Rosetta Stone for Lakota – a lot of false promises

Rosetta Stone for Lakota – a lot of false promises

Postby Jan » January 30th, 2012, 10:57 am

Rosetta Stone – a lot of false promises for a lot of money

I have been receiving e-mails and private messages from people who want to know my opinion about Rosetta Stone and whether or not I think it would be useful to have a Lakota version of the product. I am making this post as an attempt to answer this once and for all.

Rosetta Stone is one of the most expensive language learning products in the world, if not the most expensive one. The company spends massive amounts of funds on advertisement and as a result it has succeeded in convincing many people that by using their product they can learn a language in a “fun and easy way.”

Several years ago I received a review copy of the product and I went through it. I also read numerous reviews available on the internet and in various journals on language teaching.

Here is a summary of the reasons why I do not think that Rosetta Stone is a good investment.

No single material or method can make you a fluent second language speaker

Every language teaching material has its advantages and its limitations. For this reason one can hardly learn a language using a single material. If you want to learn a language, you always have to use a variety of materials and approaches. You will have to focus on all four language skills: reading, writing, listening comprehension and speaking. You will need to create balance between your focus on accuracy and practicing fluency. Another important part of language learning is keeping your motivation high. If you are highly motivated, then you will find ways and materials to help you learn. If you are not motivated, on the other hand, then no product will help you learn, no material will solve your primary obstacle – lack of motivation. If you have inner motivation to learn you will surely pick up something from Rosetta Stone, but as a motivated learner you can learn much more with products and methods that are significantly more effective and at the same time less expensive or even free.

Easy way to learn?

Rosetta Stone advertisements basically claim that you can learn a language effortlessly. Based on my own experience in learning languages as well as on research in second language acquisition I do not believe this is possible, I do not think there is a silver bullet or a magic pill that you will swallow and then wake up the next day knowing a second language. I think that Rosetta Stone mostly appeals to people who think there is a magical method that can make them learn a language effortlessly. Do you really think that a computer program can replace hours of exposure to language through reading, listening to and speaking with native speakers?

Is learning a language with RS fun?

If you are motivated, learning a language can be lots of fun, especially if you are creative about it and find learning strategies that you personally find entertaining. But if you are not motivated it is unlikely you will enjoy hours of clicking your mouse in multiple option type of activities. Which is what Rosetta Stone is all about.

One template for all languages

Rosetta Stone has one template and applies it to all languages. This is hugely problematic, because languages differ from each other dramatically. When you learn German and other European languages you will need to pay much attention to learning grammatical gender. When learning English as a second language one doesn’t have to worry about gender but has to deal with a lot of tenses and phrasal verbs. In learning Finnish you will have to spend much time learning 14 nominal cases. When learning Lakota you have to become familiar with complex verb conjugation and with ways of expressing the relationship between the grammatical object and subject inside the verb. The one template approach of the Rosetta Stone software cannot effectively address these differences and it is therefore doomed to fail in teaching specific languages.

Culturally not relevant

The universal template causes another problem and that is the lack of cultural relevance. The sets of sentences, pictures and situations introduced in the software will work for some European languages, but will not apply to every language. An instructor of Russian wrote a review explaining how the photographs of American households used in the software were completely irrelevant for learning Russian. Do you really think the template captures the important nuances of Lakota culture?

It is NOT immersion

The Rosetta Stone company calls their product a “dynamic immersion”. Let’s clarify what immersion is: If you travel to a country where people speak a language different from your first language and if you stay there for a while and have no one to translate for you, then you are immersed in the target language and you will have to communicate on your own. This is indeed one of the most effective ways of learning a new language (although research shows that while such cultural immersion is effective for achieving fluency in a second language, it is usually not enough for developing accuracy).
If you go to a school where all the instruction and communication takes place in a language different from your first language then you are attending an immersion school.
Neither of these two types of immersion can be emulated by a computer program, and most other things that claim to be immersion or immersive methods, are not.

Adults cannot learn like children

Rosetta Stone claims that we can learn like children do during natural language acquisition. But adults are not children, and a second language cannot be acquired in the same ways as the first language. As adults, we have many disadvantages when compared with children learning their first language, but we also have some advantages, such as highly developed cognitive skills which can be put to use in second language learning. The Rosetta Stone program fails to recognize this and instead gives false promises based on false assumptions.

Children do not learn like adults

I have heard a number of school administrators at reservation schools say that it would be great if there was a Lakota version of the Rosetta Stone program for their students. Few things can be worse than putting a class of children in front of a computer and believing that a piece of software can replace an experienced and well trained fluently speaking teachers. Children, especially at elementary school level, are generally unmotivated learners, their interest in a subject is largely determined by the personality of the teacher and the motivational part of the class. Many think that because children today are into technology they will be into language software like Rosetta Stone. In reality, they will very quickly grow bored of clicking on multiple choice options.

It is very elementary and lacks real substance

The level 1 to 3 of Rosetta Stone program teach less than 2,000 words and very little in terms of sentence structure or useful everyday phrases. That is not a whole lot for $550.

It is not a cost effective solution for language revitalization

For a tribe to purchase the template the R.S. company asks over $445,000 for the first three levels. And this is only the cost of the empty template without the language component. At the same time the agreement would provide the tribe with only 1,000 packages and any additional packages would have to be purchased by each students for around $500 each. These are large sums of funds invested into feeding a couple thousand words into a computer program.
Tribal representatives and educators should think twice before they make such major investment into a product whose efficiency is doubtful, to say the least.

