Top critical review
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"Whenever I hear French spoken as I approve, I find myself falling quietly in love."--Edward Bulwer-Lytton
on February 22, 2016
A while back, I decided to buy a french language programs, I tested out Ouino and Fluenz (more on them in a minute) and I read the reviews for Rosetta Stone. Here is everything I wish I had known before I bought this, including the absolute minimum price they charge (I monitored their prices for a year, on multiple sites. So you don't have to.) Break it down!
THE LEARNING METHOD: I ended up buying Rosetta Stone Level 1-5, and it is absolutely wonderful and hugely effective. They use the immersion method, where all lessons are entirely in the new language. This builds vocabulary remarkably quickly and teaches you to think in the language (it wasn't long before I began to dream in it as well). The lessons are engaging and are broken down in 10 to 20 minute sections, so you can basically fit at least something into your daily routine. You will need to get a separate grammar book, because the immersion method means you don't get grammar explanations in English. You basically would have to memorize what looks correct. Same with the the "writing" sections, the most annoying part of the method. They make you memorize exact spelling. And accent marks (Duolingo lets you make typos.). It's awful and I personally just write it all before hand and type it in from my notes as I go. Still, the other sections make up for it and each time I sit down to learn I really feel I walk away with my money's worth. I've used all sorts of methods, and by far I am happiest and have seen the best results with this one.
So why the three stars?
Rosetta Stone the company.
This is a very greedy company. If they make a deal with you, you can be sure you will be on the bad end of it. For example, your purchase will come with three months of the online subscription, which includes tutoring sessions. They don't tell you that you don't get unlimited sessions--you only get a few per month, and they don't roll over if you don't use them or have to cancel. In fact, they don't want to give you any upfront details at all. Under their FAQ on the Rosetta Stone website, there is a question about how many sessions you get per month. And they don't answer it. On their own FAQ. The customer service for this company sets a new standard for murkiness. They only allow you to download on two computers for the lifetime of the program, absurd for the price of the product. A full star and a half deducted for the shadiness of RS the company. Moving on to...
VOICE RECOGNITION: Probably the weakest part of the actual system. Sometimes their microphones just won't pick up your answers, tanking your score on the section. I've actually had to butcher a phrase to get the software to pass me through. RS has had years to work on the problem; they should have fixed it by now.
LIVE SESSIONS: The beginning lessons at the start of Level One do not contain greetings, introductions, the basics of meeting someone, etc. That comes later. Unfortunately, you will need that info for your first live tutoring lesson. The lessons themselves have a good chance of being torturous, because while every tutor I had was gracious and kind, there is a phenomena of advanced learners taking the Level One live sessions, probably because they're easy. All you have to do to get around Rosetta Stone's locking you into a certain level is start again as a new user. So this means you have conversationally fluent learners with absolute beginners, as many as four people per session. It's really not the best system, but Rosetta Stone makes it worse by their policies. You can pay extra for one on one sessions if you wish.
GAMES: Unbelievably dumb and dull as ditch water. Obviously, people will pay for online subscriptions if you make it worth their while. In this case, that would mean fun games you actually want to play. These games play like they were created in the 90's. Early 90's. And by the people who made that E.T. game.
PRICING: The absolute lowest price I ever saw on the Level 1-5 set was $189.99, in December. If you sign up for their emails they will plague you with offers. I personally paid $199.99 for the set; don't pay more, is my advice, if you have time to wait them out.
OUINO, FLUENZ, AND DUOLINGO: I tried out a lot of competing methods, including just watching videos on Youtube. If you are thinking about investing in Ouino or Fluenz, I would definitely try out the free demos first, and take the product reviews with a grain of salt. I remember one review for Fluenz describe the photos as "stunning"--they are really more "pedestrian" than anything else. I find both Ouino and Fluenz to be more tedious for the long-haul the RS system, but this is a personal preference. Duolingo I think is actually the strongest competitor that Rosetta Stone has--they have a similar structure in many respects. But Duolingo is free. I use them both on a daily basis (when I am applying myself) and while I still feel Rosetta Stone has the edge, Duolingo is my second choice over every other method.
In conclusion, I do recommend the product, providing you pay under $200 and know what you are getting in to. It won't really teach you to speak the language, for that you will need to converse live with speakers, either paid or unpaid. But it will teach you to read it. And it will build your vocabulary at a rapid rate. Make sure you won't be replacing your computer anytime soon, and start your free subscription (you control the start date) when you have the time to take the sessions as they are use or lose it. Sadly the best option out there, at least for me, and rating as follows:
FOR THE METHOD: A
FOR THE ONLINE SERVICES: B-/C+
FOR ROSETTA STONE THE COMPANY: D