Rosetta Stone is one of the biggest names in language learning. It has achieved this position through offering good value and highly effective lessons via either downloadable software or - more recently - an app for smartphones and tablets. It works by using total immersion in the language - whether that's Spanish, French, Italian, or any of the 24 languages it provides. We like Rosetta Stone and it quite rightly tops our lists of the best learn Spanish software and best learn French software, even though it has a higher cost than most other apps. When you look at the results, though, it's clear that you absolutely get what you pay for with Rosetta Stone.
Rosetta Stone review: Method and features
Whether you're using the app or computer software, the interface is very straightforward, and the user is exposed to a series of images which they have to match with text in the language they are learning. The whole course is in French, Spanish, or whatever language you are looking to learn: there is no English unless you're actually using the Rosetta Stone English course. This forces you to absorb the language in context, as if you’ve suddenly found yourself surrounded by native speakers and you're having to piece together and describe scenes by pointing, typing, or speaking. By constantly repeating these images and phrases the language is better integrated into your memory and, as you progress through your lessons, you can make the speech recognition more precise, allowing you to fine tune phrasing.
In this respect, Rosetta Stone is also particularly useful when you’re learning a language with a different alphabet because it will abandon the English alphabet right from the start. You’re left with no option but to think with the language and this, we’d argue, is its unique selling point. It can be jarring, however, if you dive straight into something like Russian or Japanese, and there are resources to help you get to grips with the new letters and symbols you encounter.
Each unit in Rosetta Stone has four core lessons that use flashcards to teach image-word associations. In these exercises, you match images to their corresponding words and phrases. The first few lessons are easy enough, teaching you basic words like "boy," "girl," "eat" and "drink." You use the words and phrases from the core lessons in the grammar, reading, writing and pronunciation modules. This linear learning path creates a solid foundation to build on with more complex concepts in later units.
Rosetta Stone has the most comprehensive progress tracking tools of any language teaching program we reviewed. It breaks down your performance in each core lesson by your pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing and speaking. This way, you know exactly what your strengths are and where you need to improve. If your pronunciation or speaking need improvement, a 30-minute session with a live tutor could be a great way to quickly catch up.
This is one of only two programs we tested that offer virtual face-to-face lessons with a live tutor, the other program being Pimsleur. It costs extra to work with Rosetta Stone’s live tutors when you purchase the consumer-level subscription, but it comes standard with the enterprise and business subscriptions. You don't often get 1-1 tuition here, and will often share sessions with a small number of other users.
The program’s speaking exercises use TruAccent speech recognition technology to compare your pronunciation to that of a pool of thousands of native speakers. It gives you instant feedback, and if you pronounce the word wrong, the software repeats the exercise until you get it right. In Rosetta Stone, the playback of the native speaker’s voice sounds more authentic and is more useable than the recordings in the other programs we tested. The only downside here is that the voice recognition - although improved in more recent versions of Rosetta Stone - still isn't as accurate as it needs to be. We noticed it, and it has been the issue most users have picked up on too. Although this language learning app is, to an extent, at the mercy of the tech it is installed on, there's definitely a trend to suggest that improvements do need to be made so that user speech and pronunciation is better picked up.
If you have a hard time pronouncing common words or phrases, Rosetta Stone’s phrasebook is a good resource for practicing outside the prescribed lesson plan. It has a list of hundreds of common phrases to help you speak with a waiter, find the subway or navigate the airport. The phrasebook plays an example of a native speaker saying the phrase, and you can record your voice and compare the two. So, the tools for improvement are there, even if the tech sometimes gets in the way.
Finally, there are an assortment of quizzes and games that you can play alone or with other users to help ensure all those words and phrases are permanently locked in.
Rosetta Stone review: Is it good for beginners?
Yes, Rosetta Stone is perfect for beginners. While you may feel a little lost at first, the intuitive user interface will guide you through early lessons. After that, the repetition of tests and questions will allow you to get the basics of language and grammar as polished as possible. The step up to intermediate is gradual, and there's no sudden spike like we see with other apps.
More advanced users will likely find Rosetta Stone's use of repetition frustrating, as it is primarily designed for beginners, intermediates, and those who don't already know a variety of similar languages.
If you are under-confident with your native language, you can use one of the best online grammar checkers to make sure everything is clear.
Rosetta Stone review: App
One of Rosetta Stone’s standout features is its companion mobile app. The mobile app has the same lessons and functionality as the desktop application, but the company updates the mobile version with new content and features more frequently.
The app is convenient for people who enjoy learning on the go because you can download fully functional, interactive lessons to your mobile device and access them without using Wi-Fi or cellular data. Other programs we tested only let you download audio versions of their lessons to listen to when you don’t have internet access.
Rosetta Stone review: Cost
Firstly, you can get a free trail of Rosetta Stone, which last for three days as standard. This gives you a taste so you can determine whether the learning style is for you. Following that, the most cost-effective way of learning via Rosetta Stone is by purchasing a Lifetime bundle for $299 (although it is almost always on sale for $199). This unlocks immediate access to all levels of Rosetta Stone, all in one go, with no expiration. You'll get all updates and new versions of the software if you're a lifetime member, although this is only for a single language. Just for the comparison, a three-month subscription will cost $11.99 per month, a 12 month sub costs $7.99 per month, and a 24 month service is $5.99 per month.
We recommend the lifetime bundle, if you're serious about learning the language, but would highly recommend you double-check that it is at the frequently reduced price of $199. If cost is a real issue, something like Duolingo is a better option for you.
Should you try Rosetta Stone?
Rosetta Stone is the best Spanish learning software we tested, although it is imperfect. Its lessons cover all the important language subjects, and it is easy to use, although it is let down by less-than-precise voice recognition. The software’s mobile app is also the best we tested, and it allows you to complete full lessons from anywhere, regardless of whether you have access to Wi-Fi or cellular data. The cost of a subscription may seem expensive, but it is a good option for people who want to become fluent quickly. It's aimed at those looking to start a language from new, or to pick up at intermediate level - the repetitive nature of the learning will inevitably frustrate more advanced users. However, this is the most effective technique that we've tested, and that's why we recommend Rosetta Stone above others.