Is Rosetta Stone Japanese worth it?

Whether you are learning Japanese, or any other language, you’ve probably heard of the ubiquitous Rosetta Stone language learning software that promises to teach you any language effortlessly, exactly how a child learns his or her mother tongue.

Experts inspecting the Rosetta Stone during the International Congress of Orientalists of 1874

In the this post, we’ll look at what Rosetta Stone has to offer, and whether it’s worth the high asking price. While I’m primarily going to discuss the Japanese language version of the application, the advice and conclusions are largely applicable to other editions as well.

Rosetta Stone Japanese review

First of all, let’s have a short look at what Rosetta Stone has to offer.

The price

The Rosetta Stone Japanese course is divided into three difficulty levels. Level 1 software costs $249.00, Level 2 and 3 cost $299.00 each. You can also purchase Level 1, 2 & 3 Set for $579.00.

Note that despite being divided into three levels and numerous lessons, the course barely reaches the higher-beginner level of Japanese, and Japanese presented in Level 3 lessons is still very simplistic.

Also, even after completing all three levels of Rosetta Stone Japanese, you may still have problems passing JLPT N5, the lowest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test which is generally considered to be very easy. Surprisingly enough, you may have difficulties even with the listening section; Rosetta’s course has a high concentration of listening exercises, but they are unfortunately all played at a very slow, unnatural speed incomparable to the dialogues presented at the JLPT.

The software

If there’s one place where Rosetta Stone excels, it is the quality of its software. The application is extremely polished, virtually bug-less, and is presented with a beautiful and highly intuitive design.

When you first launch the program, you will be greeted with a selection of different curricula which you can choose from. Some help estimate your level of Japanese, some are intended to quickly teach you the basics, and some are optimized for a more long-term holistic approach to learning the language. In practice, the different courses vary only slightly, and follow the exact same methodology.

Rosetta Stone Japanese - Vocabulary

After watching a short inspirational intro video, you’ll be thrown right into the action. You will be presented with various images and simple sentences and will be prompted to make your best guess as to what you see and how it’s called. If you’re used to rote learning vocabulary and grammar, this method will indeed look quite impressive at first, especially if you’re lucky enough to guess right most of the time.

On every screen, you will have the option between displaying the text in Japanese characters, or in romaji. If you decide to use Rosetta, we urge you to choose the former. For a more thorough explanation as to why, please read my introduction to romaji, introduction to kana, and the lowdown on whether you should learn kanji.

The method

Unlike most of its competitors, Rosetta takes a very relaxed approach, and the premise behind its way of teaching Japanese and other languages is certainly very appealing. The company invites you to throw away all your flash cards, dictionaries, and boring grammar & memory tests, and to learn the language the way a Japanese akachan (baby) does in its infancy—by immersing yourself into native dialogues and exclamations without the slightest ideas about Japanese vocabulary or grammar.

Rosetta Stone Japanese - Grammar

What the authors of Rosetta Stone are forgetting is that you are most probably no longer a child, let alone a baby. This ‘natural’ way of learning the language may be engaging at the beginning, but in the long-term, this is not an effective way of learning Japanese. We’re already used to complex grammar structures and our syntactical knowledge is infinitely more advanced than that of a child, meaning that we can take many shortcuts when studying a foreign language as many of the important conceptual links have already been made. Rosetta stone, to a certain extent, neglects this.

This is to say I am in no case against learning Japanese by immersion. In fact, I am a big believer in this method, and if you do have the time and resources to learn this way, certainly give it a try. There are many ways of immersing yourself into natural Japanese without giving up on other ways of learning the language at the same time. Nobody has ever ‘just learned’ Japanese without studying the language—even Japanese people!

Should I buy Rosetta Stone?

The answer to this question depends on who you are, and whether you have to pay for the software package. If you are a member of the U.S. Army (and thus have free access to Rosetta Stone), or an employee whose company offers you a free version of the software, then certainly go for it. Rosetta Stone certainly has it’s positives, especially at the higher-beginner stage of the learning process. In the worst case, you’ll learn some new vocabulary, improve your pronunciation, and switch to a different learning method. Multiple resources are plainly better than just one.

Rosetta Stone Japanese - Writing

If, however, you are buying Rosetta Stone from your own pocket, you may want to reconsider your options, as it’s very difficult to justify the high price of the program. Despite their claims, it is almost impossible to learn a language with Rosetta Stone alone, and more often sooner than later you’ll have to spend you hard-earned on further resources, which, as if further expenses weren’t bad enough, won’t necessarily follow the curriculum you’ve got used to.

There are no intermediate or advanced courses offered by Rosetta Stone, and there never will be any, as the teaching method is oriented purely at beginner learners. Unless you only need the basic understanding of the language before your trip to Japan (in which case you should take another long look at the price tag), this method is not the best way to go.

Conclusion

If you are provided with a free copy of Rosetta Stone Japanese, or if you don’t care about the price, do check it out. The software can be a great additional resource on your way to Japanese fluency, especially if you have difficulties mastering the Japanese pronunciation. By no means treat it as the only Japanese learning method.

If you have to pay for Rosetta Stone yourself, it is best take a step back before you take the plunge. There are many alternative online and offline language learning software packages that are comparable, or even superior to Rosetta Stone Japanese, yet are offered at a fraction of the price. Do your research, and work out what’s best for you in the long run and not what seems immediately appealing.

Have you used Rosetta Stone to learn Japanese? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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+Philip Seyfi is a Russian independent strategy consultant and entrepreneur, author of NihongoUp, and co-founder & CEO of EduLift.

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  • http://twitter.com/A_Guevara Alex Guevara

    Great article! I’ve used Rosetta Stone before but for other languages and it works perfectly fine especially when it comes to knowing the essential structure of the language being studied. It covers the vital elements one needs to conduct casual conversations.

    With that being said, it all depends on how serious you are in learning a language. When it comes to Japanese (for me at least), the last thing I would do is pick up a copy of Rosetta Stone for a variety of reasons:

    1. Kana and Kanji – This requires time, dedication and, above all, practice – practice – practice. I personally need workbooks and pads so I can write over and over again. I’d rather not have things flashing on my screen when it comes to this.
    2. In my opinion, the best way to learn Japanese is by reading purely in Kana and Kanji. The less romaji the better.
    3. Classes aren’t for all but picking up books (e.g. genki, japanese for busy people, etc) and listening to music, watching tv is a great way to learn Japanese. Not only do you hear the language but you can see the language written on TV since Japanese shows have a tendency to subtitle what they’re saying even if it’s all in Japanese.

    Again, this is all just my opinion. ^__^ Bottom line is, how serious are you? Rosetta can definitely start you off (everything helps, nothing hurts!) but, if you’re serious about it, I wouldn’t rely on it 100%

    Best of luck everyone!
    がんばって! ^___^

    アレックス

  • http://twitter.com/hearyou Tatsushi Fedrick

    My experience with Rosetta Stone Japanese was altogether positive. The selling point of the software is the combination of photos and dialogue that immediately cements the meaning.
    Most programs, and they are all excellent, allow the learners’ imagination to create an appropriate picture specific to a dialogue, which under an already stressful situation of an unfamiliar language, can be unproductive. The photos that accompany the dialogue are professional and augment the learning atmosphere.

    • http://divita.eu/ seifip

      Yes, I agree that illustrations are a very important component of the lesson, even if they serve no informative purpose per se. I also agree that it is something that is difficult to accomplish in regular textbooks and thus this “feature” is a prime candidate for inclusion in online resources.

      In our NihongoUp Japanese textbook, we already include numerous illustrations. So far, these are mostly included where they provide direct informative value, but that is primarily due to our limited financial resources. As the site grows, we plan to include many more purely illustrative images into the lessons to help the reader go through the often difficult to understand content. I am also a big believer in diagrams as an important educational device, and so there are lots of various charts and diagrams across the lessons that will hopefully make some of the trickier topics easier to swallow.

    • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

      I think that we must make a distinction between different parts of language learning. Associating an apple with the Japanese word for apple and the sound itself (りんご)can only be a good thing. Often when I’m speaking Japanese and forget a word I’m trying to link what sounds I make when I say it, what mouth shape I am using and what I’m thinking about when I say it. All are interlinked and help.

      More generally with the language however, I struggle to see how associating 「パソコンを買わなかった」、「パソコンを買いたいんです」、パソコンを買うことが出来ない」etc with different images and scenarios. The Japanese language is too regular to think as every verb conjugation as a different piece of vocabulary. I know the noun ‘computer’, I know the verb ‘to buy’ and have learned (either from a textbook or inference from conversation) the grammar constructs. These sentences therefore aren’t all deserving of a different picture to remember them, they are deserving of ‘pictures’ or ‘learning-locks’ for some of their constituent parts.

      In short, I believe that he Rosetta model isn’t scalable, and Philip arrived at the same conclusion in his post.

  • Sander Pool

    Hi,

    I’ve spent some time with RS Japanese and I think it’s a bit problematic. It is terrific for quickly learning how to say ‘blue egg’ and ‘man cooks’ but that has limited utility. My company paid for RS and I’m surprised there isn’t more of a business slant on the language components being taught.

