I gave this to a friend. He is American and speaks English fluently. He also speaks Chinese and Korean. His wife, however, speaks only Korean. So this product was to help her learn English. What follows is the review of my friend after they had used this for about three weeks.
There a number of different products available in the market to teach foreign languages to the casual learner (i.e., someone who wants to learn a new language at his or her own pace in the comfort of his or her house as opposed to someone who takes a course for academic credits at an educational institution or online). Some of these products come in a single format (e.g., a book, a set of audio tapes or CDs, a podcast); other products combine two or more formats (e.g., a book and a set of CDs).
Rosetta Stone TOTALe language learning application attempts to go several steps further by utilizing the awesome capabilities of a computer with Internet access to present an integrated platform of learning formats that engages all of the primary cognitive skills and senses of the language learner, including sight, hearing, speech, visual and word recognition, writing/typing, and simulated and live conversation.
Rosetta Stone's TOTALe English (American) program has five levels, each of which contain different lessons covering a range of topics. You can purchase Level 1 as a stand alone unit (perhaps on a try-out basis if you are unsure if you want to plop down the money for the complete set that contains Levels 1 through 5), Level 1 & 2 as a set, Levels 1 through 3 as a set, or Levels 1 through 5 as a complete set.
Having tested out the trial version of one of Rosetta Stone's products previously, I decide to get the complete set of Rosetta Stone TOTALe (Version 4) English (American) (Levels 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 Set) for my wife who is an English language learner.
Because the Rosetta Stone TOTALe language learning program is not inexpensive, I want to describe exactly what you will find in the box:
(1) One set of CD-ROMs containing five compact discs (one for each of the five Levels)
(2) Five sets of audio CDs (each set contains four CDs, one CD for each lesson unit contained in each Level)
(3) Headset and microphone
(4) Activation card for access to online tutorial and language learning games
(5) Quick Start booklet
Initial Set up
The process of installing the software is fairly easy. After choosing the native language for the installation instructions, you can install all five CD-ROMs sequentially when you first start the program or each CD-ROM as you progress through the program. After the software installation process, the user creates a user account.
CD-ROMs & Headset
The complete set contains five Levels presented in the form of a CD-ROM for each Level. Each Level contains four units, each filled with a series of topics and exercises that engages the learner to learn the English language through developing pronunciation and vocabulary skills, learning phrases and sentences, and engaging in speech and conversation. Most of the topics are those that you would expect to find in a language learning program: basics words and phrases, such as age and family relations; questions, greetings, introductions; telling time, calendar terms, the weather; directions, locations, dining out; emotions, opinions, ideas; political, media, business terms; arranging home repairs; planning to move abroad; discussing the arts and tourism; careers and conducting interviews; and problem-solving and commercial transactions.
Many of the exercises require the learner to recognize and analyze relationships between the words displayed and spoken, on one hand, and the pictures displayed on the screen, on the other hand. Other exercises require the learner to repeat words, phrases, and sentences using the headset and microphone that is provided by Rosetta Stone and utilizing Rosetta Stone's speech recognition technology, which I found to be fairly accurate. Lastly, there are other exercises that require the learner to type the words, phrases, and sentences that the learner is learning using a computer keyboard or the virtual keyboard on the screen.
Because the learner's responses are tracked by the software, the learner can view his or her progress through each of these exercise. Furthermore, the learner can also go back to any exercise in any lesson at any time to review and redo that exercise, which should greatly aid the learner in the overall learning experience.
There are three key aspects of the software program that I found lacking. First, the absence of any instructions (let alone instructions in the learners native language) about what the learner is supposed to do in each of the exercises (e.g., whether the learner is supposed to click on the picture that matches the phrase or repeat the phrase that the learner hears) can be frustrating, especially if the learner is not computer-savvy. But after going through the first unit in Level 1, the learner should be able to navigate through the rest of the software program with relative ease.
Second, the software program does not provide a dictionary (whether as feature integrated into the lessons or as a separate feature that the learner can consult to look up the definition of words that he or she is learning.) I suppose that somebody who is learning a new language will probably have a dictionary on his or her shelf, but having access to a dictionary in the Rosetta Stone software program could come in handy.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the absence of instructions on formal grammar rules may tend to hinder the process of learning a new language. The exercises contained in the software program require the learner to actively think and to a large extent figure out the grammatical relationship between the words in a sentence. Having had the experience of studying a foreign language to a level of basic proficiency myself, I believe that understanding the grammatical structure of sentence not only help the learner learn a new language better. I suggest that Rosetta Stone produce basic grammar lessons that purchasers of the software program can download as a document from the company's website as a way to improve what is already a pretty comprehensive platform for learning a new language.
Other Features: Online tutorial and Mobile Companion
At the end of each Level, the learner is prompted to access the online tutorial and engage in further learning with a live tutor. While I have not had the opportunity to test out this feature, I would agree that the ability to engage in live conversation with another person can only help you learn a new language better.
One last feature that is offered by Rosetta Stone is the Mobile Companion, which is a learning application that the learner can download to an iPhone or iPod Tough to continue the learning process. After installing and logging into the Mobile Companion application on my iPhone 3GS, I received a message stating the "[t]here are no Languages available." I will provide an update for this review after I have the opportunity to contact Rosetta Stone to figure out a solution to this problem.