I worked for RS for years, and have used their programs in versions 2, 3, and 4 for 7 foreign languages. I know which of their programs work, which don't, and why.

I have invited a few other former employees to join me here, and will update with their usernames so you can keep an eye out for their responses

The obvious questions:

  • does it work? - Yes and no, it really depends on the language in question. Some languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Chinese, English...) it works very well, others (Arabic, Turkish, Japanese) it is a very flawed endeavor, but may still be a useful tool, depending on the person.

  • Did you really learn 7 foreign languages with RS? - Yes and no; for some it was my primary method of acquisition, for others it was a great tool, and for others it was apparently an impediment to my success. I'm certified in 2 of the 7. I have former colleagues who I'm friend with who speak 5-10 languages each, and there are others who spent years with RS and just didn't bother to learn anything.

  • Adults don't learn like children, WTF is with their advertising? - It's advertising. Some people subscribe to the "critical period" hypothesis and would argue kids learn better than adults could ever hope to, others will point out that 5 year olds are complete fucking idiots and that any adult who spoke at the level of a 5 year old after 5 years of study should be ridiculed for their incompetence in language learning. Both are kind of irrelevant, in that RS is just trying to get people to buy a program that's built around a different framework, using popular ideas about linguistics.


EDIT: proof

EDIT 2: OtherRSguy and Zingerone are with me. I've asked them to contribute.

EDIT 3: Front page? You guys. Seriously...more Karma on my throwaway in one day than in 2 years on my real account.

EDIT 4: CTRL+F, people. We've already answered our thoughts on Russian, Mandarin, German, etc. a few times. My fingers are starting to hurt. My eyes are burning. I'm kinda freakin' out.

Edit 5: basslinguist is with me. What he says goes.

Comments: 2352 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

bigslick1029 karma

¿Dónde está la biblioteca?

FormerRSguy177 karma

Hay algunas bibliotecas in en esta ciudad. Pero, no me gusta la biblioteca; yo prefiero comprar libros.

BlastOffBitch379 karma

Have you heard about / used duolingo.com? It's a pretty cool project created by the same guy that did ReCaptcha - you help to translate the web while learning a language. There's a TED Talk on it, if you're interested.

I've been using Duolingo to learn Spanish. The software itself is very similar to Rosetta Stone. Does Rosetta Stone see projects like Duolingo as a threat?

Edit: I have a few invites, PM me your email address if you want one. I am out of invites for now. But see below for others offering invites. If someone is kind enough to send you an invite, sign up right away - that person then receives additional invites that they can give out. Oh, and try to be nice guy or gal & give a few away yourself.

FormerRSguy236 karma

I've never used it, but I'll check it out.

RS doesn't really think of anyone as a threat, as far as I can tell. Their main competition, as they see it, is universities, and they're trying to neutralize that by partnering with some.

roflocalypselol340 karma

Will they ever use higher res photos so I can tell the differences between freaking apples and tomatoes?

eaglepowers114 karma

Yes! The Thai course (in 2005) had such poor quality photos. Often I couldn't tell if the person in the picture was a man or woman, when the correct answer depended on it.

FormerRSguy216 karma

That's a huge flaw in V2 the address in the upgrades, but sadly, Thai is still V2 only. Some of those photos I have no idea what's going on. Some of them have things like floppy disks in them. Wtf.

optimus_crime33277 karma

Do you get mad poontang for these skills???

FormerRSguy791 karma

Yes. There are almost 7 billion people on earth, I can now talk to around 4 billion of them, instead of just the English-speaking ones.

EDIT: Your mileage may vary.

DeathToPennies138 karma

What language do you find gets you the most poontang?

vicereversa79 karma

Please answer this so I know which language to study.

FormerRSguy12 karma

Chinese. It's a numbers game.

UmiNotsuki147 karma

Hey, maybe you could help me out!

I've studied Japanese language in formal classes for 5 years (all through high school, one year in college.) I feel like I'm very poor at learning language in general, as before Japanese I studied Spanish for 7 years and never got very good at it (better at Japanese now than I ever was at Spanish.)

