Rosetta Stone. Everyone knows about this software, thanks to the company’s very effective ad campaign. If you’ve been living under a rock, check out their website and try out their free online demo that will introduce you to their basic learning model.
The Basic Approach
In short, Rosetta Stone uses a direct or natural method, which bypasses the learner’s first language (L1) and tries to connect the goal language (L2) directly to reality by using pictures. They call it “dynamic immersion.” It’s meant to simulate the way that we learn our first language. The founder of the company, Allen Stoltzfus, picked up German easily by living in Germany and wanted to replicate that experience with the software.
The program teaches all four language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) through lessons and exercises that use pictures, text, and audio. In some exercises, students can type their answers into the program. In others, speech-recognition technology lets students respond orally and hone their pronunciation.
With each new version, Rosetta Stone has introduced new elements, such as workbooks, special grammar modules, and online social gaming. Now, you can even have a live online session with a native speaker. Of course, the great thing about learning with software is that any affective filter (or “fear factor”) is nonexistent, since you learn at your own pace, in the privacy of your own home. Each level (some languages have up to five levels) provides about 24hrs of training, so you could easily complete a level per month, and by the time you finished 5 levels, you would have about 100hrs of immersion-style exposure to the language.
Now, just imagine how easy it would be for Rosetta Stone to create a program for ancient Greek. Here’s why: (as far as I know) every language in Rosetta Stone uses basically the same picture sets (see here for the details). So whether you’re learning Japanese, German, or French, you’ll start with words for table, boy, girl, man, woman, eat, drink, etc. in that language. In fact, it’s such an easy template that Rosetta Stone lets people groups with endangered languages customize the software for their native tongue as part of their Endangered Language Program. So, if you’re part of the Chitimacha tribe (why did I just get a craving for chimichangas?) you can adapt the software, by “filling in the blanks” of the template with your own language, and thus use it to save your tribal tongue from extinction.
I think the market for an Ancient Greek Rosetta Stone could potentially be huge. It would certainly be a hit with students. They universally respond positively to such software. It would also be a major boon for the communicative Koine movement, since it would demonstrate how effective immersive experiences are for quickly internalizing the vocabulary and structure of a language without having to learn metalanguage or memorize charts, endings, and English definitions.
Think of how many schools teach Koine or Classical Greek—both seminaries and colleges. Don’t limit it just to the US, of course, since Rosetta Stone is not language-specific. Now, factor in all the homeschoolers who would be interested in it, and then add all the individuals who aren’t attending seminary, but still want to learn Greek. That’s a lot of folks.
I emailed Rosetta Stone a couple years ago and tried to clue them in to this, but to no avail. Without an insider contact, I’m just a lone nutter out in cyberspace who thinks people want to speak Hellenistic Greek. BTW, if you think they’re not interested in “dead languages,” go check out their Latin program, which has three levels. I understand, however, that the Latin program uses a different set of images from that used in the other languages—presumably, ancient images of toga-clad vires, etc.
Of course, there would be a lot of tough decisions they would have to make before they started developing an Ancient Greek Rosetta Stone. Two biggies come to mind. First, which period of ancient Greek would they choose to represent? Attic, Koine? γινώσκω or γιγνώσκω? Shall we use κράββατος, despite Phrynichus’ disdain? Second, an even bigger conundrum is presented by pronunciation. Aspiration or not? Modern, reconstructed Koine, Erasmian, reconstructed Attic (Allen/Daitz)? These are not, however, insurmountable. Rosetta Stone had to make the same kind of decisions when they made their Latin program. I would suggest that with regard to pronunciation, they produce a couple different versions to reach the largest market, though I would plead with them to—please, for the love of all that is righteous and good—not perpetuate the barf-inducing American Erasmian: “en arkay ayn haw lawgaws . . .”
What Do You Think?
What do you think? Would you like to see a Rosetta Stone for ancient Greek? Is there a market for such a program? Why hasn’t a publisher like Zondervan already developed this kind of software and made a killing? What would need to be included in such a software package for it to be successful? What are some of the challenges that would need to be overcome? Let me know in the comments!
Based on some of the initial comments on this post, I think that I may have been misunderstood. Is Rosetta Stone the greatest thing since sliced ἄρτος? No. Will it help you get to an advanced level in a language? Definitely not! Is it as good as Pimsleur or other more extensive programs? Probably not. But, that’s like comparing a 5 week course to an 8 week course. Which is better? The 8-week one, probably, but neither will bring you anywhere close to fluency! You expect the swimming class at your local YMCA to prep you to swim the English Channel? Gee whiz!🙂
So why put Rosetta Stone first in my list of Resources We Need For Teaching Greek? Well, first, everyone’s heard of it. Second, everyone understands the basic idea (the direct method, no L1 intervening). Third, it’s extremely effortless to use (I can’t say this about Assimil, e.g., since it introduces explicit grammar instruction and translation in Lesson 1). And, fourth, if we had it for Ancient Greek, it would introduce everyone to the concept of direct, immersive learning, and we’d pretty soon have a lot more people interested in immersive Koine.
Bottom line: I see Rosetta Stone as nothing more than a really easy way to get your feet wet in a language, cement some basic vocab and structures that you’ll never forget, and introduce people to a natural way of acquiring a language. Stay tuned for more posts where I will discuss tools that I think will be more helpful and needful in the long run for someone serious about becoming fluent in Koine.