[INFORMAL REVIEW] Rosetta Stone and the Excruciating Pain

After installing the highly priced Rosetta Stone Japanese software into your computer, you boot up the program and begin on lesson 1, all bright eyed and cheery! You’re finally going to learn Japanese! After a few years of trying to get a direction, you’ve finally found one with this well known, award winning software. Your ears are quickly greeted by a native Japanese speaker voice saying “konnichiwa” and “sayounara”. Your smile grows as you go through the lesson. Everything seems mostly smooth, other than your memory, you know, not recalling things, some mismatch ups of words & pictures, and your speaking not being picked up all the time by the microphone. You hit the end of the lesson and try your hardest to speak quickly to ace the test, but instead just barely pass it. You head onto lesson 2 and your smile starts to fade. By the time you hit mid-way lesson 3, you’re dragging yourself along in a blazing hot desert of never ending frustration.

What the heck is this “wo” and “ga” and all those weird things, why do I need them, and how do I use them? What does “katteimasu” mean and why is it showing a picture of two girls with a horse? Why am I shown hiragana occasionally during one point in the lessons, but never again unless I switch my character display to kana, kanji with furigana, or kanji without furigana? How am I suppose to make my own sentences without knowing how to put one together?

Questions and complaints like these (these aren’t all of them, by the way) are why I highly recommend against Rosetta Stone. I feel so bad for lending it out to my friend.

I can’t really say anything about Rosetta Stone in other languages, but for Japanese, absolutely not. Don’t get it. It’s an overpriced piece of visually pretty software. You would seriously learn more with a dictionary and a manga than you would with Rosetta Stone.

It’s hard for me to figure out where to start telling you why you shouldn’t buy Rosetta Stone (because I can see different perspectives though, I’ll go into who I would recommend it to and what to do in addition to the program) – there’s so many reasons not to buy it (which you should probably read as: why I hate it), ignoring its price tag.

Reasons to Not Buy Rosetta Stone (i.e. I Hate This Program)

Let me start with their method. Rosetta Stone prides itself on teaching its user the target language the way people learn when they’re learning their first language – you know, hearing and seeing things, letting your mind figure it out. This seems like a fantastic way to learn the language…until you actually break down this method and realize why it doesn’t work (at least, not if you’re just using Rosetta Stone).

Think about a native speaker and their surroundings – I guarantee everywhere they are, they hear their native language. They are surrounded by it 24/7. Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, you’re only surrounded by the language for about an hour or two (maybe not even) a day (if you even keep it that constant in the first place). Even if you’re immersing yourself in the language outside of Rosetta Stone, unless you’re in the country itself, you’re not going to truly learn the language as if you were a child. Sure, you might have audio with pictures, but there’s a lack of so much more – the culture, gestures, and such. Audio with pictures will only go so far.

My second major issue is the fact it has romaji as an option. If you weren’t aware, I hate romaji with a burning passion. When you don’t know how to read Japanese, romaji seems like the most wonderful thing in the world. However, when you actually start learning Japanese, you quickly start seeing why it’s better to ditch romaji as quickly as possible – it’s a crutch (i.e. slows down your learning), you associate English sounds when you see Japanese letters, there’s a ton of different ways to write romaji (sou desu, sō desu, soo desu, so desu; isha, isya) which can get confusing, and Japan doesn’t use it. I went over to Japan. Only place I saw romaji was under highway signs and train station signs.

It’s not like Rosetta Stone has you use romaji for the first lesson or two, then forces you to switch to kana. It lets you stay with romaji. Only two or three times a lesson will it bring you to a section for learning hiragana, which goes by painfully slow. I got to Level 2 Japanese due to do school (they used Rosette Stone) and if I hadn’t learned kana earlier, I wouldn’t even know half of hiragana right now. I learned a lot more (i.e. all the kana) within the same time amount of time it took me to complete two Rosetta Stone lessons.

