Rosetta Stone is undoubtedly the biggest name in language learning. Over the years the company has built the reputation of being the household name of language learning.
You're probably here because you decided to learn a foreign language, you thought of checking out Rosetta Stone, but you wanted to do a little research before investing any of your hard earned dollars in the program. Well look no further...
This is the ultimate review of Rosetta Stone. In this post we dive deep into the famous course and examine the pros and cons behind their method.
We'll also take a look at the opinions of academics, polyglots, and beginners; as each will chime in with their thoughts on the course.
Also at the end of the article you'll find links to our language specific Rosetta Stone reviews, where we take a look at how well Rosetta Stone works with a specific foreign language.
We worked hard to write a review that holds nothing back. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.
Now, let's dive in!
Review of: Rosetta Stone
Use: Language learning software
Works well with simple grammar but not with more complex grammar
Rosetta Stone has recently lowered their prices, but their courses are still a little on the expensive side
1 Lesson typically takes 30 minutes
Ease of Use
Extremely user friendly
Highly structured and walks you through a language step by step
- Easy to use
- Good for absolute beginners
- Good for basic use of a language
I Don't Like
- Doesn't prepare you for speaking
- Vocabulary is often impractical
- Not for intermediate/advanced learners
Summary: Rosetta Stone is a language learning software that is now also available through an online subscription. The Rosetta Stone method uses zero English to teach you a foreign language. Instead it relies heavily on pictures and audio to teach you through context rather than translation.
At it’s best Rosetta Stone does a good job of introducing new learners to a foreign language, it is effective at teaching foundational vocabulary and grammar.
For seasoned or serious learners are likely to be frustrated with the program though. It simply doesn’t provide much in the way of practical speaking practice. Also the method can feel a little slow at times.
The overall effectiveness of the course will vary depending upon which language you’re learning. Rosetta Stone works better with languages that are similar to English, and it falls flat with languages that have little in common with the English language.
Rosetta Stone isn’t as expensive as it used to be, but it’s still a bit more expensive than a lot of language learning courses.
Bottom line: Rosetta Stone works well if you’re casual or timid learner who wants an effective but gentle introduction to a foreign language. If you’re more experienced in language learning, have a higher level of proficiency, or really only care about speaking a foreign language then Rosetta Stone probably isn’t for you.
Is Rosetta Stone right for you?
If you’re an absolute beginner or casual language learner
Rosetta Stone is best for absolute beginners who have little to no experience in learning a foreign language. Rosetta Stone is designed for beginners and casual language learners. If you’re more experienced or serious than either of those two groups of people you probably won’t get much out of the product.
Rosetta Stone is especially useful to people who have no experience learning a foreign language. It you use it right it can be an easy and effective way to get your feet wet.
If your target language is closer to the English language
Rosetta Stone works better with languages that have similar grammatical structures to English. If you’re learning any of the romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian), some of the northern germanic languages (Norwegian,Danish, and Swedish), or other languages like Mandarin then you can except Rosetta Stone to work reasonably well.
If you want to learn basic to mid level vocabulary and grammar
Rosetta Stone isn’t a bad way to learn new words and fundamental grammar concepts. Admittedly their method isn’t the fastest but it does work.
If you’re tight on time
Courses are designed and separated into bite sized chunks. Longer lesson pieces could take 30 minutes but most take 5-10 minutes. The nice thing about this is that you can take it and leave it as your schedule permits.
If you’re intermediate or higher, or a serious language enthusiast
If you’re an intermediate learner Rosetta Stone does have value as a supplement to other language learning methods, but there are apps and courses out there that could work better for you and cost less.
More advanced students are probably not going to find Rosetta Stone's courses very helpful because they are designed for beginners and the content won’t have much to over someone with a high level of proficiency in the language.
Also if you’re new to your target language but you are very serious and intent on learning it, then Rosetta Stone probably isn’t your best choice. These courses are designed to hold your hand and gently walk you through a new language. More dedicated language learners tend to jump right into a foreign language head first and Rosetta Stone just isn’t a good fit for that.
