THE METHOD THAT DOES NOT WORK
There sure are a lot of e-learning and language software out there. One of the most popular ones is Rosetta Stone. At VCU we spent 20 hours with Rosetta Stone software. Here are some of the things I learned from my experience prior to leaving for Russia – and where Rosetta Stone gets it right and wrong.
Rosetta Stone provides a software that projects audio, visual, and voice recognition technology to help you immerse yourself in language simulations featuring vocabulary, speech pronunciation, and writing exercises. Within these images, you have four options to choose like a multiple-choice test. There are numerous levels of Rosetta Stone, with the All-In-One Package retailing at $399.
WHY IT DOESN’T REALLY WORK
In September 2011, the US Army’s Contract with Rosetta Stone and all of it’s two dozen language programs expired. With no surprise – the contract has not been renewed. Despite being hailed as the most widely used platform for language learning for government, military, business, and travel – it does not work for the simple reason that it cannot provide enough immersion.
COOKIE CUTTER APPROACH
Rosetta Stone applies the same cookie-cutter photo and vocabulary exercises for it’s languages often utilizing environments like dining, housing, outdoors, sports, and etc. However, if you are going to be on the streets of Madrid and you see the picture (pictured right) about men eating, cooking, and etc. You’re cheating yourself and wasting your money.
Real Scenario – Streets of Madrid
It’s a warm summer day and you’re a tourist in Madrid, you turn to the person next to you as you desperately need directions to get to your hotel – or perhaps a performance at an outdoor venue later that evening. Chances are, you won’t begin this conversation with “The Men Are Eating” like an asshole. No, instead you’ll be asking – Where To Go, Where to Turn, How Many Blocks, What is the Address, What Monuments are Nearby, etc.
When you’re on the ground in a foreign country and you’ve prepped by e-learning, the last thing you need to know is how to explain the kid throwing the ball, the cat under the table, or that the dishes are in the dish washer. I think you get the point now.
THE GOOD ABOUT ROSETTA STONE
Perhaps the most notable experience I recall with Rosetta Stone (Russian) was pronunciation. Speech exercises were my favorite, and I do recall a few Russian exercises that delved on traffic direction – The Car is Going Right/Left/Straight. The often tedious, hit-or-miss pronunciation exercises for complex languages like Russian can be quite helpful as the listener can tune into the accent and speech of a native on the other end. In this respect, Rosetta Stone is a pretty good resource.
HOW TO [REALLY] LEARN A LANGUAGE
Real language learning comes from trial and error, conversation, grammar practice and absolute immersion – think of it like learning as a child. Rosetta Stone fails horribly when it comes to explaining grammar rules or complex sentence structures necessary to formulate coherent dialogue when you need it most.
Additionally, Rosetta Stone fails again when it comes to how you utilize the software – You have four boxes, all of them are options, and you can guess. Rosetta Stone treats it like a multiple choice test with options!
When you’re on the ground in Cairo looking for that special restaurant – you won’t have any time to guess. There is no guessing when you’re trying to speak a language in a foreign country. Think to yourself – How often will anyone be holding four index card in front of your face providing you options to communicate? Never.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR YOUR ABROAD
Transactions and Money
Foreigners get taken advantage of all the time. Marked up prices, scams, ATM fees – you name it. More importantly – the most critical point of using money can come down to the grammar and conversation ability to be able to specify quantities of currency, how much needed, even understanding the vocabulary of “exact change” (I once ran into this problem ordering a Kg of apples – it was frustrating)
Having an ability to speak the language regarding price amounts may allow you to haggle the price – which in any case, you should always do. In some countries or cultures, the idea of overcharging or scamming a foreigner is not considered wrong – but moreso the culture of business.
Directions and Logistics
You need to fully understand how to say where you need to go – to read the street signs in the native language, and to reconfigure your sense of direction in a new place. This means establishing landmarks – finding unique monuments, buildings, or areas to make a mental note of the city geography to help you establish your sense of direction. If you’re in a study abroad or traveling with a group – you can be sure that you’ll need to be prepared to get lost from your group or to effectively direct large amounts of people at a moments notice.
Timezones and Scheduling
Depending on your reason for traveling, you can be sure the time zones will change, and in some cultures like Russia – the day is represented by four period of time, each of them ending and beginning at the exact set hour. Even Eastern cultures have different calendars and holidays take into account as well. Knowing the names of the days, months, and year (in all forms of grammar, most importantly) is vital to booking flights or trains, or even asking someone out for coffee.