on August 22, 2015
Beginning with knowing only a handful of French words (and with no natural talent for acquisition of languages), this program gave me a good solid knowledge of French. I completed the five levels, added a couple of grammar books, the Pimsleur listening CD, and then enrolled in a five-week French Immersion program. The effort resulted in passing a French test at the intermediate level required for entrance into a bilingual doctoral program.
I've spoken French, with varying degrees of proficiency, since I was young. It was a mandatory subject in middle and high school, as well as a requirement living in Montreal. At University, half my courses were in French, so I have more than a passing familiarity with the language. However, when moving around the world to areas that French is not used, it's easy to forget parts of the language, especially when you don't have a need or opportunity to use the language frequently. So, over the decades, I've had to brush up my French on numerous occasions, refreshing my memory as to some of the language structures and vocabulary, not to mention the grammar, which can be complex. To help brush up, I've built up quite a library of French instruction tapes and CDs, including all the popular ones. Two years ago, I added this Rosetta Stone box to the list, and used it to try and update my skills once again. Unfortunately, I had mixed results with the system.
To start with, you really need an Internet connection to use this set, which is a limitation I had not counted on when travelling frequently. You can get by without, but it's an annoying process. Second, the never-ending push to buy a subscription really annoyed the heck out of me. I'd just dropped hundreds of dollars on the box, and all Rosetta Stone wants is me to buy a subscription for support right away! The nagging goes on and on, never letting up, with no turning the messages off. In the end, if there was one thing that made me give up on this set, that was it.
What about learning the language? Rosetta Stone relies on pictures to show you context, and a microphone analyzing your speech to determine if you are saying things correctly. Unfortunately, the algorithm is annoying. You can be repeating the word exactly as the instructor shows, and it doesn't get a match. You can repeat dozens of times, with slight variations to try and trick the system, but sometimes it just won't get past the blockage. I speak the language well, according to Francophones, but according to Rosetta Stone's stupid voice recognition system, I have trouble saying basic words! The other thing that really annoyed me about the system is the way it expects you to be able to type in French without seeing words written out or helping develop your written skills properly. You'll be asked to type out a sentence or fragment, based on sound alone, and that's not easy in French! If I had not studied the language for years, I would have given up on this system in the first few levels. As it is, I completed the entire system, mostly out of stubbornness, but I am convinced if I didn't have a solid understanding of the language before "learning", I would not have made it through.
To make sure it wasn't just me, I had a visiting Parisian friend give the system a shot at Level 5. He had exactly the same experiences I had with the voice system, as well as criticizing some of the approaches used to teach words. He said they were not technically wrong, but also not in general usage in the language.
Yes, I did brush up my French with this system, but no more than I have done with other (and cheaper) systems. I worked through this system once, but I won't return. I was disappointed in the approach the system uses, the demands it places on purchasers to buy subscriptions, and the stupidity of the voice recognition system. I can't recommend this over some of the other systems on the market to teach French, without the high cost or aggravation.