What’s a Word’s Worth?

Oh, wondrous power of words, by simple faith licensed to take the meaning that we love! –William Wordsworth, The Prelude: Book Seventh: Residence in London

totale screenshot1To make your language-learning experience as efficient and effective as possible—in Rosetta Stone and beyond—we carefully select the words you learn in each of our programs. The total number varies from one language to the next because each language uses words differently to build structures and express meaning.  So how do we go about it?

When building a specific language program, here’s what we keep in mind when we choose which words to teach:

  • a word’s usefulness as a building block for acquiring language structures;
  • its relevance to common situations;
  • and how natural it is to use in everyday speech.

This means that we choose just the right words—and the right number of words—to help you develop your language skills, especially your communication skills. In English levels 1-5, for example, you use just over 2,500 unique words to develop your command of the language, and you’ll encounter each of those words repeatedly in multiple contexts and activities. Just think of the practice you get with every word. Imagine the range of new language structures you master and how comfortable you become using those words in conversations.

It’s our commitment and a point of pride that we actually teach you the words we use; we don’t drench you in a flood of words and call it teaching. So, in Rosetta Stone programs you won’t memorize long vocabulary lists. You will, however, develop the essential skill of learning new words in context—inside Rosetta Stone and when you’re away from it—and you’ll acquire the confidence to use those words on the spot in everyday conversations. How easily you retain the words you learn, and how well you can use them in conversations, demonstrates the true value of our language-learning solutions.

You could think of it this way: language-learning programs are a lot like recipes. A recipe packed with ingredients doesn’t ensure a great meal; great meals depend on the quality (not quantity) of the ingredients and the ingenuity of the recipe. At Rosetta Stone, our “recipes”—the sequences of language and images—lead you to discover the meaning of new language on your own, and to use that new language every day. Bon appétit!

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  • Matt

    Mister Sider, I have a question.

    Another company (or a few even) say Rosetta Stone (RS) produces languages in a “Cookie-cutter” sort of way where, in the Spanish (Latin American) program for example, RS uses the same images and word meanings as the Japanese product. They claim that RS is therefore, not effective because each language is different and can’t be taught in a “Cookie-cutter” way that RS does.

    What do you think? Does RS use this sort of “Cookie-cutter” method?

    Now, personally, I love Rosetta Stone’s products. 120% love it. It works. But I just wanted to get your thoughts on this subject.

    Thank you.

  • Samuel

    From what I’ve seen, the program does use the same images for many different languages, but that is most definitely not a bad thing in my opinion, especially after taking 1 RS course and moving onto another language. The great thing about images is that they don’t have to be translated literally, but represent a general concept, so they are not translating word-for-word, but actually taking a universal concept (like eating) and showing you exactly how that language would express that concept verbally.

    Having done parts of both Spanish and Japanese, I know I am really grateful for the shared images, as Japanese grammar is really different from what I am familiar with and being able to see what general idea they are trying to teach by remembering what was being taught in Spanish was a huge help for me.

    The whole “cookie cutter” claim is not quite true either from what I’ve seen. Yes, the program does use the same images at times for stuff like “boy” and “girl” but Japanese teaches some things in a different order to accommodate the nature of the language.

    For instance, Spanish goes right from “el nino” (boy) and “la nina” (girl) to “el nino come” (the boy eats) and “la nina bebe” (the girl drinks) while Japanese goes from “otokonoko” and “onnanoko” and instead of going right to a sentence, teaches a few more words before it like the words for “juice”, “newspaper”, and “water” so that they can teach sentences like “the boy is drinking water” by the time they get to sentences. The way they would say that is “otokonoko wa mizu o nondeimasu”. (boy water drinks) so literally the word order is different and “wa” and “o” don’t really have equivalents in Spanish or English, as they are basically there to indicate subject and object but don’t work exactly the same way.

    They took the time to teach Japanese in that order specifically to work with that concept. Something that would, in other classes, involve explaining to someone in English exactly how it is used and why is shown in RS only a series of images and words in the language and able to be understood intuitively, meaning you can focus more on learning Japanese properly without trying to compare it to English.

    Hope this helps.

  • http://rosettastone.com Duane Sider

    You ask a good question, Matt. While the “cookie cutter” analogy doesn’t describe how we produce languages, it’s true that there’s a strong similarity in the “look” of the languages we teach. It’s intentional, of course, and it’s truly a powerful approach to a learning a new language—or any number of new languages.

    Here’s why:

    Even though words aren’t universal—each language has its own—the things we talk about are quite similar. At some significant level we’re all talking about the same things, just using different words.

    One of the ways we understand and learn each others’ “different” words—in everyday situations at least—is by pointing to things or acting out the situations we’re talking about. We seem to understand intuitively that the meaning of language actually refers to the world around us. Frankly this happens a lot during the first weeks of learning a new language in-country, and it’s one of the reasons we learn so quickly in that setting. Eventually, words themselves take the place of pointing and gesturing. It’s essentially the same process we used to learn our first languages.

    So, in Rosetta Stone we’ve crafted a tight sequence of everyday images from around the world—thousands of them—that convey the meaning for the languages we teach. You won’t see just American pictures for English words; you’ll see pictures from many countries and cultures. That’s because the English word, “mountain,” for example, refers to mountains around the world, not just mountains in the U.S. And the French word, “champignon” refers to mushrooms in the U.S. as well.

    Finally, while our products share a gallery of images, every language is customized and uses the same criteria outlined in the blog post to make sure we’ve got it right.

  • Matt

    Thank you, both of you, for clarifying that. I’ve read so much on the internet concerning this subject and I’m glad I know the truth now. What you said makes sense; plus, it would only work if the language was taught like Rosetta Stone teaches — Though immersion.

    Thanks again.

  • Luohan

    Just one quick thought, regarding the scurrilous “cookie-cutter,” allegation. If you have the time and inclination, stop by any Rosetta Stone kiosk and ask to see the first lesson of Arabic, German, French, Chinese, and Japanese. You’ll see similarities, but you’ll notice the order concepts are introduced in varies (not just because in some languages transitive verbs like “eat” take objects and in some it’s not necessary), but because the developers have taken care to address the idiosyncrasies of each language. Chinese teaches the plural first, (I’m assuming) because the singular requires more words. Arabic has singular, plural, AND dual forms, and these are addressed in the first lesson. Chinese and Japanese teach words for beverages before sentences using “eat” and “drink,” whereas French and German throw you right in to “la fille mange,” and “Der junge isst.” And yes, they do this with primarily the same images, from language to language.

    Before I started working for Rosetta Stone, I had Version 2 of Chinese. From personal experience with older versions of the program which tailored the images to each language, I much prefer the current images, which are more ‘universal,’ in their scope.

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