Rosetta Stone TOTALe combines the company"s signature instruction methods with the social web. It"s incredibly comprehensive, but is it worth $999?

Rosetta Stone"s lademo iteration of its popular language learning software, TOTALe, crossbreeds the company"s signature instruction methods with the social web. It"s incredibly comprehensive sầu, but whether the $999 sticker price gives you goosebumps or a heart attack depends on how you look at it.

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If you"ve sầu ever considered learning a new language, there"s no doubt you"ve noticed Rosetta Stone"s iconic yellow boxes grouped at a kiosk at your local mall. For years, the company has pushed its unique approach to lớn language instruction, eschewing classic methods that plainly outline sentence structure và verb conjugation for "immersion" that allows you lớn parachute inlớn the language without knowing its rules to lớn learn with the help of visual & aural sida.

If you"ve ever learned a foreign language, you know that immersion -- including conversing with others -- is a much different experience than working from a classroom textbook. Rosetta Stone introduced TOTALe (toe-taal-eee) in late July 2009 lớn take advantage of the increasing networking of computers & people and inject a bit of Skype-lượt thích conferencing lớn its otherwise straightforward, 1:1 software.

In another move mirroring the lathử nghiệm công nghệ trends, the software is based entirely online. That"s right -- the yellow box is no longer needed.

A laông chồng of box aside, TOTALe costs $999, an astounding figure for anyone used khổng lồ purchasing consumer software but a relative sầu value for anyone considering a semester-long college-level language course. It also doubles the price of the company"s top offering; the former flagship box (three levels on CD, no online components) costs $549.

The company says the experience is comparable lớn a local language immersion school. So I spent a few months with the Italian version lớn find out.

(Why Italian, by the way? Like many Americans, the language of my immigrant ancestors was lost khổng lồ assimilation. Here was a chance lớn give sầu it a go.)


The first thing you"ll notice is that Rosetta Stone barely gives you any instructions. It just hurls you headfirst into lớn learning. The entire experience takes place in the browser -- meaning you can learn anywhere, anytime -- & the software tracks your progress automatically. It"s surprisingly snappy for a web-based endeavor.

The first screen prompted me with separate slides of a man & woman eating and drinking. You must pichồng out the panes that correspond lớn the prompt. That"s the first thing you"ll notice about Rosetta Stone: it thrives on trial-and-error. This is not your typical language instruction course in college -- Rosetta Stone wants you khổng lồ guess incorrectly, và there"s no timer lớn worry about. Like a child learning words for the first time, it"s those mistakes that propel your progress forward.

Luckily -- or khổng lồ my detriment, with consideration to my point above -- I was a French major in college, so the words were similar khổng lồ those I already knew. After choosing the correct panes (it moves them around so you can"t play the elimination game), the software makes you repeat them verbally, using a microphone headset included in the box.

Consecutive slides switch the approach up. Sometimes you use visual cues, sometimes you use aural clues & sometimes you must speak, using your microphone headmix, instead of select with your mouse.

Here"s where I found a bit of a communication breakdown: using the Rosetta Stone-provided headphối, some of my pronunciation attempts were not recognized correctly by the software, which marked them wrong, much lớn my frustration.

(Before you suggest that I simply spoke with a poor accent, I verified my attempts in person with an Italian-speaking friend, who said I spoke them correctly.)

In several cases, I had to say words with theatrical emphasis -- placing undue stress on the "ci" in "cucina," or the "nuo" in "nuotano," for example. Occasionally I had to shout a little for the software khổng lồ register, much to lớn the amusement of my Italian-speaking friover in the room adjacent khổng lồ the room I was working in.

My pronunciation frustrations came to lớn a froth when I had khổng lồ shout the "pa" in "palla" -- Italian for "ball" -- six times lớn move sầu on.

For the most part, the images Rosetta Stone uses as visual cues were clear, but sometimes the "real-world" photos weren"t clear as to lớn what they were signifying. For example, one slide asked for me to lớn find the "me" in the phokhổng lồ, but the person shown pointing khổng lồ themselves was a subtle detail.