If your target language is far removed from the English language
The further a language is from English the less effective Rosetta Stone tends to be. Languages that share little to no grammar or roots with English are going to be harder to learn using Rosetta Stone (Think Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc).
If you want to focus on conversation skills
By itself Rosetta Stone will leave you ill prepared to have conversations with native speakers in real life. It’s one thing to learn what words mean and how to correctly make sentences. It’s a whole another thing to use all of that to convey your thoughts in a real conversation on the spot.
Rosetta Stone does have some features to encourage your speaking and listening skills, but they fall far short of preparing you for the real world.
What is Rosetta stone?
I had always associated the Rosetta Stone name with language learning, but for the longest time I did actually know what Rosetta Stone’s courses were or how they worked. Rosetta Stone’s method is centered on pictures and audio. Typically you be shown a series of pictures and you’ll see a corresponding word or sentence in your target language as it’s read by a native speaker. Then you will have to remember what you learned as you’re shown similar images and are prompted to write, speak, simply choose the correct word or phrase.
That’s pretty much the RS method in a nutshell. All of their course content is built around this approach. Like any language course the words and concepts you learn with build on each other over time so that gradually you can start making longer sentences and communicate more complicated ideas.
What makes Rosetta Stone's method unique?
RS is not the first company to make a language course based on images and audio, and they probably aren’t the last either. What separates their courses from others is their insistence on not using any of your native language. There are no translations in Rosetta Stone. With their method you are supposed to learn what words mean solely through the context of the images you are shown.
The idea is that using no translations better simulates language immersion. Rosetta Stone will often say in their ads or on their website that their courses are similar to how small children learn their native language. This could be good or bad depending on how you look it at. On one hand it’s a more natural and effective way to learn a foreign language. On the other hand it takes children years before they can even make the most simple sentences. As a result Rosetta Stone works slower than other language courses, but the slowness is a trade off for certainty. You can be sure of what you learn once you’ve learned it.
What do you get in a Rosetta stone course?
Subscription, download, or CD options
Rosetta Stone currently offers their course in 3 formats: CD, download, and online subscription. With the CD and download option you get the core Rosetta stone course. If you choose CD’s the course will ship to your house (right now RS offers free shipping). If you choose the download option you can instantly download the RS software. The course is identical on either format.
With the online subscription you get the core Rosetta Stone course is a string of bonus content including the option of purchasing live tutoring sessions, online phrasebook, audio companion, and stories.
The cool thing about the online subscription option is that you get access to all levels of Rosetta Stone in the language you choose. With the CD and instant download you can only purchase 1 level at a time or pay for the more expensive level bundles. So if you think you’ll work through multiple levels quickly the monthly subscription option could save you a lot of money.
Main course material
Rosetta Stone language courses are offered in levels. The more popular languages like Spanish and French have 5 levels but less popular languages will have 3 or 4. Typically you can purchase 1 level at a time or save money per level by buying a bundle of 3 or more.
Each level is broken into 4 units, and each unit is made up of 4 lessons. Lessons are centered typically centered on a specific grammar or vocabulary category like colors and sizes, making plans, around the house, etc. Every lesson has a core lesson which teaches you new material.
After the core lesson are 5-6 smaller lessons that reinforce what you’ve learned while focusing on a specific aspect of the language like pronunciation, grammar or writing. A full unit lesson with its core and mini lessons can take over an hour to complete. You don’t have to complete all of them at once. You start one and come back to it later. You also have the ability to skip around units and lessons if you want.
At the end of each unit there is a milestone lesson. The purpose of the milestone lesson is to simulate a conversation through words and pictures using all the grammar and vocabulary you learned in the unit. Conversation simulation works as sort of an audio visual slideshow where you have to speak or type responses in a given scenario.
The phrases is sorted in categories like dining out, time and money, and introductions. Each phrase is written out and includes a picture as well as an audio recording of a native speaker reading the phrase.
The audio companion feature lets you download a zip file containing the audio from unit lessons. The audio is direct rip from the lessons. A lot of the audio is pretty useless without the accompanying pictures and text. If you can’t see the picture you have no idea what the speaker is talking about.
