I remember coming across a YouTube video of a young man reviewing Rosetta Stone. I was watching this because I was contemplating whether or not I should purchase the iconic yellow language learning programme to help me learn Swedish. In his review, he mentioned he had reached the end of the programme and assured the viewers that almost 90% of buyers will not finish it. Although I had no idea who this man was, I took his statements personally and I wanted to prove to him that I was not going to be part of his statistic — If there’s one way of getting me to do anything, simply challenge me and I will blindly jump into the fray. So there I was, ploughing through the course, breezing through each chapter. Did I reach the end? Sadly, no. It’s tough for me to admit this, but I too became one of the 90% of people unable to complete the course. Why exactly? All I could put it down to was sheer boredom and laziness.
Weeks passed and I felt like a failure. I was aware of Duolingo and its free service, but I assumed anything free wouldn’t give me enough value to successfully learn a language. I needed something to get me back into learning a language, so I decided to give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? 5 months later, I can proudly tell you that I have reached the end of Duolingo and I was mistaken with the idea that ‘anything free holds no value.’
So is Duolingo better than Rosetta Stone? With the experience gained from being a user with both platforms, I go through a variety of categories to answer this very question.
Should I pay for an online course?
Let’s get the obvious one out the way. One is (somewhat) free, whilst the other is not. Not only do you have to pay for Rosetta Stone, but their products come at a hefty price. Since purchasing one of their products, Rosetta Stone has been changing up the way they sell their programs. The product I bought was a stand-alone piece of software that I had to download and install, this meant that I could only access it via one computer. From what I can see on their website, everything is subscription based and can be used across different platform.
As you can see from the photo above, I was fortunate to purchase the product with a discount. I can’t remember what special offer was going on at the time, but boy did I grab a bargain! Parting ways with just under £300 for a language learning programme is asking a lot, no matter where you stand financially. Now, just like many other companies, Rosetta Stone has embraced the subscription model as well.
These prices are considerably cheaper from what I paid in the past, but when compared to a free product in Duolingo, Rosetta Stone has no leg to stand on. When starting out, my initial reaction was to opt for a paid product as I thought it would provide more value to my learning. I don’t want to say that I wasted my money because I’ve yet to reach the end of the course, so I can’t really tell if the product is worth all of that money. The real waste is me giving up on it a few weeks after purchasing the product. That being said, I do plan on going back to it and completing the course.
Duolingo is completely free and you don’t need to pay any hidden fees to unlock extra content. There is, however, a Duolingo Plus option where you pay a monthly rate that provides you with an ad-free experience and the ability to download the lessons for when you’re not connected to the internet. I guess this will come in useful when you’re traveling with no Wifi connection— it certainly would’ve helped me whilst commuting underground— That being said, I prefer to use Duolingo on a web browser in the comforts of my desk at home, which meant I was usually connected to the internet. Personally, the ads didn’t bother me one bit, so I never had a real reason to upgrade to a premium version either. With the lure of upgrading to Duolingo Plus not so appealing, I managed to get through the entire course without spending one penny.
Hands down Duolingo clearly wins in this category. There’s no competition between the two. With a free price tag, I’m surprised to see how much value it brought to my language learning experience.
How are both programs structured?
Both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone throw you into the language, you don’t really get a lecture as to how and why the language is constructed the way it is. You’re not taught the rules of grammar and nor are you given a reason for why one word works in a particular sentence and not in another. It’s because of this, it can be quite difficult starting out if you have absolutely no knowledge of the language. With that being said, both courses ease you into the language by introducing you with very basic words like ‘girl’, ‘boy’ and ‘car’. As you move further along, both courses start introducing full sentences like, “the boy in the car”, but they don’t really explain how to construct a sentence. Again, you’re left to your own devices to figure it out. I think that’s what’s lacking in a lot of language learning programmes. For me, grammar was one of my weak points— it’s something I still struggle with now— understanding how to construct a sentence and why it works would’ve helped me tremendously. It’s as if both courses expect you to pick up on how a language is constructed by going over a variety of different sentences over and over again. That’s not to say this method of repetition didn’t help— which it did— it’s just that I’m sure I would’ve gained more value if someone explained the rules of the language.
So how is Rosetta Stone structured? The product I ordered consists of 3 different levels that is broken into 4 units per level. Each level consists of different categories such as, “Language Basics”, “Greetings & Introductions” and “Everyday Things.” Each category is then broken up into a variety of small bite-sized lessons, which some of these lessons can last up to 5 minutes and go all the way up to 25 minutes. Keep in mind there are about 30+ lessons in each category, so there’s a lot of content to get through— no wonder a lot of people give up less than halfway!