    The biggest issue is that RS depends on you understanding what a picture shows or doesn’t show. As a trivial example I did not understand the difference between imas and imasen. The picture would show a boy with a car and the sentence said “boy pen something”. I thought it was a bug in the software. I never considered that it meant ‘the boy does not have a pen’. Crazy really. Lots of examples that way. The solution is simple, RS should explain what it teaches and offer optional translations for every phrase. There should be -no- ambiguity when studying. In other words I should worry about remembering how to say something, not trying to figure out what a picture means.

    RS Japanese isn’t very useful without either a basic knowledge of Japanese (but then why spend $$$ on RS) or a text book where you can find the missing pieces.

    Frustrating.

    I’m now taking a step back and learning kana before going back to RS.

    • cmav

      Exactly. There are points in the lessons in Japanese RS wherein it gets frustrating with what they teach. In learning a new word, the vagueness of pictures shown would likely to put you off on what they really trying to mean, and that’s even without the system trying to tell you.

    • Don ATello

      I personally like the pictures and trying to figure out what they mean. You are given two similar phrases and two similar pictures, you know there has to be something different about them, and in time you figure it out. I find when I realize these differences, with rosetta, my understanding of the grammar is more locked in. I skipped around the units in the first level and saw they were really only improving on the vocab, with slight increases in the grammar. Rosetta is SLOW, and you have to be patient and dedicated. They are really drilling the beginning knowledge into your head. I feel if you manage to complete the whole thing, you could probably have basic conversations, while continuing to learn the nuances that rosetta won’t teach. I have been searching for something better, but the more I read about it, the more i realize it may be what I need. There are definite flaws in the program…ie: it starts teaching you things, you will never use in the beginning…but I think its trying to instill the grammar, more than anything else.

      If anyone has actually finished all three levels of this program please let me know. The poster said that even after completing all 3 levels, you would have issues passing the JLPT, but I don’t think the poster actually finished all three levels, correct me if I’m wrong. If I am wrong, what was your Japanese proficiency before doing it? And what was you proficiency afterwards, also what other methods did you use to learn japanese.

  • Calumks

    I’m going to leave anime to teach me the pronunciations. That’s too expensive >_<.

  • Pingback: Is Rosetta Stone Japanese worth it? | Digicity Trading LTD

  • Look

    There is evident and clear negative bias against rosetta stone from the author of NihongoUp. Rosetta stone is an extremely effective manner of learning the japanese language. If you expect to learn, TRULY learn a new language with only a few hours exposure, then youre not being realistic. Language takes repetition to learn. With Rosetta stone, I dont feel like Im bored, doing a chore or otherwise “working” to learn a language. Instead I feel encouraged from within to explore the software with a sort of joy that only children seem to have. Its “almost” fun, and its certainly not laborious. Do they start you off learning how to ask where the bathroom is? No, that would not be learning, that would be MEMORIZING. Instead the approach is one that give you MANY “ah! HA!” moments about the language as you piece together the meanings of the words, phrases and pictures associated with them. It becomes very clear when the speaker is referring to a boy, a man, a group of boys or a group of men or the opposite. It is highly motivational and for a language that one often is told is very difficult when compared to spanish, I must admit that japanese is easier to learn using Rosetta stone than taking spanish in high school while living in the caribbean. Im often reminded of the star trek next generation episode where counselor troi is speaking to captain picard about the difficulty of knowing what someone is saying when speaking a new language.

    Counselor Deanna Troi: We are stranded on a planet. We have no language in common, but I want to teach you mine.
    [she holds up her tea glass]
    Counselor Deanna Troi: S’smarith. What did I just say?
    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Cup… Glass.
    Counselor Deanna Troi: Are you sure? I may have meant liquid. Clear. Brown. Hot. We conceptualize the universe in relatively the same way.
    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Point taken.

    Now this being said, I want to emphasize how rosetta stone takes that complexity away from the realization. It is VERY evident that “water” is being referred to when the speaker says “mizu”. Or that tea is being referred to w hen the speaker says “ocha”. There is NO ROOM for MISUNDERSTANDING they make it very easy to learn and comprehend and RETAIN what you have learned.

    Is rosetta stone alot of money, sure, but as people often say you get what you pay for. Youre wanting to learn. And youre wanting to learn more than to ask where the bathroom is youre wanting to COMPREHEND what people are saying when they speak. Not pre programmed set phrases like “where is the library”. Rosetta stone is a very wise investment for people who truly, want to learn. If your eone of those people who instead just wants to memorize preset phrases or otherwise have a short attention span or stopped reading this because its longer than a twitter head posting, then rosetta stone is not for you.

    • http://divita.eu/ seifip

      Hi,

      Thank you for such an extensive comment.

      “Rosetta stone is a very wise investment for people who truly, want to learn” … a handful of words + some very basic grammar and sentence patterns before they go on a trip to Japan (or Russia, or wherever).

