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[Table] IAMA former Rosetta Stone employee who speaks 8 languages, AMAA.

2012.06.09 08:32 tabledresser [Table] IAMA former Rosetta Stone employee who speaks 8 languages, AMAA.

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Date: 2012-06-08
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Do you get mad poontang for these skills??? 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.
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.
You have no idea.
Do you recommend Rosetta Stone for Persian and Arabic? I want to learn. Eh...not really.
>I mentioned this elsewhere, but I would recommend Alif Baa and Assimil first, then All the Arabic You Never Learned, and then Rosetta Stone, once you already have a foundation and can decipher it.
>Al-Kitaab is also pretty good, but I don't enjoy their approach. I hear 3rd Edition is better though.
>If you just start with RS, you won't speak it anytime soon.
Merhaba abi. Nasılsın? 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...
I pirated Rosetta Stone. There I said it. It's ok bro. It's ok.
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. 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?)
Also technically; you would not say "Tum iyi" - that's like saying "Total good". A more appropriate one would be "Hersey iyi" - Everything good or even better "Hersey yolunda" - everything in order :) Thanks! Still trying to get the Turkish speaker among us to join the AMA.
My issue with RS for russian is that there's no way to say "okay, now explain why it's like that". For example, if people are just out running, it's one word, but if they're running to GO somewhere, it's a different word. The pictures weren't clear. That's my issue as well. Especially with a language like Russian.
Luckly, my wife's entire family is russian, so I can ask questions. Overall it's good for vocab, but I felt the grammer was lacking good explanation. You have to figure out what they're trying to teach.
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? 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.
¿Dónde está la biblioteca? Hay algunas bibliotecas in en esta ciudad. Pero, no me gusta la biblioteca; yo prefiero comprar libros.
How long have you been interested in linguistics? A few years now. I'm pursuing graduate study in the field.
finally, all things being equal, if it was up to you, which language would be the universal earth language? 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.
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.
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? YES. LOTS OF THOUGHTS.
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.
Ask 20 random Chinese white-collar workers how to write the word for "sneeze" and I can practically guarantee you will embarrass at least a few of them. Just for the sake of comparison, "snees," gets 60,600 hits on google, "sneez," gets 809,000 results. "Sneeze," gets about 2,000,000, and once you factor in more misspellings, it would seem that 1 in 3 people can't write "sneeze," in English.
tones are rarely indicated at all in the writing system. 嚏 is also incredibly uncommon; not only does one not often write about sneezing, especially by hand, but the character is just not in many other words.
until you're a fairly advanced student you are unable to pick up new written vocabulary by listening to conversations Because the writing system predates tonality in the language. Not that this makes it easier to learn or use, but it at least explains the lack.
How is this different than any other language?
Are there opportunities at RS or other places for someone with a ling BA? You mentioned issues with the Japanese version, I'd love to get involved in improving it. I have no idea about opportunities for a ling BA at RS, but it's always worth a shot.
I was only ever taught traditional and I honestly just HATE the look of simplified. I have no desire to go anywhere where simplified script is used (i.e. Mainland China) and would prefer to just keep learning traditional. Do the same rules apply? Read Chinese Cursive Script, and have your mind blown. They're two sides of the same coin, linked by calligraphy.
It's also gonna be a lot easier to decipher simplified from traditional than the other way around. I know this having started with simplified.
I think you greatly exaggerate how easy Chinese is. Sure there are 214 radicals (which actually doesn't seem that few to me), they can possibly give you hints at the pronunciation which can make it easier to remember something you have learned; but this is limited for many many reasons. - The tones - Characters often have different pronunciations depending on context - Characters often have different tones depending on context. Also just listening to a tonal language when you don't have the ear is incredibly difficult. Also I think your comparison between lower and upper case letter in english and combination letters is flawed. Are you counting O, o and a cursive o as the equivalent of 3 radicals in chinese? More importantly, the orthography is not the language, and almost every complaint about how hard Chinese is comes from people talking about the writing system. And if we're just talking about the writing system, I don't think it's that hard, although it is true that it doesn't correspond phonetically very much or very often. That said, you want to see a writing system that's totally fucking crazy, check out Mayan.
there are some really silly looking words in Chinese that you just don't figure out the pronunciation of through careful thinking Absolutely. A lot of it you have to look up the first time. My point is that if you understand the writing system and aren't just trying to memorize entire characters without regards to the radicals (it happens!), then it's easy to remember after that.
