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An Honest Rosetta Stone Review: Does Rosetta Stone Really Work?


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

What is Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe?

Rosetta Stone is an online language learning platform that never uses your target language to teach you your target language.

what it’s for:
Immersion learning, vocabulary, phrases, conjugation, grammar

languages:
English, Spanish, French, German, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Turkish, Polish, Hebrew, Swedish, Irish, Vietnamese, Greek, Hindi, Filippino (Tagalog), Persian (Farsi)

level:
Beginner

+ PROS

  • Live tutoring lessons
  • Well-done audio stories
  • Improved pricing
  • No English use to fall back on
  • Ideal for fans of “learn like a baby” approaches

- CONS

  • A one-size-fits-all approach to very different languages
  • Tedious repetition
  • Culturally-irrelevant photos
  • No explanations whatsoever
  • Multi-choice questions don’t emulate immersion
  • Never advances past a beginner’s comprehension

Does Rosetta Stone work? How effective is Rosetta Stone? I explain it all in this very detailed and honest Rosetta Stone review.

In short, I do not recommend Rosetta Stone for new language learners. Rosetta Stone is a one-size-fits-all method that’s tedious to follow, lacks explanations, and never advances beyond the beginner level.

Rosetta Stone is one of the biggest brands in language learning. Almost all language learners have heard of it.

But don’t confuse it with the Rosetta Stone that helped us decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, which it’s named after. Whether you will learn to decipher your target language will rely on a lot more than this one tool.

Running a blog as big as this means I get asked the following questions often: How good is Rosetta Stone? Is Rosetta Stone worth it?

In my opinion, skip this one and find another course for less that will actually teach you to speak the language confidently.

“It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that keeps you stuck at beginner level.”

In fact, I think you’ll find yourself discouraged if you use this as your first language learning resource. I actually polled my readers for their favourite and least favourite language courses. Rosetta Stone came out as the biggest loser.

So let me explain why I don’t think Rosetta Stone is worth it.

Rosetta Stone Review Table of Contents

  • My Frank Review of Rosetta Stone TOTALe
  • How Does Rosetta Stone Work? The Rosetta Stone Philosophy
  • Rosetta Stone Price Tag: Why is Rosetta Stone So Expensive?
  • Most Useful Feature By Far: Live Lessons With a Human!
  • Other Rosetta Stone Features: Games, Stories, and Irrelevant Photos
  • The Real Major Flaw in the Rosetta Stone App
  • A Copy-and-Paste Approach for Very Different Languages
  • Would I Recommend the Rosetta Stone Software?
  • What Would Actually Be a Better Use of Your Time
  • Is Rosetta Stone Good? Pros and Cons Summary
Benny with Rosetta Stone

My Frank Review of Rosetta Stone TOTALe

First, let me start off by saying that I had contacted Rosetta Stone in the past to ask for a review copy. They were kind enough to send me one. That was TOTALe version 4.

It has been a while since that version, so I have updated this post to reflect the current Rosetta Stone plans and set up. As of now, Rosetta Stone has since switched to a subscription-based model. The whole program is done online or in their Rosetta Stone app.

The reason I mention this is because when Rosetta Stone sent me their program a while back, I told them they could see the review before it went live. I did this to allow them the opportunity to correct any factual mistakes. They were very helpful in making sure there was no misleading information here.

They requested that I give a disclaimer that I have my own products, such as Fluent in 3 Months Premium. And as such, I’ve included their own comments and explanations for why their method is the way it is.

So, you’ll be getting a balanced review, because I’ve included Rosetta Stone’s reasoning as well as my own opinion.

And at this point, years later, I can attest to how ineffective this program is even still.

When they sent me the program, I studied Dutch, which I was learning at the time while living in Amsterdam. But, this review also covers every other language version for a (rather disappointing) reason I'll explain below.

I want to answer three major things for my readers:

  1. How does Rosetta Stone work?
  2. Why is Rosetta Stone’s price so high?
  3. Is Rosetta Stone good and would I recommend it?

How Does Rosetta Stone Work? The Rosetta Stone Philosophy

I’ll admit, Rosetta Stone has an interesting philosophy. It only uses your target language, right from the start.

