Admit it: you’ve been thinking about learning a foreign language. Maybe you’ve been planning a trip to Mexico or were considering taking over a small, French-speaking colony in the Maldives. Regardless of your interest or your armaments, it’s always nice to know a foreign language.
Until now the traditional online teaching methods have involved simple flash-card-like exercises and animations aimed at getting you acquainted with a language or, at the very least, CDs running you through the traditional “I would like to buy some hashish” and “My hovercraft is full of eels” rigmarole we know all too well from learning languages on tape. Rosetta Stone aims to change all that with their new TOTALe live language lessons and activities.
Rosetta Stone, a language learning company founded by Allen Stoltzfus in 1992, focused at first on CD-based training and quickly embraced web-based Flash systems for running lessons. The basic kits – about $499 for three lesson levels – include a web-based portion as well as an “audio companion” for training away from the PC.
Their new system, called TOTALe, adds two interactive ingredients to the mix. The first is the Rosetta Studio, a live lesson area where you and two other students at your skill level work one-on-one with a live, native speaker.
The second ingredient is Rosetta World, a matching service that connects a native speaker of one language with a learner of the other and, in some cases, vice versa. This means an Italian learning English would be connected with an American learning Italian. They then perform activities or play games related to the subject matter and can chat with each other in their native languages. The World portion also takes advantage of Rosetta Stone’s extensive network of students who have used other company products in the past, ensuring everyone can be paired up.
The interface is quite simple. After setting up your microphone, the Flash application runs you through standard comprehension lessons and vocabulary. This takes about two hours to complete. Once you’ve completed a full lesson you can go to an online calendar and schedule a Studio session. The sessions last 50 minutes and involve simple discussion and vocabulary drills, all based on photographs illustrating the lesson.
The whole system is run inside the browser and works on Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. The screens are large and easy to read and all of the photography is top notch.
I ran through some sample lessons in Spanish and found it a great refresher. Considering my High School Spanish has been decimated it was nice to run through the colors and numbers and I got to see my old friends the caballo and the camisa two words I had forgotten entirely. Most of the lessons include a speech portion, allowing you to practice pronunciation as well. I had a bit of trouble with my microphone but it seemed to understand my accented Spanish with ease.
The Studio session was fun and educational. A charming young lady led us through a series of exercises, asking us questions based on vocabulary we learned in the lessons and asking us to create sentences out of our limited verbiage. You can mark images with arrows and crosses as well as add your own notes to the images. All of the students can hear each other but the coach – or teacher – is there to prevent you guys from making dates or berating the dumb guy in the room (Thanks, Adriana!)
All of this takes time but it seems like time well-spent. I enjoyed the lessons and the Studio session was excellent, giving me an opportunity to speak in Spanish without the pressure of having to perform in real life situations. The company is planning to expand the service to educational institutions, an excellent solution for schools strapped for language educators. By putting a few kids in a room with a live person you create a mini classroom that is, if you think about it, quite amazing.
Now for the bad news: TOTALe will be available on Tuesday and will cost $999 for a twelve month subscription. This includes Studio sessions and you can repeat sessions as necessary. After the introductory period it will cost $1,200.
Before you go clicking off to buy a used copy of “Farsi for Dummies,” however, remember that Rosetta Stone has been an effective teaching tool for over two decades. The quality of the lessons is extremely high and the chance to work with a native speaker is unrivaled except in face-to-face schools. This social, human aspect really brings the lessons home and adds an amazing amount of value to the program.
This idea isn’t new. Sites like LiveMocha, Babalah,Palabea,Busuu, and Learn10 are all trying to create similar solutions. However, Rosetta Stone has a bit more budget and experience behind their TOTALe system.
In my own limited experience with the program, it is great for the professional and may be a great way to learn helpful phrases like “Drop your panties Sir William I cannot wait ’til lunch time.” The social aspects alone make the program stand out in a crowded market.
Incidentally, if you made it this far into the post you’re eligible to win one of ten year-long subscriptions courtesy of Rosetta Stone. Comment below using your real email address in the correct field and I’ll pick ten comments at random on Wednesday.