An online subscription to Rosetta Stone also gives you access to the online Extended Learning Features. These are a series of online activities that help you practice what you learn with Rosetta Stone.
The first category “Play”, is a collection of 5 words games you can play by yourself or with another online Rosetta Stone user. The next category called “Talk” has 3 games that you can only play with another RS user (you can’t play them by yourself). The final category “Read” is a series of stories written in your target language. You have the option of listening to a native speaker read it aloud with or without the text, or you can try to use RS’s speech recognition to see if you can correctly read it outloud yourself.
Live tutoring sessions
After purchasing a Rosetta Stone you have the option of purchasing live tutoring sessions with a Rosetta Stone teacher via an interactive video class. Lessons last 20 minutes and come in two types: private or group sessions. The lessons are designed to fully complement the material as you learned in the core Rosetta Stone course. They’re highly structured and if you’ve worked through the core course you shouldn’t get lost.
You can purchase 1 private session for $19, or 6 private sessions for $99. If you decide to go with group lessons you purchase 5 group sessions for $69 or 10 group sessions for $99. It’s important to note that lessons are a premium feature that you have to purchase after you already buy the course.
Pros & Cons
What we like about Rosetta Stone
One thing I really like about Rosetta Stone is that it literally uses no English. The course is based on an immersion styled approach. A common gripe with many language courses is that they use too much English.
If you’re constantly translating from English to your foreign language (or vice versa), then that process will carry over to your listening and your speech.
So in the case of a Spanish student, “perro” doesn’t bring to mind images of the happy four legged creature you brought home as a child; instead it makes you think of the literal English word d-o-g.
This extra level of recall slows down your speaking and comprehension abilities because you’re always thinking in your native language first then translating. The end goal of fluency is to simply think in your language without any English interference.
Obviously you can the no English idea too far. Sometimes, especially with complex grammar concept, it’s just easier to explain or compare something with an English translation.
Rosetta stone is interesting because we like their English only approach, but it does get problematic when you start working with more complex sentences (more on that later).
No explicit grammar
I’m a big fan of language learning methods that emphasize practical use over grammar (at least in the beginning levels). There’s nothing worse than learning a language through the traditional high school classroom approach.
You stuff your brain with grammar tables, charts, and rules; then when you meet a native speaker you have nothing to say.
To be fluent in a language you will have to face its grammar, but in the early stages I think it's much more important to get used to using the language to communicate.
Rosetta Stone doesn’t teach explicit grammar. Because it’s only words, sounds, and pictures you have to pick things up by inference.
This is be no means a replacement for speaking to real people but it is a lot more engaging than your typical textbook.
Works well for simple sentences
Rosetta Stone’s method works especially well with simple sentence structures. In the beginning it’s no trouble at all to figure out what’s happening in the pictures.
I also think that learning with words and pictures with no English is also more likely to make the new vocabulary stick in your brain than it would if you were just using translations.
Again it’s not the same as an experience with a native speaker, but it is an experience with the language that can help you recall what you learn.
Exceptionally easy to use
Another positive aspect of Rosetta Stone is that it’s extremely easy to use. Their method is decidedly simple.
Some courses expect you to do extra work, or at least have forehand knowledge, to fill in the gaps left by their course. Rosetta Stone virtually holds your hands and walks you through their method step by step. This is one of its main strengths, and the reason it’s useful to absolute beginners.
What we don’t like about Rosetta Stone
Copy & paste method
Though there’s no official way to confirm this, it’s likely that Rosetta started out as a Spanish course, and then the company used that course as the mold to “cookie-cutter” the courses for other languages. There was actually a Reddit AMA with former Rosetta Stones employees who talked about people in Rosetta Stone’s R&D department literally copy and pasting words and phrases from the Spanish course into other courses.
Again this isn’t official information, just hearsay. But if you’ve worked with Rosetta Stone before it does feel like it was copied and pasted from somewhere.
So how does this relate to your language learning? Well, the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone depends on which language you’re learning. Rosetta stone is most effective if the language you’re learning has a simple syntax (sentence structure), or at least one closer to English or Spanish. If the language you’re learning doesn’t, then Rosetta Stone will be much less effective.
