Rosetta Stone is THE most popular language course out there. The company and their courses get a lot of love and hate. Some people greatly prefer the course, while others want nothing to do with it.
In this review we take an in-depth view of this popular Spanish course. We'll look at what's in the course, how its method works, and whether or not its right for you.
Review of: Rosetta Stone Spanish
Use: Learn Spanish grammar & vocabulary
Great for the basics. After that it's not as effective.
Individual levels are still expensive but the monthly subscription option is a lot cheaper
You can use it for 15 minutes a day or more
Ease of Use
Designed to be one of the easiest language courses to use, and it is!
I Don't Like
Summary: In a nutshell Rosetta Stone Spanish works best for beginners who want a basic grasp of the language. Beyond that the course isn't as useful.
The course uses no English whatsoever, so there are no explanations given for how and when words are used. Some say this helps you learn a language naturally, while others think this is a useless way to learn Spanish.
Rosetta Stone has been shown to be effective. Whether or not its the most effective Spanish course will depend on your level in the language, your learning needs, as well as your preferences for language practice.
If you want to take things slow and steady this might the course for you. If you're more die hard about learning and speaking Spanish then you might want to look elsewhere.
Who is Rosetta Stone for?
Rosetta Stone is designed for beginners: those that are completely new to language learning in general and Spanish in specific.
For casual students
Rosetta Stone Spanish is ideal for those who simply want to dabble in the language as an occasional hobby or time killer. It's not suited for die hard language learners because its method is very slow and gradual.
Who it's not for
Rosetta Stone is not intended for intermediate or advanced students of Spanish. The course material simply doesn't teach beyond the basics.
It's also not for those who place a strong emphasis on learning to speak Spanish. RS isn't a substitute for having real Spanish conversations (no course is). It's vocabulary is also somewhat unpractical for typical conversations in the language.
The method behind the course
Rosetta Stone focuses on the auditory and visual aspects of language learning. Their course is almost exclusively a combination of images and recorded audio.
At the beginning of a lesson you will be given a selection of images along with the written and spoken word or phrases that corresponds with it. Then throughout the lesson you will have to remember which word or phrase goes with which image.
Sometimes you're given one word and multiple images, or multiple images and one word. In either case you have to pick the correct pair. If you ever worked with flashcards as a little kid, it's a similar idea.
The key difference with Rosetta Stone is that the course uses absolutely no English. There are no translations. All you have to work with are the Spanish words and pictures.
The thinking behind the Rosetta Stone method
The company designs their course this way in an effort to immerse you in the language. They often compare the RS method to the way babies and small children learn a language (though that comparison is debatable).
Does Rosetta Stone work?
In the language learning world the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone is often a hot water topic. Many veteran language learners heavily criticize the course, while some beginners swear by it. Here's a look at some the common critiques and praises of the course.
Common critiques of the method
It moves too slow
Many an internet polyglot has pointed out the slow pacing of the RS courses. They are literally designed to walk someone through the basics of a language one baby step at a time. Many argue that this gentle approach isn't necessarily helpful when learning a language.
It doesn't prepare you for real conversations
Critics also point out that RS has no real speaking or original writing component to it. You're simply not required to produce your own sentences or phrases. As a result you may learn new words and basic grammar, but you will be ill prepared when the rubber meets the road in a real world conversation.
It's not challenging
Piggybacking on the slow pacing critique, many argue that RS simply doesn't challenge its students enough to recall and use the language. Compared to other courses and methods many claim it's ineffective in this regard.
It's not culturally sensitive
The company is known for using the same stock photos in all of their courses. Meaning you'll have the same image for money or food in a Spanish course as you do in their Japanese and Chinese courses.
Obviously your typical coins, bills, and food are going to look fairly different, depending on where your new language is spoken. Rosetta Stone doesn't make much of an effort to address that.
But this isn't as much of an issue if you're learning Spanish.
Common praise for the method
The very thing veteran language learners criticize many beginners praise. People who are completely new to foreign languages often find the gentle approach of RS ideal for their needs.
Many beginners have found Rosetta Stone helpful
The course helps take away the discomfort and uncertainty out of learning Spanish, or another foreign language.