I believe most regions outside of China actually learn Chinese through english phonetic systems (with silly annunciation symbols), making it look kinda like spanish at times. Yes. The first year textbook I used had all pinyin. I'm not sure how I feel about that, since you have to learn how to read pinyin anyway...
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? 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.
Cool! Is there any way to tell which level I should start with? Some kind of placement test? 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.
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! My favorite one to call people out on was "he's buying a metal ladder in the hardware store." That's all L1.
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? 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.
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? 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.
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. To be fair, it was at the moment, not ever.
If RS came out with a version, should I just avoid it? Given my experience, yes.
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. 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.
Why are the programs so expensive and why shouldn't I just simply torrent it? 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).
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. 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.
Would you recommend the Swedish RS? Yes, without a doubt. Especially if English is your first language.
Finally, a simple question, a simple answer.
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? 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.
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. 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.
As a Dutch/English bilingual person I must admit I don't get it. I mean okay, knikkers. And then? E: ah, yes. And then bonkers. Meh. Sigh.
Given three months, how many hours a day would it take someone to learn a language conversationally? Something like French or german. 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.
German is far more difficult for an English speaker to learn than French Any evidence of this other than personal anecdotal evidence?
What is your favorite pudding? Does bread pudding count?
Why isn't there a Rosetta Stone: Klingon? As for Klingon, the only constructed language they have is Modern Hebrew (heyo!), and I think the reason is twofold: they would lose potential customers who are interested in speaking natural languages ("I was gonna learn Spanish, but if these guys have Klingon how seriously could I possibly take them?"), and they would not likely recuperate the cost of production in sales. Same for Elvish, Nav'i, and Dothraki.
This is not entirely true. As a current RStoner in the R&D department, I can tell you that we absolutely have a Klingon language pack. But FormerRSguy is correct that we do not sell it because of the seriousness issue. I hope you're legit. That's hilarious.
Esperanto might be neat to see, but if they model everything around Spanish I'd really like to see an attempt at a lojban RS, if only for shits n giggles. OH THE HORROR.
You mentioned that it works for some languages, but not others. Why? 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.
"monolingual anglophones" ----> dumb muricans. Translator credentials: i'm a murican. "Murkns," is the shorthand my friends use.
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. Both. It's not that they believe in UG so much as that their idea of UG is apparently "it's all basically English!"
You say here "they believe in universal grammar", but it sounds like you mean "their method doesn't translate effectively to non-Proto-Indo-European descended languages". Robin Clark has a great couple of chapters on similar thinking in Meaningful Games: Exploring Linguistics with Game Theory
In the impending zombie apocalypse, what would your survival strategy be? There's a time for talking, and there's a time for action. 8 languages won't help me as much as quick thinking and the language of action.
The first step is to steal the motorcycle for sale on my block and get the hell out of dodge. I'm thinking hunting and fishing in Northern Ontario, far from civilization. I would say more, but the less anyone knows of my survival plan, the more likely it is to work.
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.
Can we see some verification? Hmm...yes. give me a few minutes to put up an imgur link.
What did you do specifically to work on RS? also, are you a linguist or specialist in language pedagogy? if so, what did you (or the other specialists) do to facilitate acquisition beyond the tasks specific to user-computer interface? Check your messages. I worked for them, in the kiosk program (ie: sales).
I really hope I am not asking this too late and it would mean a ton if you could answer. What about learning Hindi and Urdu on RS is it worth it? does it work? I have not gone through the full course for Hindi, but did the first level as a "challenge," and had a good experience with it. I would probably recommend it, but I don't want to give the impression that I have in-depth knowledge about that offering in particular.