Yes, that’s right. Rosetta Stone never uses your native language.

Rosetta Stone explained that they were founded by people who appreciated learning by immersion. These founders had learned languages abroad in immersive environments. They wanted to emulate this as close as possible for people who can't travel.

Of course I have other recommendations if you can't travel. But the base concept makes sense.

What I disagree with is how it’s packaged as a generic version of immersion across all languages. More on that later.

“Rosetta Stone has an interesting philosophy: it only uses your target language, right from the start.”

One interesting aspect is how they have no English at all in the program apart from interface and menus. They never present a translation of anything. It's all represented in photos and untranslated audio and text.

While there are major issues with this, the idea of not using your native language is an interesting one.

The “Learn Like a Baby” Approach to Rosetta Stone Languages

I have to admit that I (as many learners) do learn a lot through English. Getting my vocabulary through flashcards, reading grammar explanations in English, etc.

I'm sure this slows down learning by thinking in English at times, which is an issue this program successfully avoids. For people who are fans of “learn like a baby would” philosophies, they would get some benefit out of this program.

Rosetta Stone categories
All the unit categories for each language

Rosetta Stone say that they aren't promoting a “learn as a baby” philosophy because they get rid of the guesswork. But I find many similarities myself.

Such learning approaches have big advantages, but I disagree with the concept. Because we can take advantage of the fact that we are adults.

We can have things explained to us in more complex ways. The devotion to learning in such a simple way through audio and pictures (even though the research behind it is very complex) made me learn very slowly in Rosetta Stone.

“I don’t agree with the ‘learn as a baby’ method, because there are smarter ways to learn as adults.”

After days of intense study time with the program, I felt I would have learned the same things so much faster using other approaches.

Rosetta Stone’s reply to this was that the goal is not “speed for its own sake”. They feel their research over 30 years about when and how words should be introduced have proven to be very effective.

They have carried out intense research for sure, but I still disagree based on my experience.

A Clever Idea That Falls Flat

I only made it halfway through my set. But I can't imagine how completing all 3 levels would get you out of what I would definitely call basic level.

Rosetta Stone’s philosophy is a clever idea, but I’ve learned much faster with other methods.

Rosetta Stone conjugations
An example in unit one to teach you basic conjugation through pictures and no explanation.

One thing I did like was Rosetta Stone’s audio. I tried something similar when I reviewed Pimsleur in great detail. Pimsleur is only audio, so you would think their audio would be superior, but I actually prefer Rosetta Stone's audio.

Apart from instructions (like repeat, listen etc., which are given in English in Pimsleur's courses), everything is in the target language. The audio is based on what you would have gone through so far for that unit, so you should actually recognise everything.

If you click on “Extended Learning” in the menu tab, you can access the Audio Companion, which allows you to download the audio for on-the-go listening. I like this feature a lot. It’s helpful for studying on a run, for instance.

“You won’t be under much stress with Rosetta Stone.”

But even though it's an improvement on Pimsleur, I still found it a bit tedious after a few sessions.

Actual native content such as a podcast would have been more helpful to recreate an immersive environment.

But of course, it's all part of the greater whole of the program. They aim to only present you with words you should know already.

In this sense, the interconnectedness of the entire set of lessons, audio, etc., is very intricate. It’s designed to rely on what you've learned. You won't be under much stress in this program to see or hear things you haven't come across before.

This makes it an enjoyable learning environment, although hardly a realistic one in my view.

Krashen's Input Hypothesis

Rosetta Stone replied saying that the pace and structure is based on the (Comprehensible) Input Hypothesis of Stephen Krashen. His research made huge and important contributions to linguistics in the 20th century.

I have issues with how far this research is being taken as being the basis of their entire learning technique. But, I have to admit that Rosetta Stone applies that approach in an effective way.

“If you compare language learning to easing gradually into a swimming pool, Rosetta Stone is just dipping a toe in.”

Recognisable input as a learning strategy is more enjoyable than the stressful situations you would encounter in immersive environments. But you learn quicker with that pressure and it's simply more realistic to how the world works.

The input-hypothesis is an “ideal” learning environment, and is thus not suited to a non-ideal world.

