Language learning is no longer restricted to the confines of a classroom, nor is it limited to textbooks and workbooks.
However, even within the realm of modern language education, there are various points to consider:
How much are you willing to pay?
How personalized do you want your experience to be?
Do you want something that’s less like traditional classroom learning?
What else are you looking to gain, In addition to skills in a new language?
One of, if not the most prestigious, language programs on the market is Rosetta Stone, which has served language enthusiasts for over 25 years with its high-tech approach to acquisition.
One of the lesser-known language learning apps, busuu has been around for merely a decade and promotes relationship building in addition to effective language instruction.
In this article, we’ll be looking at both programs. While their primary aim is the same – effectively teach students a new language – they otherwise could not be any more different.
Meet Rosetta Stone
Named after the slab of granodiorite that helped scholars crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics, Rosetta Stone is one of the most renowned education programs in existence and often needs very little introduction for language enthusiasts.
In 1992, Fairfield Language Technologies was founded in Harrisonburg, VA; a year later, it would release Rosetta Stone, a multi-disc application that was first sold to schools before it was made available to the general public.
Over the next two-plus decades, Rosetta Stone would evolve to feature advanced technology, online instruction, and need-specific solutions, such as enterprise and kids’ education.
It offers courses for 30 languages and has received a plethora of accolades. It also boasts “millions of users.” In fact, Rosetta Stone is the preferred language instruction software for over 9,000 public sector programs and more than 22,000 educational institutions.
busuu gets its name from an endangered language (Busuu) that originated in Cameroon. Developed in London in 2008, busuu now has over 80 million users worldwide and provides lessons for 12 languages (including Busuu!).
One of busuu’s key features is the ability for students to send written or verbal “conversations” to native speakers for peer review after completing themed vocabulary lessons and quizzes. Users won’t only gain skills in a foreign language, they’ll also possibly form new friendships across the globe.
Also noteworthy is busuu’s partnership with renowned education company McGraw-Hill. Students will receive McGraw-Hill Education-endorsed certificates upon completion of their coursework. These certifications are in alignment with the core topics for mastery as provided by the Common European Framework of Reference.
In 2016, busuu conducted a study with two universities to measure the effectiveness of its methods. It was discovered that 22 hours of language instruction via busuu is equivalent to one college semester. Students also saw marked improvements in their test scores after using the mobile apps as a study tool.
Aside from providing personal enrichment, busuu also offers language programs for business. Rideshare giant Uber and fashion store Zara are among its most prolific adopters.
Free or Pay-to-Play
busuu offers both a free and premium version of its platform. Meanwhile, those who wish to use Rosetta Stone, whether as a subscription or permanent purchase, must be prepared to pay handsomely.
Rosetta Stone Online Subscription
Regardless of which tier you choose, you’re receiving the entire Online Subscription package, which includes:
- Immediate permissions to all levels of your target language
- Access on any device (including Rosetta Stone’s companion app for iOS and Android)
- Downloadable lessons for offline use
- Access to Stories (its collection of foreign literature) and Phrasebook (essential words, phrases, and greetings)
- Use of its proprietary speech recognition technology, TruACCENT
The subscription tiers are as follows:
- 3 months for $79 ($26.34/mo.)
- 6 months for $119 ($19.84/mo.)
- 12 months for $179 ($14.92/mo.)
- 24 months for $249 ($10.38/mo)
Plans auto-renew by default, but you can opt-out of this in the account settings tab.
You can either pay the full price up front or opt for an installment plan, which is broken into three monthly payments. A monthly payment plan is not available.
Meanwhile, Rosetta Stone does offer live video tutoring with a native speaker; however, this is considered a premium feature and an added cost. One-on-one and group lessons are available.
If you’re not satisfied with Rosetta Stone, there is a 30-day money back guarantee. You can cancel at any time, but beyond the 30 days you won’t receive a refund.
Meanwhile, a free trial is available, but it’s very basic and lacks the ability for prospective students to test its prized speech recognition technology.
