What do we think about in-country language learning?

polish1Some days ago, I was cornered by a New York sophisticate who wanted to challenge me on Rosetta Stone’s efficacy. He cut right to the chase: “All right, so… does Rosetta Stone work?” he said. “And don’t you think that the best way to really learn a new language is to go to a country where they speak it?”

Implied in his question was a sense that Rosetta Stone does not think it’s effective to travel to a foreign country and study a language there, getting a full immersion experience. Au contraire, mon ami. We know that in-country learning works. Indeed, it was our own personal experiences of in-country language-learning success that inspired our quest for a better way to learn at home. One might even say that our mission is simply to make the in-country experience technology-enabled so that it can be accessed anywhere at any time.

Here are ways that we try to ‘virtualize’ the in-country immersion experience in our Rosetta Stone language-learning solutions:

  • 1. Immersion! We want you thinking in your new language as soon as possible. So just like in-country immersion, we keep you surrounded by the language you’re learning. We expose you to hours and hours of high-quality fluent native speech. And we never step outside it with translations or asides about what you’re learning.
  • 2. Unlimited time with native speakers. There’s no doubt that when you spend every waking moment on something, you make significant progress. Just think: during one week, in-country, you could spend 40 hours studying in an immersion classroom, 60 hours practicing speaking with locals and take the balance 68 hours to rest up and do some exercise (soon you’d even start dreaming in the language). With Rosetta Stone TOTALe, you likewise have unlimited study time, unlimited sessions with language tutors, and unlimited time with other learners and native speakers in our online community.
  • 3. Daily functional pressure to use what you learn. Invariably, when you’re in-country, you quickly try to establish some independence by asking a waiter for some food and drink, and soon you move on towards trying to make connections with local people that you meet. You end up using the language as you learn it, and, as you do, the learning sticks and comes to life. We replicate that pressure in Rosetta Stone by putting you in conversational situations where you need to speak to advance – from simulated conversations in your course, to guided conversations with a tutor, to online games with native speakers.

But while learning in-country is often a great experience, there are elements of Rosetta Stone that make it more compelling when you are starting to learn a new language:

  • 1. Structured immersion. In-country immersion can be chaotic, overwhelming and inefficient. You may understand nothing at all for a while, or incorrectly guess the meanings of particular words. In the Rosetta Stone curriculum, your exposure to the language is carefully ordered so that you can always derive the meaning of new words through context, and so acquire new language efficiently.
  • 2. Finding native speakers to practice with. Although you’d think it would be easy to find locals to practice with when you’re in-country, making those initial connections can be intimidating. In Rosetta Stone TOTALe, native speakers are always available online, as tutors or as partners in activities and conversations, so it’s easy to start practicing right away.
  • 3. Speech analysis. Many of us aren’t good at comparing our pronunciation to the speakers around us. And even if we are in-country, it can be hard to find someone willing to correct our pronunciation. With our integrated speech and pronunciation exercises, you get plenty of help to improve the way you sound, plus you can work on it without embarrassing yourself in front of others!
  • 4. At your level. Wherever you go in TOTALe, you get practice at your sweet spot. Whether you’re studying, reading stories, getting guidance from a tutor, or playing games, you’re working with language that’s just at your level, never over your head.

So, given the choice, you might wonder, what would I rather do: in-country immersion or Rosetta Stone TOTALe? Not constrained by time or money, I would try to do both. I would use Rosetta Stone to make the most of my in-country exposure, so that I had a very solid foundation and even considerable conversational experience, and then I’d spend months in-country making the language come alive as I navigated a new environment and connected with people in a more intimate way. Nothing beats the joy and enrichment that comes from confidently using a new language to unlock new cultural experiences.

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  • http://whitehindu.blogspot.com Cm

    So true. I am so grateful for the lack of translation into English. I wanted to add that the Audio Companion is a great tool. Listening to that when I’m in my car or walking the dog means the language is always with me and I’m hearing it for hours a day whether I’m at a computer or not. It makes the language sink deeply into my brain.

    We’ve all heard of ex-pats who live in a foreign country for years and years without learning the local language. Learning a language takes work, whether you’re doing it at home or abroad.

  • Matt

    The only thing I didn’t like in this article was he, in a way, down-talked in-country immersion as not being as effective as Rosetta Stone. Yes, it is a bit hard, but that method, I think, is by far the most effective way to learn a language; There is a lot that that method can do for a learner that no computer program can. it may take time, about 1-2 years or more, but the result, I think, is perhaps much better for the learner in the long run.

