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Your Digital Kids

Learn a Language Like Babies Do

I remember sitting in Dr. Salas’ Spanish class. The sum of the year? I can sing A Las Son Las Mananitas and have a great conversation with anyone who has a cold. (Ojala que se mejore pronto.)

I’ve always felt a little sheepish about comparing a human teacher to a computer, but when it comes to Rosetta Stone’s language immersion software, TOTALe, it’s hard for to give the advantage to Dr. Salas. (Tom Adams, the company’s CEO, would argue that Rosetta Stone was designed as a teaching supplement, and not a replacement, but maybe he didn’t have Dr. Salas.) 

When I met Tom Adams from Rosetta Stone, I was prepared to roll my eyes a bit. I’ve listened to podcasts, visited websites, and made a few other attempts to get my Spanish game back.

Tom explained that the magic sauce behind Rosetta Stone is that it treats you like an infant. Infants learn by matching words to things. Rosetta Stone starts you off with simple pictures and language. But within 10 minutes, just by looking at pictures and hearing words, you’re differentiating between a girl and a boy, girls and boys, men and women, and whether they’re drinking, eating, running, etc. You’ve learned masculine and feminine as well as singular and plural without realizing it.

The second magic ingredient–the one that’s really changed–is the social networking component. In addition to the course, the newest version of the product, Rosetta TOTALe, lets you practice with a live coach, play online language games, meet native speakers, and join groups of people so you can practice at your level. There’s even an Audio Companion that you take with you in the car.

You need a headset and microphone to use to Rosetta Stone. The program checks your pronunciation and inflection. There are scheduled tutorials with native speakers.

The TOTALe approach just adds a level of gravy to an already world-acclaimed way to learn a language. It’s not inexpensive, either. Rosetta Stone costs $999 for a 12-month subscription (regularly priced at $1,100).

Gulp! As much as I’m motivated to improve my Spanish, I have to confess that in the last month I’ve only been able to put in an hour of practice time. That’s an expensive hour! Dr. Salas, on the other hand, was with me every day at 5th period whether I was motivated or not.