Rosetta Stone Chinese Personal Edition Levels 1 & 2
If you're looking for an interactive, computer-based language-learning tool, Rosetta Stone's software packages may be the next best thing to actually relocating to a foreign country. It's available in 28 languages; for this review, we looked at the Chinese and the Spanish language-learning packages--and both are impressive. Based on the immersion method of language teaching, the Rosetta Stone package confronts you with the target language from the get-go. There are neither translations into English nor grammar explanations, and you'll find no abstract discussions of verb tenses or subordinate clauses. In the very first lesson, you're asked questions in the target language about a group of photos, and it's your job to select the right photo. Soon you begin to pick out words and phrases that match the images, and you build your skills from those rudimentary building blocks. There are also a number of ways to tweak the individual lessons to practice writing, listening comprehension, and speaking and pronunciation skills.
Rosetta Stone's installation is entirely automated: merely insert the CD and click through a few onscreen prompts. The software runs on any flavor of Windows from 95 to XP and on Mac OS 8.6 or later.
The interface has an intuitive design, with a column of tabs along the left that let you select basic skills to focus on and console controls in a right-hand column that allow you to bail out of lessons. Speakers and a microphone aren't required, but you will want them to take advantage of Rosetta Stone's listening and pronunciation modules. You can also make custom program configurations, such as changing the sounds for program alerts telling you whether you've answered a question correctly.
All language versions include a pronunciation feedback module for each lesson, which lets you record a phrase or sentence after it is spoken by a native speaker. Comparing your own verbal skills with those of a native speaker can be humbling, but it is an excellent way for you to isolate pronunciation problems. All versions also include a similar feature for honing your writing skills. You listen to a spoken sentence and are then prompted to type that sentence into a text box. If you make a mistake, the software points out the problem and asks you to correct it. One feature that we particularly like in the Chinese version is the ability to shift text between Chinese characters and pinyin, or Romanized spellings. This lets you begin with easier phonetic spelling cues in pinyin, then tackle simplified or traditional Chinese characters once you you've attained some rudimentary listening comprehension skills.
Rosetta Stone expresses confidence in its language-learning products by allowing you to return the product within six months of purchase for a full refund, should you decide it's not for you. The software also comes with toll-free tech support that's good for the life of the product and available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Rosetta Stone also hosts a well-designed support Web site that is easy to navigate and populated with useful information, such as contact info, downloadable user guides, and even the company's toll-free number, a sign of Rosetta Stone's commitment to customer satisfaction.