My current level of understanding is alright, but I stumble and have to think. I make grammar mistakes fairly often (though rarely bad enough to change the meaning of my sentence -- think the Japanese equivelent of English's "My name is Umi" and "My name being Umi."

Can you suggest anything that might take my foundational understanding to fluency?


FormerRSguy205 karma

You're actually the kind of person I would recommend RS Japanese for. Be ready to send it back for a refund if you didn't enjoy it or get as much out of it, but someone with a decent foundation who wants to clean it up before they move on is kind of the ideal customer for them.

UmiNotsuki43 karma

Cool! Is there any way to tell which level I should start with? Some kind of placement test?

5 years ago I tried the beginner version, learned "boy" and then gave up and started formal classes, but I'm not sure how far I've advanced!

FormerRSguy97 karma

Start at the beginning, honestly. The way it's organized is completely different than a classroom setting, and there's stuff in Level 1 that I pretty much guarantee you don't know if you're asking about ways of studying a language.

My favorite one to call people out on was "he's buying a metal ladder in the hardware store." That's all L1.

UmiNotsuki32 karma

Interesting... I know how to use the grammar for that sentence, easily, but don't know the vocab. Still worth starting from the beginning, or should I just study vocab?

FormerRSguy43 karma

hmmm...that I don't know. The grammar gets much, much more complex in level 2, but it's more expensive to buy them separately like that. If you can get to a kiosk/store and ask to just see the whole program, you'll have a better idea. Keep in mind each core lesson is broken into 3-4 other sub-sections, so if you're skipping through a core to check it out, make sure you look at the middle and end.

steepo27140 karma

I'm VERY interested in this ama. Which languages do you speak? Which one do you enjoy most/ least and why? On average, how long does it take to learn a language if practiced for at least a half hour a day? are you planning on learning more? Why are you no longer with the company? were they jerks?

FormerRSguy240 karma

I don't want to give away too much personal information, and I have invited a few friends and former colleagues to weigh in, so among us we speak:

French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Dutch, Persian, Portuguese, and Turkish.

Personally, I love French and Arabic for the phonology. I love the grammar of Arabic. Above all, those of us who speak Chinese love the logic of it, as well as the elegance of it.

On average, how long does it take to learn a language if practiced for at least a half hour a day?

If that practice is smart and effective, the average for all of my friends (RS and non-RS using alike) is 3-6 months for a good foundation. Meaning: you can carry on a conversation entirely in your target language. Another year or two or more to get really articulate and comfortable. For an anglophone, it should be completely doable to take the C2 exam in a European language. Arabic will take longer than that for a foundation, in part just because of a dearth of good English language resources. Chinese, if you ignore exoticizing and orientalist statements about it, should take 3-6 for a good foundation, just like anything else.

are you planning on learning more?

I'm kind of cooling it for a while. I want to work on and perfect things I've already started. But then there are some days that I just want to speak everything, and get pulled by Cantonese, or Tibetan, or Yiddish, or Xhosa.

Why are you no longer with the company?

Moved on to bigger and better things.

were they jerks?

You have no idea.

Danger-Moose117 karma

were they jerks?

You have no idea.

Care to elaborate? By the way, Virginia high-five and thanks for doing this AMA! :)

FormerRSguy241 karma

On the small scale, my superiors were inept, mean-spirited, and uninterested in language. An area manager once showed up drunk, threatened me (playfully) with a blunt object, called me a few racial epithets, and threatened to fire me if the security camera was filming [them]. They made fun of Russian in front of an interested customer and scared of the customer. They tried to micromanage and play employees off one another. It was ugly.

On the larger scale, they insist that stores open an hour before the place they are in opens (wut?), and seem to have spent the last 5 years trying to figure out how to pay their employees the minimum possible. Over the course of the years I worked there, I basically took an enormous paycut. When I quit, I realized that after they went public, their changes to the commission and hourly pay made it so I had effectively taken a $15,000 a year pay cut from when I started. They hire some idiots (it's inevitable in retail), and then treat all their employees like idiots. The customers, it being retail, could sometimes be depressing...everyone has retail horror stories...but the company was worse than any customer ever was.

