Rosetta Stone: Does it Work?

Learning Spanish is (probably) 90% will power. Sadly, will power is not my strong suit.

When it comes to Spanish it seems that I have this painful mental block that I just can’t seem to push past. I think it’s PTSD from high school Spanish and those rows of neatly conjugated verb charts. O, as, a, amos, an, those verb endings haunt my dreams. I never did figure out what was appropriate to use when or how to convert these complex endings in my head fast enough to have an actual conversation.

Does Rosetta Stone Spanish Work?

Close up of the Rosetta Stone replica
photo credit: laser2k

That’s where Rosetta Stone comes in. Unlike those tedious high school classes, Rosetta Stone Spanish takes a gentle, immersive approach. The computer program aims to teach you the same way that small children learn a new language. They use a system they call “Dynamic Immersion,” which instead of forcing you to memorize vocabulary and conjugations tries to introduce you to new language skills interactively. They claim that this will get you thinking in your new language from the very beginning.

On a practical level what this means is that they teach you vocabulary and grammar using pictures, pronunciation and small games. There is a lot of repetition and they use voice recognition software to check your pronunciation. They’ll show you a picture of a white cat and teach you “El gato blanco.” It’s simplistic yes, but through repetition you learn a lot of new vocabulary.

The downsides? It’s expensive. Like massively expensive. For the price of the software I could take three weeks of real life language classes in Colombia. It’s also just a computer program, so there is nobody to ask if you have a question or need clarification.

El Gato Blanco

But does it actually work? Sort of. My feeling is that used on it’s own, it will be only a semi-useful tool. Combined with actual language classes or immersion though, it’s a great way to reinforce and practice concepts and vocabulary. Mike claims that Rosetta Stone Mandarin really helped him to learn Chinese more rapidly while living in Xi’an.

Basically I don’t think that Rosetta Stone is a language learning solution in and of it’s self. I think it’s just impossible to learn language in a void without practicing and conversing in real life. If you used it in conjunction with other language activities, classes or discussion groups or something else, than it would probably help you to learn faster.

Of course my biggest problem is that Rosetta Stone Spanish only helps if you ACTUALLY use it on a regular basis. Luckily, my slacker attitude is going to be adjusted for me by this time next week when I’ll be speaking Spanish in Colombia whether I know how or not!


20 thoughts on “Rosetta Stone: Does it Work?”

  1. I think it works well, but only up to a certain point. And for learning to speak it sucks basically it can only be good for understanding and writing.

    1. That’s a good point, learning to speak is a whole other set of challenges, but i think getting down the vocab helps.

    2. Carlos,
      I am trying to find people who will tell me about their experiences with Rosetta Stone and other self-taught systems for an article I’m working on. As you must have noticed the program offers no opportunity to think of a word on your own (the essential task in learning to speak), only to choose from 4 alternatives. I tried to learn Japanese, which may be particularly difficult, but the speech recognition component didn’t work (my Japanese Berlitz teacher couldn’t get it to accept her pronunciation), I never achieved any ability to comprehend the spoken language, and I found the vocabulary to be largely useless. When I got to “the giraffe is standing on 3 legs,” I gave up. What was your experience? I’d love to know.

      1. I took French in high school like 45 years ago, never really learned anything after a couple of years taking it. I decided to give Rosetta Stone a try and to be honest with you I feel I have learned a great deal. I don’t get to practice much but their online tutor session come in very handy to get you to speak and practice what you have learned. The other day for the first time I was confronted with a French tourist asking for some directions and I understood like 85% of what he was saying and I was able to use what I had learned so far to guide them in the right direction. With my French that I learned from Rosetta Stone and a little hand language ;-), they were on their way to the beach.
        Personally I feel its the dedication you put into it, and the discipline, one of the reason I thought I would give it a try is because of their 6 months money back guarantee they have. I told myself if I will give it a try for a few months if I don’t like the results by then, Im getting my money back. But I kept it and I’m very happy with it, I would recommend it highly!!!!

