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Even though I said no more technical babble, I have one more technical thing to mention. It’s a neat feature of Rosetta Stone that really caught my attention when I first read about it (… and that sounded a bit like an ad, but it’s true). One of the draw backs of learning a language over the computer is you loose the face-to-face communication of learning in a classroom or a real life setting. Even if the program has videos or you can do a webchat with a teacher, it’s still not quite the same. So I was really interested in the voice recognition-type software that Rosetta Stone has.

In many lessons, you have to repeat the words or phrases you’re given. For the most part this isn’t a terribly different task as long as you’re paying attention (and sitting up straight – you can’t do this lying down, as I found out). But some of the words, at least in Korean, are really tough. I have so much trouble with the word ‘fish’ (bul-ko-gi), it’s really just a coin toss if I’ll get it right or not. But if you’re not saying it correctly, you can click on a button and  be presented with a voice pattern of the native speaker saying the word. Then your job is get your voice to look as similar to the native speaker as possible. For visual people like me, it can be helpful. It shows you where you need to hold a syllable, or where you need to raise your tone. It’s still tricky sometimes, but it’s just another useful tool. I guess it’s kind of similar to having your pronunciation corrected in person, just more technical.

I described the set up of Rosetta Stone because one of the first major cons I found is directly related to its set up. It has to do with the way the lessons are presented: one way with the lessons in a line  and the other with them listed in columns. The first way is called ‘your course’ so it seems to be the way Rosetta Stone wants you to complete the lessons and so that’s the way I was completing them.

Until I took a good look at the lesson columns and noticed there were more lesson components under the lessons than there were in the planned course. Specifically, the columns had all the components I previously mentions (core lesson, pronunciation, listening, etc.) while the course was occasionally missing some. So I started going through the columns completing the things that I had ‘missed’. It was than that I noticed components checked off in lessons I hadn’t yet gotten to (Oh yeah, as you finish a component, it’s checked off on your course). I realized that not all the components of the lessons were listed with its fellow components. The vocabulary of lesson 2, for example, might be sandwiched between the listening and the writing of lesson 4.

This made me a little annoyed since I felt it was some kind of programming error. Then I thought about it and realized that it was only earlier lessons showing up among later lessons, and not vice versa. So you wouldn’t find lesson 4’s listening component with lesson 2 stuff, before lesson 4 has formally been introduced by its core lesson.

I’m fairly sure now that this is intentional (as in, not a programming error), especially since it happens in all the other units. New lessons are introduced, via the core lesson component, before the previous lessons have been completed, and the remaining components will be finished gradually as you go through the new lesson(s) (Lesson 1 of unit one lasted through lesson 4). This is actually fairly handy, since the lessons don’t necessarily use all the same vocabulary, especially nouns. So by continuing the lessons as new lessons (ie new vocabulary) is introduced, it helps you retain the information better and doesn’t overload you with too much info. at once. You avoid memorizing words just to get through one lesson, only to forget it all when you leave it behind for a new lesson.

Unfortunately, this is contained within the units, as far as I can tell, and I don’t yet know how much overlap there will be between the topics of unit 1,2,3, etc. Hopefully by the time I move onto a new unit, I’ll have mastered the first and won’t need to be reminded of what came before.

And also hopefully, this will be the last of my technobabble and from here on out I’ll talk about language learning stuff, aka fun stuff.

PS I have a feeling this confusion might have been avoided if I just read the manual that comes with the program, which I really only skimmed.

I was planning on posting a few of the advantages and disadvantages of using Rosetta Stone, since I’m sure people would like to know about them before spending a couple hundred dollars on one of its languages (of course, that’s assuming other people are reading this blog, although I suppose one day I might want to remember any pros and cons of the course, like if I decide to pick up yet another language). But I realized it would be hard to describe any detail without first describing how the course is presented, etc. So I think I’ll go in a step-by-step sort of fashion as I describe what the user can expect from their Rosetta Stone program (and hopefully not sound too much like an ad for the software, as I’m already starting to sound).

  1. You log into your account, after you start up the program of course. I didn’t necessarily expect (or not expect) you’d be able to set up individual accounts for each language learner, but the fact that you can is nice, since it would be difficult to share the course with another person if you couldn’t. As you move through the lessons, it saves your progress, shows what you got right/wrong and your success percentages.
  2. You pick your level. This might not be the case if you’ve only bought level one, but since I have levels 1-3, I have to choose which of those I want to use. You’re not prevented from moving ahead to more advanced lessons or levels, which is cool since you can listen to more advanced speech, but I wouldn’t really advise attempting a more advanced lesson.
  3. The levels are split up into units. Units are split into lessons. Lessons are further broken up into: core lesson, pronounciation, vocabulary, grammar, listening and reading, reading, writing, listening, speaking and finally, review. For the most part those titles are self-explanitory, but maybe I’ll go into more detail later (probably not though).
  4. Each unit has its own page, while lessons and their components are shown two different ways. The first is in a continuous line with each lesson coming after the one before it. The second is a series of columns below the continuous line. Each lesson has its own column, with the first component from the lesson (core lesson) at the top and each other component dropping down until it reachs the last (review). This will be relevant later, since it’s related to one of the most recent pros/cons I’ve noticed.
  5. Beyond the menus, everything is presented in the language you’re learning (for me, Korean). The speech and the writing is completely in Korean. Because Korean uses a different alphabet than English (obviously), there’s an Alphabet option in the menu where you can practice learning the characters. Very helpful.

Well, those are the Rosetta Stone technical basics. I’ll end it with that, and save pro and con detailing for later.

Quite a few people have asked me if Rosetta Stone is all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve only worked through a few lessons but so far I like it. It can be challenging when they introduce new terms (especially new verbs which can be hard to figure out from pictures) but after going over the activities two or three times, it’s a lot easier to figure out what was stumping you before.

The only major problem I’ve had so far isn’t really a fault of Rosetta Stone. They provide you with a headset with a microphone so you can interact with the software. When the program starts you’re asked to select which device you’d like to use as your sound/microphone device for the program. I had intially been using Rosetta Stone on an older laptop that didn’t have any built in sound equipment other than speakers, so the headset was the only thing that came up. No problem there.

I recently got a new laptop though (a Hp if people are wondering, I’ll have to add more info later since I can’t remember what the model is). This laptop has a built in webcam, which is awesome, but it also led to a problem. Now when I turn on the program, I get three choices for what sound device I’d like to use. The webcam’s microphone and speakers come up as two separate devices, which means you can’t select both of them to use during the program. Unfortunately, at this point when I selected the headsets provided, they didn’t work.

To make a long story short, after getting really frustrated when the headset seemed to fail and eventually calling up Rosetta Stone’s tech support, I found out you have to go into the laptop’s control panel and have the headset changed to the default sound device. After a couple of tries, I was eventually able to get the laptop to automatically accept the headset as the default sound device when it’s plugged into the USB port.

Just thought I’d share that info. And of course, I’ll talk more about the advantages and disadvantages of Rosetta Stone in further posts.