I have a pet theory about their former corporate big-wigs, some of whom are currently being investigated by the SEC, intentionally trying to run the company into the ground.

DrakenKor809 karma

I pirated Rosetta Stone. There I said it.

FormerRSguy571 karma

It's ok bro. It's ok.

doomsdaysmile22 karma

Was it difficult learning Russian? I've had plans to go to Russia for quite some time, however, I want to be familiar with the language first.

FormerRSguy30 karma

It was a pain in the ass for me, in part because of RS. The verbal system is not difficult, but unlike anything I'd done before (pairs of verbs for different aspects), and has a florid case system (it's not Hungarian, but c'mon: Instrumental Case? Really?)

ZeroCoolthePhysicist38 karma

Merhaba abi. Nasılsın?

FormerRSguy169 karma

Tüm iyi, teşekkür ederim!

I'm not the one among us who speaks Turkish though...My first reaction was to want to ask you, in Arabic, why you were addressing me as your father...

LunaticEngineer100 karma

Can you elaborate on the reasons romance languages + Chinese work well, but Arabic, Turkish, Japanese do not?

Thank you for doing this, it should be very interesting

FormerRSguy144 karma

It was designed around Spanish, as far as anyone can tell. Chinese has less complex syntax than Spanish, so it works. Arabic is not necessarily more complex, but it is radically different. You cannot use a method that works for getting learners to intuit Spanish conjugations to get them to intuit Arabic conjugations. So for Arabic, it just doesn't effectively explain verb weakness (defective, hollow, assimilated, and doubled verbs), derived forms, or verbal nouns. Similarly, Turkish is an agglutinating language, and RS just doesn't handle it well. Japanese for similar reasons, but also their refusal to address anything other than a very stilted, over-polite register.

loot_of_the_froom93 karma

Would you recommend the Swedish RS?

FormerRSguy168 karma

Yes, without a doubt. Especially if English is your first language.

Finally, a simple question, a simple answer.

[deleted]81 karma

Why are the programs so expensive and why shouldn't I just simply torrent it?

FormerRSguy128 karma

The programs are expensive because of the amount of work that went into them from the linguists, the R&D department, the coders, etc. etc. Just like any other software product, you're paying for the work that was done to make the product, and for further improvement. The price is also set to make it comparable to, but cheaper than, a semester at University. The price is also wildly variable, and they seem to be in a race to the bottom, so products that were $999 are going for $399 now. It all depends on your definition of expensive, and the marketing department's job is to help you define it in a way that doesn't include RS.

Why shouldn't you torrent it? The reasons I can think of are to support those who made it if you like it (so torrent it and see how you feel?), and the non-torrentable features. The games and stories are great, but the coaching with native speakers is by far the strongest part of the program, and you just can't torrent a coach. It's free (with purchase!) and unlimited sessions with native speakers within a timeframe (they keep changing it so for all I know it could be anywhere between 1 and 15 months).

hewegoagain20 karma

Hi and thank you for doing this AMA.

I'd love to learn a new language, but sadly for me the definition of expensive includes $399. Do you know of any "sales" or lower priced offerings by RS? I've heard nothing but rave reviews about the product but it remains outside of my price range.

FormerRSguy30 karma

They're constantly changing their pricing around, so I'd just suggest keeping an eye on them. They do social media stuff, like giveaways on facebook. They used to (and probably still do) have payment plans. basically, they're really trying hard to get the product into your hands, so it's more than likely you can pay part up front and the rest later, and get it on sale.

Jutsjhins53 karma

Given three months, how many hours a day would it take someone to learn a language conversationally? Something like French or german.

FormerRSguy84 karma

I'd say 1-2. Don't burn out, study smart, pay attention to what's being taught, and spend the time you're not doing it thinking about the language and trying to improvise utterances using what you've learned. If you don't know something, no harm in looking it up.

[deleted]48 karma

Is there a professional R&D team that helps design the program? Or is it just a bunch of business people using Wikipedia to throw together something that sells? How is the product tested?

FormerRSguy109 karma

There is a professional R&D team, but they don't seem to get a lot of funding. You can actually see precisely how much they spend on R&D and on advertising in their quarterly press releases, on their website.

