Rosetta Stone — Language Series [Review & Interview]

Dec 24th, 2010 | By | Category: Africa, Asia, Book Reviews, Cultural, Equipment, Europe, Latin America, Mexico, Middle East, Military/LE, North America

One of the first things you learn when you work in dangerous areas of the world is how to say, “Don’t shoot!” Even then, you also realize that just being able to yell, “Don’t shoot!” really isn’t as effective as many people would hope. What’s more important is to actually attain a proficient level of understanding of the local language. It’s much better to be able to understand what the locals are saying (sometimes making sure they’re unaware of your own ability to communicate in their language) so as to recognize a threat, or benign condition, and act in the appropriate manner!

As the most powerful nation in the world, it always amazes me that most Americans, even those working for the State Department speak one language (English), at the most two (likely Spanish). This contrasts to other countries where most who’ve received a high school level education can communicate not only in their own language, but also at least two others, yes, the second language is normally English.

In the intelligence services there’s not as much a resistance to learning more than a few words and phrases in the local language. In the regular military, and even in some “tip of the spear” paramilitary and special forces units, where the focus is centered on military strategy and tactics, the practice of language is often put by the wayside except by some very devoted to world area of interest.

TOTALe = Total Immersion

Total immersion is the ideal format within which to learn a foreign language. It’s what the highly regarded Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California runs on. It’s with this in mind that I lived and worked in South Korea for nearly a year to learn how to read, write and speak Korean in 2007, attaining an intermediate level with a government/business vocabulary.

Total immersion is effective because it’s the manner in which we all learned our first languages as children. Total immersion is the reason that Rosetta Stone’s TOTALe is becoming the go-to language course for the military, government, business and private world. After seeing the latest form of it in a sample sent us to review, I’m very impressed to say the least!

The average language course is often based around a book and a collection of audio tapes or CDs. This is fine for refreshing ones ability in a learned language, but learning through this type of instruction mainly succeeds when there’s an addendum, such as practice in clubs and groups and interacting with native speakers in real-time events.

Remember: which came first the word of the person, place, thing or event that needed description through word? First there was the occurrence, then the need for humans to describe it. Total immersion in language learning works because of this already encoded process in our minds that started with the first time we heard a word and imitated.

Learning like a native speaker learns is always the best way, because it not only trains the conscious mind, but also the subconscious. Spanish was my first language, because even though my father was a descendant of Scots-Irish colonial militia in the American Revolution, my mother was from Ecuador and didn’t speak English well enough to speak to me in her second language until my brother was born three years later—interestingly, my brother, whose first language was English, but now has a much larger vocabulary than me because of continued practice in Spanish, hasn’t been able to remove his American accent. I can communicate with no accent and can pick up the accent of the local Spanish speakers within 30 days of residing in the country, i.e. Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador: my best compliment was being asked by a old man in a Salvadoran village whether I was from San Salvador or Santa Tecla. This is the result of total language immersion and early introduction various languages.

By the way, Spanish is probably one of the best languages to pick up first. You’ll learn vowel and consonant pronunciations that easily transfer to Russian, Greek, German, Malay/Indonesian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Korean. Since it’s a romance language, your vocabulary and grammar will be pretty well built into Portuguese, French, and Italian. In the same way that Spanish relates so well to the rest of the romance languages, Russian will set you up with the Slavic languages like Polish, Czech, Serbian, Ukrainian (major consideration being whether written in Cyrillic or Roman alphabet). Learn Norwegian, or Swedish and you’re pretty much set for all the languages in Scandinavia, other than Finnish.

Building Blocks of Language

Language learning is about taking what you’ve got and building upon that. Rosetta Stone does this by totally immersing you in the target language and not letting you escape to the language in which you’re already comfortable, i.e. your native language. From the beginning, Rosetta Stone uses images, audio and text in the target language to take you from easy descriptions and memory linking exercises to more advanced sentence string processing.

Included in the package is a licensed CD that enables installation of the language program onto your computer for either Windows or Mac. Also included is an audio CD addendum that lets you either load the audio tracks onto a MP3 player, or to use in a CD player, enabling you to get more out of your down time while driving in a commute.

Personally, I’ve noticed that when I’m really picking up a language, I either start dreaming in that language; and, or, I can come out of a deep sleep and immediately speak the target language. It has been a very long time since I studied Mandarin Chinese (a pre-teen and young teen in Singapore), long enough for me to forget a major portion of the language, much less actually communicate in anything other than ordering food.  After only an hour of going through the first section of the first level of Rosetta Stone, I was coming out of a deep sleep and thinking in Mandarin—after only one hour training, the previous day: very impressive indeed!

The key is how Rosetta teaches a certain string of vocabulary, building each following course on the previous section’s learning. It only takes moving from one level to the next to recognize how effective this is in picking up the language and retaining it…much as we did as children.

Above and Beyond

Where Totale  shines is by going beyond the audio and computer lesson and stretching out into what they call “Dynamic Immersion”. To assist in your language learning, there’s a component called “Rosetta Studio.” Conversing in the target language is one of the major learning boosters, if for no other reason than the parts of your brain are required to respond rather than just imitate. Accessed through a membership, the studio is a collection of real-time sessions that include other students at the same level as you, and led by an live session leader who is a native speaker of targeted language, and who also communicates well with expressive facial expression as might be experienced were you communicating face-to-face.

When you’re not going through the lessons, or the live groups sessions, you can also participate in online games. In these games you’re able to practice with same-level language learners and native speakers.

Overall, I consider Rosetta Stone’s TOTALe a great tool for anyone who’s deploying and has access to a computer: The audio CDs are useful, but only if you’re already going along with the main computer based course. The audio CDs are not lessons unto themselves.

As a final note, Rosetta Stone does create custom courses for large institutions such as military and government agencies where a certain type of vocabulary is required.

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy Rosetta Stone’s Duane Sider interview on GCT Radio:

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