Customer Review:Rosetta Stone TOTALe French v4 is marketed as an innovative, total language solution for someone wishing to learn to speak, read and write conversational French. It certainly meets and exceeds those claims - it's remarkable!
Apologies in advance for the length of this review. Rosetta Stone TOTALe represents a substantial financial investment so I am assuming people considering it will want a lot of information before making a buying decision.
Rosetta Stone is an immersion-style language program. That means that during the core lessons, there is no written or spoken language other that the one you are learning. There are no instructions or directions or translations in your native language, in my case English. The only words you will read or hear are French. The meanings are made clear through pictures, gestures and logic. It sounds almost impossible, but it is actually quite intuitive. It's amazing how quickly you pick up the words, the sentence structure, the grammar and the spellings. Immersion is how all children learn language, and it works just as well for many adults. However, because this software is quite expensive, you might want to make yourself familiar with immersion style to make sure you are comfortable with it before purchasing. I also use a free online French-English dictionary quite frequently after a lesson to make certain I am clear on some words and tenses. I will probably purchase a hard copy dictionary soon as a supplement. In other words, for anything further than being able to converse well and read signs or packaging or instructions, you will want some other resources.
The core program is divided into 5 levels, each with many, many lessons and reviews. Each lesson focuses on a particular aspect of the language - vocabulary, grammar, writing/spelling, pronunciation, etc. The lessons are short, so it is easy to do a lesson or two throughout the day when you have time. If you must end a particular lesson before it is finished, Rosetta picks up exactly where you left off the next time you sign in. This makes it extremely easy for even the busiest person to find time for lessons. They also move quickly from one exercise to another. Because of this, lessons are rarely tedious.
I particularly like that it employs numerous speakers, unlike courses that only use one male and one female voice. This way, you hear many different people saying the same words and phrases, which makes it much easier when you reach the point that you want to follow and understand conversations, french movies, etc.
The package includes a fairly nice, binaural usb headset with microphone. In most lessons, you are prompted to repeat, and later answer questions, in French. If your pronunciation is off, or if your answer is wrong, it prompts you to try again until you get it right. The voice recognition is good, but you will need to fine tune your headset settings and microphone position initially. The microphone needs to be pretty close to your mouth and the volume needs to be high enough. I suspect I will need to replace the headset regularly since I have several people in my house using it every day.
In addition to the core language levels (all 5 of them), there are also 4 companion audio CDs for each level - a total of 20 companion CDs. These are great for using in the car or in your MP3 player! Each CD includes the MP3 files for easy download to your player. It reinforces what you are learning and if you are chauffeuring kids around, they will be learning, too. I listen to them while on the treadmill because it makes the time go faster and I feel like I'm multi-tasking.
You can set up multiple users for the core program. My 20 year old son in college, my 8 year old son, and my husband are all users and working at their own pace. For me, it makes the cost of this program a little more reasonable. The 15 months of online support, which is the TOTALe part of this package, is only available for one user, so choose carefully which user will get this as it cannot be changed later.
The online services make Rosetta high octane. There are games and stories and individual tutoring sessions with native speakers and opportunities to converse in French with other learners. This feature absolutely speeds up the process of becoming conversational as quickly as possible. The individual sessions with native speaking tutors are scheduled, but the games and stories and other features are available anytime.
If the online opportunities don't appeal to you or you don't have enough time for scheduled sessions, you might consider purchasing one of the regular Rosetta Stone language packages. It's the same core language program, but without the 15 months of online services, and is less expensive. As an alternative to the online part, there are some free online communities, like Livemocha, where language learners can converse online with other learners. It's not as fluid as Rosetta Stone since the other learners are using many different programs and classes and are at different levels, but it's still a nice opportunity to practice speaking your new language.
A down side to Rosetta Stone is it's EULA. This software is non-transferable. If you don't like it, you are stuck and it would be a very expensive mistake. Also, I have read other reviews that say it is difficult to get help from Rosetta in the event of computer crashes or upgrades. I didn't have any issues with my install so I cannot speak to that, but it bears consideration.
If you want to learn French (or any new language) and can afford it, I heartily recommend Rosetta Stone. If you want/need to learn French as quickly as possible, Rosetta Stone TOTALe would probably be helpful in speeding up the process, although learning a new language well is never an overnight process.