(Totally unverifiable) Anecdote 1: a friend used the program for Persian, and wrote up a list of all the errors to send to R&D. R&D said they'd love to fix them, but at the moment, having completed levels 1-3 of Persian, the friend was the best Persian speaker they currently had on staff, and that they'd get to it when they get to it, but thanks for the concern.

OtherRSGuy71 karma

I feel bad for the R&D guys honestly. I'll bet there's probably some prototype new versions, units of new languages, etc. that have been researched, written, and coded - but will never see the light of day. There's probably some enthusiastic young linguists in there that have the right idea and took the job for what they thought was a language company, and are now just being forced to edit the pictures in the Spanish program to look prettier.

FormerRSguy53 karma

I feel so bad for them. Especially in Speech...those guys are awesome, and they just get ignored.

ohsnapitstheclap29 karma

having completed levels 1-3 of Persian, the friend was the best Persian speaker they currently had on staff

Now I know I'll never pay for this software, ever.

FormerRSguy48 karma

To be fair, it was at the moment, not ever.

Cormacr46 karma

What is your first language? What was your first foreign language?

How long have you been interested in linguistics?

And, just for fun: Which language that you speak is the Hardest? Easiest? Sexiest? Most Boring? Most Complex? Hardest to pronounce?

And finally, all things being equal, if it was up to you, which language would be the universal earth language?

FormerRSguy104 karma

English is my first language, French and German were my first foreign languages, although I've forgotten all the German I learned as a child, living in Germany.

How long have you been interested in linguistics?

A few years now. I'm pursuing graduate study in the field.

And, just for fun: Which language that you speak is the Hardest? Easiest? Sexiest? Most Boring? Most Complex? Hardest to pronounce?

Phonetically, the hardest for me is Arabic...but I think that means it's the most fun. Easiest is French given my familiarity, but just as far as the sounds, I'd say Spanish or Chinese (fewer vowels). Sexiest? Depends on who's speaking. I've heard some ugly French and some very sexy Arabic. Most Boring? Languages aren't boring. Complex? I find Arabic grammar to be like a rewardingly complex puzzle. Russian though, I find more complex and less rewardingly so.

And finally, all things being equal, if it was up to you, which language would be the universal earth language?

Mandarin. Best language ever. So fucking good. Also, anyone who tells you it's really hard is lying, or hasn't taken their blinders off. The writing system makes perfect sense, and more than half the world's languages are tonal, meaning tonal is basically the default. As far as tonal languages go, Mandarin's not that hard.

kyrul57 karma

I'm a Mandarin speaker and my problem with it has always been the writing system. Learning characters just seems like a massive PITA. Any thoughts on this?

FormerRSguy141 karma


All of Chinese writing is basically a very clever mnemonic system. You have only 214 radicals, and most of the time, one of them gives you a hint about the sound and the other gives you a hint about which thing that sounds like that you're actually dealing with.

Everyone looks at it as 'learning characters,' but nobody learning English complains you have to memorize how to write all the words. English is not much more obviously phonetic than Chinese (compare to Spanish if you don't believe me). You don't actually have to memorize all the characters: you have to know the radicals, and how they fit together, just like in English you have to know strings of letters ("kn"), how they fit together into words, and how those words are actually pronounced. Chinese is a system of comparable complexity (26 letters - capital, lowercase, cursive capital, cursive lowercase, combinations of letters like "ti, kn, ough, ch," and sundry other symbols puts English at probably 150-200 'pieces' you have to know), but that just looks WAY cooler.

As for the actual process: analyze characters. Break them into their radicals. Also, Reading and Writing Chinese and Chinese Cursive Script are extremely helpful.

WenchStench39 karma

Thank you for your comment on Mandarin. I've been so turned off by everybody saying that it's impossibly difficult that I've been focusing my attention elsewhere as of late. The same applies to Arabic. People make it sound like it would be a lifelong struggle where you never really become fluent. Very disheartening.

FormerRSguy145 karma

Over a billion people speak Mandarin, and statistically, millions of them must be idiots.

malickmobeen34 karma

i am free for next month and i am planning on using internet resources to learn Spanish. what piece of advice would you give me?