Of course, many people would rather get eased into a language through a system like Rosetta Stone. It sounds fantastic. But after all the units, you would still not feel ready for the vast majority of conversations you are likely to have.

You will still struggle to speak.

At the end of the units, the course still is only showing you pretty simple sentences.
Even if you select “Advanced” as your starting point, these are the types of sentences you start out with.

If you compare it to easing yourself into cold water, the amount you would learn in the whole system is equal to dipping a toe in.

My preferred strategy for language learning is speaking from day one. The immersive/communicative approach I apply takes the preference of diving my entire body straight into the water. You get the unpleasant part over with quicker since it's going to happen anyway.

If you are a fan of Krashen's research then you will love Rosetta Stone. I agree with a lot of what Krashen says, but think that most people take it too far.

Rosetta Stone Price Tag: Why is Rosetta Stone So Expensive?

The big question often asked is: Rosetta Stone costs a lot of money. Is it worth it?

If you’re wondering how much is Rosetta Stone now since they’ve switched to an online and app subscription price… Well, it’s broken down like this:

  • 3 Months, 1 Language: $35.97
  • 12 Months, Unlimited Languages: $119.88
  • 24 Months, Unlimited Languages: $167.76
  • Lifetime Unlimited Languages: $199

It’s a bit misleading if you look at the site, however. They say it’s “11.99 per month” for 3 months of one language… But you have to pay the whole price upfront. The same is true for all the packages.

This is actually far cheaper than it used to be — at one point, it was $500 dollars per language. When I originally wrote this article, it was $329 for my Dutch language pack.

So, the price has come down quite a bit.

One of my first questions to them, when we talked, was about the price tag. Why does Rosetta Stone cost so much?

From Rosetta Stone's perspective, the price tag does indeed make sense. It's the investment they put into it.

Rosetta Stone Invested Heavily in Research

Rosetta Stone has spent a fortune on linguistic research, cognitive scientists, PhDs, neuroscientists and more.

This research is incorporated into every single aspect of the Rosetta Stone software. From the positive reinforcement of sound effects (that I turned off right away), to the meticulously planned photos (which I also had an issue with, described below).

“All the scientific research behind Rosetta Stone leads to a sterile learning environment.”

Rosetta Stone has led a team of people from all such aspects of learning, all focused on producing a great language learning system. It would be logical to presume that it would lead to the best system in the world.

But I disagree here. The research is tailored more to how can we make a product that sells well and is scalable. But it should be how can we ensure people definitely learn this language as efficiently as possible.

As you can imagine, Rosetta Stone disagrees with this. Their reply is, “In our view, a program is truly effective only if it offers genuine language learning value to the widest possible diversity of learners.”

But the problem is all this scientific research has led to a sterile language learning experience.

So I'm afraid the research they invested in is not something I hold that highly.

TruAccent® Speech Recognition

Another reason to justify the higher price is how much research has gone into developing their speech recognition from the ground up.

Rosetta Stone developed TruAccent® especially for non-natives speaking a foreign language and is all Rosetta Stone's own research.

When you speak, it analyses your recording and approves it or requests that you try again based on how you did.

While I like the idea, since it gets you speaking to the program and gives you feedback, I found several problems with it. One time, it registered a sneeze as a correct answer. Other times, I had to repeat myself several times and didn’t understand what was different that I got right.

In fact, when updating this review, I tested out this feature again. I didn’t say anything but clicked my mouse by accident. The mouse click requested correctly for “ni”; my own voice did not.

Having used similar features in other language learning apps — like DuoLingo — I don’t see any particular advantage with TruAccent® to justify the cost.

But luckily, the reading exercises are spoken by natives. So you will learn more from listening to the pronunciation, anyway. You can also get a more detailed pronunciation guide for the alphabet within the help menu of the program.

Most Useful Feature By Far: Live Lessons With a Human!

I was surprised to see that I got live time with a native teacher through the program!

Once you complete a lesson in the program, you can go to the “Live Tutoring” and schedule a 25-minute session with a teacher through video conferencing.

The teachers are friendly, patient, and very professional. They’re excellent and experienced teachers of the language.

When I looked at the time slots available, there were plenty of times without much wait. I could have scheduled an appointment today, in a couple of hours if I wanted to.

