Saturday, June 22, 2013

rosetta stone follow-up

i gave some impressions about the rosetta stone software last month. I'd had some pretty positive things to say about it, despite most other peoples' opinions being "meh". Most notably, the people who weren't fond of it were the ones that were most familiar with language learning. But they'd also said that the software's best feature, live video sessions with a tutor, was a redeeming factor. I'd had yet to try it at the time of review, but I've tried it now, having been motivated by the 3-month expiration period. The free period had about 2 days left when I finally used it. You keep the software otherwise after the expiration, and you don't lose any features, but the tutor sessions have to be paid for. After trying it out, I have to agree that it does make the package much more interesting, and should be a definite point of consideration for new buyers. I just wish I'd used it sooner.

Apparently you're supposed to keep your clothes on. I lost points for that.

I'm still in the middle of the first study unit (of 12), so the lesson was still pretty simple; the tutor session corresponds to how much of the normal software you've done. I shared the session with 2 other students, and each of us were required to have microphones. There is no point-and-click answering the way there is with the normal lessons. The instructor has a Powerpoint-type presentation that they're able to draw on, kind of like what you'd see on ESPN when they reconstruct football plays. They also have their own video feed, which comes in handy when they want to help you by gesturing. They'll verbally ask you questions about the picture, draw arrows pointing to the object they want you to name, and address you by name so you know when it's your turn to answer.

It's not radically different from the software's normal offline lessons, really. But it's much more challenging, and I feel like you can probably learn a lot more from it. Not because the lessons are any better, but because human interaction is a better teacher than study alone. Studying the language on paper allows you a lot of time to come up with answers, study the questions you are being asked, and the computer can wait on you indefinitely to come up with the answer. My speed when going through it normally is akin to counting on fingers, and does not come across as conversational at all. I wouldn't have even have known that, had I not frozen the first time the tutor asked me a question. 

It's a deer in headlights.

I just wasn't familiar with hearing Japanese in anything but a perfect, over-enunciated tone. Also, I wasn't used to having to recall the language "cold", and immediately, before. Usually, when you're studying, you've been doing the same lesson for a while, and so much of your language skill is just habituation and short-term memory. You also have all the time you need to respond. It's a whole different beast to have to produce your cumulative knowledge of the subject, on command. It really whipped my brain into a frenzy, and I could actually feel it doing real work for the first time since college. I wager this is a much better way for you to learn to speak, as it helps you make a connection between ideas and the words for them, so that they can be produced together quickly. In my session, despite the months of work I've done offline, I found myself constantly grasping for words and taking long pauses. And I'm actually glad that I found that out. While it was mildly embarrassing to find out that I was nowhere near as good at this as I'd thought, at least I know now and can work to get better. I never would have found that out on my own.

The instructor herself was incredibly patient, but had used a word here or there that I wasn't familiar with; either I had forgotten, or we hadn't been taught the words yet. I'm a person who panics easily, so this was part of the reason I was freezing up initially. I'd expected this to happen, because I knew that they only use the language you are learning, and do not speak to you in English. It sucked to be caught off guard, but it's not like the instructor has a choice, and honestly, the goal is to make the student able to speak fluently, right? If you visit Japan or any other country whose language you are learning, nobody's going to phrase the questions like Rosetta Stone out of coincidence, so preparing for that early is probably best. After a few questions I started to better understand what she was saying, and wound up performing pretty well.

And tomorrow my Unicorn and I will visit the land of Oz. 
So yes, the different mechanics of learning offered by human conversation, in addition to their ability to correct you real-time, make a huge difference in your ability to learn. Rather, it sharpens your existing knowledge of the language and gives you an extra level of elasticity. Your responses should become snappier as a result, and vocabulary should be more immediately accessible. If you're shopping around for a way to learn a new language, this is definitely an advantage that Rosetta Stone offers, if you're too cheap for classes like I am. 

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