I am thoroughly enjoying my Rosetta Stone TOTALe (pronounced toe-TAH-lee) French software. I did once use a two week trial of Rosetta Stone Spanish (not TOTALe), and although I enjoyed it, the TOTALe course is many times better.
The TOTALe course has four parts: Rosetta Stone Course, Rosetta Stone World, Studio and Audio CD's. The Studio and World are what sets this apart from the regular Rosetta Stone course. They are absolutely phenomenal. More on that later.
Before I delve into the actual course, here are some interesting facts you might like to know.
AGE RESTRICTIONS AND MULTIPLE LEARNERS
This software can only be installed on one computer. However, I was able to add my two children to the software course. According to the Rosetta Stone customer service department, I can add up to five users to the Rosetta Stone course, as long as they use the same computer.
My children cannot access the Rosetta World, because they are under 13. I changed my son's age to show him older than 13 and found that he could not access Rosetta World because only one user is allowed to use Rosetta World. However, I was given the option to purchase Rosetta World access for him at a *very* reasonable price.
ACCESS FROM MULTIPLE COMPUTERS
Although I could only access the Rosetta Stone Course from the one computer it's installed on, I can access Rosetta Stone World from any computer with an internet connection by simply signing in on their website.
Personally, I like Rosetta Stone World interface when accessing it directly from the software on my computer rather than through my Internet Explorer. Signing in is much quicker. When I do it through a web browser, I have to suffer through signing in with my password and waiting for it to check my system.
EXTENDING THE COURSE
Rosetta Stone offers users the option to add levels 4 and 5. Online service can also be extended for a reasonable price.
WHAT COMES IN THE BOX
1) Quick start pamphlet.
2) Installation CD's for levels 1-3.
3) Activation card for 9 months of online access.
4) Audio CD's for Level 1, units 1-4.
5) Stickers for the keyboard to customize it for special French accent marks (so the user knows where to find the keys).
SOFTWARE AND HEADSET
The software installed on my Vista system without a hitch. I'm not sure how well it works on other systems.
The sound and voice recognition with the headset is wonderful.
So here I go dissecting the course itself.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR COURSE
Each student may customize his course by choosing one of four options:
1) reading, writing, speaking, listening (recommended)
2) reading, writing, speaking and listening -- extended (more repetition)
3) speaking and listening
4) reading and writing
In providing this review, I have chosen option 1.
These are to be used in conjunction with the course. I suppose they could be used to supplement some other language course, but one could not learn the language from the audio CD's alone. They are completely in French, with the exception of an English speaking man telling the listener to listen, or listen and repeat. No translations are given. The phrases come from the flash cards we see during the lessons, so they trigger associations.
ROSETTA STONE COURSE
Rosetta Stone is total immersion. I've found it is the most wonderful way to learn.
One example of a typical lesson: The student is shown a series of flashcards along with very short sentences. Maybe it's four different people with a ball: a man, a woman, a girl, a boy. The speaker says, "The man has a ball." "The woman has a ball." "The girl has a ball." "The boy has a ball." So the student knows the one common word is "ball," which must be the round thing. The word that changes, that must describe the man, woman, girl and boy.
Sometimes, I'd know a word, could match it up, but didn't know what it meant. I had a strong desire to look it up, but I trusted Rosetta Stone would one day make it clear. Well, after seeing the word (in my particular case, it was "to have") numerous times, it finally dawned on me what it meant. I don't even know when it happened, it just became clear. And so it goes with other words.
Total immersion can be very challenging to people used to traditional teaching methods. The need to know and translate every word can be strong, but I can attest that context will eventually make it clear.
This course is broken up into levels. French has levels going all the way up to 5. I was told by the Rosetta Stone customer service rep that I should be conversational by level 3. Levels 4 and 5 delve deeper into the culture.
The structure of the courses is as follows: There are five levels. Each level has four units. Each unit has four core lessons followed by varying numbers of sub-lessons. So, level>unit>core lesson>sub-lesson.
The core lessons take about half an hour each and it gives the overall gist of what is to be worked on during the sub-lessons. The sub-lessons are only 5 to 10 minutes long and deal individually with different facets of the core lesson, like vocabulary, grammar, spelling, etc. By taking one to two sub-lessons per day and about one core lesson per week, I can finish one unit per month.
The studio sessions can be scheduled for any time slot available. From my experience, it is best to finish a unit before taking the studio lesson for that unit. The session may be repeated as necessary.
