Reviews

Rosetta Stone Japanese – A Review

I’m sure you’ve seen them everywhere. On TV, on the internet, and in the stores you visit. They are known as the “Golden Standard” for learning a new language and everyone has tried them, or wants to.

I’m talking about Rosetta Stone of course! Who are they and why do you keep seeing them everywhere? Are they really the best way to learn Japanese? What is their method and philosophy?

I’ll go over my experience of them in this review of Rosetta Stone Japanese levels 1-3.

First of all, who is Rosetta Stone (The Company)?

Rosetta Stone is a language learning company that was founded in 1992. Their specialization is in using interactive software to accelerate language learning. And so far they have used it to teach over 25 different languages.

They were one of the first to teach people new languages through the use of interaction on computers. They present the information in such a way that the user feels like they are playing a game while they are learning. Of course, they have come a long way and now you can learn on all your smart phones and tablets too.

They’ve done extensive research into how people learn a language naturally and have taken what they’ve discovered and incorporated it into their system of presenting and teaching languages to new students.

Also, what is a “Rosetta Stone” Anyway?

The famous Rosetta Stone (that this company gets its name from) is a large rock that was found in the town of (drum-roll please!) Rosetta in 1799 that had two languages (Egyptian and Greek) written on it, using three different scripts (hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek).

Up until that point in time, scholars where unable to decipher hieroglyphics, which are the ancient Egyptian writing system. But by using the Rosetta Stone, they were able to use the languages on it that they did know to figure out what the hieroglyphics written on it meant.

It’s a pretty cool story and most people understand the metaphor of “using a ‘Rosetta Stone’ to understand something” even if that something isn’t a language.

Snagging that name for their company gives you a hint as to why the company is so hugely successful. I’ll get more on that later.

How Do You Learn With RS?

The company Rosetta Stone uses their Dynamic Immersion® method to teach you how to learn Japanese. What they do is present you with information, such as a picture of an apple, and then they match it with the Japanese’s word for that information. They teach you to learn Japanese the same way that a baby learns their first language.

They do it this way because they want to get you thinking in your new language as soon as possible. So for example, instead of thinking of the word apple in English (in your mind) and then translating it to りんご (ringo), you would instead just think of りんご (ringo) immediately. This eliminates the first step and then the subsequent translation, therefore speeding up the whole process.

I think that they nail it when it comes to learning vocabulary.

Humans are hugely visual creatures, so the use of pictures is brilliant. And eliminating English in order to “start thinking in Japanese” is something that students should be doing sooner, rather than later.

Another thing that they do is to use a lot of interaction in the learning process. And they do it in a fun way, just like you’re playing a game. This helps because it keeps your attention focused on learning Japanese and you typically do more of the things that you have fun with.

What’s the Good and What’s the Bad?

Here is what I really like about Rosetta Stone:

  • Can learn anywhere at anytime using the software
  • Teaches to Read, Type, Speak, and Listen to Japanese
  • Uses interaction to accelerate learning
  • Focuses on making you think in Japanese

What I don’t really like is:

  • Teaches lots of nouns, but not a lot of conversation
  • Only uses immersion (no explanations)

I went through levels 1-3 when I used it near the beginning of my studies. I learned a lot of words and a few sentences, but after I had completed it I didn’t really feel like I could have a conversation in Japanese.

This is bar far the biggest complaint with the course – it’s not enough. You will have to continue your studies with other materials once you finished Rosetta Stone Japanese.

Some of the other languages like Spanish and French have more than 3 levels, which means that they have more material. Unfortunately, Japanese isn’t very popular among languages that people are learning, so it typically doesn’t get as much attention from language companies.

As for only using immersion, there were times where I couldn’t figure out what the picture was trying to express and since they were using new words, I had no clue what they meant. So sometimes I had to skip a section and I didn’t learn it1

Other times I would learn the wrong word. For example, I saw all these pictures of people who looked happy and the Kanji 笑顔, so I figured that this new word meant happy. Nope, it actually means smile.

That’s one of the problems with no translations (like babies learn), you might make an incorrect association in your brain, and there’s no parent there to correct you.

So Is Immersion The Best Way to Learn or Not?

will immersion work for japanese

People say that immersion is the best way to learn because it’s how babies learn. But I think that the reason why it works for babies is because of several different factors:

24 Hour Immersion – Babies are surrounded by their new language all the time. While they are awake, every person they interact with is speaking to them using their new language. Whereas when you use Rosetta Stone’s “Immersion”, you are immersed with Japanese for 30-60 minutes and then it’s back to English once you go watch a show, or talk to your friends.

Motivation – Babies have the biggest motivation for learning their new language because without it they can hardly communicate with the people who take care of them. Whereas you, the student, can probably live your life just fine without having to learn Japanese. Unless you are living in Japan, but perhaps you can still get what you need with English.

Constant Help – Babies have loving parents with them almost all the time. Their parents are experts in the new language and can help each and every time the baby make a mistake while talking. Having free language coaching by two (more if you have older siblings) fluent speakers all the time, can make a giant difference.

Final Thoughts

I like Rosetta Stone. I honestly do. I just don’t think that they are the “Golden Standard” that they want you to believe they are. Do you want to know what Rosetta Stone does better than every other language learning company?

In a word: Marketing.

Rosetta Stone is everywhere! And they are constantly telling you how great they are. And they are good, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think they are the best. And I don’t think that their version of immersion is as great as they say it is.

At least, it’s not the ultimate answer the way most people use it (30-60 minutes a day). If you turned your house and electronics into a totally immersive environment, then that would partner nicely with RS’s teaching method and help you out a lot. But most people are really willing to do all that.

But if your curious and would like to know more about it, then you can check it out on Amazon.com (and see those reviews too) by clicking here

Since I told you that I don’t consider them the best, it’s only fair that I tell you to who I actually DO think is the best when it comes to learning Japanese. Click below to find out:

Check out my review of the best Japanese language course that I have found.

Now it’s your turn! Have you used Rosetta Stone before? What do you think of the immersion method? Let me know in the comments below!

4 Comments

  • Merrell

    Hi Nikku,

    Thanks for writing about how Rosetta Stone programs work. I have always been curious about it. Given your explanation, I would agree that the best part about it, is that it is interactive type of learning and how it forces one to think in the language learned.

    I’m still unsure about immersion type of learning but do agree that it can’t be the only method in learning a new language. I guess those are certain drawbacks of a software learning program.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Merrell, yeah the interactive part of the system and the use of images are really cool and helpful, but once you progress past nouns and start getting into complete sentences and phrases, the “total immersion” starts to become really difficult. At least, that was my experience with it!

  • Jan

    I have used Rosetta Stone before to learn French. I felt that it gave me a basic understanding of the language. I can’t say that I became proficient with the language.
    I do agree with you that conversation is very important when learning a language.
    I would be interested to try another program to see a comparison.

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