When I took this course a few years back, my first ever experience speaking Dutch was within the Rosetta Stone environment! My teacher was so patient and refused to switch to English (consistent with the program philosophy).

That’s something I agree with and it’s difficult to maintain. But a wise decision for the learner's benefits. In my first two sessions, I found each session to be incredibly useful.

But unlike most private lessons, all the tutors have a very fixed program they follow.

This is all part of the master plan of the program, which is fair enough, but I would have preferred to just chat with the teacher. The justification I received for this is that the program teaches you particular vocabulary before the session. It would not make sense to ask you random questions since you wouldn't be prepared to answer them.

Again, that goes back to creating a stress-free environment, rather than a realistic one.

Luckily they were patient with me if I went off on tangents, so you can be somewhat flexible if you have the right teacher.

Live Tutoring is Where You Get Your Money’s Worth

These live tutoring lessons, based on what’s learned within the units, are included in the price.

To me, this was the greatest justification of a higher price than the reasons listed above.

You can hire teachers to get online lessons much cheaper elsewhere. But it would be hard to find people so integrated into such a complex system like this.

And I did honestly find each spoken session to be very helpful. This was my most favourite part of the whole application and what I got the most value out of.

Without this to work towards, I would have given up on using the program due to frustrations at the slow pace of learning.

Other Rosetta Stone Features: Games, Stories, and Irrelevant Photos

As well as the core course and live tutoring, there are other features of the program. Within each lesson module and unit, it breaks it down into further mini-lessons based on the core lesson:

  • Pronunciation
  • Speaking
  • Grammar
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Review

So, it does aim to cover all the major aspects of language learning. But because it’s all contextual, I think it falls a bit flat.

Take the grammar lesson, for example. The grammar is shown within sentences with no explanation, which I found a bit frustrating.

But one nice feature is the “Stories.”

For every unit, there are stories like a mini-podcast with a native speaking more consistently than the rest of the program. It helps you get used to reading and listening at the same time to associate spellings with sounds.

I did enjoy these stories, and each story was separated by the level you’re at. That made it a good resource for finding material to read within what you currently know (a struggle for many).

Now, they did have two features – “Play” and “Talk”. These had replaced the previous gaming aspect of Rosetta Stone. But as of now, they’ve removed it from their site and it says to “keep an eye out for more content and interactive activities.”

Photos for “Natural” Language Learning

This wasn't mentioned as a major reason for the price. But I suspect that taking professional photos, hiring models, and finding the right places and lighting, etc., can be a huge expense.

Rosetta Stone said that while taking the photos, very precise care is taken to make sure that everything is perfect. Even right down to which direction the model is looking as they are performing the action, as this can dramatically alter how it’s interpreted.

“It’s not even close to learning a language in the real world.”

The photos are very well done, and you do get a good feeling for the action they are performing. This is where you really see how they applied their research. The care they took for how to represent a word without using your mother tongue in just images is obvious.

In most cases, it's pretty clear what is going on.

These photos clearly show two people greeting each other.

But I did have one or two cases where the photos weren't helping and I had to go find a dictionary to figure out what the word meant. So I can't say that four (or more) images is a great way to present every concept in the world.

Rosetta Stone’s reply to this is it’s based on advice from cognitive psychologists about how the brain likes to learn.

Once again, this highlights my frustration in how they used experts from so many fields, who don't have experience specifically in language learning.

I don't doubt that images are fantastic learning tools, but they are not suited to language learning when used in this way, in my opinion.

Learning a language through multiple-choice options is not even remotely close to an immersion learning environment.

There are many ways the software presents images to you. Sometimes it asks you to repeat phrases. Sometimes it explains one photo and gives a similar one with slightly different context you have to guess.

But the vast majority of your work is based on multiple-choice (usually just 2-4 options) and process of elimination.

I find it hard to express how unnatural this feels to me for language learning. But apparently Rosetta Stone's linguists disagree. This photo-centric presentation is a fundamental aspect of the learning system which I can never agree on.

The Real Major Flaw in the Rosetta Stone App

Since my original review, I can say that Rosetta Stone seems to have updated their photos and removed the poorly photoshopped pictures. But there’s still a glaring flaw in the system, related to the photos. And this is key, especially since photos are the foundation of the Rosetta Stone online program.