Rosetta Stone covers all the elements when it comes to language learning; reading, writing, speaking and listening. Photos are heavily implemented within the software, which I think makes learning a lot easier. Every word you hear is spoken by a local, which is a great way to train your ears and get used to the language. There’s a useful speech recognition software, that analyses your voice and visually shows you where you are going wrong. Although I can’t really vouch for this technology as it sometimes confuses a random shout as part of the Swedish language. In order to progress to the next level, you’ll need to correctly answer a certain amount of questions, anything below 90% means you have to repeat the lesson.
How is Duolingo structured? Similar to Rosetta it covers the basic reading, writing, speaking and listening. On the home screen of Duolingo, you are introduced with a language skill tree, similar to Rosetta you have to complete each category in order to progress to the next circle. You start off with the ‘Basics’ and then move into ‘Phrases’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sports’. The whole Duolingo experience is gamified which I found helped motivate me to get all the way to the end. The inclusion of the different type of game mechanics such as learning streaks, community leaderboards, and achievement badges made the whole learning experience more enjoyable. There is a handy ‘Practice’ button that allows you to go over categories that you’re quite weak in, I did find this feature quite useful when I wanted to strengthen my weak points.
Duolingo features a robotic voice that doesn’t sound as natural when compared to Rosetta Stone’s audio. It’s not the best voice to listen to as you don’t really pick up the local pronunciations. Each stage is text heavy, rarely are you presented with photos as a learning aid. The interface of the Duolingo is simple yet beautiful, it’s easy to navigate and it’s one of the reasons what drew me back to learning with Duolingo as opposed to Rosetta.
In terms of structure, I give this one to Rosetta Stone. Although both cover the basics very well, Rosetta has the slight edge with the use of local speakers and more use of images.
What other perks are available?
What else does Rosetta Stone have to offer? Well, if you were like me and only bought a stand alone and don’t have access to the subscription services, there’s not much else you can do with the programme. Committing to a subscription grants you access to live tutoring with native speakers, talking with other learners and playing different types of games. Is it worth getting a subscription? I can’t answer that question as I couldn’t justify spending a monthly amount when I could have access to all of Duolingo’s features for a small fee or even a free rate.
What does Duolingo have to offer? I already mentioned the gamification element to Duolingo, but there’s also an element of experimentation which you can find on the Labs tab. This is where there are ongoing experimental projects that could lead to something or be discontinued at any time. So far these include ‘Duolingo Stories’, where they use dialogue to help learners improve their reading. This is only available in a limited amount of languages. They also have Duolingo events where you can connect with other learners face to face. There’s a huge community and there are events held all over the world, you can find one in 6 out of the 7 continents. There’s also a podcast available to listen to that talks about real-life stories. This, unfortunately, is only available in Spanish, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they expand it to a few more different languages. If you want to get a recognised trusted certificate that shows how proficient you are in English, for $49 you can take an online test at the Duolingo English Test Centre. Who knows what else Duolingo will come up with?
Duolingo easily wins this category. The culture of constant experimentation and each project being so easily available gives no chance for Rosetta Stone to compete with Duolingo.
What else can you use?
Although this article puts Duolingo up against Rosetta Stone there are other available language learning courses out there. Memrise is similar to Duolingo and makes good use of the language learning techniques of mnemonics. It too is also free, but there is a Pro version that gives you some added perks. I’ve used Memrise at times, especially when I wanted to break the monotony of Duolingo and Rosetta.
Babbel is another language learning course that you can use, although I’ve never used it, there are people out there that swear by it. Similar to Rosetta Stone you have to pay a subscription in order to use their product. It’s for this reason, why I’ve not attempted to give Babbel a go. I had already spent money on one product, I’m not going to spend more money on something else that is similar.
I find that there are cheaper and more easily available techniques to help learn a new language. Sentence mining, learning the most common 1000 words and the scriptorium method are techniques that you don’t need to spend a penny on. I can certainly say just those three alone were a lot more effective than completing Duolingo.
Where do I stand?
So who wins in the end? It’s really down to preference. When comparing two language courses to each other it reminds me of the age-old argument of “Mac vs PC”. Which one is better? Ultimately, both are tools that help you navigate to reach your goal. Each has a different interface, one is slightly more expensive than the other but each has a fanbase that swears by it. Being a user of both Mac and PC I eventually made the decision to stick to PC because it was a lot cheaper. It’s for a similar reason why I personally put Duolingo ahead of Rosetta Stone. The value I got from this course far outweighs what I paid— which was nothing! I’m sure I would’ve got a lot of value from Rosetta Stone, and I plan to finally reach the end.
What I must say, is that neither course will get you to a high-level fluency in any language. I used each programme as a supplement to my studies. I would talk on the phone, read books and watch tv shows, then occasionally refer back to the course. I didn’t make it my main source of learning, as you should do too. Just like a computer, treat these courses as a tool to help get you to your end goal.