FormerRSguy130 karma

Get as much comprehensible input as possible, including things just above your current level. Listen to Spanish and watch Spanish TV constantly. Try and formulate your thoughts in Spanish, even if it means walking around and talking about objects like a child with a learning impediment ("the toilet is next to my shower. My shower is dirty." etc.). Talk with native speakers as much as possible; the internet makes this easy to do for free. Pay attention to cognates, since Spanish gives you a ton of words for free. Read about things you're interested in, in Spanish, on wikipedia. I've learned more Spanish reading about Coffee and Tango dancing than you'd believe. Insist on Spanish, and don't let people drag you into using English out of laziness.

It's all about volume of input, comprehension of that input, and attempts to use the language without worrying about making mistakes. I'm generally not a fan of the fluent in 3 months guy, but his "aim to make 500 mistakes a day," is a great piece of advice. Make them, and learn from them.

tastycat34 karma

Usually AMAs don't make me laugh this much but I like your style.
I've chuckled at a few things you've written but "walking around and talking about objects like a child with a learning impediment" is the best so far.

FormerRSguy56 karma

I learn languages what so I can crack jokes! I still haven't gotten over reddit not finding the greatest bilingual Dutch/English pun ever all that funny...I called an insane marble collector "knicker bonkers," and got crickets.

autocorrector28 karma

You mentioned that it works for some languages, but not others. Why?

FormerRSguy90 karma

A cookie cutter approach, using a fantastic course for Spanish for English speakers. If it's Spanish, like Spanish (so, Romance), or grammatically simpler than Spanish (Chinese), it's a great program. If it's not anything like Spanish and equally or more grammatically complex (or just complex in different ways), you start seeing diminishing returns the farther you get from Spanish.

On a deeper level, I think it's because the linguists involved in R&D are staunch Chomskians, and they believe in universal grammar, without having done a lot of study of other languages, challenges to UG, or even really transformational grammar. So there's an anglo-centric current in the company that's just from complete ignorance of other languages, and it's worse when it comes to culture. It's very, very American. Corporate offices are in Virginia, and some of the people in support (not customer facing tech support), don't own their own computers at home, and are monolingual anglophones.

Faptain_Falcon110 karma

"monolingual anglophones" ----> dumb muricans

translator credentials: i'm a murican

FormerRSguy53 karma

"Murkns," is the shorthand my friends use.

rbobby28 karma

Would RS be good for Korean?

FormerRSguy13 karma

Gadnium's got this on lock.

stwalcher27 karma

What tips or advice would you have to best use RA or to learn the lessons faster?

FormerRSguy73 karma

Take notes, and think critically. Ask yourself what are they trying to teach here. Recognize that the farther from Spanish the language is, the more work you're going to have to do to decipher what they're trying to teach and how your target language may differ. For instance, teaching the 'past' is relatively simple in Spanish...but Russian has a completely different way of handling aspect than Spanish, and RS isn't geared toward effectively teaching the imperfective and perfective verb pairings in the language.

Read up about your language (wikipedia is actually really good for grammars), and don't be afraid to use other sources. More important than anything, talk to other people in your target language.

aiukli21 karma

Hi. Been in the language training bidness for about 15 years now, and more and more I think that blended learning and/or e-learning alone just doesn't cut it.

Do you think people would make more progress in their learning simply by trying to talk and listen in the target language (once the initial grammar and some basic vocab is mastered)?

FormerRSguy52 karma

Absolutely. Part of why RS is effective is that the average customer (the average language learner) is horribly inept at language learning, and RS babies them. Speaking and listening to actual human beings is crucial but nobody wants to do that. I think RS does a very good job of building that into version 4, and making it seem friendly and unintimidating.

I have to check myself regularly, since a lot of people love RS, and some of them love it for reasons I now basically hate it. So I see friends with really ridiculous approaches to language learn French or Russian despite their weird preconceptions, using RS, and I have to remind myself how different each learner is.

