The countdown begins. I’ve got just over a week left before I take off for parts unknown. Meantime, I’ve been hammering away at Rosetta Stone, trying to regain at least a tenuous grasp of the Spanish language before I’m completely immersed.
I picked up a three month subscription to the online-only version for $200. Kind of steep for a guy in my um…. state of employment, but the program’s ease of use, effectiveness in teaching, and downright addictiveness have made it well worth its hefty price tag.
Rosetta Stone’s premise is deceptively simple: Instead of breaking down a language systematically through conjunction tables, vocab lists, etc., it forces users to “learn like a baby” by associating words and phrases with images. New concepts, verb tenses and vocabulary are introduced slowly via process of elimination — with absolutely no use of the user’s native language. So what you get is a slow, almost imperceptible increase in complexity, taking you from simple phrases like “The boy eats bread,” to more complex ideas like “When the man was a boy, he ate bread.”
This visual method is highly effective with vocabulary. After nearly a month of using it, when I see a chair, I also see una silla. When I see a glass of water on a table, I see “un vaso de agua sobre una mesa.” But it loses a bit of its lustre when you get into some of the downright confusing verb tenses that characterize the Spanish language. Why, you might ask yourself, are some verbs reflexive (me gusta, se sube, te lavas) while others (corro, nada, caminas) aren’t? Rosetta Stone won’t tell you, and that can be exasperating. For those who want to know the why as well as the how of a language, the program might seem lacking.
But for all its limitations, RS shines where it matters most: It really gets inside your head. Every chapter of the program has audio stories at the level of learning achieved so far, and I’m continually surprised to find that I truly understand them. Instead of actively translating the words and phrases back into English, I’m visualizing them as spoken in Spanish. It’s an almost surreal sensation — something I haven’t experienced before. And it’s what makes Rosetta Stone without doubt the most effective language learning tool I’ve used beyond actual immersion.