Languages in the first category include the romance languages, Mandarin, and some of the Nordic languages.. The second category includes languages like Arabic, Turkish, and Japanese.
Vocabulary can be impractical
Unlike other language courses Rosetta Stone doesn’t try to use frequency words or provide practical day to day scenarios. You’re left with a lot of words and sentences that you’ll probably never use in real conversation.
If that wasn’t bad enough sometimes the pictures can be so odd that they’re funny and distract you from learning the language. Some of the scenarios aren’t only unrealistic...they can be downright awkward.
Rosetta Stone is a passive experience for the language learner. There’s little pressure to recall or respond to what you learn. Like with any course if you don’t practice what you learn don’t expect your speaking ability to improve. Rosetta Stone at its best is a tool for vocabulary acquisition and not conversational skills.
Voice recall stinks
Rosetta Stone knows that to really learn a language you need to be put under some pressure to speak it. They developed the voice recognition component for their courses. Rosetta stone advertises that it has the most sophisticated voice recognition software on the market. That could be true, but it still isn’t very good.
The voice recognition is good with single words. Once you start speaking longer sentences though the program often hears you incorrectly. It’s not hard to fool it with incorrect words. It also doesn’t account for your accent at all. Here’s a video of how ineffective the voice recognition can be:
Complex grammar is hard
One of Rosetta Stone’s strengths also becomes its weakness. The whole idea of immersion and no English is great, but at a certain point you will want or need English translations. This is especially true if you’re only learning with pictures.
As we said before this method works well for sentences that are short and simple but once you get into more complex constructions it can hard to figure out what exactly is going on.
It (Rosetta Stone) sucks. I have tried and tried. But it doesn’t tell you what you are looking at. It gives you a picture of a man riding a horse. And tells you to pronounce it. Well what are you trying to say. You don’t know. Did you say a horse? Did you say a man? Did you say a jockey? You don’t know. You don’t speak the language. It never tells you what it was about.
I've tried to use Rosetta stone for mandarin for a while now, and it's fine for a while, but after a bit, it just gets confusing, because they don't really give you any instruction in english. I think it would work better with german or spanish. The chinese is so complicated once you get into longer sentences / paragraphs, it's just hard to parse from the pictures.
Historically price has been a major drawback for Rosetta Stone users. In the past Rosetta Stone has been sold anywhere from $200-$300 for a single level! That was back when there were a lot less language learning sources on the web and many people were still using language learning software.
In recent years the amount of language learning sites and apps has exploded. The increase in competition has probably forced Rosetta Stone to lower their prices. Many language learning sites are offering cheap $10-$15 per month subscriptions, and some are even completely free (duolingo).
Now the cost of a single course level of Rosetta Stone is better but still probably not the best value. It still feels a bit expensive compared to other courses and apps on the market.
The online subscription is what really redeems Rosetta Stone’s price point in my opinion. With the 3 month subscription you’re essentially much less.
The price per month is still on the high side for a monthly language learning subscription, so we’re listing it as a con. But it is a huge improvement on Rosetta Stone’s previous price points.
Does Rosetta Stone work?
There’s probably more controversy surrounding Rosetta Stone than any other language course. Some people love their experience with it, while others heavily criticize it. Whether or not it’s an effective course will depend on who you ask.
What the academics say
The University of New York did a study on the effectiveness of the Rosetta Stone Spanish course. It found that roughly 55 hours spent learning with Rosetta Stone was comparable with a 1 semester college level Spanish course.
So on one level yes. Rosetta Stone definitely works. If you use it you will learn a foreign language.
What veteran language learners say
However even though Rosetta Stone teaches vocabulary and grammar fairly well, it is debatable how well Rosetta Stone prepares you to speak the language.
In the language learning community college courses and Rosetta Stone are both often cited as expensive, slow, and inefficient ways to learn how to speak a new language. If you read online reviews of RS you will find a lot of polyglots and language enthusiasts ripping on Rosetta Stone.
Of course, many people would like to get eased into a language through a system like Rosetta Stone, and then feel prepared to dive into conversations at the end.