Many claim that RS helps them learn words so that they can easily remember them later on. For these individuals the no english approach pays off.
Does the method actually work?
We've covered the common opinions of language learners, but are there any studies or examples of empirical evidence that shows whether or Rosetta Stone works?
As a matter of fact, there is.
There was a study carried out by the University of New York, which tried to gauge how effective or ineffective Rosetta Stone's Spanish course was. The study concluded that roughly 55 hours spent working with Rosetta stone equated to about 1 semester's worth of a Spanish course in College. You can find the study here.
55 hours spent using Rosetta Stone Spanish equals approximately 1 semester of a college level Spanish course.
So it seems that using Rosetta Stone will help you learn the basics of Spanish.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Spanish course
The Spanish language and RS make a good couple
RS doesn't change their method based on which language they're teaching. Languages often differ widely in their grammar, pronunciation, writing system, and vocabulary. As a result some RS courses are simply better than others.
Lucky for us Spanish is one of the languages that works best with Rosetta Stone. This is probably because the very first RS course was likely designed for the Spanish language. After all Spanish is the most popular foreign language for native English speakers to learn.
Compared to many other languages Spanish grammar isn't that far from English grammar
These means the company's researchers and developers considered Spanish grammar, syntax, and other features of the language, while designing the course. The same cannot be said for languages like Japanese or Arabic.
Also the Spanish alphabet and pronunciation system make the language relatively easier for native english speakers to pick up in general.
RS is good for basic grammar and vocabulary
RS covers the basics of the Spanish language. Its no translation method works reasonably well for this. The way the course is paced and laid out it's not hard to figure out what is going on in a given picture.
Doesn't teach advance grammar well
RS can cover the basics of Spanish. However once you get into the more complicated grammatical concepts like reflexive verbs, the preterite and imperfect tenses, or the subjunctive tense; you need a lot more explanation than just a few pictures.
Rosetta Stone simply doesn't have an answer for these problems. It's also important to note that the company doesn't offer any courses for learners with an intermediate level or higher in Spanish.
You don't learn the language in a practical way
I agree with the common critique that RS simply doesn't prepare you well for real life use of the Spanish language. The vocabulary can be very impractical. I probably won't need to say things like "The dog has a ball, or the boy is wearing a red shirt".
It would be nice to see words and phrases I'm more likely to use right away should I meet a native speaker.
There's not much after the basics
Yes Rosetta Stone can be useful for learning the basics of Spanish grammar and vocabulary. The problem is, you won't be learning the basics for very long. The further you go into the language the less helpful the course becomes.
This is the biggest reason why RS wouldn't be my first or even second choice for a Spanish course if I had to go back and relearn the language. I would much rather pick a course that I could still use even at an intermediate level, especially when considering the price of RS courses.
Rosetta Stone now offers its courses in three different formats: the traditional software CD, online download, or an online subscription.
CD & Download
The course software is the same whether you purchase the CD or digital download option. With these formats you get the original audio-visual course that has made the company so famous.
The chief benefit of purchasing an online subscription is that instead of merely purchasing a single level of the Spanish course, you get access to all levels of the course. This could potentially help you save a lot of money as you would have to purchase each level individually or in a high priced bundle if you bought the CDs or the downloads.
What's in the course
The Spanish courses are separated into five different levels. Each level is made up of four units, and each unit has four lessons. In total each level will have 16 separate lessons.
Spanish lessons are designed around topics like specific vocabulary or grammar themes. For example: clothing, daily routine, comparing and contrasting, etc. The beginning of a lesson typically introduces the concept.
Each lesson is made up of smaller miniature lessons which help you review the concept in that part of the course by answering multiple choice and fill and blank type questions. An entire lesson can take about an hour or so to work through.
Online subscription bonus features
There are some bonus features available with the online subscription option. The most notable are a series of word games; some of which you can play by yourself, while others you must play online with another learner.
There are also a series of stories (similar to articles) in Spanish that you can read or listen to like an online audio book.
As an extra feature Rosetta Stone offers the option of purchasing live online tutoring sessions with their own teachers. The price of these sessions is not included in the purchase price of the course. It comes at an additional cost if you want to use it.
