Monday, September 22, 2008

Rosetta World

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of commercials on Japanese cable television for "Rosetta World" software. If you don't know about Rosetta, better known as "Rosetta Stone" in America, it's software which teaches you languages through "dynamic immersion." That is, they attempt to teach you through pairing words and phrases with pictures rather than translation. The idea is to simulate the way we learn our native language rather than laboriously learn to translate our native language into a new one.

Seeing commercials for language learning software or programs is certainly not a new experience. I've seen one for something called a "chatty parrot" for awhile which is a type of recorder which you listen to and record yourself back into in order to learn English. The commercial for that particular product was singularly unimpressive as the woman they used to display her prowess spoke in grammatically incorrect ways and often in heavily accented English. This is what happens when you don't bring in a native speaker to evaluate the actor's ability and rely on the perceptions of Japanese people who can't tell when someone speaks well or not.

The reason that the Rosetta World commercials caught my attention was that the ads are new to me and their timing is coincidental with an experience I have had lately with the Amazon Vine program. For those who don't know, the Amazon Vine sends some people free items in exchange for reviews. I'm one of those lucky people who has the opportunity to take part in the program. Recently, I was even more grateful because the Vine was offering up a plethora of Rosetta Stone software including Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian and French. Since the software costs somewhere on the order of $500 to buy, anyone who wants to learn a language and can get it for free is in for an unparalleled treat.

At the time that the software was offered, I was shocked because of it being such a high value item. Now, I rather wonder if the Rosetta company is pushing to increase brand awareness and create positive buzz about their product. The infusion of commercials along with the generous parceling out of their software to Vine members seems quite coincidental if they aren't working on increasing their name recognition.

I've been using the Rosetta software for language learning for nearly 2 months now and I really like the way in which it teaches you. In fact, I have found it considerably more effective than other types of study including face-to-face teaching. Part of this is the immersion, but part of it is also the repetition and structuring of the content. As a language teacher, I can really appreciate the effort they made to program in reinforcement and timed review of past lessons. In particular, I think it really helps you get into a language's basics if you're one of those sorts who feels uncomfortable flailing around in front of others trying to stutter out a few words.

While I wouldn't say it's a complete solution as I think the software can only take you so far, I'm happy to see that they're marketing in Japan as I have greater faith in their teaching method than I do in most other software techniques I've seen for English study. I also believe that most young people would be a lot better off using the software than learning from a Japanese English teacher as I used to teach such teachers at Nova and most of them were very poor at English and taught incorrect grammar and pronunciation. The errors they teach people at a young age become so ingrained in students that we can rarely get them "unstuck". If you've every taught a student who said, "I have ever been to (name of place)," you've experienced the fall-out from one of these teachers who taught their students that "ever" and "never" are opposites.

One of my students is actually taking the on-line version of the courses which you can do for a certain duration (3 months for 30,000 yen). I recommended it to her because I think the technique might help address some of her persistent problems with grammar and sentence structure. One good thing about such software is one is encouraged to say it again and again until one gets it right. If a face-to-face teacher does that, the student can become embarrassed or frustrated, but the software doesn't carry any sort of fear of judgment.

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