The situation of the Lakota language is too urgent so we cannot afford to get distracted by marketing tricks that offer "silver bullet" style solutions for a problem as complex and difficult as Native American language revitalization. The languages require investment in infrastructures that support their long-term survival, such as creating quality college programs that would provide qualified training for language teachers, establishing literacy and building local capacity for quality language instructions at all levels of reservations schools.

Even the U.S. Army no longer likes Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone got a lot of mileage and funds from the fact that the product was utilized by the U.S. army for several years after 9/11. The government has invested millions of dollars in Rosetta Stone, with special programs for various departments. However, in 2008 the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language (established by the Department of Defense in 2004) published a study that questioned the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone, stating that it failed to incorporate critical language-learning principles. And finally in 2011 Rosetta Stone lost one of its biggest contracts: the U.S. Army. This was because experts on second language acquisition decided that Rosetta Stone was not an effective investment for the sake of learning languages.


There are many reviews of Rosetta Stone on the internet, some written by linguists and teachers and some created by language students. Before you decide to support such idea as Rosetta Stone in Lakota, you should read a number of them.

Here is one that I suggest: ... settastone
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Re: Rosetta Stone for Lakota – a lot of false promises

Postby Kim » February 27th, 2012, 10:40 am

Rosetta Stone is just the latest in a long line of supposed "magic bullets" for language teaching and learning. As old as language itself, and the necessity of communicating across linguistic and cultural barriers, are the quick-fix methods that supposedly give learners the key to mastery in a few short, easy lessons. Certainly, such methods existed in the European Middle Ages, as for example, enterprising Englishmen saw their countrymen's interest in learning French, which conferred social standing and usually economic advantage on its speakers. Of course, in that circumstance, everyone wanted to speak French! So "manières de langage" proliferated, all promising a quick and easy way to learn French, in a short time, and without much effort. In the 20th century, just after World War II, and on into the seventies and eighties, Berlitz marketed itself with similar slogans. Learners, according to Berlitz's marketing pitch, could spend a few hours each week for a few months only, and become fluent! Rosetta Stone is therefore only the latest in a long line of products that are marketed by using the notion that their authors have found a quick, easy way to teach language.

Nothing could be further from the truth, unfortunately. Would that there were a "magic bullet;" certainly, many of us would profit from that possibility to learn quickly and without much effort many other languages! However, language learning is a long process, demanding years of effort. To become truly fluent, one must put in the time; there is no other way. The Berlitzes and the Rosetta Stones of this world can teach some language, true, but this is generally at the survival level. People can learn, through these methods, some basic words and phrases that will take them through specific situations. For example, one can learn to ask for specific foods when hungry, or tell someone where they hurt when injured. So, using these methods, one only learns to understand a very limited range of sentences. When the conversation goes beyond the memorized and drilled patterns of the Berlitzes and Rosetta Stones, then comprehension falters and ceases very quickly. In other words, these methods sell language for limited tourist interaction. People who go to France -- or to Lakota country! -- can learn to say "Hello, how are you? Where is the hotel?" -- but then, when faced with a real and complex conversation with a speaker, they cannot continue.

In conclusion, while tourists traveling to a foreign country for a limited amount of time may be content with rudimetary, survival levels of achievement in language, this is, on the other hand, not what we want for Lakota. It is certainly not enough when we think of language revival, for non-speakers to use on a daily basis. What we want, then, when we say we want to learn Lakota, is that we want to be fluent, and talk with speakers in the same way we would talk in English: That is, we should be able to talk about anything and everything, using the complex structures and full range of vocabulary that we would in any language we speak on a daily basis. There is no short, simple way to do this. Language learning takes time -- years of time -- dedication and perserverance. But in the end, those with the will to continue, those who put in the time, will have the considerable reward of being able to talk -- really talk, on all subjects and with all speakers -- in this beautiful Lakota language.
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Re: Rosetta Stone for Lakota – a lot of false promises

Postby Jan » October 27th, 2012, 2:38 pm

In an article published today (Saturday October 27, 2012), I read the following statement relevant to my review of Rosetta Stone given at the top of this topic. Here is the statement:

After September 11, 2001, the U.S. government experienced a dramatic shift in priorities. To help meet its language-learning goals, in 2003 the Department of Defense established the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language. Since then, the government has invested millions of dollars in Rosetta Stone, with special programs for various departments. But in 2008, the Maryland center published a study that questioned the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone, stating that it failed to incorporate critical language-learning principles. Last year, Rosetta Stone lost one of its biggest contracts: the U.S. Army.
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Re: Rosetta Stone for Lakota – a lot of false promises

Postby BlackPine » May 1st, 2013, 10:29 am

For a few months I managed a program that gave students of different languages access to Rosetta Stone. As the system administrator, I could track usage by everybody who was enrolled. Most commonly, I saw that people would play with it for an hour or two the first time, less the second time. Usage quickly dropped off to zero in most cases. Thus I think one of the reasons RS does not succeed is that it fails to motivate learners.

I have run into people who said they learned a lot from Rosetta Stone. It is good at drilling vocabulary, and the use of pictures (even though not culturally appropriate) helps to fix words and phrases in people's minds. But with no explanation of grammar patterns, there is no way that an adult learner is going to reach the point of independently forming correct sentences or even comprehensible ones.Things that follow a single pattern in one language will require different patterns in another, and for reasons that most people will never be able to figure out on their own.

Launching a Lakota Rosetta Stone would provide a bit of work for some native speakers in translating, recording, and so on. It would be some small help to those who can afford the package and use it together with other resources to help them along. But it will never be a way for anyone to learn the language beyond beginner's steps.

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