Don’t even “but Kelly, I just wanna learn how to speak Japanese” (read in whiny voice) me. If that’s all you want to do, you might wanna try the Pimsleur method instead. It focuses on audio only, not everything at once. I don’t condone just learning audio, but hey, if that’s truly what you want to do, then go ahead.

My third major issue with Rosetta Stone would be its vocabulary. I’m not going to lie – it doesn’t do too badly in terms of teaching vocabulary. I had to use outside sources (i.e. my current textbook and video games) to actually remember the words themselves, but Rosetta Stone introduced me to a lot of them first, so they were already in my brain. However, some of the vocabulary Rosetta Stone loves pounding into one’s head aren’t really even used that much in Japanese. It’s written more like a direct translation from English, which disallows for natural sounding Japanese. For instance, it teaches you to use the words “anata” and “kimi” (both mean “you” in Japanese), which aren’t often used in Japanese – typically, people use names instead. Also, the vocabulary itself is horribly confined. They generally introduce a lot of it in the very beginning of the lesson, then don’t touch upon it again until after the lesson is over. It makes it easy to forget the words quickly.

My final major issue with Rosetta Stone: Japanese is the way it goes about teaching grammar. Oh man, there are so many things wrong with the way Rosetta Stone goes about grammar. Unless you’re someone who is REALLY good at picking up things without explanation and sufficient examples, you’re going to struggle. Due to Rosetta Stone’s method of teaching, you get zero explanations for what particles are/do (they’re “wa”, “ga”, “wo”, “ni”, etc.) and no understanding on how to use different verb endings and how they differentiate from each other.

Particles are a headache to begin with, even with explanations. With none, it’s like you’re trying to shoot a dart in the dark. Rosetta Stone makes use of the “multiple choice” method to teach particles, which allows the users to try and guess which one is right. If you’re consciously working hard and paying avid attention to, well, everything in the sentence, you may be able to pick up which particle is correct. However, for most of us, we’re more than likely going to lazy our way through the multiple choice and keep trying until it lets us move onto the next question. It’s that kind of “teaching”, where you’re more than likely going to get lazy.

Verb endings in Japanese are actually pretty easy to learn in general, however, Rosetta Stone makes it a bit harder to wrap one’s head around. They start off with the present tense “~teiru” (which looks so weird not written in kana to me) form and use that through all their lessons. I actually don’t recall them using the simple “masu” form at all or the dictionary form (which would be verbs in the form you would find them in the dictionary, as well as used in casual speech, verb endings, and much more – SO important!). While the “~teiru” form definitely makes sense for most situations, Rosetta Stone fails to show the difference between using it and another verb ending (“~teiru” VS “~masu”). It also doesn’t go into other types of verb endings or a larger range of words, so you’re stuck saying that you’re eating at this particular moment throughout the lessons, as oppose to you think someone is eating or someone is drinking water and eating rice or something like that.

Rosetta Stone has other flaws, particularly in the software’s design. Going back to what I mentioned in the last paragraph, it fails to demonstrate the difference between verb endings. This is particularly because all they show you is a stock of cheesy still images. For instance, Rosetta Stone might ask you to repeat the phrase “彼女は本を読んでいます” (“かのじょはほんをよんでいます”/”kanojo wa hon wo yondeimasu”), which might be paired with a woman reading a book on a lawn chair. You can infer, based on the picture, the sentence means something like “the woman is reading a book”. However, you might get another sentence reading “彼女は本を読みます” (“かのじょはほんをよみます”/”kanojo wa hon wo yomimasu”) with the same picture and infer that it means the same exact thing, when it doesn’t quite. The first one implies that the woman is reading the book right at that particular moment, while the second one implies that she is reading a book. For a clearer explanation, I would translate the former as “The woman is reading a book” and the latter as “The woman reads a book”. Look at those two sentences for the difference and you’ll see what I mean. They could easily fix this with video, but they would rather waste their money on unconvincing advertisements.

