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Rosetta Stone Spanish (Latin America) Level 1--Homeschool Version 3 Review by Heather Jackowitz

1101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1130
Arlington, Virginia 22209

The new Homeschool Version 3 of Rosetta Stone is completely revised and better than ever. Level 1 comprises four units: Language Basics, Greetings and Introductions, Work and School, and Shopping. Following the full-year plan, each unit will take ten weeks if you spend about 45 minutes per day, five days a week. Add one week for a cultural activity after each unit and one week for the final bonus cultural activity at the end of Level 1, and altogether that adds up to 45 weeks of foreign language instruction for your homeschool student.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Rosetta Stone, it is probably completely unlike the foreign language classes you had in school. Rather than providing direct instruction, Rosetta Stone uses the intuitive method of language learning, which means students have to try to figure out vocabulary and grammar concepts in context. This is the way we all learned English; we just picked it up naturally by being immersed in it. I think intuitive learning has its pros and its cons, which I will discuss at the end of this review.

The Homeschool edition includes the following components:

• Application CD
• Language CD
• User's Guide
• Parent's Guide
• Keyboard Stickers
• Headset with microphone
• Activation Card
• Supplemental Education Materials CD

The Supplemental Education Materials CD includes scripts for each lesson, an index to all the words used in the program, a student workbook, quizzes for each lesson, unit tests, and answer keys. The student workbook provides four worksheets per unit. These are simple exercises, similar to the computer lessons: multiple choice, fill in the blank, and create your own sentences.

All together, there are eight course options: full-year, standard, standard with reading intro, extended, extended with reading intro, reading and writing focus, and speaking and listening focus. Placement tests will help you decide where to place your student. The full-year option is the most complete and is probably the best choice for most junior high or high school students.

Each unit includes four Core Lessons and a Milestone. In each Core Lesson, there are four basic activities. The first requires you to choose an image. A native speaker reads a printed text, and you have to choose a matching picture. Immediate feedback always shows you whether your choice was correct. If not, try again. The next activity is similar, but this time you are not shown the printed text. Another kind of activity gives you the chance to practice speaking with the help of the native speaker. Finally, some activities require you to describe a picture without the aid of the native speaker. In addition to these four main activities in the Core Lessons, focused activities are built into each course. Focused activities hone particular skills, such as pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, listening, reading, and writing. Frequent review exercises help students retain material from previous lessons. Finally, the last lesson in each unit is called a Milestone. This real-world scenario allows students to practice what they have learned in a simulated conversation. These are challenging but fun, and they make learning a new language meaningful.

Following each unit, the parent's guide recommends spending one week doing a cultural activity to give your student a well-rounded foreign language experience. Suggestions are provided for creating an academic portfolio. The four project themes are as follows:

• Art and Architecture
• Famous Landmarks
• Flags and Symbols
• Country Report

A final bonus activity for Level 1 involves creating a conversation plot using photos from a magazine or newspaper.

Two other elements of Version 3 worth mentioning are the speech analysis tool and the Homeschool Dashboard. Speech analysis is a fun way to "see" your speech as compared to a native speaker. Your speech is recorded and graphed below a native speaker's, and it is quite fun to play around with your speech patterns in such a visual way. This tool is accessed via the speech analysis icon on any speech screen. The Homeschool Dashboard is another great tool that allows you to monitor and record each student's progress. A student's progress report shows which lessons have been completed, how long he took, and what score the student received.

For those of you familiar with Version 2, let me share some of the changes, all of which I consider great improvements. First of all, the content is completely overhauled. This is not just a minor revision; major changes in content and format have been made. One of the best changes is the new focus on speaking skills. Correct pronunciation and conversational skills are an integral part of the new program from the very first lesson. The pronunciation exercises are particularly well done, breaking down words into syllables and then building them back up.

Another improvement is that Version 3 is now directly installed on your computer so that you no longer need to insert the CD each time you use it. The initial setup is also much easier and quicker. But the best improvement of all is the ability to tailor the program for up to five users. I set up my younger children (ages 7 and 9) with just a speaking and listening focus, but I set up my older boys (ages 11 and 14) with the full-year curriculum, which includes listening, speaking, reading, writing, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. This is by far my favorite change in this new and improved Rosetta Stone because it extends its usefulness in a multilevel homeschool setting.

Now for my thoughts on intuitive learning. My own experience is that you need both intuitive learning and direct instruction to make sufficient progress in foreign language, unless you have the time to immerse yourself fully in the language. No foreign language program is going to make anyone fluent in that language. The only way to become fluent is to immerse yourself in that language, probably by living in a foreign country. The renewed focus on intuitive learning in foreign language programs is great in many ways, but my own experience has been that intuitive language learning can be quite frustrating to certain children. They make a mistake and don't know why. They try again and get it right, but they still don't know why. Two tools can help: a dictionary and a grammar book. I know Rosetta Stone won't like me saying so, but I think these two items are essential. They help, rather than harm, the frustrated student.

I've tried long and hard to figure out how many high school credits one level of Rosetta Stone is worth, but there is no consensus. Some companies suggest one credit, some two. My own personal opinion, having taken French in high school and graduated from college with a BA in French, is that Rosetta Stone is so unlike a traditional foreign language program that it is impossible to compare it to a traditional course. Some concepts in Level 1 are very advanced; however, some basic concepts that are usually included in first-year high school studies are not covered at all. If your student is likely to go to college and needs a certain number of units of foreign language, and especially if he plans to transfer into a traditional classroom, you might consider a more traditional course. In my own homeschool, I use Rosetta Stone to give my children a head start on their foreign language study, but I plan to enroll them in a community college class during high school. The most important thing to me in a foreign language program for my children is that they hear and imitate native speakers while they are young and their minds are still open to the new sounds, and that they build a foundational vocabulary. Rosetta Stone exceeds my expectations on both counts, so I highly recommend it if your goals are similar to mine.

Product review by Heather Jackowitz, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2009