June 25, 2010 | Greek

I Get a Bad, Bad Grade

Am I going to be able to graduate from Rosetta Stone?

Today I chose to do Rosetta Stone instead of Pimsleur because, frankly, I felt too delicate for Pimsleur. Pimsleur requires a lot of mental energy and focus, particularly for non-Romance languages.

With Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, you can be a bit of a slacker and still get something from it. There are pros and cons to that. The pro is that I am perhaps—and I hate to admit this—slightly more likely to study if I don’t feel as though I’m going to have to work really, really hard.

You Can't Take Rosetta Stone on Errands, But It Was Nice Just to Look at the Flowers

You Can’t Take Rosetta Stone on Errands, But It Was Nice Just to Look at the Flowers

The con is that I learn at a slower rate with Rosetta Stone. Every minute of Pimsleur is productive and advances my skills, and I don’t always find that with Rosetta Stone. 

At the moment, my favorite part of Rosetta Stone is, contradictorily, the one that I feel it is least effective at preparing you for: the writing lessons. They are my favorite just because I love writing in unfamiliar alphabets. It’s like art. It’s also like a puzzle, except much more exciting than, say, putting together hundreds of pieces to create the Eiffel Tower when in mere seconds you can find a perfectly good photo of it online.

My point is, I don’t think Rosetta Stone fulfills its instructional duties with the writing component. If I hadn’t practiced the alphabet before I began this program, I would have been in serious trouble. Having practiced it, I am still in trouble.

I hope this will not come across as immodest, but I am a pretty good language student. And I try hard, too. Most of my scores on the various Rosetta Stone lessons, which are divided up into categories like speaking, listening, grammar, etc., are solid, probably between mid-80s and 100 percent.

However, based on my scores on the writing lessons, you would think I required extensive remediation. To give you a sense of how these lessons work: a sample task might be to look at a photograph, listen to an accompanying audio clip, and then write down whatever sentence you heard, using a Greek keyboard Rosetta Stone gives you on your screen. You can replay the audio if you want, many times.

I felt very proud of myself as I was doing the lesson, because I knew that I knew a great deal about writing that Rosetta Stone had not taught me. I mean, I have spent a considerable amount of time in my favorite coffee shop and on subways poring over words, phrases, and sentences, writing and rewriting them. This goes way beyond the experience I have through Rosetta Stone, where you are introduced to sounds and their corresponding written equivalents, but mostly you are just looking passively at words and sentences, without the time or practice needed to absorb them. And definitely without the time or practice needed to re-create them on your own. Recognizing a word is very different from writing it.

In fact, I often slow down during Rosetta Stone lessons to study the way the words are written, even when I’m not being asked to do so by the exercise I’m in. Nonetheless, I still couldn’t do better than a 52 percent on my most recent writing lesson. I was informed that I had gotten nine right and eight wrong.

I am telling you right now that I did pretty darned well, way better than could reasonably have been expected given the instruction to date. I mean, without adequate preparation, I was being asked to come up with sentences such as:

  • Οι άνθρωποι από την Ελλάδα μιλάνε ελληνικά. (People from Greece speak Greek.)
  • Οι άνθρωποι από την Αίγυπτο μιλάνε αραβικά. (People from Egypt speak Arabic.)

Pretty fancy-looking, right?

Now, Greek is phonetic, but there are some things that make it very, very difficult for a beginner to get entire sentences right, even if said beginner is spectacular. For instance, to make the sound ee in Greek, I believe you could write any of the following:

  • ι
  • ει
  • οι
  • υ
  • η

So I constantly make errors with those. Another example: the sound oh in Greek could be written ο. Or it could be written ω. If there’s a way to know when to use what, I certainly haven’t been taught it.

So good luck getting those letters right without extensive drilling and practice.

Back to the scoring. I’m really not sure how it worked. I am thinking an entire sentence may have been counted wrong if I got a single accent or letter wrong. But in any case, I can tell you I got far more than 52 percent of the contents of those sentences right, especially after retries; retries are built into the program and I was repeatedly offered them, but I am now wondering whether I got credit for my various astute corrections. With scores like that, I would never have made it out of third grade.

I deserve a bunch of gold stars for even coming close—not a failing mark, Rosetta Stone!!

By the way, I subsequently completed a lesson on speaking in which I got 47 out of 47 right. Yep, that’s 100 percent, folks!

As I mentioned, in spite of the injustice of my low score, the writing is still my favorite part of the program. I love a challenge. I’m going to get you yet, Rosetta Stone.

Comments (2)

Lauren • Posted on Fri, July 09, 2010 - 3:09 pm EST

I love your blog and your persistence!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, July 09, 2010 - 3:27 pm EST

Thank you so much, Lauren. :) I appreciate the kind words.

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