful beyond the early A2 level where you have to start building more complex sentences/paragraphs; but it’s good for expanding vocabulary if you are at a beginner
    level because of the pictures and scenes which make it a bit easier to memorize.

  • Jeff Leiffson

    I need to say I had some success using Rosetta Stone. I studied German once in a while for about five months and I can speak most of what I learned. I stopped after a while but it was a good experience. It gave me the motivation to keep learning German, which, although I’m not fluent yet, it became my 4th language. I tried the Russian, Arabic, and Japanese versions, and I liked them because I feel they give you a great intuitive introduction to a language you have no idea about (I knew nothing about Russian and Arabic before trying RS). But yes, it can’t be the only tool, and yes, it’s too expensive. Saludos.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Jeff, thanks for sharing your experiences! Yeah, success stories like yours are exactly why I changed my review, because I’m trying to be fair here. It’s not my cup of tea, but if the program gives some people real progress, it has value.