Overall, the software is a breeze khổng lồ use, and flows evenly as you make progress, using inference & intuition as a guide. It introduces new words và constructions by keeping just-learned words constant.

The first unit in the first lesson progresses like so:

First a core lesson of basic words (could be nouns, verbs or pronouns); Then pronunciation (using microphone); Then speaking (with words in front, then without, then answer conversation without; using microphone); Then a short reviews of everything in mixed but ordered fashion; Then reading (more exacting pronunciation: an Italian example would be "chi" và "ci," which in English are pronounced the opposite); Then writing (typing words out onlớn a screen, lượt thích an e-mail); Then a "milestone" narrative sầu slideshow Đánh Giá of the entire unit, which I found very difficult.

As you can see, Rosetta Stone does a good job ensuring you Đánh Giá what you learned. Each section itself uses repetition khổng lồ reinforce learning, there are nhận xét sections built inlớn the overall progression, and best of all, the software automatically prompts you with a five-minute "adaptive sầu review" if you"ve sầu spent more than a week away from the software, which I found quite helpful.

One nit-picky thing about the "writing" section: the software marks your response wrong if you don"t capitalize the first word of a phrase, even if it"s not a proper noun. Like my difficulties getting TOTALe to register my spoken words, it"s an aggravating little thing that impedes the learning of the language by requiring you to spend time learning the software.


After all that, you"re faced with the TOTALe portion of the software: the in-person "Studio" portion, in which you work with an actual language instructor. (There"s one per unit, or four per lesson, for a total of twelve.)

Here"s where the extra $500 comes inlớn play. You have exactly 50 minutes with a native-language instructor -- in person, via videoconference -- to Đánh Giá what you"ve learned & even go a little off topic a bit. In my lesson, I reviewed colors, pronouns, basic sentence structure (I + verb, you + verb, he or she + verb) và numbers.

Unfortunately for myself & Giuliana, my instructor, I had waited several weeks after I completed my basic training to leap inkhổng lồ the tête-à-tête Studio portion. Having forgotten most of what I had learned, I struggled lớn come up with words and phrases I knew I had learned earlier. Giuliana gave me her best shot with a smile, using tools and on-screen cues (arrows, little text boxes to write out what she meant) lớn prompt me. The experience is just like trying to ask someone for directions in another language: there"s a lot of hand waving, a lot of impromptu comparisons made, & a whole lot of repetition. It was a little embarrassing, but mostly fun, và the nội dung often moved beyond the slides lớn personal interactions, just lượt thích a classroom ("I am wearing a blue shirt," "I am wearing two blaông xã socks," "I have sầu a gray cát," "There are no horses in Thành Phố New York.")

I had 50 minutes with Giuliamãng cầu. Excluding the ability lớn retake that session, multiply that by the twelve scheduled studio sessions, & you"ve sầu got yourself 600 minutes with native speaking instructors. It"s lượt thích having a private tutor, và it"s the best thing you can get without hanging out with native sầu speakers, a particularly important thing for those of us who live outside major urban centers.

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"Rosetta World" is an online social game environment that exists to lớn take what you know và move it into practice. The section provides interactive games to play in three categories: solo, duo và "simbio," which is an opt-in, crowd-sourced way to learn with others. Imagine your favorite online Texas Hold "Em poker game turned inlớn an actual language game with other learners.

I took the solo game "Gambo" -- Bingo, basically, for words and phrases you know -- for a whirl khổng lồ see if I could catch recognizable words in dictation. I had fun with it, và did fairly well based on what I had learned in Lesson One, Unit One. You can see it in action above. (There are several other games to lớn play.)


It"s interesting lớn note that Rosetta Stone never gives you the translation of the words you just learned. Instead of linking the new language"s words with your current language, it liên kết them to visual and aural cues -- just lượt thích real life.

The Rosetta Stone software is incredibly comprehensive sầu. To give sầu you a sense of what you"re buying with this software, I completed Level One, Unit One, which consisted of two hours & 10 minutes of instruction divided inlớn four core lessons (themselves divided into lớn 30 sub-lessons) and a final milestone Đánh Giá.