      However, I strongly (and based on my conversations with many other language learners and linguists who’ve used the software, quite objectively) believe that it is in no case an effective way to actually learn a language.

      The Rosetta Stone teaching system is impossible to extend above the beginner proficiency level. Vocabulary and sentences get too abstract to represent them clearly via images. Grammar rules too complex to learn them intuitively. Also, as you learn more, the speed at which you learn should ideally increase thanks to everything you know already, but with Rosetta Stone, the learning actually gets more tedious as the more advanced the material, the more difficult it is to convey through the RS method.

      Even after you complete ALL Rosetta Stone Japanese products, you can’t pass the easiest level (N5) of the JLPT (Japan Language Proficiency Test) unless you supplement it with many outside materials. That is absulutely preposterous considering how long it takes to complete all of Rosetta Stone.

      At the end of the day, after you finish Rosetta Stone, you still won’t comprehend what others are saying (as the average Joe doesn’t spend all day long talking about how tasty the tea he’s drinking is — he’ll rather speak about his latest business assignment (using vocabulary you won’t know), complain about his romantic relationship (using slang you never knew existed), or maybe ponder on some philosophical or spiritual topic (using concepts you couldn’t describe in a thousand pictures, let alone one)).

      And on top of that, you still won’t know how to ask where the toilet is using an appropriate politeness level (no, 「トイレ?」 just doesn’t cut it in real-life situations) as you’ve refused to memorize the proper expressions (expressions that every Japanese child had to memorize at one point in their life).

      Rosetta Stone is a nice way to kick start your studies, and if it wasn’t for the ridiculous price they charge, I might recommend it for that precise purpose. It is not, however, an effective learning method, and it will not get you anywhere near even lower entermediate proficiency in the target language. Also, if you really want to effortlessly get into the Japanese language and can afford such a high price, I’d still recommend Pimsleur over Rosetta Stone any day.

      • Pierre ‘Collignon

        I wish I could see what they do with my own native language, but it’s clear that it’s utterly stupid to charge 300 $ * 3 for a courses without one hint of grammar. I remember the decade I spent at school learning basic boring grammar and exception lists… and now these morons tell me I can learn a language “effortlessly as a baby”… from 7 to 17 I had grammar courses in my native language each week ahahah… immersion my ass ! It works to say “I’m hungry”, “help me”, “it hurts” or “I want that” .

        If they are realistic about their promises why not (since I didn’t study my native language to travel but to write books, lead teams, act as a citizen, build artefacts and so on, I don’t expect to reach that kind of level in any other language), but they’re not defining what they call “learning japanese” …

  • BettB

    Thanks for the review! It helps me not want Rosetta Stone anymore, which is a relief for something so expensive.

  • Sanii

    I use Rosetta Stone as a supplement to Genki, and it’s just wonderful for pronunciation and cementing your understanding of simple words and concepts. If you’re looking for anything more than that, however, I’d advise that you look elsewhere.

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  • Regan Berry

    I used Rosetta Stone and I think it’s okay, but the fact that I have no way of practicing it with others. I also found it easier to watch some Tokusatsu and historical movies subbed or not. Still would like to find a better way of learning it.

    • Ar1masenka

      There are plenty of sites like japan friends that will allow you to connect with Japanese boys/men and girls/women. Most of the Japanese people on there are willing to help with your Japanese as they want to make friends. I met plenty of people who wanted help with English. We would switch off and help each other. Most was done via Skype. The biggest thing to remember that others often forget is to not laugh if someone has issues pronouncing things. Instead, help them out as laughing at someone is very demeaning to people learning a language. Help them build confidence which is something you will have to build as wel. It’s a wonderful way to make friends and strengthen your Japanese.

  • gray ogden

    i really want to learn Japanese fluently but i don’t know where to start. do you have any suggestions? preferably something that doesn’t cost alot >_>

  • Bronson Page

    Duolingo is the new Rosetta Stone and it’s $6.

    • Comrade_Anon

      Duolingo does not have Japanese lessons.

  • mannyalbite

    Is really hard sometimes to get an honest review in the Internet, like when I want to but a different Internet security and I go to reviews every expert has a different choice, but I notice this article was very truthful and helpful, since I have a money issue I am looking for something more than just say apple, or hello please where is the bathroom, English is not my first language, so I think I am going to take His advice and also by reading the comments here from you guys I already learn something or in better words I did not know and still just by reading your comments that now I have to find out what this words mean Kana and Kanji, and also wait for my Japanese and English keyboard to arrive I just order it today. well thanks everybody hoping next year I could speak Japanese like I do English and I will be very happy, and then visit Japan

  • http://alwaysnintendo.com/ Jelani Thompson

    Great article :D

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