The Ultimate Rosetta Stone Review for 2020: How Good is it?
Rosetta Stone is STILL one of the most well-known names in the language learning industry.
Until now I resisted writing a comprehensive review, because I always found their product incredibly bad. It was expensive, boring, and not very effective.
Has it changed since then? Let's find out.
I first tried Rosetta Stone about 15 years ago.
It came in this big, yellow cardboard box, and with a hefty price tag of around $500 for a language.
And it was truly awful.
Has the product improved since then? Let's dive in.
Summary of this review:
Going back to Rosetta Stone after more than a decade away from it, was a bit like opening up an old lunchbox, but discovering that you left some bread in it which has now gone completely mouldy.
It's a very basic way to learn languages with, that does not warrant paying $15-$20 a month, or $300+ for lifetime access for.
It has not aged well, with the many new courses, apps, and technology that is now available.
Skip Rosetta Stone, and just download Duolingo. You won't regret it.
What is Rosetta Stone?
Released in 1992, the Rosetta Stone Language learning software was ahead of its time.
One of the founders, Allen Stoltzfus had learned German using an immersive method, and when he attempted to learn Russian in a class-room setting he found the latter much less efficient and boring.
Unfortunately, in 1984 when he got the idea to use computers to aid in language learning, the computer was simply not powerful enough to even show images to the user, which is why Rosetta Stone wasn't publicly released and available until 1992 when CD-ROMs had become mainstream and capable of storing larger amounts of data.
Due to its first-mover advantage, and the initial success of making language learning abundandently available Rosetta Stone became a huge company, which allowed it to pour millions of dollars into advertising.
Not long after, there wasn't many Americans who hadn't heard of Rosetta Stone, and for many years this was the ONLY language learning method/software/solution that anyone had heard of.
Since then there has been a lot of developments in software, technology, and education and Rosetta Stone has slowly faded into the shadows of other big language learning companies like Duolingo.
Evidence of its former glory
But, notice one thing: The last one was received in 2014, and the latest awards were received based on app design, user's choice, and general user experience evaluations, none of the awards since 2011 praised the actual educational content.
We're now in 2020, so the last time Rosetta Stone was awarded any recognition was 4+ years ago.
That's ages in software.
But, a well-renowned company, with a lot of income and lots of language experts can surely improve their offer from 28 years ago?
Let's jump in and see exactly how Rosetta Stone looks today.
Which languages can you learn with Rosetta Stone?
Rosetta Stone is available in 27+ languages, with the following 24 of them available with the new online subscription model:
- Castillean Spanish
- Latin-American Spanish
- American English
The following courses only made it to version 2 of Rosetta Stone, and is currently not offered for sale anywhere:
I jumped on to test the Swedish and Spanish versions.
As they graciously give you a 3-day free trial, I didn't have to donate any money to Rosetta Stone to produce this review today, phew!
But, unfortunately that's where my joy stopped as I was met with an instant flashback to 15 years ago.
It's exactly the same!
Yes, the user interface is a little more refined, and the graphical side is updated to reflect modern standards.
But, it's still match this word or phrase with a picture.
Over, and over, and over, and over again.
You can see this video for my initial reactions, where I also summarise some thoughts about Rosetta Stone in General:
Here are the contents of a typical Rosetta Stone course.
The recommendation is to do 30 minutes a day, for 6 weeks to complete each unit.
Inside each unit the training is exactly the same.
You're shown a word or sentence in the target language and you have to match it up to the pictures shown below.
Sometimes you have to speak the word / sentence, and the software will evaluate how well you performed.
I'll talk more about that in a second.
Other times you simply match by clicking the correspondin image.
Target Language Only
One important note about Rosetta Stone is that it used to have a policy of absolutely no English or translations in the software.
Whilst it seems to be making certain updates to limit this rule around the courses, most of them are still target-language only.
As I recently talked with an English teacher working in Russia about, there are times where it makes a lot more sense to use people's native language (or English) to quickly explain a concept rather than spending 10-15 minutes having to explain it in basic target language that the learner can understand.
Besides, some really useful pieces of vocabulary are really hard to explain to beginners, which is why I think having a zero-tolerance policy on translations and english is a bit dumb.
