Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rosetta Stone actually gets some balanced publicity

One of the things I missed while overwhelmed by my move to Japan was the article Rosetta Stone: Speaking Wall Street's Language in Time magazine. I've mentioned before how Rosetta Stone's marketing people seem to do a great job of producing favorable coverage: lots of Rosetta Stone rahrah, but little of the skepticism that I and other language bloggers have of their method.

Time, however, avoids joining the cheerleading squad.

Time begins with Rosetta Stone's impressive IPO performance:
On the evening of April 15, the company was able to price its IPO at $18 per share, above the estimated range of $15-17. It was the first IPO to price above its range in nearly a year. The next day, shares shot up 40%, the best one-day IPO rise in the last year (on April 23, the stock closed at $25.60 per share, 42% above the IPO price).
As of today, the stock last closed at $27.84, 55% above the IPO price. In fact, the lowest to date was $22.10, still 23% above the IPO price. Clearly the market has picked Rosetta Stone as a winner, and Time goes on to show the strong financials and other factors ("relentless marketing") behind this undeniably outstanding performance in a down economy.

They then go on to echo the doubts expressed by many language bloggers:
The most crucial question facing the company, however, is quite basic: does Rosetta Stone actually work?
They then explain Rosetta Stone's inductive learning system, and highlight Rosetta Stone's claim that their system lets you "learn like a child" (an earlier post of mine sheds some light on some ways that that description doesn't really fit). Then even roll out Tim Ferriss for some comments.

The article cites data resulting from a study commissioned by Rosetta Stone:
55 hours of Rosetta Stone Spanish instruction should enable a student to pass the first semester course of a six-semester college Spanish program.
Let's pause on that one for a moment. A typical three-credit college Spanish course is three hours per week for the fifteen weeks of a typical semester. I'm not sure I'd be bragging that 55 hours of Rosetta Stone will let you pass a 45-hour class.
"After 55 hours of study with Rosetta Stone students will significantly improve their Spanish language skills," writes Roumen Vesselinov, a statistical economist at Queens College.
Yeah... you could say the same after 55 hours of just about any method.
According to Rosetta Stone, a February 2009 survey showed that 92% of respondents expressed satisfaction with the product.
That's a suspiciously high statistic. I'd bet that their respondents weren't exactly an average pool of users, included a self-selection bias, etc. Without more info on the study, this stat is pretty worthless.

So I commend Time for producing a more balanced article on Rosetta Stone, but questions remain unanswered. I'd still love to hear about any data comparing the effectiveness of Rosetta Stone to other methods in a study not funded by Rosetta Stone.

And is there any language blogger out there who's a die-hard fan of Rosetta Stone? If you know of or are one, drop a line in the comments below. Given that I can't think of any among the language blogs I'm most familiar with, I'm beginning to worry that I might be dealing with my own self-selection bias.


  1. Vincent,
    I'm afraid I can't help you out here. I've yet to run across a language blogger enthusing about Rosetta Stone. And most of the people I've met who have it are using it to fill a space on the bookshelf.

    Glad to see you back and posting.

  2. Hi there,
    I found this post through Larry Ferlazzo's Twitter recommendation, and it couldn't come at a better time, as I am thinking about an article featuring software, and I'm really wondering whether there is any kind of self-study software that a language learner can recommend wholeheartedly. I suspect from a brief read of your blog that you prefer blended concepts, right? But are there tools that you have found helpful? What can you recommend? Any comments would be appreciated!

  3. @Geoff
    Good to be back, and I can't say I'm surprised that you don't know of a language blogger that digs Rosetta Stone.

    I'd like to respond to your question with a complete post, but I'll make two quick points. First, while it's fair to call my method blended concepts, the underlying concept is always maximizing exposure to the language. Second, while I have my qualms about spaced-repetition software such as Anki, Mnemosyne, or SuperMemo, they are helpful in getting raw knowledge in your head. I'll be coming back to that in more detail with some posts I've been preparing soon.

  4. Also, and sorry to be late to join the conversation, but this study does not stipulate what was actually covered in those 55 hours. Were the students able to complete the entire Level 1 in this time period or not? Rosetta Stone is self paced.

  5. @Anonymous: That's a good point. I think we'd all assume that the study shows the average results, but you'd have to look at how it was all set up.

  6. That would be a pretty expensive bookend!

  7. I have always enjoyed working with Rosetta Stone, used to spend hours at the West Palm Beach Public Library.  It is a lot of fun. : )

  8. If you're not a PR plant, you're the first person to chime up in favor of RosettaStone on this blog.

    So let me follow-up with you: how effective was RosettaStone for you? How much time did you put into using RosettaStone and what degree of improvement did you see?