February 23rd, 2013

A Question about Rosetta Stone

So I got this thing working again about a week ago. It remembered where I was the last time I worked on it, about a year ago -- I hadn't made it very far, because I had been having trouble getting the headset to work properly (d'oh -- had to go into system preferences and adjust things. And then adjust them some more). And I haven't been able to work on it every day for the last week, however, I'm up to Level 1 Unit 4, done with Lesson 3 and the Core Lesson for Unit 4 but not the subsidiary parts (under 2 hours, even if it takes the estimated time for each component, which they rarely if ever do). I think I'm one lesson and a Milestone away from the end of Level 1.

I've been surfing around trying to figure out how long it takes to get through all three levels, and I keep hearing people sort of hammer through it in [insert widely variant time here] and then learn (I'm betting through talking to someone in support) it usually takes a year. Which I have to say I'm a little skeptical of.

Anyone ever work through _any_ language in Rosetta? The one other person I know who has, is currently working on Italian, so I'm going to have to wait until he's done to ask him how long it took to get through.

Cash and Cabs

I asked a friend in Seattle if Uber was out there and if she had used it; she couldn't see any advantage over a cab, since cabs in Seattle had been taking credit cards for about 8 years. I think the transition occurred a little later out here:

http://www.wbur.org/2011/02/15/cab-credit-cards

The article is a nice piece of analysis and worth reading in its entirety. The regulators are unimpressed about driver complaints regarding the processing fee -- they say they built that cost into the most recent rate increase they authorized.

Rosetta Stone Dutch Level 1 Review

There are some limitations to this review. First, and by far the most important, I haven't been using any of the Rosetta Studio, Rosetta World, etc. features. This is partly because I bought Rosetta, then failed to use it for a year (two years?). I had owned an earlier version of Rosetta Stone that didn't work on my new laptop, replaced it, but then didn't have the time. Also, I had some trouble figuring out whether I should start at the beginning or drop in somewhere in the middle. My subscription to those features has expired and I haven't renewed yet.

Because we are going to the Netherlands this summer, and because the only Dutch I've read for years has been genealogy related, and because I haven't listened to or spoken any in most of a decade, I figured I'd better just restart at the beginning. Alas, I got stuck in a weird update loop, however, Rosetta Stone support sent me a link after a few days delay that work beautifully and even remembers where I was when I left off year(s) ago (more than I remembered!). I've now completed Level 1 and thought I'd post a review.

You almost don't need any motivation to learn a language this way, beyond sitting down in front of the computer at regular intervals and leaving your ass in the seat and your headset hooked up and just grinding it out. It is not taxing. However, YMMV, because (a) I've already done a bunch of different Dutch courses (mostly on CD with book exercises, but some web stuff, too) and (b) I've spent a few weeks in the Netherlands actually using the resulting language knowledge. I'm a pretty unlikely candidate for this software. But it's enough like a game to hook me and to keep me hooked. The best part is, the repetition, while leaving you with enough time to critique the quality of the photoshopping of the images, ensures you will actually end with a "feel" for the right way to conjugate verbs, adjust endings of adjectives, where to place the helper verb, etc.

I've complained in earlier posts about the ridiculousness of the payment choices in the shopping section. There is _a lot_ of ridiculousness associated with vocabulary -- you wind up knowing a lot of words, but it is far from clear that they will be useful words to know. On the other hand, if you have a good feel for how to create a sentence, learning more words, in principle, should not be that difficult. I don't think the ridiculousness of some of the vocabulary is inherently problematic, even tho it may leave you in a pickle as you try to figure out how to pay for things in a world that doesn't much like credit cards, or magnetic stripped payment cards at all, for that matter. You can get into trouble believing credit cards can be used everywhere right here in the United States; it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that can happen somewhere else, too.

Other reviewers have other complaints. This contains some of them:

http://www.fluentin3months.com/rosetta-stone-review/

It's an interesting review, mostly because I cannot help but wonder if the technical issues the reviewer experienced had more of an impact on his ability to experience how Rosetta Stones works than he realized. If it wasn't the technical issues, I cannot for the life of me explain why that reviewer did not mention the problems associated with A.U.B. which are endemic in the last lessons of Level 1. The "Shopping" lessons are all kinds of weird. I think Rosetta knows this, because in one dialogue, a woman goes to a shop to buy plates for a picnic, wanting something light. The shop sells wooden, metal and paper plates. The customer decides to buy ten paper plates (loose!) for a dollar, and pays with a credit card. No one writes that kind of dialogue if they aren't feeling frustrated about the constraints they are operating in.

More serious are the exchanges where Rosetta is teaching shopping "etiquette", the classic back and forth of commerce, please and thank you and how much and I'd like that one and so forth. Dutch transactional etiquette is unusual, in that it goes like this:

A: I want to buy that.
B: It costs this.
A: [Offers money] Alstublieft.
B: [Gives thing, if making change says Alstublieft when offering change back]
A: Dank u.

If there's a long pause before moving along, there might be a good bye exchange.

This is in sharp contrast to my other experience of transactional etiquette, which is like this.

A: I want to buy that.
B: It costs this.
A: [Offers money]
B: [Gives thing]
A: Thank you!
B: You're welcome!

It's easy to think that you can somehow, just using words, turn the American/English/French/German/blah blah blah version into the Dutch version. You can't. If you try, the Dutch/Flemish/Belgian person Will Find You Rude and Experience Anger/Frustration/Irritation.

English speakers attempting to learn Dutch are constantly trying to figure out how to say "You're welcome". There isn't really a "You're welcome", at least not in the mandatory sense it is in American transactions. You can force a Dutch transaction into English by saying "Here you go", and you can force an American "You're Welcome" on a Dutch person by saying Graag gedaan, and no one is going to complain because it's a nice thing to say. But that doesn't change the fact that the transaction is fundamentally structured differently, and if you speak the language but don't adopt the transactional style, it will be far more irritating that if you didn't speak the language at all. A Dutch person expects an English speaker to use English transaction styles.

You can find thousands of cultural or wtfery wrongness in Rosetta Stone, but for the most part, I don't think it really matters, because a lot of that stuff doesn't involve language and Rosetta Stone is there to teach you the language. But there are places where actions and language become so intricately intertwined that you really cannot separate them, and efforts to translate the words literally without showing the matching behaviors are going to get people into trouble.

I've contacted Support. They've escalated the issue and said they'll get back to me. I'm curious to know what they're going to do about this. It's quite easy to figure out how to fix the problem on a screen by screen basis (sometimes moving a caption does it, or switching captions, but sometimes a slightly different picture would be needed), however there are _many_ screens involved and the final Milestone for Level 1 is a man going to a series of shops and engaging in a series of commercial transactions ... and getting them gratingly wrong over and over and over again.

Rosetta Stone remains an enormously useful tool for (re)learning the basic components of a language. I know a lot of people who believe in just-go-there-and-figure-it-out and it has never turned out well by my standards altho they seem happy and we all have to live with our own choices. I need to have flexible access to language wherever I am in order to communicate dietary constraints (I am allergic to milk products, some shellfish and a few other things) -- if I can't read labels and ask questions and solicit assistance in getting what I need, I will get really sick and I might die. I _don't_ need to be fluent: I need to get across something fairly tangible that results in other people taking actions or directing me to someone else who can help or shrugging and giving up. Rosetta Stone is like an escalator. You get on. You stand. You try not to fall off at the end. And you're one floor higher when you're done. But as an escalator won't train you to run stairs, this isn't the (only) tool you'll need if you want to become meaningfully fluent.