Rosetta Stone Download / CD-ROM
Those who prefer to own the Rosetta Stone software outright can either purchase a download or physical copy. Advantages of this include:
- Complete and total ownership of the software (obviously)
- Accommodation for up to five users (the subscription service only supports solo learning)
- A 3-month trial of live video tutoring (beyond that, it must be purchased individually; the subscription plan does not offer any such trial)
However, it falls short against its subscription-based counterpart when it comes to taking lessons on the road.
You can access the benefits of the Rosetta Stone companion app, but it’s only free for the first three months. Beyond that, a subscription plan must be purchased. Of course, this isn’t a problem if you always carry a laptop around, but for a less cumbersome experience, while traveling, a smartphone or tablet is certainly more ideal.
The Rosetta Stone program is available at many major retailers. Individual lessons (called “levels”) go for around $125, while full courses (five levels) are sold for nearly $350. Note that the aforementioned 30-day money back guarantee is only valid for purchases made from Rosetta Stone direct.
The basic, free version of busuu offers access to vocabulary lists, quizzes, and correction from native speakers on written and verbal assignments. An upgrade to busuu Premium includes those features plus:
- Offline mode
- Full access to all 12 language courses (the free version only allows for two languages at a time)
- Advanced grammar units
- Live conversations and feedback from native speakers
- Certification from McGraw-Hill Education
As for the available plans and their costs:
- 3 months for $24.99 ($8.33/mo.)
- 6 months for $49.98 ($8.33/mo.)
- 12 months for $69.96 ($5.83/mo.)
- 24 months for $129.84 ($5.41/mo.)
A 7-day money back guarantee applies, and users can cancel at any time. Plans renew automatically.
Automation vs. Personalization
Rosetta Stone touts its TruACCENT as the feature that sets it apart from other language programs. Meanwhile, busuu emphasizes its ability to connect users from around the world via peer review.
Rosetta Stone’s TruACCENT Speech Recognition
Proclaimed as “the world’s best speech recognition technology,” Rosetta Stone’s TruACCENT compares users’ speech to that of “over a thousand native speakers,” and provides real-time feedback on pronunciation.
For a brief look at it in action: https://youtu.be/2C6bKMScZDY
First, a sound clip from a native speaker plays, with the expectation that you will pronounce it the exact same way, or close. If you’re unsure about what was said, you can press repeat; if you’re especially lost, you can choose to replay the clip at a slower speed.
If the system deems your pronunciation to be off, there will be a buzz, and you’ll have to try again.
You can further analyze the pitch and tone of the sound clip against your own, to get an idea of how to improve upon your pronunciation.
Take a look at that feature here: https://youtu.be/IeY2L3P7MAU
While the team at Rosetta Stone has made some incredible strides in developing this technology, it is not completely flawless.
As the Mezzofanti Guild says: “Numerous times I’ve deliberately spoken incorrectly into the microphone and had the software tell me I’m right, and I’ve also been told I’m wrong when I know I’m speaking accurately.”
Whether it’s a fault in the software itself or an issue with the proprietary headset (which is a common complaint) is not clear.
Still, TruACCENT does provide a useful service for students who want to practice their speaking, which is a component that is often overlooked in solo learning.
Those who may be shy to speak their new language with other humans may feel more comfortable in having the software critique and analyze their pronunciation first.
It’s not a perfect system, but more often than not, Rosetta Stone’s TruACCENT provides the best possible judge of a student’s pronunciation, outside of interacting with a live native speaker.
busuu’s Peer Review
At the end of every busuu lesson is a “conversations” tab.
You’re given a prompt, such as “Introduce yourself,” or “What do you do for a living?” You have the option to either write or say your response in your target language.
For written responses, native (or fluent) speakers will look at your work and then make necessary corrections to grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
As for verbal answers, you have 30 seconds to record a response, which will then be critiqued by native (or fluent) speakers for grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
This peer review isn’t unilateral. For instance, conversations can emerge from corrections given, which can turn into yet another form of language practice.
In addition to that, you can make “friends” with the person who corrected your answers. If they’re studying your native language (or another language you know well), you can return the favor by correcting their work. There’s a feed that updates each time someone in your network completes a conversation.
One minor quibble with busuu’s peer review is the star ratings that are doled out. Your written and verbal answers can be graded on a scale of 1 to 5.
