Which language learning program is more effective: Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone?

I used Pimsleur and Rosetta when I started learning Chinese few years ago. They were both very useful but I think they have quite different purposes : Pimsleur is to get quickly some basic conversational skills, Rosetta Stone is to approach a language and understand its structure by example.

Pimsleur method is very good to learn sentences and expressions to be used directly. Each lesson is based on a dialog and there is no written materials. Therefore, it is useful when you want to get quickly some basic oral skills to help you in daily life - for example if you go in a country with a language you don ‘t know. The Pimsleur method is focused on conversation i.e. listen, understand and answer simple sentences. Many podcasts do quite the same thing online -  train you to conversational skills. The learning environment is often 2-3 guys having a discussion about a short piece of dialog and everything is about getting to talk.

Rosetta Stone is a more exploratory approach of a language and its structure based on visual signs (images). It will not give you quick conversation skills but will provide an understanding of how words come together in context. I learnt with an old basic version of Rosetta Stone Chinese. The principle was very simple: within 4 images, you should chose which of them match a given sentence (written or spoken). The software has now evolved in something more fancy that includes achievements, progress monitoring, grammar, etc. but the core idea still the same. It allows you to scrutiny carefully how sentences are structured, how they relates to reality and to each other and how the language finally comes together. All this is achieved by looking at many examples (that is also why you won ‘t find any translations in the software).

Some people will surely think : * “Then Pimsleur is better, because it is more hands-on and provide straight usable skills “.* It is true if you just need to make your way through a language for very specific purposes like short business travels or leisure. Then for me, the main issues with Pimsleur are : 1) it is by nature illiterate (reading is useful, even just to learn new stuff),  2) vocabulary is very limited, 3) there is no general approach of the language so it will not facilitate the assimilation of new words and grammar you may encounter out of the method.

So at some point, if you don ‘t want to spend the rest of your life feeling like a 2-years old within other speakers, you may need something else. Here Rosetta Stone comes in a handy and will allow you to make some progresses with good structure, without having to go through deep explanations and boring grammar. That is the good point when you learn by example.

To end this answer, here is my 2 cents about learning efficiency of language : always remember that what really matter is to understand. Depending on your personality or what you have to do, you may want to speed up the process and focus only on getting to speak out as quickly as possible. My personal experience is that when you don ‘t understand people, it can get really frustrating. You need time to get a grasp on what is happening first, so don ‘t throw yourself to quickly into learning to write or this kind of stuff. Accept the (sad) fact that you don ‘t understand and everything will come in the right time.

Listen, listen, listen. Read if you can. Talk to people, listen to them, look at them speaking, find out common topics for real discussion, learn vocabulary only to say something, not just to learn it (who cares about what lesson 3 said?). And most important of all : enjoy the language, its culture and its speakers ! Language is such a wonderful thing !

This text was originally published in quora.

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