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Studying Spanish with Rosetta Stone

Learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone — Ten years of travel seems to have meant ten years of foreign language study. Sometimes I study language obsessively — like in China — and sometime not so obsessively — like in Turkey — but through it all, everyday, I have found myself faced with teetering, tottering, and learning [...]

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Learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone —

Ten years of travel seems to have meant ten years of foreign language study. Sometimes I study language obsessively — like in China — and sometime not so obsessively — like in Turkey — but through it all, everyday, I have found myself faced with teetering, tottering, and learning foreign language.

I usually just keep a little notebook with new word lists in my pocket, and intermittently throughout the day I pull it out and study the collection of haphazardly recorded new sounds, in hope that they will someday obtain meaning and get lodged somewhere in my head.

I had never studied language with a computer program before. I have always opted for the archaic dance of the language textbook, or the uncontrolled flow of person to person interaction.

“What did you say? What does that mean?” [write, write, write]

But when my wife Chaya suggested that I try out her family’s Rosetta Stone Spanish program, I could not turn down the offer. I have now been fully absorbed into the computer world through publishing this website, I may as well go another step further and study language through the PC screen as well.

Introduction to Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone Spanish

Rosetta Stone Spanish

“Wade, my family has a computer program that teaches Spanish,” my wife Chaya brought up one evening as I was crawling through a copy of “Learn Spanish in Three Months.”

In lieu of continuing to beat myself to death with the text book style of language learning yet again, I put the book down and picked up a computer.

The program was called Rosetta Stone.

“It teaches language on the same precepts as the Peace Corps instruction,” my wife added to increase my enthusiasm, for it is well known that the language instruction that the Peace Corps offers is exceptional.

I tried it.

There was a variety of exercises to choose from that stressed making connections between images and phrases, rather than the conventional English word = Spanish word style of language teaching. The instruction was completely in Spanish even at the lowest levels, and the teaching aids relied on visuals and audio files rather than writing.

There did not seem to be any vocabulary sheets, no grammatical brow beating, or any other conventional tactics of instruction.

It soon became clear that the Rosetta Stone method of learning language was suppose to be 100% exposure based — a system that mimics the way a person is thought to have learned their mother tongue. Rosetta Stone then takes this system and attempts to apply it as a way to a learn a foreign language.

Rosetta Stone Lesson

Rosetta Stone Lesson

Many of the exercises consisted of four pictures showing four different scenes projected on the computer screen simultaneously. I would then push a button and hear a sentence in Spanish, and I then would have to click on the picture that the sentence described. These sentences can be played with audio alone or with audio accompanied with writing.

It was fun. Chaya and I played it like a game, though I knew that once I began associating Spanish sounds to images rather than English I was on the Road to really learning the language.

As the existentialists say: “The word killed the thing.”

How to Learn a Foreign Language

Learning language through the medium of the image rather than the word is to cut out the translating middle man and to really feel the language.

I also discovered quickly that I was able to choose the correct picture without understanding all of the words in a sentence. It is my impression that this was how to the program was intended to function:

It became clear that this compact disk shoved into a computer was trying hard to teach me Spanish “naturally.” The whole deal seemed pretty ironic — a computer program teaching me Spanish naturally while sitting in a Jewish household in Bangor Maine–  but it seems to work.

When learning a language in a foreign country in actual circumstances you are often not able to request each person that you talk with to define each word you cannot understand. You quickly find that you begin understanding what is spoken to you based upon “feel” and “automatic assumptions” rather than direct translation.

You do not need understand every word in a foreign language to be able to speak and understand it. In fact, I have noticed that many travelers who seem to speak a foreign language fluently often do not understand a quarter of the words that are spoken.

This is natural. This is the normal way of learning language. By trusting that you will eventually come to understand what is spoken, you are open to understanding.

