Rosetta Stone acquires the rights to endangered languages

Luke Kundl Pinette lkpinette at
Thu Jan 20 18:15:49 UTC 2011

Hi Keith,

I'm of two minds about this.

Now the Rosetta Stone is not a good program.  And I will first confess 
that I've had a vendetta against the Rosetta Stone because I feel that 
its entire marketing strategy, from premise to conclusion consists of 
propagating myths about language instruction:

1. Children learn languages effortlessly.
2. You can learn a language like a child does.
3. You should learn a language like a child does.
4. The Rosetta Stone's program resembles the way a child learns language.
5. Ergo you can learn a language effortlessly using the Rosetta Stone.

Nonetheless it's a very effective marketing strategy.  Most people have 
heard of the Rosetta Stone, whether they study languages or not, and 
quite a lot of them believe it's the best program on the market.  It's 
not the unjustified self-promotion over the competition which bothers me 
(that's the whole point of marketing), but rather the fact that it fits 
too well with the attitude Americans tend to have about language learning.

I've met far too many people who claim that they simply don't have the 
knack for learning languages, as their efforts while they were in 
school, at the local community college, and yes--the Rosetta Stone 
show.  Having studied with some of said people in college, I've observed 
that most students in language classes believe that less than five hours 
a week in a language class or on a computer is sufficient to learn a 
language, and that if they can't they're simply unable to learn a 
language.  In the time I studied Spanish and Arabic in a classroom, I 
could not find one person willing to speak the language outside of class 
except for native speakers.

I've heard praise for a couple other programs (which I won't name), 
however the people who use these programs, myself included, recognize 
that they are a tool and not a teacher.  Rosetta Stone claims to be a 
teacher, and I've never met a person who's tried Rosetta Stone and 
claimed success in it.  It's either a bad program (usually heard from 
someone who eventually learned the language through more conventional 
means) or it's the user's own fault (from someone who hasn't).

Of course the easiest way to learn a language is to immerse yourself, 
but endangered languages tend to be in a situation similar to that I 
experienced in the United States, where native speakers of the target 
language are hard to come by outside of formal classes.  In situations 
like that it's absolutely essential to practice with other non-native 
speakers, which requires both will and resources.  And the question is 
whether the Rosetta Stone's contribution to the latter outweighs any 
detrimental effect on the former.

It's well established in psychology that when people find something hard 
and think that it will always be hard, they tend to give up.  I've long 
suspected that telling hearing a program makes language easy, and then 
finding that it's not would encourage people to give up more easily than 
going into it with the assumption it will be a challenge.  And while 
this would be a bad thing when we're talking Americans learning Arabic, 
it's a great deal worse when we're talking a language on the verge of 

But language is quite different from most of human psychology, and I 
don't think there's been any research on language specifically.  The 
kind of people who buy the Rosetta Stone expecting a 
brain-translator-slug may not be the kind of people who are all that 
determined to learn a language in the first place, and the people who 
use the program to learn an endangered language will go into it with 
different expectations.  They won't be using it because they think it's 
an easy way to attract Italian models, but rather because it's what's 
available.  And I'd expect that these students will be using it as a 
tool and not a teacher.  Language revitalization takes a good deal more 
dedication and savvy than learning one of the world's major tongues.

The Rosetta Stone does record actual native speakers, and in that sense, 
when your options are limited, it would almost certainly be a useful 
tool.  I'm not sure if there are other language companies who have 
endangered languages departments.   Personally I'd like to see pretty 
much any company except the Rosetta Stone doing this, but even despite 
my dislike of the company I'm inclined to say it's probably beneficial 
on the balance.


On 1/21/11 1:50 AM, Keith Johnson wrote:
> Hi Funksters,
> My subject heading is intentionally provocative, but this article 
> raises a couple of
> issues.  Is it a good thing for Rosetta Stone to have an endangered 
> languages
> unit?
> Keith Johnson

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