How is the Latin program through rosetta stone?? Eh. It's fun, and very good for making Latin feel accessible, but you won't be reading Cicero when you're done.
How do you say the following phrases in all seven languages? "I know nothing." "I have nothing" " Please don't shoot me." I feel like those need to be taught first... Hmm. I usually say "I am not a spy. I work in import/export. You have the wrong man."
Rosetta Stone definitely does not teach either that or "Please don't shoot me," although a learner could figure out how to say your first two sentences from RS.
我什么都不知到。我什么都没有。情不扣动板机。
Je ne sais rien. Je n'ai rien. S'il vous plaît, ne tirez pas!
Ничего не знаю Я ничего не имею. Пожалуйста, не стреляйте в меня.
لا أعرف شيئا. ليس لدي أي شيء. من فضلك لا تطلق النار على لي.
That's probably too formal; I just know MSA and that's how it's talked about in the news.
No sé nada. No tengo nada. Por favor, no me dispares.
Non so nulla. Non ho niente. Per favore, non mi spari.
Ik weet niets. Ik heb niets. Alstublieft niet schieten!
So why did the U.S. Army do away with the online subscription to Rosetta Stone? It seemed useful. We've pulled out of Iraq.
The GSA scandal's got everyone on the hot seat and all money has to be really well accounted for.
It's an election year, let's just all wait and see what happens.
These factors are affecting me in my current job.
How much does Rosetta pay an hour? Not enough. In retail, it depends on the person, and a lot of it was commission based. They have spent the last year or two dicking with the commission to try and pay their employees less and less.
As a young farmer, did you get the Italian supermodel? There was a great bit in the New Yorker about this, I think by Jonathan Franzen, where he's got the English lessons the Italian Supermodel takes to learn about farming. It's worth looking for.
Thank you for the AMA. I have always wanted to learn a new language. Just a quick question. You said "I know which of their programs work, which don't, and why.". I am wanting to learn Spanish and French. Which versions should i buy so i get the best deal for my money? Those are both fine. The Romance languages are what they do best.
German is my native language. Are there any drawbacks to to get english versions of RS, like "RS French" instead of "RS Französisch"? Everything is full immersion so the product is the exact same.
Hi, My first language is Portuguese, my English is ok, especially in reading and writing. I would like to improve it to a superior level (public speech, report/formal writing) what kind of product would you advise me? No product: Television.
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. 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.
Lady here, anyone who can speak Italian instantly gets 70% hotter. I'm currently resting at 327% hotness, apparently, factoring in other languages, physical fitness, hairstyle, clothing, and table manners.
Well hello there.... I heard that in George Takei's voice. Was that the goal?
Don't let that bog you down, stop focusing your attention on tones and start to pronounce it like the natives do. That was how I grew up learning tonal languages--I thought that was how everybody was supposed to speak! Nobody goes around walking with tone signs in their heads. This is absolutely 100% correct.
You guys really fucked up with the Korean one. Hangeul should come first, that's the easiest and most principle part of beginning to learn Korean. Us guys? US GUYS? FUCK RS.
Also, I had a feeling that RS was more scared about cannibalization than any external competitors. I also had that impression. 2 years to get the iPhone app to the market after [X] showed a prototype to Tom, and the app that finally hit the market was shit compared to the prototype. I have no clue what the fuck happened, but I've seen both, and it's ridiculous.
We also once got a memo saying that Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, and Irish would not be available for the iPad app because they're written right to left. First of all, what the fuck. Second of all, IRISH?!
I kind of like that you call yourselves RStoners... it also makes me kind of concerned for the amount of work that gets done... "kiosk monkeys," that is, until a fundie km took offense, at which point we all started using other languages for it.
One, what do you think of a blending theory between spanish and english with them forming a combined language within the next hundred years. Unlikely.
, what are your thoughts on the DLI as a learning institute for languages. I hear it's the best an American can do. They have a great reputation.
Last updated: 2012-06-13 00:40 UTC
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