Rather, learning how to “feel out” meaning is absolutely imperative to learning a language. You must allow the unfamiliar words to drift in on the same boat as the words you know by heart. To learn a language, you need to think that you understand it, and have the confidence to feel out the meaning of phrases without knowing all of the words.

Learning language like this opens you up to potentially looking like a bumbling fool when your “educated assumptions” do not pan out in reality, though, in my opinion, making mistakes is the best — nay, the only — way to successfully learn a foreign language.

Rosetta Stone System for Learning Language

The Rosetta Stone program seems to be bent on luring me into making mistakes,  and then it drills these misinterpreted phrases into me by showing them in various contexts — with various images. So I eventually understand what the word mean through a variety of photographs.

For example:

A lesson could have a sentence that says something in Spanish  like “The horse runs fast,” and then there will be a photo of a horse running fast with three other slightly related images. If this lesson was presented just like this, it would not be very revolutionary as it would only rely on route memorization of sounds to teach. But it does not leave this phrase like this, as the next set of photos may have a picture of a man running fast and the sentence will be “The man runs fast.” Therefore, you are able to determine the meaning of  “runs fast” purely through context and without a vocabulary sheet.

Like this you are able to learn a language with “real life” visual images (the photos) to define words and phrases rather than words from a book.

Study Languages with Rosetta Stone

It is my impression that the Rosetta Stone system takes aim at putting this contextual method of learning language into a prepackaged and reusable container. It cannot come close to matching real experience, though it mimics the visual ques of such reasonably well.

Humans have the tendency to think logically in words, but to learn a foreign language, it is my impression that you must learn it from the gut — the body — rather than from your head. By holding yourself up on every decimal word and phrase, you put up road blocks to your learning. To learn a language, you must let it happen: you must remove cerebral logic and let the words move you.

Though I must say that I still make word lists of the phrases that I find unfamiliar and books to look up unfamiliar sentence constructions as I use the Rosetta Stone program. Like this, I use the Rosetta Stone program as a good way to practice listening and responding, as well as as an indicator of what I do not yet understand.

So I play Rosetta Stone while taking notes, and, in this way, combine my new and old methods. I do not know if this is seen as sluicing the integrity away from the program, but this combined strategy is what works best for me.

I still can not part with my word lists. I suppose I have walked too far in one direction to turn around completely.

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

Buy Rosetta Stone Spanish Lessons

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Filed under: Language

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

5 comments… add one

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  • Helen Ross October 16, 2009, 3:39 pm

    I was glad to read your review of rosetta..before I put out the $ I wanted
    to get an idea of how it teaches. Thanks for enlightening me and helping
    me make my decision.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com October 18, 2009, 10:43 pm

      Thanks Helen,

      I think the best way to use the Rosetta Stone program is to use it as only on part of your language education. It is a good program, but I still make word lists of the unfamiliar phrases and stuff like that. I am sure that a person could 100% learn a language from the Rosetta Stone system though.


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  • Southwest Travel Club February 12, 2010, 11:15 pm

    I am always surprised at the number of cocky people who travel to a country and believe that since they are a tourist, they should not have any knowledge of the customs or languages. I was very happy to see a product like rosetta stone that teaches “immersion” as opposed to dry repetition. Our brains are definitely more prone to learning this way. Glad to hear your review and personal experiences. Thank you for sharing.

    Link Reply
  • Rosetta stone April 20, 2010, 3:13 am

    Rosetta Stone will make you happy because it is beautiful, popular and talked about at all the right parties.

    Notice that I didn’t say that you will be happy because you will really learn a foreign language.

    No, it will make you happy because it’s popular, and being popular will make you happy even if you never learn a language.

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 20, 2010, 10:50 am

      You sound bitter. Perhaps it didn’t work for you. Have no ideas what these right parties are that you are talking about.

      I tried the Rosetta Stone method, if it is combined with other methods it is my impression that it could be a next best substitute to actually speaking the language being learned with native speakers.

      Just because something is popular is not an indicator that it is not effective.

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