These sessions are very structured and are designed to work in tandem with the course material. Each session is 20 minutes long.
Personally I find the price for these sessions to be extremely high at $20 for 20 minutes (that's $60 an hour!). You would have no problems finding a Spanish teacher on Italki for $10 an hour. For the price of one hour of tutoring with Rosetta Stone you can have 6 hours with a teacher from Italki!
Latin vs Castilian Spanish
Another important note about Rosetta Stone is that it offers separate courses for Latin and Castilian Spanish. There are a total of 5 levels for each type of Spanish.
For those who may not know, Latin Spanish is the Spanish spoken in the Americas, while Castilian Spanish is spoken in Spain.
These two versions of the language are mutually intelligible. They differ mainly in word choice and pronunciation. Which course you purchase should depend on where and with whom you plan on speaking Spanish.
How to use RS in your Spanish learning
Don't use it as a stand alone course
Because it doesn't offer English explanations, and because it focuses more on basic vocabulary and grammar, we recommend that you use Rosetta Stone as a supplement to your learning.
While the RS company would have you believe that their product is a stand alone Spanish course, that simply isn't the case.
If you're serious about becoming fluent in Spanish, Rosetta Stone won't cut it. You will need to use outside resources. Most importantly you'll need to use what you learn by practicing with native speakers.
Use it as a introduction to Spanish or a practice tool
If you like the RS method you can use the course as an introduction to the Spanish language (a sort of prep before you get deep into the language). The course also works fairly well as a way to help you review and use what you learn elsewhere.
If you're still at a beginner level and are looking for a way to add some variety into your Spanish practice, then Rosetta Stone could be an option.
What others say about Rosetta Stone Spanish
The major criticism of the RS method is that no explicit explanations or translations are given.
Rosetta Stone prides itself on being an immersion tool that never uses L1 translations or explanations, forcing the user to rely solely on their own intuition while gradually acquiring the language content necessary for the next level.
In order to do this successfully it’s expected that you move through the program in a linear progression, expanding on the initial one or two word building blocks at the beginning of level 1 to some long, grammatically complex sentences in the higher levels.
People who enjoy the convenience of looking up grammatical explanations and always having the answer at their fingertips simply won’t appreciate this approach however.
Some people will get benefit out of Rosetta Stone. I can see how it would happen. I did indeed learn something from this program... Injecting this confidence is something that Rosetta Stone does very well but to be honest the time would have been much better spent on other tasks.
Talking about blue skies and red balls made little addition to the conversations I needed to have with people. This has always been an issue I've had with generic courses; they try to teach you everything and in doing so teach you almost nothing that you really need.
Alternatives to Rosetta Stone Spanish
Rocket Spanish is a comprehensive Spanish course that will take you from a beginner level up to the mid-intermediate level in the language. The course is designed around interactive audio lessons.
Each lesson will breakdown a Spanish conversation which native speakers into smaller parts so that you can pick the grammar and vocabulary and then use them yourself when you speak Spanish.
Even though the emphasis of Rocket Spanish is always conversation, the course also does a good job of incorporating reading and writing as well.
Spanishpod101 is a Spanish course in the form of audio podcasts. Each lesson is an episode and features a conversation between two native speakers, as well as lesson notes, and sentence examples.
Every episode is moderated by two hosts who help explain difficult concepts and share interesting insights into the language or culture.
The site also features many extra resources like in site flashcards, slow playback and recording (for pronunciation), and vocabulary lists.
Pimsleur Spanish is a completely audio based course. It uses a unique question and response technique to get you thinking in Spanish and using it the way you would in a real conversation.
It's the only Spanish audio course I know that helps prepare you for real life conversations.
Rosetta Stone can be an effective way to learn and understand the core of Spanish vocabulary and grammar. It can also work as a tool for refreshing your skills and or reviewing what you already know.
Unfortunately though, it doesn't work as well as a stand alone Spanish course. The course also doesn't do much to help you develop your conversational skills.
If you're absolutely knew to foreign languages and want to learn Spanish, this course could be worth your time and money. Try out their free trial and see if this is the right course for you!