The studio session is like a live, online classroom with a native speaking teacher. Students log in at the appointed time. We can see the teacher, but the teacher can only hear us. She shows us many of the cards we see during our course lessons and individually asks us questions about them. She also asks us to speak to each other in a very controlled way. I intend to take a session every week in order to have a live teacher correct my speech and to gain more experience speaking and listening. This in and of itself is worth the price of the TOTALe.
So far, my studio sessions have had between two and four students (including me). They last 50 minutes each.
Another way TOTALe shines. In my box was a card with an activation code good for nine months of Rosetta World service, which I could pay to extend (and I might very well do just that).
1) Listen, read, or listen and read stories. The stories are unlocked as we progress through each level so that the vocabulary isn't too challenging.
2) Play solo games. Three games are available. In one game, we much listen to the speaker describe a card and we must find that card. Another game is a memory card game where we match the picture to a written description of the picture. The third game is a bingo type game where we listen to a story and must choose words that come up in the story on the bingo card until we get a bingo.
3) Duo and Simbio. These modes contain all the Solo games plus five more games to play against another player. In Duo mode, we play against a French learner. In Simbio mode, we are matched up with a native French speaker who is learning our native language so we can help each other.
Both Duo and Simbio modes can be played via keyboard or microphone. I am finding most people prefer keyboard.
The World hours are from 10 AM to 10 PM Pacific Time, although I've been able to play outside that time slot. There aren't many players most days, just a few, but enough to be able to interact. The Duo rooms are more active than the Simbio room, where I'm only finding one player if I'm lucky.
+ easy to learn
+ voice recognition software
+ live teacher
+ interact with other learners
+ interact with native speakers
+ may add up to five learners to the Course on one computer
+ may access World from any internet connected computer
+ may pay to extend course and online access
+ IPad and IPhone aps available
- difficult for learners who insist on translation
- can only be installed on one computer
- additional learners do not have access to World (but one may pay to add access)
- children under thirteen not permitted in World
I love, love, love Rosetta Stone TOTALe. It has enabled me to speak French without being self-conscious. I can access live instructors, repeat any lesson I don't understand. My children can be added. I can enter the World from anywhere. Oh yeah, there are iPod and iPad apps (which I can't review but they sound great). What's not to love?
UPDATE: The World hours are now 9 AM to 9 PM Pacific Time, but I have been there outside those hours. As long as someone is there, we can play a multiplayer (2-player) game. Otherwise, solo mode is available anytime.
Studio sessions are very flexible. They must have gotten more coaches or else the coaches are working more hours, but I can schedule a session for any time from morning to evening, 7 days a week. This is not true for all TOTALe languages, so it's a nice feature.
UPDATE #2: ADAPTIVE RECALL
I did not have Adaptive Recall in my initial review, because I did not know it existed. It has been about 3 1/2 months since I started my lessons and 2 1/2 months since my original review. Now that I have entered Level 2, I've had the chance to experience Adaptive Recall and have found another reason to love TOTALe.
Adaptive Recall takes me through little review lessons from the past so that I don't forget what I've learned. Apparently, depending on how well I do, the review lessons will repeat more or less frequently. I have the option of skipping the Adaptive Recall Lessons, if I desire. I didn't skip them. I found them very helpful.
UPDATE #3: It's been about six months since I started Rosetta Stone. Something amazing happened today. I was taking a studio session and as the coach asked me questions or asked me to interact with another learner, I was able to respond without fishing for the words, mentally doing translation gymnastics from English to French. I opened my mouth the the words spilled out. It was far from proficient, but I was able to express myself more fluently than ever before. I surprised myself by not thinking in English. Wow.
UPDATE #4: It's now April, 2011. I've been at it for awhile and still enjoy my lessons. There has been a recent bug in the Rosetta Stone World. When I'm there, if I ever hit the backspace button (which happens a lot, because I frequently mistype, especially in French), it kicks me out of the game. This was not previously an issue. I hope they fix it.
UPDATE #5: The problem with the backspace button was caused by the Adobe Air update. Per technical support, I uninstalled version 2.6 and installed version 2.5 and my problem is no more.
UPDATE #6: I was kicked out of a studio session today for using a wireless headset. Too much echo, they said. Only wired headsets allowed, folks. (They did send me a wired one free of charge when I complained that the one I got with the Rosetta Stone had broken.)
UPDATE #7: I've been at this for about a year. My French cousins just came over for a visit and I think I understood a lot of what they were saying to each other. Can't hold an intelligent conversation yet, but I can probably get around in Paris and the basics are okay. That's not bad. I'm midway through level 2. The games section seemed to have died down. Not many people there, but I don't spend much time there anymore, so maybe they are there when I'm not looking. The studio courses have opened a lot of slots, so I can take classes just about whenever I want. They even email reminders now, which is helpful.