Monday, April 12, 2010

Upon Further Review...The Stone

BOSTON - I’ve decided I’m going to dedicate this week to updating some older posts in part because circumstances and opinions have changed, and also because it is becoming increasingly difficult to be creative enough to think of new posts. (Did I really post images of keratatic eyes on Saturday? I must have been really tired. Sorry)

Today, I need to go back and talk about learning Spanish and Rosetta Stone because now that I’m seeing a bunch of former colleagues, after they realize I’m not in Mexico yet, they are curious about what I’m doing with my down time and the proceed to recommend I try the Stone.

I’ve talked a little about the Stone back in the early days when I was a little more naïve and thought I would spend hours every day sitting in front of this laptop practicing my Spanish.

That is what I should be doing, but things come up, I procrastinate some, and frankly, the Stone program isn’t that great or user friendly, which makes it easy to put off.

Before proceeding any further, I need to state that 99.9% of my Spanish failures are my fault alone. I haven’t taken it seriously enough, and I can blame only myself. But I don’t want to use the rest of this space making fun of myself, so I’m fixating my angst at the Stone.

What I’ve realized is that what the Stone does best is market itself. When I tell people I’m on the Stone and have been a bit underwhelmed, they all express shock because they’ve heard it is the greatest thing language teaching device ever derived. “How could the Stone, with its extensive marketing campaign, not work miracles?”

This disbelief reflects the genius of the Stone’s marketing campaign. Everyone wants to believe that learning a foreign language can be done easily. “So all I have to do is shell out $1,000 (or whatever exorbitant amount the Stone charges), insert the CD, and I’ll know Spanish? Sign me up!”

This point was driven home a bit during Easter weekend when I was talking about learning Spanish with Natalie’s aunt. She said when she was in high school, they were promoting the subliminal, sleeping tapes to learn Spanish. Another miracle-based, no-work-involved Spanish lesson.

For the Stone to be successful, you need to dedicate a couple of hours per day, every day. Guess what. With that kind of time commitment, you could probably pick up a Spanish lesson book out of your local library and learn and retain the same amount of knowledge.

OK, so you say you are willing to put in the time. Great start, but I find the second big problem with the Stone is that it isn’t really user friendly. You buy the Spanish Stone, and all you get is Spanish. No English instructions. I think the reasoning here is that they can sell the same Spanish Stone in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, etc. These Stone people are pretty clever like that.

Also during Easter weekend, I showed my mom the Stone, and has a teacher, she simply said, “I can see why you don’t like using this.” It should be added that I never said I didn’t like the Stone, but during weekly phone calls, when asked about Spanish, I would say it is coming slowly and that I’m not really putting in the time

And during Snowstorm 4.0, Natalie decided to try it out to make sure she wasn’t forgetting what she had learned before the GREATEST SNOWFALL HUMAN EYE’S HAVE EVER WITNESSED. She, too, complained a bit and became more sympathetic about my plight, which has since worn out.

The problem is that you don’t really learn the language. You learn expressions and vocabulary. You don’t learn grammar rules or culture understanding, which are both huge factors in language. Hell, you barely learn conjugation. In this regard, that library book is probably more valuable.

I think the Stone is a great supplement for learning a foreign language. As the lead tool, or stand alone tool, it comes up way short. Especially considering the price tag (thanks, tax payers, by the way) and gaudy claims you hear on TV.


  1. When I am doing Rosetta Stone for French I always have fun looking at the pictures they use while trying to figure out which ones they also use in the Spanish, Italian and Arabic versions.

    Do they show the same pictures of New York for each one? Probably. Do they show the same houses? Probably not. Do they show the same teacher standing in front of a blackboard? I think so, but they photoshop the writing on the board to match the language.

  2. Have you considered doing the learning style tests through FSI to see how you might best approach learning Spanish? These tests are not a crystal ball, but I found the results interesting nonetheless.

    You can get a packet with the tests to fill out on your own - no need to attend a proctored test session unless you are taking the MLAT.

  3. You might be interested in this upcoming film at DC's international film festival, which seems to be (at least in part) about being a trailing male diplomatic spouse: