Sunday, March 16, 2008

Language Learning Software Review: Rosetta Stone Thai Level 1

Rosetta Stone Thai
Interactive software programs are becoming a popular way for people to improve their language skills. The appeal of using a computer program is that you can go at any speed you wish, repeat relevant sections as many times as you want and are not held back by dull-witted or uninterested classmates. Self-motivated students are the most successful in any context and no doubt they will benefit most from these language learning tools.

Rosetta Stone is probably one of the most well-known computer-based programs for learning a language. There has obviously been a great deal of investment in not only designing and producing their product but in advertising and marketing. I purchased their Thai Level One last year and have since worked my way through the entire course.

The appearance is slick and professional while functionality is smooth and easy to learn. The course is broken down into four skill sections: listening and reading, listening, reading, and speaking. There are four units, each with 11 chapters or levels. And each level contains four separate exercises. The presentation of the information may vary slightly from each use with a different ordering of pictures and questions to keep revision and practice somewhat fresh.

There is a great deal of content here. Working steadily, say an hour or so per evening, would take most people at least three months to effectively work through all the material.

Within each module, there is a tutorial and test section. Most learners will likely be drawn to the test section as it provides instant feedback as to whether you are progressing.

And what is actually taking place on your computer monitor and how do you interact with the program?

Most of the learning takes place by attempting to correctly match audio clips to pictures on the monitor. Four pictures appear and one voice clip is heard. In the reading section, of course, there are no audio clips. At first glimpse this may sound a bit simplistic to some people and I have heard just that criticism from others I have talked to.

However, there is an obvious logic to the progression. The intervals at which new vocabulary is repeated is based on proven research related to short- and long-term memory and language acquisition.

The speaking section was the most appealing for me. Thai is a tonal language and it can be very hard for foreigners to get the five pitches just right. The speaking section requires you to have a microphone, which you use to repeat back audio clips. Your voice is recorded and represented by a sound wave and you can see where you succeeded or failed in attaining the correct tone. Very impressive! I imagine the speaking practice for other language courses (for example, English) from Rosetta Stone would focus on aspects such as stress and word endings.

So, does the Rosetta Stone actually work?

Yes, to some degree. Obviously results will vary depending on the individual and the effort expended. I found myself coming to grips with some Thai grammar structure in most of the levels. It is all inductive here, with repeated and slightly varied forms offered up as each level proceeds. I started the course after I had been in Thailand for a few years and this obviously helped me a lot in making certain connections.

However, while a wide variety of topics were covered, I found the language selection somewhat archaic. Many of the words and types of sentences used on the program are ones I have never heard in everyday life in Thailand.

The price tag may be a bit off-putting as well. The last time I checked, Rosetta Stone Thai was selling for just under 200 dollars US on Amazon. Though when you break that down into the amount of usage you will get out of this program, it really isn't such a bad deal.

The novelty of using such a professional and well-designed course is a motivating factor in itself (at least in the early going.) As with any serious attempt to learn a new language, you should use this software in conjunction with a good "teach yourself Thai" book, a dictionary and as much practice as possible with native speakers. But for a good starting point, you could do a lot worse than Rosetta Stone.


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