I don't mind it too much, it doesn't take a lot of points away from Rosetta Stone, but I think it's worth mentioning here anyway.
A significant part of Rosetta Stone has always been the voice recognition, which prompts you to speak the vocabulary out loud as you are learning it.
I never liked voice recognition in language learning, because they are just not very good, so overly relying on them are bound to give false positives, and a false sense of confidence, when you deep-down know that you are not pronouncing the word correctly.
Plus, in my limited test, I was able to fool the pronunciation checker multiple times in Swedish.
Getting People to Speak
One positive aspect of the speech recognition feature of Rosetta stone is that it forces the learner to actually interact with the materials and practice speaking.
Something that a lot of tools, apps, and software do not offer.
But then again, with most learning these days done on mobile devices on the go (think travel, commuting, etc) how many learners are realistically going to be able to use this feature?
Relatively few, so I'm not overly enthused about it.
Every Rosetta Stone subscription comes with one 25 minute weekly tutoring session with a real teacher.
When I tried to book a swedish lesson for the next day there were quite a few slots available:
I assume Swedish isn't a big language on Rosetta Stone, and booking next day is likely to have limitations compared to booking a more popular language a few more days in advance.
There is one big dislcaimer though; You can be in a group class of up to 4 people of the same level.
With just 25 minutes per sessions it's clear to me that you wouldn't get much out of that.
Even if it were just you and the teacher, this is a relatively small value addon. I think I would have preferred cheaper memberships, and just finding my own tutor on a place like italki.
Rosetta Stone offers a few additional features to supplement the core lessons, and while I don't consider them particularly useful or valuable I'll just quickly mention them here so you have the full picture of the membership.
Rosetta Stone comes with 4 games, which you can play alone or with another random learner on Rosetta Stone.
- Buzz Bingo: “Listen to the native speaker and click on each word you recognize”
- Picari: “Quickly find the picture in a stack that matches the prompt”
- Super Bubble Mania: “Practice your ability to distinguish between similar sounds”
- Memgo: “Turn over two cards at a time and try to match pictures and words”
To me, it just all sounds boring.
Remember those “EDUCATIONAL” computer games from the 90s?
Yeah, those weren't fun either, and I feel like it's the same here. It might look like a game, but it's no more fun than doing any other learning.
This is a section, where you can practice your conversational skills with new friends around the world.
Apart from the obvious elephant in the room, that there is zero way to filter or screen people before you go in, this might actually be somewhat useful.
But, due to the risks of being taken advantage of, and the awkwardness of just joining a random chat room, I think I'd prefer to organise my own language exchanges.
In this section there is a series of stories (only about a dozen) that go up in difficulty and correspond to modules of the main learning.
It's a nice little addition, but it's very limited at the moment.
Here's a video I recorded in April 2020, just to give you a quick view of what the app looks like.
It's very similar to the desktop version, which is a good thing.
What does Rosetta Stone Cost in 2020?
Here are the prices for Rosetta Stone subscriptions in 2020:
- 3 Months – One Language: $11.99 per month
- 12 Months – All Languages: $14.92 per month
- 24 Months – All Languages: $10.38 per month
- Lifetime Acess – All Languages: $299 once
Unted Kingdom and Europe
- 3 Months – One Language: £/€16.33 per month
- 12 Months – All Languages: £/€13.25 per month
- 24 Months – All Languages: £/€9.96 per month
- Lifetime Acess – All Languages: £/€ 349 once
Uhm, excuse me?
Why are the UK (and the EU to a slightly lesser degree) getting shafted this much on two of the Rosetta Stone plans?
3-Month, one language package:
£16.33 Great Britain Pounds, at the time of writing this post is equal to $20.07 United States Dollars.
This means that the cheapest package of Rosetta Stone is 67% more expensive if you are from the United Kingdom.
£349 Great Britain Pounds, at the time of writing this post is equal to $428.80 United States Dollars.
This is equivalent to a 43% difference!
For the same software.
Of, course this got me curious so I set my VPN to Estonia just to see what kind of prices I would now get from Rosetta Stone in Euros.
The Euro-prices were exactly the same as the GBP prices, even though the British Pound is worth 1.13 euros.