Also, they use a stock of cheesy still images. This is a bit of a problem after a while. It gets your mind use to seeing the same image, making it harder to associate with other ones. Not to mention, it gets excruciatingly painful to see the same images over and over again. It gets boring after the first lesson. In addition to its recycled images, it makes you review the same material over and over again at intervals that are either too fast or too slow, making it easy to forget what you had learned and makes you feel like you’re pulling yourself through a desert.

The last software flaw definitely comes in with the vocal recordings. The software’s programmed voices, while they sound native, they speak slowly, which is alright at first, but eventually feels like they’re droning on and impairs being able to speak faster. From the speaker’s (i.e. who ever is using the program) end, the program for some odd reason doesn’t seem to pick up what one is saying half the time. It will either tell you that you’re wrong on one try, right the next (even if you say it the same exact way) or will tell you you’re right when you said something wrong. The idea of the voice recording is pretty good, however, it feels like it needs some work.

Who Should Get It and Supplements

As you can hopefully see/tell, I had some prior knowledge about Japanese before I started Rosetta Stone. I do feel like Rosetta Stone would be great as a simple introduction to Japanese, just to start getting people into the mindset of the learning the language, for about two lessons. However, considering its price tag, it’s not even worth it for that. If you already bought Rosetta Stone or are still not convinced to not buy it, let me recommend a few things you do to enhance your Japanese learning experience (which you should probably do even if you don’t buy Rosetta Stone):

– IMMERSION. Not Rosetta Stone’s 1 hour immersion either. I mean as 24/7 as you can get. Set everything you can into Japanese. Install Japanese on your computer to type in. Listen to Japanese music. Watch whatever you can in Japanese. Keep yourself surrounded in Japanese.

– Learn kana. This will most certainly make your Japanese learning experience a heck of a lot less painful. If you don’t know where to start, go here.

– Reference books. I highly recommend All About Particles by Naoko Chino and Understanding Basic Japanese Grammar by Koichi Nishigumi. Alternately, you can check out Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese. These make up for what Rosetta Stone lacks for grammar.

– Have a notebook. Take notes. I know you’re probably going “uuuuugh” right now, but it’s probably one of the few things from school that’s super helpful.

– Practice, even when you’re not on Rosetta Stone. If you want to practice speaking, I recommend the Fantajikan (Fantahour) podcast. They read fairytales in Japanese and provide a link to a text document with the story!

– SRS the vocabulary. Don’t know what SRSing is? I recommend reading about it here.

I’m probably wearing you out by now with all these suggestions, aren’t I?

Rosetta Stone Alternatives

So, if I successfully convinced you not to buy Rosetta Stone, YAY. If you’re still not sure or are still going to buy it, than boo. Oh well. That’s your choice. If you are still unsure or aren’t going to, but are wondering what the alternatives are, here is what I recommend:

– Find a class and take it, whether it be at school, somewhere in your town, or online (Edufire, anyone?). If you’re having trouble finding one, do a Google search (or whatever search engine you prefer). If you can’t find one, try the other alternatives I mention (or you can try the alternative ones if you don’t learn well in classes, like myself).

– Try an online textbook. The two I know of off the top of my head is Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese and Textfugu. The former one is free. You have to pay for the latter, but it’s still cheaper than Rosetta Stone and it’s designed for self learners. If you like Tofugu’s humor, methods, and learn a few things from the sample pages, I think you should try to invest in that one.

– Buy an actual physical textbook. I HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend Genki. It’s the one I’m using right now and I love it! The grammar explanations are beautifully done and I feel like I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. Even as a self learner, it has been quite useful. Genki fit exactly what I desired. However, your own desires for a Japanese textbook might be different from mine. If you wanna know a bit about how I’m going about learning Japanese, you can go here.

– Look at the supplements of the previous section. All of those will greatly help you, in addition to what I’ve recommended.

It honestly depends on the kind of learner you are. Once you discover that, you can figure out the best way for you to go about your language learning adventure.

I hope this post has been helpful to you, even a bit. TrainerKelly, not quite signing off.