While it’s not a bad thing to be graded, necessarily, the accuracy (and therefore the legitimacy) of such ratings can be suspect. Most people score their peers on the higher end of the scale to be nice or encouraging, regardless of how many corrections an answer requires.
However, feedback from the native or fluent speakers themselves can also be graded by the community at large with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. The student receiving the feedback can also award a “best correction” to the feedback they resonated with most. This has the potential to create a sense of competition, which can either be a positive or a negative, depending on the individual.
If the one who is correcting a conversation doesn’t have a grasp of the student’s native language – and likewise, if the student only has a very basic understanding of their target language – then the feedback may not shed much light on what needs to be fixed (or even what works).
On the other side of the coin, it will push peer reviewers – especially those with no formal teaching background – to get comfortable with effectively explaining concepts to non-native speakers.
Which method is more effective?
Rosetta Stone’s TruACCENT is an advanced piece of tech that offers learners a deeper look at how to hone their pronunciation so that it’s as close to native-level as possible.
Using TruACCENT exclusively will mean a lower ceiling for progress. Ideally, students will utilize Rosetta Stone’s speech recognition technology to prepare them for conversations with other human beings, either in an educational setting (live tutoring) or functional setting (such as asking for directions).
Bear in mind that the tech isn’t perfect; correct pronunciation may be deemed incorrect, or vice versa, due to outstanding factors. As long as it’s used as a precursor, or even as a companion, to real-life conversations, TruACCENT can be a worthy and effective learning tool.
busuu’s peer review is like a built-in social network, offering the opportunity to improve language skills while initiating friendships.
One potential downfall may be a native speaker’s inability to clearly communicate concepts to non-native speakers if they don’t have a formal language education background.
That’s not to say that they can’t be naturally gifted at teaching people, but how they learned their native tongue certainly differs to how most adults are learning their new languages.
Still, busuu’s method of peer review, while not as refined as formal language instruction, makes the process seem less like work and more like fun. In many cases, students will be absorbing new skills without realizing it…a form of immersion in and of itself!
As for the effectiveness of each method, that will depend on the individual.
To get the most out of Rosetta Stone’s TruACCENT, students should make sure to complement their hours of pronunciation practice with actual conversations with human speakers.
As for busuu’s peer review, focusing on the meaningful feedback, and applying it to future written and verbal lessons, will result in improvement.
Immersion vs. Traditional Learning
Rosetta Stone is committed to teaching languages in the student’s target language. The only language they’ll see and hear will be the one they’re studying.
busuu’s approach is more in line with most programs on the market, breaking down components of language and offering primary instruction in the student’s native language.
Rosetta Stone’s Immersive Approach
As Rosetta Stone casually puts it: “If you want to learn to swim, you need to get in the water.”
The aim of Rosetta Stone is to teach foreign languages the same way you learned your native language as a child: through immersion.
This is more than just rote memorization, as Rosetta Stone encourages “active learning.” In other words, the emphasis is on picking up patterns, building up from basic concepts (like sight and sounds) to more complex thoughts, like when you were a kid.
This may be jarring to older learners, who approach language instruction with a much different mindset than children. Adults are more concerned with the whys of language learning, whereas children don’t consider the whys at all and just go for it. (It’s why kids are much better at acquiring language than adults.)
Thus, Rosetta Stone wants to make you forget the whys and be like a kid again by diving right in and building up your language skills.
This may be easier said than done for many older learners, however. While there are certainly those who see the value in this type of instruction, others believe that adults should learn a language like adults, not children.
busuu’s Vocabulary- and Grammar-Based Approach
busuu breaks each level into individual, themed lessons.
Lessons are generally composed of three main parts: vocabulary, quiz, and conversations (peer review). Later lessons also include reading- and listening comprehension exercises, called “dialogues.”
busuu’s methodology aligns with successful classroom language instruction. Each lesson is built around a theme, such as self-introduction or ordering food.
A combination of essential vocabulary, key grammar points, and interaction with native speakers is what busuu considers to be its recipe for effective language acquisition.
busuu’s approach is more in line with how adults typically learn a foreign language, featuring a breakdown of rules and key points in the student’s native language.
On the flip side, a common complaint about classroom instruction is an over-reliance of students’ native language and not enough of an emphasis on actively using the target language.
