Rosetta Stone TOTALe review: Immerse yourself in a new language

If you’ve ever tried learning a foreign language you’ll appreciate how difficult it can be. It isn’t just a matter of working with a textbook and doing exercises. You need to work with native speakers, preferably using just the language you’re learning, and handle typical, everyday situations. Such an immersive experience is likely to give the best results. 

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Rosetta Stone has an interesting ethos. A language is taught through viewing and selecting pictures, listening and speaking. It isn’t like being at school – there are no translations or meaningless repetitions of grammatical forms. It’s about as immersive as a language course can be without a dedicated tutor or being parachuted into a foreign country.

Part of the Rosetta Stone ethos is the listening to and repeating of phrases via photos

TOTALe is Rosetta Stone’s web-based course on a 6- or 12-month subscription. There is also a mobile app through which you can log on to your account and continue learning away from a computer.

In putting TOTALe through its paces, I selected a language that doesn’t use the standard ASCII character set: modern Hebrew. Knowing the alphabet in advance and being able to read words helped but before starting I couldn’t translate a single word.

Pass each lesson to be able to move on to the next one

As you would expect with a dedicated online course like this, the website’s layout is clean and easy to navigate. The teaching structure comprises levels containing multiple units with a number of lessons in each of these. Each lesson builds on the previous ones, increasing vocabulary and asking more of you. New words are introduced without warning – it’s a matter of using deduction to figure out which pictures they refer to. Without any English translation this can become frustrating at times and possibly result in mis-guessing the meaning of a word. 

Working through the complete course will take upwards of 150 hours and that doesn’t include the additional website extras that enhance the experience. Called Rosetta World, these include a number of interactive solo games and the opportunity for games and conversation with other online students although you have to achieve a certain level for most of these. You can also read stories and be shown where your pronunciation is off and where your fluency has faltered.

Games include MemGo, a language-based take on Pairs

Two other features worth mentioning are the chat window, where students can openly ask each other questions, and the real-time online studio sessions with a live coach and up to three other students. With gentle guidance you get the opportunity to test your new vocabulary in an almost real-world scenario.

While using a headset is probably the best way of working with TOTALe, it’s worth noting that it ran flawlessly on an old MacBook Pro using its built-in mic and speakers and running Mac OS X 10.5 with an old version of Firefox. 

Reading stories concentrates on fluency and pronunciation

How effective is TOTALe? The results you get will probably be down to the time, energy and dedication you’re prepared to put in. You need to be disciplined enough to go back over exercises until you get them right and to make use of all the features on offer, especially the studio sessions. It certainly isn’t a quick fix for a trip abroad next week. 

OUR VERDICT

While there are other, cheaper options for learning a new language, TOTALe’s immersive nature is impressive as is the range of languages on offer. The pricing is more than reasonable with the annual subscription costing less than a tutor once a month. Try the online demo for a taste of the course.

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