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Sunday, December 5th
Everyone has heard of Rosetta Stone, one of the most famous providers of language lessons. But, in the past, most people couldn't afford the steep price tag of the CD-based program often found in mall kiosks and featured by in-flight magazines: $400 or more! Fortunately, Rosetta Stone has kept up with the times and now offers Chinese lessons that are 100% online - and just as affordable as many other providers out there at $35.97 for three months, $95.88 for 12 months, or $299 for lifetime access to all of the languages in their extensive learning library.
Immersion-based Chinese lessons
Rosetta Stone's language lessons stand out because of their immersive approach to teaching. How did you learn English? Naturally, from your environment, and through lots of repetition. They want to help you learn Chinese the same way: no tedious grammar explanations or worksheets, but lots of repetition of keywords matched with images.
Get a free trial for three days
Because this approach to teaching is so different, we strongly recommend that you take advantage of the three-day trial Rosetta Stone offers. You'll have to search for it a bit: scroll down to the bottom of the main page and look for the box that asks for your email address. Select Chinese (Mandarin) in the dropdown menu and type in an email address. (You don't have to confirm the email address you enter, which means you can enter a fake one if you'd prefer not to give Rosetta Stone your actual contact info just yet.)
Choose the profile that matches you and your goals
As you set up your user profile, you'll be asked to specify your current fluency level: Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced. If you've already studied some Chinese previously, you may want to select advanced: even at that setting, the actual content seems to stall out at a fairly basic level and you might not be as challenged as you're expecting. After that, you'll indicate your reasons for taking Chinese lessons, like travel or family, so that the words you learn will be best suited to your needs. Last, you'll tell Rosetta Stone if you're an adult male, adult female, or child, in order for the voice recognition system to be set accordingly.
Lots of settings for Chinese characters and Pinyin
Rosetta Stone defaults to Pinyin: the equivalent Roman script for how the Chinese is pronounced. They don't make it obvious, but they actually offer lots of ways to have the material presented. Click on the button that says han in the lower right-hand corner: you can choose to see Pinyin only, simplified Chinese characters with or without Pinyin, or traditional Chinese characters with or without Pinyin. (Simplified is used in mainland China, while traditional is found in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas Chinese communities.) We were relieved to see that Rosetta Stone Chinese uses Pinyin as a default; in many of their other languages that don't use the Roman alphabet we use in English, this program often went straight to the foreign-to-us characters with no English approximation of the pronunciation. We recommend choosing one of the Pinyin-and-characters settings, so that you're visualizing the way Chinese is written while learning how to say it.
Very difficult for beginners
While Rosetta Stone feels pretty comfortable for many "easy" languages like Spanish and Italian, most English speakers will likely feel frustrated with a more "difficult" one like Chinese. We did! Your very first lessons at the beginner level include images like boy, girl, man, woman, eats, drinks and reads, individually at first and then strung out into longer sentences. But, there's never an explanation as to what they mean or why they're put together that way: you're just supposed to internalize it without explicit instruction. That's really aggravating for most adults who want to understand why what looks like a very long sentence simply means "The girl drinks" .
Extra tools aren't much help
Rosetta Stone lets you skip around in the lessons as desired, and also offers other help under the "Explore All Content" link at the top of your dashboard. That includes interactive stories you can listen to or read aloud, an audio companion with downloadable files, and an "alphabet" tool to help you begin to grasp Chinese characters. None of this, however, led us to feeling comfortable with Rosetta Stone's Chinese lessons. Where can we learn about the different tones that are so famously challenging for English speakers? Or the overall grammatical structure that is vastly different from what we might know from German, French, or our own language? All of these unknowns left us feeling discouraged about learning Chinese through this platform.
Better options exist for Chinese lessons
For more familiar languages that use the Roman alphabet, Rosetta Stone presents a challenging-but-not-insurmountable way to learn: by immersion. Unfortunately, we've found that with languages that don't use the letters we already know (like Chinese, Russian, Korean, and so on), this platform expects too much learning to happen on its own and doesn't provide enough context - linguistically or culturally. It's fantastic that they give everyone a three-day trial, and we're thrilled that this program is so much more affordable now than in the past. However, we feel that most people looking for Chinese lessons will find Rosetta Stone more difficult than other programs in our review.
If you're interested in the language, you're in good company: according to recent statistics, there are more than 25 million people worldwide learning Chinese as a second language, with over 200 million people outside of mainland China who speak it! A few decades ago, eager students had to find a college offering Chinese lessons in order to learn, but today Chinese can frequently be found in high schools, enrichment programs, and even dual language or immersion programs for elementary school children.
Not one of the lucky ones to have classes nearby? Don't worry! There are many different options for taking Chinese online now too. Whether you want traditional-style lessons with detailed grammar explanations, multiple choice quizzes, and lots of repetition with flash cards, or you prefer a more modern, game-like approach, you'll have no trouble finding something that fits your learning style and your available study time.
Of course, Chinese probably isn't going to come to you as easily as a Romance language like Spanish or French. Not only do you have a completely new writing system to comprehend - one that uses characters instead of letters, too - but the tonal aspect of Chinese is notoriously difficult for English-speakers to master. (For example, a single change in tone can make the difference between saying "to buy" or "to sell" , "flower" or "painting" , or "panda" and "chest hair" !) You'll want to choose Chinese lessons that help you learn what you need most - like travel phrases or everyday conversation - while teaching you the well-rounded basics too.
How can you tell which Chinese lessons are right for you? Here are several things to look for as you consider different programs:
To help you get the most out of your language studies, TopConsumerReviews.com has evaluated and ranked the best Chinese lessons available online today. We're confident that this information will help you pick a program that fits your unique learning style and fluency goals.
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