So, just by paying in euros anyone from the UK would immediately save 13%
This is of course nothing to the insane savings from the US pricing, but still, it's something.
Maybe this is another remnant of a company stuck in the past, where a slightly less global world could get away with such a discrepancy.
I asked their twitter about this, but all they did was to refer me to customer service.
Not sure why, except trying to sweep it quietly under the rug.
Rosetta Stone Cashback: 11% Discount with Quidco
This is only applicable to users in the United Kingdom, but if you really want to sign up to Rosetta Stone, be sure to use Quidco (a cash-back website) to get 11% off your subscription.
I discovered this by complete accident, as I run the Quidco chrome plugin which alerts you if there are any cash-back deals available.
This offsets the terribly racist pricing a little bit.
The REAL price of Rosetta Stone
But, the question is what is the real price of Rosetta Stone anyway?
Half-way through the trial period I was sent an email that offered me 50% off their 24 month subscription, which brought the price down from £9.96 per month down to £5 (i'll allow them the rounding up to 50%)
To me, this is just a joke.
I haven't done anything special, it's not Christmas or Black Friday, and yet they offer me 50% off out of the blue.
(Maybe more if the above Quidco cashback is added onto it, hmmm….)
This smells of a company desperate for cash, trying to lure people in with inflated prices, and fake discounts.
If you offer every customer this 50% deal, then it's no longer a deal, it's the de facto price, and I feel TERRIBLE for the poor souls who bought right away and got shafted on the price.
How Good is Rosetta Stone?
Does it work to learn languages with?
The short answer is yes.
Rosetta Stone uses a basic memory technique, whereby you learn the languages through immersion and visual content.
It will definitely help you learn vocabulary in the languages that they offer.
And, the company wouldn't have been able to survive for 28 years if the product didn't at least work somewhat.
The reason that this isn't enough to recommend Rosetta stone is because I believe there are better, cheaper, and more interesting methods available today.
It saddens me a bit to see how little Rosetta Stone has evolved since its original version 28 years ago.
It's rudimentary, and tries to make up for this fact by adding a number of arbitrary features like the games, language exchanges, and tutoring.
Any number of ‘bonus' features cannot make up for how limited the main part of the programme is.
Add to that the horrible pricing discrepancies, and the fake inflated prices and fake discounts – and you get a good picture of Rosetta Stone in 2020.
Can you learn some language with Rosetta Stone – absolutely!
No. I don't think so, unless you're a very visual learner that's stuck in the past.
What I like
- The mobile app and desktop versions of the software are almost exactly the same, which preserves the experience across devices
- The price for Rosetta Stone has been reduced a lot in recent years (still not worth it though)
- Free tutoring lesson (25 minutes) every week for subscribers is a nice bonus
- The learning schedule and plan provided can help motivation and sticking with it
- It's pretty effortless learning, just use the app, you don't need to do much thinking or analysing.
- 3-day trial so you can try it out for yourself
What I don't like
- Boring and one-dimensional
- Content is copy-pasted across languages, quantity over quality
- Limited content and little variation in the learning
- The no-translation policy doesn't make much sense
- The software is still expensive compared to main competitors like Duolingo.
- Inflated prices on the front-end and offering everyone 50% off on the backend when they sign up to a trial.
- The price difference between the US and the UK/EU is unforgiveable for software.
Rosetta Stone Reviews
One thing that absolutely shocked me, is how positive the Rosetta Stone Reviews are on the App Store (iOS):
I can only assume that people are rating the app experience itself, and not the language learning experience, but this is a huge amount of positive reviews.
When writing this Rosetta Stone review I tried to find a language learning blogger, influencer, or polyglot who had anything positive to say about it.
I couldn't find one.
Rosetta Stone Alternatives
There are a ton of courses and apps out there to help anyone learn foreign languages today.
It's not like 1992 when Rosetta Stone first came out, where it was a brand new novel idea, and the only alternative was to use books and casettes (or vinyl)
My immediate recommendation if you like a visual approach to language learning is the free app, Duolingo.
It features a similar workflow (although not the 100% stringent immersion) and a variety of quiz formats, so it's slightly more exciting.
It also starts you off with sentences quicker, which is useful for learning in context.