Summary of This Review:
Rosetta Stone rarely works. I can say that with confidence because I’m a language enthusiast, world traveler, and a successful language club organizer. As you might expect, I’ve talked to a lot of people who were trying to learn Spanish, French, German or some other language with Rosetta Stone.
In all that time, I have never met a Rosetta Stone student who could ask me a useful question like “What’s your name?” in the language they were studying. So if you’re asking yourself, “Does Rosetta Stone work?” my answer is, “For everyone I’ve met, Rosetta Stone does not work.”
Summary of these Rosetta Stone reviews: “Rosetta Stone doesn’t work for most people.”
I wish I didn’t have to say that, because the people who work at Rosetta Stone are a great, talented bunch of people. Hopefully they will eventually develop language-learning programs that really work.
What Works Better Than Rosetta Stone?
There are two companies with programs that work much better than Rosetta Stone. They are Pimsleur and Language101.com.
You can find a link to my Pimsleur review near the bottom. The comprehensive Rosetta Stone review starts just below this.
If you are learning Japanese, you will want to read our Rosetta Stone review for Japanese. There’s a link to it near the bottom.
Try Language101.com — Click Your Language then “Try It”
If you want to know who wrote this review and why, read “Why I Wrote This” at the bottom of the page.
The detailed review starts here:
You Can’t Learn Like a Child Unless You Are One
Rosetta Stone used to claim that you as an adult can learn a foreign language the same way a child would, if you just bought their program. Then the company got a huge amount of well-deserved criticism. So they changed their ads — slightly.
They now say that if you use their program you will be “learning a new language the way you learned your first.”
It’s the same bold claim, and it’s still wrong.
To get a firm understanding of why Rosetta Stone’s claim is wrong, ask yourself this simple question: “Can childhood learning be simulated with software?”
Can you put the childhood sense of wonder, curiosity, and excitement into a yellow box and sell it? Obviously you can’t.
What isn’t obvious is that children spend a huge amount of time learning their first language (all day every day), and they make a lot of mistakes that you can avoid when learning a new language.
Have you ever seen a toddler point at a dog and say, “Look mommy, a cat!” Well . . . with the right software, you won’t have to make that kind of mistake. With Rosetta Stone, you are guessing.
It also takes children several years to learn their first language. They waste a lot of time even though they usually have two full-time, live-in language tutors called parents.
You Shouldn’t Have to Guess
You’ve already learned English, so you shouldn’t have to start learning your next language by guessing and making all of your childhood mistakes over again. If you copy the learning methods of small children (as Rosetta Stone suggests you do), you will waste a lot of time.
Adults and children who are old enough to read a newspaper don’t need to guess what foreign words and phrases mean. They can use translations to understand the meaning the first time without guessing.
Why Rosetta Stone Doesn’t Work Well for Children
You might reasonably ask, “Does Rosetta Stone work for children?” Sadly, the answer is also no, but for a different reason. Rosetta Stone’s format of using pictures and having you match them to foreign words makes it very easy for children (and, in fact, for anyone) to remember the picture and get the answer right BUT without really knowing the foreign word or phrase.
If you have ever remembered a person’s face but couldn’t remember his or her name, you know what I’m talking about.
Rosetta Stone’s program design accidentally makes it easy to “cheat” and get the right answer without really knowing it. Children are especially prone to doing this. The pretty pictures actually slow down a child’s learning.
Rosetta Stone Pretends to Be What It’s Not
Q: If you call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs does a sheep have?
A: Four, of course. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
You see, it doesn’t matter what you call something, because things are what they are, not what you call them.
Rosetta Stone markets its program as “Interactive Language Immersion,” but unfortunately that’s just the slogan. You can’t sell language immersion in a box.
What Is Real Language Immersion?
Real language immersion is full time and hardcore. You can’t create language immersion by using a computer program for an hour a day.
You can get it by going to a place like Middlebury College, where you will sign this pledge:
“In signing this Language Pledge, I agree to use ______________ as my only language of communication while attending the Middlebury Language Schools. I understand that failure to comply with this Pledge may result in my expulsion from the School without credit or refund.”
You can also create a language immersion program by living or working in a foreign country. Anything short of that is not immersion. Sorry, Rosetta Stone.
Starting With Useless Words and Phrases
Rosetta Stone starts with a list of words like man, girl, flower and so on. In December of 2013, the video on the company’s home page featured the word fiori, which is the Italian word for flowers. The same video showed someone selecting the right picture for the English phrase, “tall building.”
Now maybe language learners eventually need to know the word for flowers and the phrase for tall building, but do beginners need these phrases?
As I write this, I just finished five weeks in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, and during those weeks, I never needed to say the Russian word for flowers or tall building.
I am currently in Panama (Central America) cheerfully talking Spanish, and I haven’t needed the Spanish word for flowers or tall building here either.
But the question, “What is this?” has been very useful in both places.
With Rosetta Stone, after you learn a list of vocabulary words, you will go on to phrases that are also not especially useful. For example, in the Rosetta Stone Russian program, there is a picture of a boy lying face down in a park with a soccer ball balancing on his back.