That"s just one unit in one màn chơi. Each cấp độ has four units, & TOTALe includes three levels" worth of instruction.

In practice, it took me about a week or two lớn finish the unit, working the instruction around my personal schedule. It"s also not easy to lớn simply whiz through the units -- lượt thích an intensive sầu class, it becomes exhausting enough after a point to need to lớn give your brain some fresh air.

You can go bachồng in and reuse all features in TOTALe for a year, và the software allows you khổng lồ reset your scores & start over with a fresh "install," if you will, as many times as you lượt thích. But after a year, your $999 expires, which is disappointing but understandable as software moves toward a subscription pay mã sản phẩm.

Rosetta Stone TOTALe works on all major browsers, for Mac or PC.


A four-digit price tag is a major hurdle with Rosetta Stone"s TOTALe, but it all depends on how you look at it. Compared to lớn the price of your antivirus software, TOTALe"s $999 retail price is enough lớn make you choke on your lunch.

But compared khổng lồ a college-level language instruction course -- which requires you khổng lồ be in the same place, same time, every week, in person, with other people -- it"s a relative sầu deal, particularly for executives who want khổng lồ learn a language on the fly or for people who want to lớn learn a new language as a hobby.

The problem with such freedom, of course, is that you need to have sầu the personal conviction to lớn keep going. I found myself drifting away from Rosetta Stone và getting wrapped up in my other weekly activities, và I wish the company had been more persistent -- pestering, even -- in e-mailing me with reminders. (Rosetta Stone e-mails you a congratulations when you complete the first unit.)

A note about the Rosetta Stone method: The "immersion inference" way of instruction is a great way to keep your native language out of the equation, but in doing so, it mixes new nouns and verbs và endings all at once in batches without teaching you the rules outright. That means you don"t necessarily know how to lớn build sentences và speak with people in the early stages -- your knowledge base is as patchy as a newborn"s hair at that point -- which can be frustrating.

What that means is that the software"s "natural" way of learning is more difficult khổng lồ takeaway in incomplete pieces. Compared khổng lồ traditional language instruction -- where you learn structure & syntax and essential verbs và endings first to open more doors into lớn new nouns, verbs & tenses -- learning things in piecemeal meant I couldn"t really speak properly immediately.

For example, during my Studio session, I couldn"t speak in complete sentences -- just words & phrases. So instead of "The man is wearing a blue shirt," I could only say "Man? Blue shirt." It"s almost as if traditional language instruction is designed so that you can say a complete sentence no matter how little (or much) you"ve learned. Even after an entire unit with Rosetta Stone, I still don"t underst& the verbs "to lớn be" or "to lớn wear" or "to lớn read" fully -- I have only partial knowledge of their many forms.

I vì understvà Rosetta Stone is designed to lớn teach language differently. However, that delayed gratification may frustrate some who are looking for quicker results from such expensive sầu software.


There"s a reason the Rosetta Stone box is yellow. It"s the gold standard of language learning, and it puts inkhổng lồ question the several hundred dollars per credit I spent learning French in my undergrad years. TOTALe ups the ante by allowing significant, real-time interaction with native speakers from the comfort of your own home.

Rosetta Stone isn"t the only game in town, either: Smaller outfits such as Livemocha, BabalaH, Palabea, Busuu & Learn10 are also making online plays for your interest.

But is TOTALe worth the extra $500 over Rosetta Stone"s traditional offerings? That"s a more difficult Hotline khổng lồ make. The lion"s cốt truyện of the software only costs $500 if bought à la carte. With a $500 nâng cấp, you are essentially paying for human help và semiprivate lessons.

Is it worth the extra? For some, the doubled price tag won"t feel worth it. Some folks will rather just have the language software and go it on their own.

But for others, $500 is a small price khổng lồ pay for several hours of face-to-face interaction with a native-language instructor.

Have I learned enough to swap stories with my extended family members in Italy? Not yet, but I"m working on it. With a slichồng, intuitive web interface, Rosetta Stone TOTALe helped me have more fun learning a language than I had during college. And that"s pretty great.

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