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Rosetta Stone Review

In this review:

  • How does Rosetta Stone teach?
  • Why is it not an effective program?
  • Why is it still popular?
  • A research about the program effectiveness
  • Rosetta Stone VS Pimsleur and other programs

Languages taught: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Irish, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Indonesian, Latin, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Swahili, Russian, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Welsh.

Format: Computer-assisted language learning which includes:

  • Lessons in the software
  • Online tutoring sessions
  • Interactive Language games

Price:    Level 1: $179; all 5 levels: $200-$400

Rosetta stone screen


The method

Rosetta Stone calls their method “Dynamic immersion”

  • All the texts and sounds in the program are in the target language. There are no English translations or explanations. Words and phrases are defined by pictures.
  • There are also no grammatical explanations. You are expected to learn grammar structure by recognizing the patterns in the sentences presented.

A typical lesson

Words/ phrases are introduced one at a time. They are provided with the script and pronunciation.

As you progress through the lessons, you will complete exercises that pertain to the lesson. These exercises include:

  • Matching words/ phrases with their related pictures
  • Testing the correct pronunciation for words/ phrases. This is accomplished by voice recognition technology.
  • Providing a transcript for spoken phrases.

You are also asked to do some grammatical exercises such as verb conjunctions, etc.

The whole course for a language has up to 5 levels. Each level contains 4 units, with each unit containing 4 core lessons. This means there can be up to 80 lessons! Outside these core lessons, there are also additional sections which focus on building writing, vocabulary, grammar, listening, or reading skills.

Each core lesson should take about 30 minutes to finish. Focused activities should take 5-10 minutes. The company recommends you to relearn a lesson one or two times to solidify your knowledge.

The online tutoring sections

After finish 2 core lessons you are encouraged to take part in an online tutoring section. An online tutoring section, which is 25 minutes long, is lead by a native speaker, who will coach you and several other learners (maximum 4 learners).

In the section, you will go through a fixed set of activities, and all of the conversations in these sections are in the target language; English is not allowed.

When buy any CD – ROM or download any Rosetta Stone products, you will be given free 3 month subscription to this online tutoring service. The maximum number of sections per month you can schedule is 4. This means that you will be given 12 free sections. After that you have to pay if you want to continue to use this tutoring service.


1. Helpful tutoring sections

  • This may be the best part of the program. Talking with native speakers is always an excellent way to practice what you’ve learned.
  • The tutors are usually patient and helpful.

2. Spaced repetition

  • The program uses the “Spaced Repetition” method to help review the words/ phrases that have been learned. This feature is helpful; it helps the learner retain the knowledge better.

3. Beautiful software interface and images

  • The software is aesthetically pleasing
  • The images used in the lesson are vivid


1. For most of us, Rosetta Stone does not work

  • There are no grammar explanations, if the learner can’t figure things out, they get stuck.
  • There is no explicit writing teaching. Imagine you are in an Arabic lesson and you don’t understand a word. In fact, you don’t understand why they write the word that way. That is the first time you see it. Because you were not taught Arabic writing rules explicitly, you don’t know how to type and also the program does not allow you to copy words from the screen to look it up in dictionaries or Google. The learner has no way to understand the word meaning, because teaching is based on previous lesson. This system can cause you to lose your way.

2. The “translation approach” in course building

  • Different language courses are not built based on individual cultural views. In fact, it seems that Rosetta Stone simply translates the course from a language to another, only making small adjustments.
  • For example, when you learn Asian languages you will not see much Asian food, clothing, or cultural information. Instead, a set of generic pictures repeat throughout all language courses.

3. No practical words/ phrases

  • Learning sentences like “the dog jumps”, “the elephant is big”, or “the girl is under the table” will not help much in real life conversations.
  • Rosetta Stone is not good to learn speaking.

4. Matching pictures hundreds of times is boring.

Others Concerns

  • There are many kind of Arabic, Rosetta Stone doesn’t tell what kind of Arabic it teaches.


Rosetta Stone is unlikely to be an effective way for you to learn a language.

What can Rosetta Stone be useful for?

Some people use Rosetta Stone as a supplemental tool to help them acquire vocabulary.


1. A statistic: Rosetta Stone versus other programs

On Sept 28, 2009 a thread on forum began with a question: “What are your favorite language programs?” Until now, the thread has received more than 340 reply messages from around 150 forum members. The number of votes for 11 top programs are listed in the below table.

Rank Program Number of votes
1 Assimil 61
2 Pimsleur 52
3 Michel Thomas 35
4 Teach Yourself 26
5 FSI 25
6 Linguaphone 17
7 Living language 9
8 Rosetta Stone 8
9 Hugo 8
10 Colloquial 7
11 Fluenz 7

Rosetta Stone has only 8 votes.