It sounds fantastic, only that I feel that after all 3 levels you would still not feel ready for the vast majority of conversations you are likely to have. You will have the struggle to speak no matter what.
If you compare it to easing yourself into cold water, I consider the amount you would learn in the whole system of 3 levels equivalent to dipping a toe in, rather than slowly easing your whole body or at least your legs in.
Every time I met someone who had learned a new language, I asked them how they learned it. When I asked people who were trying to learn Spanish, French, German, or some other language with Rosetta Stone, they never could say more than a few words. They couldn’t even ask a useful phrase like “What’s your name?” in their new language.
What beginners say
Even though polyglots harp on the course, Rosetta is popular among people who have never learned a language before. This makes sense since the courses are designed and marketed for absolute beginners with no experience in foreign languages.
I took Spanish for four years long ago. I bought this program and only wished I got it sooner! I love the way you learn through this program and I find that I am able to retain the language because of how the information is taught!
Omg, what can I say, but I LOVEIT!!
Soooo easy to learn a new language. The games, modules, tests, etc. are fun, interactive, clear and enjoyable.
Makes learning that new language a breeze. Couldn't give it a higher review; not possible. Awesome. Good investment.
Best way to use Rosetta Stone
Use it as an introduction to a language
Don’t dive into Rosetta Stone thinking that at the end of the course you’ll be fluent. That simply won’t be the case. I don’t know of any language course that can bring you to fluency by itself, and Rosetta Stone is no different.
Rosetta Stone can be a great primer for more advanced skills in your target language. If you consistently work through the courses you will walk away with core knowledge of grammar and good chunk of vocabulary. These assets are two of the first stepping stones on your road to fluency and conversational use of a language.
After you work through Rosetta Stone it would be a great idea to seek out a professional teacher or tutor, or start with a method or course that’s less hands on.
Use it as a supplement
Rosetta Stone also works well as a supplement to other language courses and methods. Because the content is delivered in bite sized chunks it’s easy to work through the courses as you please, which works great if you're also learning with other materials.
Rosetta Stone can be an effective way to review what you’ve learned elsewhere or it can also be a fun way to pick up some new grammar or vocabulary.
Alternatives to Rosetta Stone
20+ minutes a day
Rocket Languages' courses are built around recorded audio in the form of dialogues.
The dialogues have English explanations and usually teach the language in "chunks" or phrases versus individual words (this is great for conversational language learning).
The Rocket Language method isn't quite as gradual as the Rosetta Stone method. Overall Rocket Languages is a more comprehensive course that does a good job of incorporating speaking and listening, as well as reading and writing.
$14.95 per month
30 minutes a day
Pimsleur is probably the second most popular language course behind Rosetta Stone. Pimsleur is entirely audio based and is specifically designed to develop your conversational skills.
They use a unique and effective question/recall/respond technique to get you on your feet in your new foreign language. With Pimsleur You'll learn a limited but functional vocabulary and have a good sense of pronunciation.
Pimsleur now offers its courses on through their app via a monthly subscription. For $14.95 a month students will have access to all of Pimsleur's courses for a particular language. Best of all, they offer a free one week trial, so you can try it out before paying any money.
Starts at $15 per month
5+ minutes a day
Fluentu is a site that helps you learn a language through native videos. Use in site flashcards, captions, and games to learn new words in context while watching native TV shows, movies, commercials, and more. It's a great way to push your listening skills and vocabulary.
Language Specific Reviews of Rosetta Stone
More coming Soon!
Rosetta Stone is a viable option for anyone dipping their toes into a foreign language for the first time, as long as their target language isn’t too different from English. Rosetta Stone isn’t magic. It’s not very good for strengthening your speaking skills.
Even at its lower price it’s still more expensive that a lot of other courses, but the online subscription option makes it much more affordable than it used to be.
At the end of the day Rosetta Stone can be an effective if novel way to get comfortable the core grammar and vocabulary of a new language if you use it right. Rosetta Stone walks you through a language one baby step at a time. Some people will like this slow but sure approach, others may not.