Rosetta Stone may be the most mis-named program in existence. The *real* stone, of course, presented the same information in three different languages, permitting archeologists to crack a language they had never been able to before, based on knowing the other two.
Rosetta Stone *the language program* works on the sink-or-swim paradigm. There is no English whatsoever in the interaction. No grammatical theory, no lists of conjugations, no explanations of irregular verbs. Everything is entirely picture and repetition based, and you learn like an infant does. A picture of a plate. "Plato." A picture of a girl holding a plate. "La muchacha tiene un plato". A picture of a girl holding a plate with a talk bubble coming from her mouth. "Yo tengo un plato." And so on, through three Levels (I believe five are available), of four Units per Level, and about ten Lessons per Unit. The Lessons (up to 30 interactions) cover vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and so on, and older Lessons are thrown into the mix as well just to provide reinforcement. It is possible to go through a Level in a weekend if you do absolutely nothing else except eat and sleep, but I eventually found I could realistically only absorb about a Unit's worth per day, which took up a solid evening.
- There is a voice-recognition system that continuously checks and reinforces your pronunciation, including a pop-up wave form analysis window. It cares mostly about cadence and vowels (it has no problems if you use "B" for "V" for example), but these are the things that are key to language comprehensibility.
- There is a very nice and comfortable headset included, with a microphone and earphones.
- There are writing interactions, and a set of keyboard stickies to translate your keyboard into a Spanish version (with accents and N~, etc.)
- There is an audio file "companion" set (12 disks) that can be loaded onto an MP3 player for listening practice when you're away from your computer.
- Many features are customizable, including how sensitive you want the voice recognition to be; whether you want to focus on writing, speaking, or both; and how many interactions you can get wrong before the program decides you need to repeat a lesson.
- There are online interactions, to do solo, with another online student, or with an instructor. These include stories to listen to, and games to reinforce your listening skills. This is a new feature in Rosetta Stone, and it's way cool.
- While the program can only be installed on one computer (and there's an activation process to insure this), there can be multiple "learners" in the same household, using the same program (though not at the same time, obviously).
- The voice recognition can be frustrating at first. I found myself doing a Dracula accent so it would pick up my inflections, though eventually things calmed down. (They need a level zero, with the exaggerated vowel sounds and cadence found in baby talk).
- The endless repetition really is endless. And the audio companion is more of the same dialog. This can get really boring.
- At times, the multi-cultural pictures evoke a giggle. Sorry, but a picture of Japanese woman bowing does not make me think "Hola!'.
- The end-of-unit "milestone" interactions, which supposedly emulate a real-world conversation, are almost impossible to pass the first time around, since you have to figure out what dialog the program expects you to say.
- There are some usability issues - the key picture in the advanced match-picture-to-phrase exercises is very tiny and hard to see, and, in the sound-identifying exercise, the second presentation of the sound (the sound repeats after you've answered) comes right before the first presentation of the next sound, with no gap (confusing to the ear, especially early on).
- The program supposedly works with a 1024x768 screen, which I have, but when using this the progress bar and pause button show up under my computer's system tray unless I go into full-screen mode. (This is a genuine bug, and should have been caught in Beta).
Despite it's foibles, the program does get you up to speed really fast, with a pragmatic and immediately useful level of understanding (I have no idea what the grammatical tenses are called, but I can pronounce them). As the company suggests, compare the cost to the cost of a language class, not other programs. Because, given the constant feedback, that's pretty much what this is. Con muchos campanas y silbidos (that's bells and whistles, for you gringos).