However, busuu aims to counter that by offering students the chance to interact with native speakers from around the world, striking a delicate balance between a more formal approach to learning and casually acquiring and refining skills through conversation.
Which method is more effective?
For adults, language immersion can certainly effective. Rosetta Stone, itself, is lauded for its ability to ease older learners into a brand new language.
However, it’s fair to question Rosetta Stone’s approach to immersion.
Can a piece of software truly replicate the feeling of being smack dab in the middle of a foreign country, where there is no choice but to use the language of the locals as a means to survive?
No, of course, it can’t. It can come close, but it depends on the mindset of the student. There must be an earnest effort on user’s part to be like a kid again and absorb their desired language without any further explanation.
That can be difficult to replicate when the student is not in a situation where they must use the language for survival. The sense of urgency to successfully complete lessons is nowhere near as strong as the need to complete essential tasks such as food shopping or finding a place to live.
As for busuu, it provides both an approach to language instruction that is more comfortable for adult students plus the ability to actively use what they learned via conversations with native speakers.
It’s a balance that can translate to success as long as the student doesn’t become too bored with the lessons or let their interpersonal communications lapse.
An advantage to busuu for students of non-alphabetic languages
For languages that don’t use the alphabet (such as Korean or Japanese), the busuu app offers the option for students to toggle between Romanized script and the writing system of their target language. Meanwhile, busuu’s Web client offers both ways at once for beginners, with brief explanations about the writing system of the language they’re learning.
As for Rosetta Stone, immersion means immersion. If you’re studying a non-alphabetic language, do not expect to see a single letter.
A drawback to both programs is that neither one offers an ability to get really comfortable with different writing systems. Thus, students should look for such instruction elsewhere If they so wish to expand their language instruction to that extent.
However, busuu makes it easier for students to transition into a completely different writing system at their own pace.
And the winner is…
Rosetta Stone is a prestigious piece of software. If you are extremely dedicated to your language learning and have the capital to spend, it can certainly be worth it.
With a balance of formal instruction and peer review, plus a price tag that is much easier on your bank account, busuu is the more well-rounded and economical choice.
Of course, you can strike that same balance with Rosetta Stone through its live tutoring, but it’ll cost you. You can take Rosetta Stone anywhere, on any compatible device while owning the software outright. Once again, it’ll cost you. If you want to learn more than one language at a time? Go for it. It will cost you.
Consider this: you can purchase three months of busuu Premium at roughly one-third the cost of Rosetta Stone’s 3-month subscription plan. And busuu offers a way to interact with native speakers at no added cost.
Even if you don’t want to spend a single penny on your language instruction, busuu can still serve as a valuable resource, if you don’t mind the lack of access to offline lessons or becoming certified.
Rosetta Stone’s free trial doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what it can offer. It doesn’t even include a way to test its TruACCENT technology, and that’s a detriment to anyone who is unsure of making such a significant financial investment.
That said, CLEARLY Rosetta Stone DOES offer more languages (30 vs 12 with busuu), so if busuu doesn’t have your language, Rosetta Stone might be the only feasible option. In which case, check to see if you qualify for student, teacher, or military discounts here.
If you want to spend a significant amount of money on an immersive language experience, we’d recommend living abroad or signing up for courses at Middlebury College’s renowned Language School before turning to Rosetta Stone.
While it’s not without its flaws, busuu offers a more well-rounded approach to language without making your wallet cry.
Happy language learning!
|Pricing Options||Free “trial;” subscription plans from $79 for 3 months; full-out ownership of software from $125||Free, with plans from $24.99 for 3 months|
|Number of Languages Offered||30, including Swahili, Urdu, and Farsi||12, including its namesake (Busuu)|
|Years of Service||26 (first released in 1992)||10 (first released in 2008)|
|Number of Users||“Millions;” used by over 9,000 public sector programs and more than 22,000 educational institutions||Over 80 million users worldwide|
|Offline Access||Yes, via subscription or by total ownership of the software (one-time cost)||Yes, via Premium|
|Conclusion||Unless you have the drive (and the capital), look elsewhere||Not as polished or established, but well-rounded and much more economical|