Is Rosetta Stone’s popular language learning app worth the money?
If you’re thinking about learning a new language—whether because you’re bored in quarantine, planning an international move, or just want to be more cultured—chances are Rosetta Stone is one of the first language-learning programs that pops into your head. This system has been around since 1992, when it used to require CD-ROMs (remember those?), and it’s arguably the best-known tool for learning a new language.
However, Rosetta Stone isn’t cheap—prices start at $80 for a three-month subscription—and you might be wondering if it’s really better than free language-learning apps like Duolingo. After testing the program for around a month, here’s what we think you need to know about Rosetta Stone—and whether it’s worth your hard-earned money.
What is Rosetta Stone?
As you may have figured out by now, Rosetta Stone is a computer-assisted language-learning tool, and today, it offers 24 language programs, including both popular options like Spanish, Italian, and French, as well as more unique languages like Turkish and Persian. Each language is broken down into several “levels” to work through as you progress.
There are a few ways you can use Rosetta Stone. You can opt for an online or app subscription, which gives you access to several levels of the program for a set number of months. Alternatively, you can download the software onto your computer or buy it on a CD-ROM. With these latter options, you pay a flat fee for each level of the program, and you get access to it forever.
How does it work?
To test out Rosetta Stone, I decided to try my hand at Latin American Spanish—I’m stuck at home, so what else do I have to do? In high school, I took several years of French (le langage de l'amour!), so I’m a true beginner when it comes to Spanish. Starting out, I could say hello, goodbye, and count to 10, but that was it.
Selecting a “Plan”
I tested out the online subscription via my laptop, and the first thing the app asked me to do was select a unique learning plan based on why I was using the tool. There are four options to choose from, and each one has specially-tailored lessons that focuses on relevant content:
- Travel: Meeting people, dining out, staying in a hotel, directions, and locations.
- Family: Family relationships, complements, special occasions, and general correspondence.
- Work: Politeness in a business setting, invitations, time, money, materials, and merchandise.
- Basics & Beyond: Everyday items, daily routine, colors, sizes, as well as formal and informal situations.
I went with Basics & Beyond, and the program recommended I aim to practice for around 30 minutes a day, five times a week. From there, I jumped into learning Spanish!
Learning vocab and grammar with image-based lessons
Virtually every exercise you complete with Rosetta Stone includes corresponding images—a lot of them are cringe-worthy stock photos, but that’s neither here nor there. At the very beginning, I started out matching vocabulary words with pictures or vice versa, and as I progressed through the first few sections, the program began introducing verb conjugations and prompting me to pronounce words, as well.
I was surprised at how quickly the program progressed. Within a few days, it had introduced a few dozen words and a wide range of verbs. I’ve used programs like Duolingo in the past, and they tend to really hammer home vocabulary before moving on to new content. Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, rarely gives you the same exercises twice, and it seems to minimize use of the simple flashcard-style learning that many other programs rely heavily on.
As things got harder, I liked that there was always a translation available if I needed help (you simply click on the image), and I appreciated the program doesn’t try to “trick” you with tough questions. Everything is fairly straightforward as long as you’re paying attention.
Practicing speaking and listening
In addition to grammar and vocabulary, Rosetta Stone has sections dedicated solely to pronunciation, speaking, and listening skills—both super important if you want to use the language in real life. During the listening sections, there are a wide range of speakers who will read you words and phrases, helping to acclimate you to hearing the language in different voices.
For the speaking segments, the program’s patented “TruAccent” speech-recognition engine actually assesses your pronunciation, and you can even adjust how strictly it will grade you, which I can see being helpful for those who really want to sound like a native.
Its design needs some work
Overall, I was happy with the online Rosetta Stone program, but I do have a few bones to pick—after all, it’s my job to be critical of products.
First of all, given the high price of this program, I found its design to be outdated. I used Rosetta Stone once before, about 10 years ago, and the interface has barely been updated since then. It still uses the same old, cheesy stock photos, and the app design feels antiquated, especially when you compare it to the fun and colorful illustrations offered by Duolingo.
Second, I had some issues with the voice-recognition program. During the pronunciation sections, it would repeatedly tell me I was wrong—but all I was saying was a single syllable like “o” or “ah.” It’s kind of hard to mess those up. I had to skip several exercises because it just wasn’t working properly.
Finally, I couldn’t figure out how to use the plan outline that appears on the home screen. It doesn’t make it clear which sections you’re supposed to be completing each day, and even after using the program for several weeks, it still only said I completed Day 1 of my plan. I ended up ignoring it completely and working off the page that outlined the different units instead. (While writing this article, I found an image of what this screen is supposed to look like, and mine is definitely missing several key elements.)
Is Rosetta Stone worth it?
After a month of using Rosetta Stone semi-consistently, I was actually quite impressed with the results. I can put together basic phrases about clothing, animals, and everyday activities, and I’m even getting the hang of conjugating verbs. All that, and I’m not even finished with the first unit of learning! Latin American Spanish comes with a whopping 20 units, so I can only imagine how much I’d learn if I worked by way through all of them.
Having used Duolingo in the past, I’m pretty confident in saying that Rosetta Stone gives you a deeper understanding of the language, going into more complex grammar and conjugations. It also seems to do a better job assessing your speaking skills, and there are even live or group tutoring sessions you can participate in if you want to work with a real native speaker.
With that said, programs like Duolingo feel a bit more modern and fun, and they’re also free. If you’re just looking to dabble in a new language, I think a free program would be a better choice, as you’re not committing to anything. On the other hand, if you have an upcoming international trip or are learning a new language for work, Rosetta Stone will help you quickly form a solid foundation in the language, tailored to your particular needs.