Top critical review
18 people found this helpful
A very qualified recommendation
on 29 August 2012
I have been learning Italian intermittently for a number of years and have tried various approaches/courses: these include, Michel Thomas, Pimsleur, the BBC's 'Buongiorno' and an Open University course. I had a very practical interest in exploring this product and was hoping for great things. However, I'm afraid I cannot be so unreservedly enthusiastic about it as other reviewers, especially considering its expense and the commitment to continuing financial outlay that long term access to the online facilities would require. To access the much-vaunted 'real conversations with native speakers' beyond the initial 3 months, an important part of successful language learning, you'll need to spend more!
The on-screen pages which require a response from the learner (the main vehicle for the program) are OK, but, for me, not as intuitive as claimed: the pattern of what sort of response (drag and drop, repeat phrases, create new phrases etc) is required from the learner is not always clear, and I was surprised at the number of times I was unsure quite what I was supposed to do. Progression through the course seems reasonable, but lacks the sort of repetition of learned elements in a range of expanding contexts that seems to me essential. (I have yet to use the online facility, so I obviously cannot give a fair assessment in what must be an interim review.)
For me, the major issue is that the speech recognition software is not brilliant and, in my opinion, has nothing like the precision to ensure that correct pronunciation is being developed. I deliberately mispronounced phrases which were then marked correct, and was disappointed how wide the tolerance was of quite serious pronunciation errors that would inhibit communication in real-life situations. Developing a good 'ear' for a new language is crucial and I really don't think that this course will really help sufficiently. And isn't lack of confidence in speaking the most significant obstacle for most people in language learning? (I'm sure the online facility would iron out one's incorrect pronunciation, but after the initial period, further charges are involved.) The games and other extension activities are fine, but at this price fail to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere.
Learning styles vary from person to person, but for me there is no single package that ticks all the requirements for my learning needs. However, of the initial learning programmes I have tried, I would really rate the Michel Thomas the highest: his courses explore limited vocabulary, but offer a surprisingly natural development of language building. One learns 'alongside' other learners who make mistakes, have their pronunciation and other errors continually corrected and their understanding of language structures developed. Surprisingly quickly one gets a handle on a range of tenses and the constant question, "How would you say .....?' really makes the learner think and build on previous learning. Focus is on those aspects which one will meet most frequently and help give the tools to extend one's learning into areas not covered. But no single package 'fits all' and I would still want grammar and vocab books to support my learning. MT is not cheap, (about £40 on Amazon) but significantly less expensive than the Rosetta Stone box. (And I could access close to 60 2 hour night school lessons at my local high school with special language learning status for the same cost as this box - that's 2+ year's of learning!)
I'm very glad I didn't pay for this review sample, and really wouldn't swap it for Michel Thomas, a grammar book and a handful of other supportive texts. If one ignores cost, it's not bad, but for my learning approach this seems a little too focused on the superficial appeal of the technology rather than the quality of the teaching and learning.