A Rosetta Stone software developer by day, I also teach an English class in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which is organized by Skyline Literacy. The four students in the class are women from four different Latin American countries. At the beginning of May, not entirely satisfied with our progress after eight months of instruction, I gave each of my students a laptop with Rosetta Stone English software installed. We started from the beginning, and while the students had seen most of the words and grammar before, they had mastered very little of it.
Immediately and for the first time, I felt that I was able to assign useful homework. The practice activities in the textbook we had been using were ineffective because my students were not able to learn from any type of written activity–their reading and writing skills were limited, and they lacked independent study habits. My students needed guided activities, focusing on listening and speaking, which is exactly what they got from Rosetta Stone. The first lesson in Rosetta Stone includes sentences like “The boy is running.” and “The women are running.” I had covered the proper use of “is” and “are” many times before, but each time we revisited those structures, it seemed that we were starting over again from scratch. Using the software, my students started to get progressively more consistent using “is” and “are.” Finally my students were internalizing that pattern, rather than learning it only to forget it.
Rosetta Stone also made it much easier for me to prepare for classes. This was my first time teaching English in the United States, and I found my past experience teaching abroad to be only marginally useful. It was stressful for me to prepare two quality lessons per week using the textbook, and I often fell short. With Rosetta Stone, I had a curriculum that felt relevant and logical as well as a library of images I could use to guide classroom activities. In addition, my students could preview material before we covered it in class, which made our time together more efficient.
The main challenge I encountered in using Rosetta Stone was my students’ lack of computer literacy. Two of my students had experience using computers, and they both hit the ground running once they had the software. They were checking off lessons and even getting ahead of what we were practicing in class. The other two women had essentially no computer experience. One of them struggled at first but picked things up quickly. The other has still failed to consistently turn her computer on and get Rosetta Stone running independently at home. For Rosetta Stone to work for her, she would need focused, one-on-one time to make sure she was comfortable using Rosetta Stone outside of class.
Rosetta Stone has made life easier for me as a teacher and has made class more beneficial for my students, particularly those who are comfortable with a computer. Skyline Literacy and similar organizations bring together a community of teachers and students who may be highly motivated but who still face significant obstacles to achieving English proficiency. Students may not be fully literate and have weak educational backgrounds. Teachers may be untrained and limited in the time they can commit to teaching. A well-run program has the potential to bring out the best in these students and their teachers.
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