The forum is the most reliable forum about language learning methods. Many of its members can speak 2, 3, 4 or 5 languages. The low number of votes for Rosetta Stone (despite the big fame it receives in the market) means that most of the forum’s members do not consider it as a good program.

2. Why is Rosetta Stone so popular?

Rosetta Stone Inc finiancial report

Source: Rosetta Stone Inc. Annual Financial Report (2013)

A large portion of Rosetta Stone’s revenue goes to Marketing.

In the report, we see that in 2013, the money spent on sales and marketing is 146 million dollars. That’s more than 50% of the revenue and 4.3 times higher than the money spent on research and development. The ratio, although smaller than the rations in 2012 (6.4 times) and 2011 (6.7 times), is still too high for an educational company.

3. A Rosetta Stone effectiveness research

The research was conducted by Dr. Katharine Nielson from University of Maryland. The Rosetta Stone software version used is the version 2.

  • 150 of the US government agencies’ staffs agree to use the program for 10 hours per week for 20 weeks.
  • These people had personal goals in language learning and willing to learn language for their own benefits.
  • The learners use the program to learn either Arabic or Chinese or Spanish.

The result was startling: out of those 150 people, only 32 spent at least 10 hours on Rosetta Stone and only one person finished all 200 hours of commitment.

Because of the severe attrition, the primary goal of the research, which is figuring out the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone, could not be done.

Although one of the reasons for the attrition is that users encountered some technical issues within the software (which might be fixed in the current version), it shows that there are something wrong with the teaching approach: it is maybe not interesting or not effective or both.

(From version 2 to the current version the approach doesn’t change)

View the full research here:

*The research was also conducted on another program: Auralog Tell Me More. The result is not much better with Tell Me More.

4. We cannot resell Rosetta Stone CDs

Why? Rosetta Stone has a policy that denies any owner of the software the ability to resell it, even when legally purchased/acquired:

“The Rosetta Stone Product is licensed, not sold….Licensee may not, and may not permit others to, directly or indirectly sell, rent, lease, loan, timeshare, or sublicense the Rosetta Stone Product. The transmission of Licensee’s user name, password or Activation Id to allow any person other than Licensee to use Rosetta Stone Product is expressly forbidden and failure to comply with this prohibition may result is the suspension or termination of the right to continue to use the Rosetta Stone Product or receive support.”

Excerpt from Rosetta Stone End User License Agreement

Therefore you cannot resell it on online websites such as Amazon or Ebay.

5. A good review from Susanna Zaraysky, a famous polyglot

Video version:

Text version:


Rosetta Stone Website



I tried my best to give you the information as detailed and exact as I could (for I understand that if you choose a wrong program, it will cost you more time, money and energy to achieve your learning goal). Despite that there might be points that I need to be more specific, or points that I was wrong. If you know the program well, please help me, as well as other learners, by giving your opinions about the program in the comment section below.

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About the Author

Posted by

A Vietnamese. An English Learner. A Language Lover. I enjoy learning languages. I believe that self-study can be a lot more effective than class study (if you learn in an effective way) My favorite quote: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” - Aristotle *To write the content for this website, besides my own experience in language learning, I collected and synthesized the experiences of other highly effective language learners.


  1. Arron

    I love learning languages and I tried various methods and courses- from learning in my own time,listening to mp3 online,buying books in bookstores–gosh so many products I checked-some of them worked for me fine ,some less.Recantly by accident I registered with this course -bought from them lesson pack,before I tried a sample free course and it worked for me.I’m learning and see progress.

  2. James

    I have to disagree, maybe you have a learning disability or something (because I actually believe I do) and that’s why you can’t learn from Rosetta Stone. After I finished Level 1 of Spanish, Level 1 mind you, I worked at the airport and some children about 4 years old were running ahead of their parents, and their parents yelled at them quickly in Spanish, which I couldn’t understand. When the child responded, I understood everything he said. I was amazed. I can’t explain the joy. I turned to my boss and my co-workers and had to point out I understood what that kid was saying, it was great.

    • Bao Kieu

      Thanks for your story. What I tried to say in this review is that A MAJORITY of people didn’t find Rosetta Stone to be an effective method.

      • Allan Andersson

        I AGREE WITHYOU WHOLEHEARTEDLY! ROSETTA STONE IS OVER-HYPED the standard is pretty low, depite their claims Ihave used Linguaphone for four languages,Assimil-the older versions ‘without toil’- and Pimsleur-does not go very far but is excellent for pronunciaton purposes-for Polish, Assimil for Ggerman and French,for which I also used Linguaphone, and also Berlitz for German,first class. all of these are far more thorough than Rosetta Stone. I have achieved high examination marks at University level in all languages and hold an honours degree.Have even been complimented on my accent. I am surprised you have not mentioned Berlitz-I have used an older course some years ago which no longer appears to be available-it was issued in the U.S-and may not be availablen here in the U.K and am a trained Berlitz teacher,now retired

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