    Now, on the flip side of that, I totally agree that RS is WAY better as far as cost and amount of time spent. I wouldn’t trade my
    TOTALe for 8 FREE semesters of a class that translates and all that. No way. Also, considering that I do not have the time or money to spend 2 years in a Spanish-speaking country, I went with the next best thing — Rosetta Stone TOTALe.

    Good article! And thanks again for such an amazing product!

  • http://www.rosettastone.com Tom Adams

    I think that in-country learning can be very effective – it’s just that there are some things that you don’t get when you’re learning that way, just as there are things you get that Rosetta Stone does not provide. Of course, going to a country to learn its language is a great way to go. Spending 5 months in Salamanca (Spain) in my early 20s was one of my best life experiences – my immersion school, Collegio de Estudios Hispanicos, was excellent – and making Spanish friends was a big bonus to learning Spanish. And I enjoyed socializing with other language students. Indeed, I often find myself asking our development team how we can create tools and experiences like those I found in Salamanca.

  • Matt

    Hi Tom.

    When I read parts of your article I was left with the impression that you were saying in-country immersion was not as effective as using a Rosetta Stone product. Now that you say that you ask your development team what you can do to re-create in-country experiences, I’m glad I chose to learn Spanish with Rosetta Stone.

    So many people buy Rosetta Stone with the thought that it will make them fluent – and it will do it fast. Others believe that learning a language using Rosetta Stone ought to be effortless. I’ve been told that Rosetta Stone’s commercials make it sound like becoming fluent is completely effortless; as easy as, “Click click click.” Do you think using Rosetta Stone TOTALe has the capability to make a learner fluent in the desired language? Also, is fluency what you are aiming for with this product?

    I really admire what you and your team do at Rosetta Stone. To the point that I’ve been trying to provide as much feedback as I can to help improve the program and your team has listened. In addition, I’ve learned more Spanish with this program in 16 hours of use then I did in taking a class for two semesters. But I’m sure you hear that a lot from customers.

    Keep up the great work!

  • http://rosettastone.com Tom Adams

    Good questions, Matt. Our primary design aim in TOTALe is to get you at ease speaking and knowing what to say. That’s why we elicit speech so often in the curriculum, why we put so much development effort into our speech recognition technology, why we give you unlimited sessions with language coaches, and why we cultivate a community of learners and native speakers in Rosetta World. It’s because we want you to get authentic conversation practice at your level.

    We’re always eager to hear what our TOTALe learners report upon completion, so thank you for your ongoing feedback and encouragement!

    P.S. And we do want to make your learning as effortless as possible. We don’t want to minimize the work that happens in your head when you’re absorbing a new language, but we want to eliminate any of the unnecessary effort—whether that’s rote memorization, looking words up, using a go-between language, or even having you figure out what to review when.

  • Matt

    Tom, I don’t mean to waste your time or be a bother but I was thinking about what you said about asking your development team how you can provide tools and experiences like those you found in Salamanca and I’d like to give you and your team an idea to think about.

    Perhaps in TOTALe there should be the option where the learner can click on a world map and then on the country(ies) that speak the language they are learning and it will pull up a list of holidays specific to those countries and common greetings (Like besos or the running of the bulls in Spain) and other traditions that aren’t mentioned in Rosetta Course.

    There is an online database called “Global Road Warrior” that does something similar, but this is where TOTALe would differ: you pick a holiday and it pulls up a description that can either be read or is spoken by a native to that culture. You can then look at pictures and watch videos of what they do on that holiday.

    Other things such as types of dances and kinds of foods could also be learned by watching natives present them. In fact, when learning about foods, perhaps we could obtain recipes to try, as well. Of course, this would also be presented in the target language; (for example, I don’t know the Spanish word for “corn”, so, much like in a story, a simple picture of corn would show me what it is.)

    What I’m trying to do with this idea is help bring more of the culture to TOTALe learners. Foods, dances, holidays, history, buildings, all of this would be an amazing help to learn how the natives think and therefore help us to think more in their language and the same ways they do.

    I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts to share on this along with anyone else who has something to add!

    Thank you.

    • rvoiceadmin

      Hello, Matt. Thanks for your thoughtful input. We really appreciate your feedback and will pass it along. Please continue to keep us posted with your TOTALe experience.

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