L’homme Lit: Using Rosetta Stone to Learn French

04 August 2009 · 7 comments

Kris and I are a planning a trip to France and Italy next autumn (meaning: autumn 2010). Details are vague and sketchy right now, but we’ll put our plans together over the next few months.

One thing we both want to do, though, is to learn French. Kris had four years of Spanish in high school, and I had a total of 2-1/2 years of German and one semester of Spanish in my educational career. (Plus I tried to teach myself Latin five years ago.) But neither one of us is really conversant in a foreign language. That’s a shame.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been researching options for learning French.

  • We could buy French textbooks and learn from them.
  • We could take community college classes.
  • We could use free online websites.
  • We could pick up some “learn French fast!” compact discs.

Of these, I think the community college classes would be most effective. Unfortunately, that’s also the least convenient way for us to learn. I kept hoping for a better solution.

Then I began to notice that many people praised Rosetta Stone, a computer-based language program. I’ve seen the Rosetta Stone ads in magazines for years, but never really paid attention. And when I saw the price for the software ($450! On sale!), I just about died.

Last weekend, Kris and I went to see a movie at Clackamas Town Center. Afterward, we wandered the mall. We haven’t been in a mall in years, and it seems like a foreign place to us now. It’s like a different world.

One of the new things that seems to have sprung up is the endless line of kiosks down the center of the mall walkways. These places are staffed by aggressive salespeople looking to hawk their wares. Except at Clackamas, there was a Rosetta Stone kiosk with a decidedly non-aggressive salesperson. We stopped to look at the software. After a ten minute trial, we bought it.

Rosetta Stone uses an “immersion” method to teach languages. You install the core software on your computer, and then you can add language packs. These language packs are designed to immerse you in the language. There’s no English involved at all.

Each language course is divided into three levels. Each level is divided into several units. (There are four units in first-level French.) Each unit is divided into several lessons. Finally, each lesson is divided into several (5-15) exercises.

The exercises all use big photographs of people doing stuff. There are various exercises related to these photographs, and there’s a hell of a lot of repetition. One photo might show a man reading, for example. In the first lesson of a unit, you’d simple look at the photos and listen to a native speaker give you vocabulary. (The reading man would be: “L’homme lit.”)

There are vocabulary lessons, reading lessons, writing lessons, and more. There’s never any explicit grammar lesson (you’re not taught about gendered nouns or the dative case, for example), but instead you’re expected to pick up the grammar buy perceiving the difference any sentence structure in various contexts.

Kris and I have been using Rosetta Stone for the past few days. It’s fun. And effective. Our French knowledge is very limited, but it’s fun to use what we do know. When Max the cat hopped on the counter while we were making dinner last night, I was able to say, “Le chat cuisine.” We both found that funny. (Really le chat just wanted to mange, not cuisine.)

I’m a little skeptical that Rosetta Stone will provide deep knowledge, but I could be wrong. The first level only has four units, and we’re about to start the fourth unit already. Our vocabulary is very limited (colors, a couple of motion verbs, stuff to do with people), as is our grammar. I have high hopes that levels two and three have much greater depth and introduce much more vocabulary.

Actually, for our vocabulary, I’m planning to take a stack of sticky notes and sticky the hell out of the house. I’ll put a la table stick on the table, a de porte sticky on each door, and a la chaise sticky on my favorite chair.

With practice, Kris and I should be able to carry on a French conversation with Lisa or Laura (or Pierre!) before long.

Update: Haha. I’m so green at my French that I had the verb “to read” incorrect in the headline. I had “lis” instead of “lit”.

1 Mrs. Micah August 4, 2009 at 09:45

Bonne chance! If you put your mind to actually learning, Rosetta Stone is a fantastic program. If you don’t, then it’s a huge money-waster. I’m not sure how far the course will take you, I used a different one myself but I encountered Rosetta Stone along the way.

Once you’re a little more fluent, I recommend renting French videos and putting on the French sous-titres. Unfortunately, not all American DVDs of French films will have this option. Or you can try putting French subtitles on when you’re watching normal DVDs. But subtitled translations can be quite awkward, I know sometimes English subtitles on French films give translations which miss the point or the idiom.

Enjoy your trip. :) French doesn’t get you far in some parts of Italy, malheureusement, so pick up an English-Italian phrasebook or travel with people who do speak Italian.

2 Adam August 4, 2009 at 10:13

Sticky noting around your house is a good idea. My boss’s kids have been in a long, slow German course for a couple of years and just about everything in their house has a little tag with the German word for the item. I hope your trip goes well.

3 elisabeth August 4, 2009 at 10:41

hi. Along with your own study, I think you should investigate your local community college, which may have a class you can take for probably no more than you paid for the Rosetta system. In a class, you’ll have someone who will correct any errors you make, and lots of people to practice with, and all in all, it will help!

4 Peter August 4, 2009 at 11:21

You should very seriously look into a Spaced Repetition System or SRS. An SRS helps you to keep from forgetting the stuff you’ve already learned over time. Sort of like flashcards that pop up just before you are about to forget them, so that they stay in your head.

There are a lot of good free ones, including Mnemosyne, Anki, and http://smart.fm if you want something that is online.

I’m not associated with any of those programs, but I do blog about language learning and using an SRS is the single thing which has helped me continue to move forward when I couldn’t devote a ton of time to study.

5 kel August 4, 2009 at 12:15

i have a friend who has met everyone in dc who speaks french through meetup.com. cheap practice and sounds more fun than a class.

6 frugalscholar August 7, 2009 at 21:34

I will probably put this on my own blog (I keep meaning to), but the main part of the language program at Rosetta Stone is in the public domain. It is the program designed to teach language to people in the foreign service. Rosetta Stone tarted the base program up w/ graphics etc. I owe this tip to a colleague who was in the Peace Corps many years ago. He still has his old book! It’s on-line now, I believe.

7 ssa January 14, 2010 at 01:42

don’t waste your money or time with rosetta stone – it doesn’t work. They just have tons of money and claim the military uses it… haha. There are tons of testimonials of ppl that used RS and couldn’t speak or understand the most basic french after a year of learning…. myself included. I recommend pimsleur, even michel thomas’ french course. AFter 1 hour with michel thomas i was able to speak more french than my entire 7 MONTHS of RS french learning.

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