E-learning alone, though, definitely doesn't cut it. Most people don't want to actually go out and use their languages at all though...they just want to "know Spanish."

wugs21 karma

You say RS works for Mandarin because the grammar is simpler than Spanish, but what about pronunciation? The most difficulty I ever had with Chinese was tones. And does it teach the writing system well? I know that not only are the shapes specific, but there's a particular stroke order if I'm not mistaken...

FormerRSguy28 karma

I'm really glad you asked, Wuggen.

There are two considerations:

  • Tones are not taught explicitly, rather the learner repeats, and tone is built into the criteria on which the speech production either 'passes' or doesn't. There's a great graph they have that shows the rise and fall of the voice, and the interested learner can also use a full spectrogram (not that the average consumer has any idea how to read this).

  • Tone is often taught very poorly in school, and there are very strong arguments that while it's important to know the tone of a word, the tone across an entire utterance is much more important. RS has people speaking in full sentences. My experience with it was very, very positive, and the friends I have who used RS speak Mandarin with much better pronunciation than the people I've met who did not use RS.

In fact, my experience has been that Chinese is where RS is the most impressive, since so many non-native speakers just suck at it, whereas most who use RS get pretty decent.

And does it teach the writing system well? I know that not only are the shapes specific, but there's a particular stroke order if I'm not mistaken...

Yes and no, and I'm annoyed at them about it but understand their decisions. You learn to read (although you can disable characters and just use pinyin, which is a huge flaw IMO), and you learn to write in pinyin, which is how you would type (I use pinyin on my computer, and my phone). I used to always recommend that people supplement with Reading and Writing Chinese and if they want to be ahead of 99% of non-native speakers, also Chinese Cursive Script. That said, you'd be surprised how little writing by hand anybody does.

Russkaya17 karma

I have always wanted to learn Russian, and have looked into Rosetta Stone, 2 questions for you, You said earlier that it does not work well for Russian, why is that? What is a good method for learning Russian? Thanks

FormerRSguy15 karma

It works as a good tool, especially for pronunciation. I would recommend using RS for pronunciation and speaking practice (using Studio) and using the New Penguin Russian Course for a strong foundation with the grammar.

I just don't think RS is useful for Russian as a stand-alone product.

Frajer16 karma

Would you say you're fluent?

FormerRSguy33 karma

Fluent is a difficult thing to describe. I'm certified in 2 of the languages, and work professionally using 4-5. A former colleague is currently using 3 professionally (two of which, Russian and Chinese, he learned with RS). Another former colleague is currently using the Arabic and Persian they learned (Arabic only in part from RS) professionally.

I can definitely chat in a cafe or get around as a tourist in all of them, though.

Kittsy12 karma

You say it's not a massively helpful tool for Japanese. As someone casually interested in gaining a basic knowledge of the Japanese language, where would you recommend I start?

FormerRSguy30 karma

Japanese Step By Step by Gene Nishi is what has been recommended to me by the friends of mine who speak it, and who understand linguistics.

RS is still a useful tool, especially for pronunciation. You'll just need something else for the syntax and for pragmatics.

hardestprofession10 karma

I've been trying to learn Danish- would you recommend RS for this sort of endeavor?

Also: what other tips and tricks do you have for people trying to learn languages? Things that you've picked up as you've learned.

FormerRSguy12 karma

Yes, with caveats: it's only available in Version 2, which does not really try and teach so much as just drop an enormous amount of the lexicon and grammar on you in small chunks. Every lesson in V2 is 40 utterances in your target language, loosely held together by a common theme (verbs of motion! using prepositions!).

One of the keys is repetition. Using V2, I'd do the painfully, tediously boring "guided exercise," first, then on subsequent days when I'm doing other lessons, review the shorter A,B,C,D materials from previous lessons. Also, get through it as fast as you can. Everything is about volume of comprehensible input, repetition, and use. So make sure you actually speak Danish with people. I'm not sure if shared talk is useful, but use the internet to find Danish speakers, and work it out!

IAmA_god_AMA7 karma


FormerRSguy13 karma

Yes, but first I'd suggest watching a TON of TV in Spanish, which you can do for free, online. If you don't find that and radio works for you, then contemplate buying something like RS.