Cheesy Political Correctness Instead of Cultural Relevance

I'm all for political correctness. Presenting a varied cultural set of people in photos is great, especially in multicultural environments.

But it's distracting if you are learning a culturally-relevant language.

For example, when learning the word “Newspaper” in Dutch, the newspaper's text in the image was printed in Arabic. I'm not learning Arabic right now.

This doesn't help me at all and is part of the copy-and-paste use of all images across all languages.

But even forgetting this for a moment, most culture presented in the photos screams U.S.A.

“80-90% of the course is based on a copy-paste template which is the same for all languages, and that’s too much for me.”

When learning about Dutch, I want to see photos relevant to the Netherlands and how Dutch people act (or Belgium/Belgians). I want to learn their body language and their smiles.

I don’t want to see cheesy American poses. Even the culturally sensitive ones seem to be from an American perspective.

For example, in one image I saw, someone is presented with a big pitcher of water in a restaurant. They don't do that in Amsterdam.

Even in the photo I shared above with two different photos of people greeting each other “Hola”. My language was set to Spanish. But we see two Arabic men and two American women.

I can't imagine how many culturally irrelevant aspects of photos there are once you compare it to non-western cultures!

As a non-American who has lived in different countries, I can say this is doing nothing to help you prepare for any kind of immersion.

There's a good reason they do this, which brings me to my biggest pet peeve of all with Rosetta Stone:

A Copy-and-Paste Approach for Very Different Languages

When I was getting the live video tour, I noticed that the content of the lesson was exactly the same in Swedish as it was in Dutch. I asked about this and it was confirmed that it's the same in Chinese, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Russian or other very different languages.

When something is drastically different, they do take that into account. For example, one lesson showed me how to distinguish two Dutch words for “family” depending on if it's immediate or broader.

But this is more out of necessity since it would be wrong to teach me that the same word counts for both as in English.

Rosetta Stone has done its researched one way of presenting a language learning system and simply translated the content to every single language.

They explained that this is because a “completely customised language” (i.e. a unique course for each unique language) would increase costs. But I know many, many other courses and resources that do exactly that in a much better fashion.

Even if “just” 80 or 90% of that template is the same, that's far too much.

An English speaker learning Dutch has obvious advantages over the same person learning Chinese or Arabic. To clump learning any language together as following the same generic, identical content, photos and steps is madness.

This holds no benefits at all to the user. It’s nothing but a lazy shortcut to be able to scale a system to every language in the world.

Would I Recommend the Rosetta Stone Software?

While there are aspects of Rosetta Stone I do like, this really got on my nerves and it's one of the many reasons I can't recommend the system to people.

The one-size-fits-all content is everywhere (audio, games, courses, live spoken lessons) and what the whole system rests upon.

Some people will benefit from Rosetta Stone. Perhaps Rosetta Stone for kids would work a bit better.

And I did learn something from this program. I had my first ever conversation in Dutch, which gave me an enormous boost of confidence. 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 with generic courses. They try to teach you everything and in doing so teach you almost nothing that you really need.

I didn't even see the word “please” until Level 2!

What Would Actually Be a Better Use of Your Time

You can actually learn a language entirely by finding learning material online or in your local library. Then meet up with natives in person (without needing to travel) or via language learning sites.

“I recommend learning a language by speaking it from day one.”

The problem is that doing so for free or inexpensively requires that the learner be active.

What I would recommend doing is this:

Is Rosetta Stone Good? Pros and Cons Summary

This was quite a long, in-depth post. But I hope you found it helpful. To sum up everything discussed, here are all the points broken down as the pros and cons of Rosetta Stone:

Pros:

  • Live tutoring lessons
  • Well-done audio stories
  • Improved pricing
  • No English use to fall back on
  • Ideal for fans of “learn like a baby” approaches

Cons:

  • A one-size-fits-all approach to very different languages
  • Tedious repetition
  • Culturally-irrelevant photos
  • No explanations whatsoever
  • Multi-choice questions don’t emulate immersion
  • Never advances past a beginner’s comprehension

In my opinion, skip this one and find another course for less that will actually teach you to speak the language confidently.

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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