  2. Steph, darling, you realize you accidentally labeled the white cat as being black in the caption, right? “El gato negro”? 🙂

    Alas, Spanish befuddles me, too, but I’ve found that if you try, it doesn’t matter how awful your grammar is. Most people appreciate the attempt.

    1. Oh geez, that’s embarrassing! Guess that show’s how well things are going for me. I agree though, it’s the effort that counts the most!

  3. I have been meaning to learn Italian for a while and this has reminded me that it’s about time I got around to it. You’re right about it being down to will power – the tools are there, it’s just a matter of pushing yourself to use them.

  4. I would have to agree with you, that it is an aid. A really really expensive aid that can get you started on building vocabulary but even the pictures can be misleading. I use it at a English tutoring center, but to be honest you could get just as much from cheaper alternatives. Lastly, it also depends on what kind of learner you are but all in all it is an expensive gym membership you use for a week then never put to use again.

  5. Have you tried Micheal Thomas, Steph? He starts his course by reminding you of all the words similar in Spanish and English and simply builds from there. It’s pretty intuitive! If this means this, than what does that mean?, etc.

    Plus, one of the guys on the tape is a bit simple and makes me feel really smart! I dodgily downloaded it from the internet and listened to it on the realllllly long bus trips that come hand in hand with South America.

    I understand your struggle with learning another language. Damned being a native-English speaker!

  6. I’m a super lazy language learner myself (and a total hypocrite because I’m always yelling at my students for not studying or practicing English outside of class). I don’t think a computer program would work for me at all. I really need a teacher and classmates around to shame me into studying (and even that doesn’t work that well for me). Plus it’s on the computer… which means I would constantly be checking out Facebook or Twitter while I’m supposed to be learning about gato blanco.

  7. Hi Steph,

    Two words for you, Michel Thomas. I was exactly the same as you for years until I stumbled across a free Michel Thomas CD in the newspaper. It totally changed my ability to learn. He just gets in your head in the most fantastic way to the point where years later I can still remember the early lessons because of the emphasis and almost comedic value of some of his hectoring of the bad student.

    Trust me, just try the basic one and you’ll be amazed how quickly your verbs come on.

  8. Hi Steph! Been reading your blog for a while, first time commenting. 🙂 I was going to say that you might be able to access Rosetta Stone for free through a public library system, but apparently they ended their contracts with all the libraries last summer. It was a great option while it lasted. Your library may have other free language resources online though.

    Another option is Pimsleur – a lot of people swear by that system. I don’t have much experience with it (I think I’m more of a visual learner in general and it’s all audio) but I find it amusing that it’s clearly geared toward English-speaking businessmen aiming to score with the local women wherever they’re headed.

    Anyway, good luck!

  9. The suggestion here that you think of Rosetta Stone as a useful addition to other kinds of language programs seems like a good one. My experience with the program is that it’s possible to get the impression you’re making great progress with it while learning almost nothing. Given the program’s serious flaws, I wonder if anyone can learn to communicate using it. Their promise that you learn the way a child does is totally bogus. And yet it remains tremendously popular. Do people who feel they’ve failed blame themselves? For more see: I’m working on an essay about why it’s so hard to learn a new language and hope to find people who will tell me about their experience –pro and con– with self-taught programs.

  10. Has anyone tried the new, free language program, Duolingo? I think it’s great, though the choice of languages is still small. You can read about it here:

    You might also be interested in an assessment of the best language programs for preparing for a trip:,

    It’s good to keep in mind that there is a big range in our ability to learn foreign languages, just as in our aptitude for sports. Also, the younger you are, the easier it is: an argument for not putting it off, if it’s something you have in mind to do.

  11. I have tried Duolingo. I like it a lot but some of the new words are given to you verbally before you ever see them and can be frustrating. I like LiveMocha in conjunction with it. I’ve been looking at Rosetta Stone but it’s expensive.

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