The sentence you are supposed to learn is: “The boy is under the ball.” How many times in your life will you need to say that? How about this phrase from the Korean program: “The people have a pen.”
Rosetta Stone does offer some practical phrases like “What’s your name?” The problem is that they aren’t anywhere near the beginning of the program.
Sadly, many people will quit before they ever reach the practical phrases they should have been learning on their very first day.
If you do try to learn with Rosetta Stone, don’t give up because of the boring list of vocabulary words you will have to start with.
Is It Possible to Be Worse Than Useless?
Well, … actually, it is possible to be “worse than useless.”
A “worse than useless” program not only fails to teach you anything useful, it also convinces you that you have no talent for language learning.
We just bought a new copy of Rosetta Stone Totale, to make sure that this Rosetta Stone review was up to date. We had planned to publish a free user’s guide that would help you get the most out of that program.
Unfortunately, the newest version is so much worse that we aren’t going to bother.
For example, in the new version, you often choose between only two pictures instead of four when you are trying to learn a foreign phrase. What was a multiple-choice quiz with a 25-percent chance of guessing right in the old version is now a multiple-choice quiz with a 50-percent chance of guessing right. Effective language learning is never an easy guessing game.
So if you asked, “Does Rosetta Stone really work?” my answer would be, “Not really. And the new version looks slightly worse than the older version.”
The Never-Ending Sale
Rosetta Stone gets a lot of completely unjustified criticism for being expensive. It would be a great deal at ten times the price they are charging if it really worked. Unfortunately, for most people it doesn’t.
This criticism of Rosetta Stone also ignores the fact that Rosetta Stone software is on sale at very big discounts for much of the time. So if you want to get that pretty yellow box on your desktop and gathering dust at a discounted price, go to the bottom right of their home page and sign up for their e-mail newsletter and you will be offered much lower prices.
I Don’t Like Writing This
I don’t like writing about Rosetta Stone’s lack of progress. I would have much preferred to write, “The software is getting better.” But sadly, it doesn’t look like it is.
The people who work there are decent human beings. I’m sure they would throw me a life preserver if I were drowning or buy me lunch if I were hungry.
The company’s marketing people are both decent human beings and geniuses. It’s time for Rosetta Stone to hire some educational software geniuses to work with the marketing geniuses in developing new products.
If that happens, it will be a winning combination.
Who Should Use Rosetta Stone?
It might be OK to try Rosetta Stone if:
- You can keep your enthusiasm for foreign language learning and then go on to another program if Rosetta Stone doesn’t work for you.
- Your only other language-study tools are books. For example, if you are learning Spanish, we still think that Rosetta Stone Spanish is slightly better than trying to learn Spanish with only a textbook.
- You don’t mind if your study program only teaches practical phrases near the end of the course instead of at the beginning.
What’s a Better Way to Learn Your Language?
Language101.com is quite a bit more effective than Rosetta Stone.
Choose Your Language then click “Try It”
What if I Am Learning a Different Language?
If your language appears above, please try it now. However if you are learning another language, our articles on
will help you learn your new language faster, no matter which program you buy.
We strongly recommend Pimsleur if we don’t offer your language. No, we don’t get any money from them for saying it. But before you read our:
Please tell us what language you want to learn and why. Writing it down will make it more real -- more likely to happen!
Please tell us what language you want to learn and why. Writing it down will make it more real -- more likely to happen!
We Currently Offer
Click Your Language then “Try It”
Why I Wrote This . . .
by Brent Van Arsdell
I really do like the people who work at Rosetta Stone. They are a smart and talented bunch.
I wrote this review in part to inspire Rosetta Stone to the greatness that the company is capable of. Someday they may develop software that really works.
Fortunately, in response to this review and others, they no longer advertise that adults can learn like a child with their software. I commend them for that. But they haven’t significantly changed the software. It still doesn’t work for most people.
Of course, I also wrote this review for the thousands of people who have tried to learn a language with Rosetta Stone and failed. If you are one of those people, I want you to know that your failure is not your fault.
The methods you were told to use just don’t work. In fact, you might even be a language-learning genius and not know it yet, who knows?
Please Link to Us
If you found this article helpful, please copy and paste the HTML below into your web page.
“Read these critical <a href=”http://language101.com/reviews/rosetta-stone/”>Rosetta Stone Reviews</a>. ”
Please Tweet This Page
If you enjoyed this page please share it with your friends on Twitter by tweeting the message below.
Rosetta Stone — It won’t help you learn Spanish. http://language101.com/rsr/ please r/t
This critique is based on using Rosetta Stone Spanish 1, 2, and 3 in 2013. Sadly, not much has changed since we first tried it in in 2006.
Rosetta Stone uses the same program for all languages, so this is also a review of Rosetta Stone French, German, Russian, Italian, and Japanese. If you are interested in learning Japanese, you will probably enjoy our:
We know your time is valuable. Thank you very much for reading our Rosetta Stone reviews.