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Like learning to braise a lamb shank orno finally getting into shape, mastering a new language is one of those things most of us aspire to but never seem to get around to doing. But it's easier than ever to get your language game on point. Today's market is chock-full of apps and programs clamoring to help you keep your bonjours straight from your buongiornos. But in such a cluttered field, the question is where to begin.
That's why we keep returning to a veteran name in the industry: Rosetta Stone. Remember it? The company pioneered the whole language learning software thing in the 1990s and has been refining its process ever since. (You might even recall the iconic yellow ads from the late 2000s about a hardworking farm boy and an Italian supermodel — a campaign so popular even Ian Frazier in The New Yorker got in on the action.) The point is Rosetta Stone has seen it all, it's solid, and there's a reason why past clients have included NASA and the US State Department.
But if you haven't checked it out in a while, it's worth giving it another look—especially right now with a whopping 40 percent off all Rosetta Stone subscriptions this fall. The recently updated mobile app is a breeze to use and perfect for the wide-ranging traveler or study-abroad student.
What makes it so great? Let us count the ways:
- First of all, we appreciate the many features that make it easy to learn on the fly. No hot spot or international data plan? No problem. You can now download your lessons and take them with you wherever you go. It's been a handy way for us to get a little Tagalog in between subway stops on the way to work. (One caveat: We've found the TruAccent technology — where you speak into the microphone and the app evaluates your pronunciation — works much better when you're on Wi-Fi or data.)
- Ever flipped through the back pages of your Lonely Planet guide, desperate to figure out how to say "Where's the bathroom?" Those days are long gone, my friend. With the Phrasebook feature you get a pretty comprehensive selection of the most common and useful phrases, all pronounced by a native speaker. Plus you can practice saying them yourself right into the app, and a little meter fills up to show you how well you nailed it (or not). It's a godsend.
- It's a relief that Rosetta Stone makes it clear at the start how long each lesson will take. (The core lessons say they'll take about 10 minutes, and in our experience that's proven accurate.) It's a small thing, but we like being able to sneak in a lesson while waiting for a friend at the bar without worrying about what we're getting ourselves into. Some other language apps we've used don't include this info, which we find frustrating.
- Speaking of other apps, if you've ever used Duolingo you'll know it tends to emphasize translations between your native language and the one you're learning. Rosetta Stone's approach is different. With its immersion method there's virtually no translation -- you learn the way a child learns, through gradually introduced sights and sounds which then quickly ratchet up to words, sentences, conversations and concepts. Sure, it might not be to everyone's taste and can feel a little bewildering at first — you're being forced to think in another language right away, after all — but we find it leads to more depth and fluency in the long run.
- We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that you can choose from at least 30 languages. While that's comparable to other programs, it's worth noting the amount of non-Latin script, non-European languages Rosetta Stone has — something competitors are still struggling to get to market. So if you're looking for Middle Eastern or Asian languages like Urdu or Indonesian, Rosetta Stone might be your best bet.
Personally speaking, we like the three-month option — it's just enough to get you into the basics of a language and give you a good sense of whether you want to go further. But whatever option you choose, you'll have the same access to 200+ hours of content. That's a great deal any way you slice it.
Of course, there's no silver bullet to learning a language. That being said, Rosetta Stone's long history of dependability and innovation gets pretty close. Add in the convenient mobile app and you've got a package that's hard to beat, whether you're a traveler, a student or, yes, a hardworking farm boy looking for love.
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