I study foreign languages in my free time. Having said that, my preferences lean towards product that aid in increasing my confidence in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding. Generally, these programs have clear audio, pictures, simple grammar lessons, and clear breakdowns of phonetic structures for non-native speakers (being entertaining and cheap is always a plus!)
Rosetta Stone is a wonderful vocabulary builder. The pictures and audio help store new words in long-term memory. The games *can* be fun and the lessons test listening skills and adaptive recall. With purchase, a user gains access to online tutoring sessions with a native speaker after completing chapter units (to try out their new skills.) Listening to the natural rhythm of native speakers in the program helps reduce accent and familiarize a user with the new language. There is a lot of content in level 1 of Japanese alone, which is broken into 4 units: Language Basics, Greeting/Introductions, Work/School, and Shopping. Each lesson builds on the last, helping the user retain vocabulary previously studied (but sadly, nearly prohibiting skipping ahead).Unfortunately, there are some major flaws:
This isn't the fastest self-taught curriculum; you won't learn useful, everyday phrases right away. Sure, I understand "The cat is sleeping." Or, "The boy runs." That's good, but how am I to realistically apply this to practical conversation? It took hours of lessons to learn phrases like "goodnight," or "Where is the bathroom?"
Grammar is never fully broken down. Users are left guessing how or why sentence structure or the Japanese particle system works (if they can even figure out what that is). Vocabulary, even with the pictures, is also vague at times. A child learning a new language uses a lot of guess work and is constantly corrected by parents in the early stages of language development. An adult, however, shouldn't need to make nearly as many mistakes as a babbling toddler, let alone without being constantly corrected. When confused about a word or phrase meaning, there is no direct translation available through Rosetta Stone itself- ever. I shouldn't need to use Google Translate to understand what I'm learning. It can be frustrating for absolute beginners. The phrases, when repeated listen for accuracy in the user's speech. However, one must only be about 80% correct for a sentence to register as right. I tested by saying and omitting words at times, and skimmed through the lesson with few problems. It's not that it's not okay to make mistake while learning, but proceed with caution. The words pop up as the user speaks them. Parts of a sentence that do not register as clear will appear in a more faded font. There were times when I spoke correctly, and still read faded font, second-guessing myself. (Though my sensei confirmed I was correct!)
Lastly, despite having lots of content, the lessons can be insanely repetitive and even confusing at times. It's easy for beginners to get disheartened, or think that language isn't their niche due to a poor start with the wrong learning materials. Conversational Japanese is actually the easiest self-taught language I've studied, with consistent sentence structures and easily approachable sounds for native English and Spanish speakers.
I used Rosetta Stone as a vocabulary builder along with my college JPN 103 class. I got what I paid for: increased confidence, greater fluency, and larger vocabulary. The catch is that I already mostly understood what and why words were ordered in each set. I recommend Rosetta Stone for people with some basic knowledge of Japanese language looking to build on what they already know, but definitely not for a novice. For the money, I can see how this would be an overwhelming frustrating disappointment. Invest in something with audio and a simple grammar book, some hiragana/katakana workbooks, and flashcards. Ganbatte!