Rosetta Stone acquires the rights to endangered languages

Luke Kundl Pinette lkpinette at
Fri Jan 21 02:34:14 UTC 2011

So this gets us a bit off topic, but again I of course have to comment.

I don't know about a controlled study.  Before I decided on pragmatics I 
considered doing my thesis on second-language learning strategies, and 
did a fair bit of research to this end, and I didn't see any formal 
paper specifically mentioning language programs.  I'd suspect there's 
something, but these programs are all designed so differently that a 
negative result on one wouldn't apply across programs.

As I said earlier, no program can be a teacher.  Until we design a 
program that can pass the Turing test, even if we imagine a program that 
can hold a conversation, it won't be able to teach subtle distinctions 
in semantics and pragmatics.  Consider the difference in spoken English 
between "Whaddaya doing?" "Whacha doing?" and "Whacha up to?" and 
consider the fact that not only English, but every language has myriads 
of minor distinctions like this.

There's three programs I know by name; I've had all of them recommended 
to me by friends and acquaintances: Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, and Before 
You Know It.  Rosetta Stone as I said was so awful out of the box, 
contradicting everything I knew about language learning and good 
pedagogy that I promptly returned it to my brother (who had been foolish 
enough to buy it and of course never used it).

The two programs I've used are Pimsleur and Before You Know It.  I like 
Pimsleur, it teaches grammar from the outset, and starts the way you 
would start a language class, and teaches you to speak in sentences from 
the start.  I think it would be more useful if you have someone to 
practice with--the scripts it uses are actually pretty good, but if you 
don't have someone it's just rote memorization.  And it's definitely not 
a quick way to learn a language.  And if you know linguistics, and have 
broken down the morphology of the sentence less than ten minutes in, it 
becomes a bit tedious.  It's still something I happily recommend to 
people I know, though I usually suggest they get it from the library, 
unless the site is having a sale (as I think they sometimes do).

On the other hand if you've traveled much to a foreign country without 
speaking the language, you'll know that pointing, money, and a 
calculator will get you pretty far.  A few words, social niceties like 
"hello," "thank you," and "I'm sorry" will get you even further, and if 
you're going right now it's useful to be able to pick which words you 
need.  Before You Know It, which an acquaintance described as a set of 
computerized flashcards, is useful in this respect.  I don't know anyone 
who's used the paid version, or even what that includes, but the free 
version is quite extensive.

My biggest complaint is that the pronunciations given are generally not 
the way the speaker would say it.  It's like if you paid an English 
speaker to ennunciate words, and they said "what-are-you-do-ing" 
"want-to" "ve-ge-ta-ble" and "com-for-ta-ble" every time.  For example 
Koreans don't say "annyeonghaseyo" for "hello," but "anyeseyo" or even 
"yeseyo."  And "thank you" is not "kamsahamnida" but "kamsamnida." 
Nonetheless, these are useful words.  The Koreans understood what I was 
saying, even if they always cracked up when they heard me, and since I 
knew what the words sounded like in context I was able to figure out how 
they were actually pronounced.  But if the paid version contained clips 
of the way people actually say the words, it would be well worth paying for.

I think most of the lesser known products on the market are similar to 
one or the other of these.  I've seen other computer programs which are 
flashcard based, and  I inherited a few German records and tapes from my 
grandfather when he moved to Florida, and they're similar to Pimsleur. 
(Though I like Pimsleur's layout better.)

That said though, when you view language programs as a tool to help 
study, you might as well ask whether there's any data to support the 
view that textbooks in fact aid learning.  It depends on the program, 
the student, and the use the latter makes of the former.


On 1/21/11 3:19 AM, James J. Mischler wrote:
> Wendy and all,
> I wonder if *any* program has been found, via controlled research study, to aid in the learning of a language.  Wendy said that there are programs that are better than Rosetta Stone; what are they? Is there any data to support the view that the program(s) did in fact aid learning?
> Jim Mischler
> Assistant Professor
> Language&  Communication
> Northwestern State University of Louisiana
> Natchitoches, LA
> -----Original Message-----
> From: funknet-bounces at [mailto:funknet-bounces at] On Behalf Of Wendy Smith
> Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:07 PM
> To: Keith Johnson
> Cc: funknet at
> Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] Rosetta Stone acquires the rights to endangered languages
> This is amazing. I tried to use Rosetta Stone to get started in Russian,
> and it was hopeless. They say that their materials are based on child
> acquisition theory and research--therefore direct immersion with no
> direct instruction. As someone who has studied SLA, I found this to be
> patently ridiculous. Adult second language learners do not learn in the
> same way as first language acquirers. In addition, the core of the
> materials are made up of isolated useless sentences such as "the women
> are cooking" and "the boys are not reading." My brother-in-law, who
> works in the biotech industry (in other words, no linguistics training
> or knowledge) insisted to me that if you just do the program, you will
> learn Russian. However, a month after he returned from his trip to Saint
> Petersburg he could not remember the words for "where" or "when." It is
> virtually impossible to "acquire" (as RS states) a language in your car
> or at your computer, but there are other programs that help introduction
> to the language way better than Rosetta Stone.
> On 1/20/2011 8:50 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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