Rosetta Stone Totale French
Once you get the application installed and working, it is a lot of fun. I actually look forward to learning the language. It gives no English interpretation but shows an image with each phrase. They call it Dynamic Immersion. You hear, see, say and even type the phrase. The program goes over learned material and also breaks down pronunciations. It's colorful and not only fun to use but to look at as well.
It is a fantastic program but not without its quirks.
Problem 1 - license agreement.
We rarely read license agreements but I have started to look them over. This is one that I was tempted to decline - too many lawyers got into this one. Stuff like you don't own it, this is a license to use, etc. Because of the license agreement I was hesitant to signup for the online features for fear I am walking into additional charges I will have trouble getting out of. But I did and will definitely update if that happens.
Installation went ok on my desktop (Windows 7) except for the headset. First thing starting the application it asks to setup the microphone but the headset wasn't listed. I tried support (see below). The instructions say to plug in the headset prior to installation. But after unplugging and reconnecting the headset after installation my computer found it. But then you have to go to your sound settings on the Control Panel and set it to default in order for this application to use it- every single time. They should have taken care of that step programmatically.
Installation on a Netbook
My netbook (with Windows XP) doesn't have a CD player. With all other applications I put the CD (or DVD) into my desktop and connect to it. But it didn't' work with this installation. I happened to have a CD player that I can connect via USB and that worked fine. As with my desktop I always have to choose the headset in Control Panel every single time.
For support I tried the online chat. But it turns out support isn't familiar with Totale yet. The Knowledge Base was also lacking information on this particular version. Being a computer guy I was able to get everything working but still you should be able to install an application and run it with little difficulty, especially in this price range.
This is where the program really fails. While the screen is colorful and pretty nothing tells you what to do, what it's about, or how it works. There are tiny little icons on the upper right of the screen where you can eventually find this information. But when you start an application you should be guided right away. There is an arrow to continue but it took several screens before I was beginning to understand how to use this application.
Connecting online was worse. It kept asking me to signup so I finally did. But then it says I can't use it until certain things are completed. After looking at the online screens I later received an email that said I was scheduled to do something online which I had no idea what it was or why. When I clicked on the link it took me to a system check to tell me my speech recognition doesn't work and to download the update. Nothing about schedules but of course my headset worked. Then the next day I received an email saying they were sorry they missed me.
So many discs
With this version there are six application and language CDs and about 20 audio CDs. It would really help to include a DVD with everything on it and a install to copy all the audio so that it can easily be played on an mp3 player or ipod.
Problems Ripping Audio for MP3 Player
I used Windows Media Player (Windows 7) to rip the CDs to mp3s. Because there are so many I was just swapping discs when they were complete. Turns out some were overwritten and naming was not consistent making for a disaster figuring out what was transferred. I don't know where the fault lies but they better get with Microsoft to clear this up.
This is one of the better features. All you need is the additional language/level disc (and activation code) and it adds it in a couple of clicks. But when using a computer like a netbook without a CD it currently will not work over the network.
This is a fantastic feature to be able to say the phrase and have the computer verify it. However, it is far from perfect and isn't that precise. It works about 95% of the time but occasionally I have trouble getting it to recognize what I said. And sometimes I wonder if what I said really was correct.
This is not something you will load up quickly and start using. It takes a long while to get into the application. Once into the lesson it can take a long time to get back to the home page. There is no hour glass or any indicator so if you try to quit sometimes Windows will come up and tell you the application is not responding and ask if you want to kill it. But if you wait a while it returns and you can close the application.
It is very difficult to get around the lessons for instance if you want to start over or just go to a specific section. It tries to be intuitive and constantly asks if you want to continue where you left off even if you chose to reset everything. And sometimes it doesn't get that correct.
It keeps score through your lessons. I have no idea why because you always have to choose the correct choice. And sometimes they are simply accidental clicks. The score really gives me no clue as to how I am doing. What tells me how I am doing is what I remember which is why I like to restart and go through it again.
Once you get by the quirks this application makes learning a lot of fun. I look forward to learning a new language using this application. I think the process works even though you don't get the English translation. Online it says you can legally install it on two computers. While that is a convenience, I do prefer using it on my netbook so I can use it just about anywhere. For what it is supposed to do - teach you a language, I think it is a great application and for that I would give it 5 stars. But for the price it should no way have so many issues. I only deducted one star as I can work around the issues. Others may find them more annoying than I did.