This doesn't bode well. If you get involved in the spoken language learning community (and hey, who doesn't?), you quickly find out that serious enthusiasts hate Rosetta Stone. It's known for its marketing prowess and not its pedagogy. Here's a lovely little blog entry which uses the hilarity of Michael Phelps and his attempts to learn Chinese with RS as an example:
On the other hand, there are tools like Assimil which absolutely rock, but no one seems to have heard of them. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) courses are decent and free (by law because they're in the public domain) but the main site hosting them seems down (http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php). Someone's tried to create "pretty" versions of the FSI courses at http://www.ielanguages.com/fsi/fsiproject.html, but they never got very far.
There is a ton of good stuff out there, and I agree that Rosetta stone is awful. Rostetta Stone from a business perspective is brilliant in that they get $400 for the software upfront, and most people give up and blame themselves, not the software. It also demos very well, but gets really boring really quickly.
Michael Phelps would have been much better off if he had just learned one phrase... "Hello, little friend (nihao xiao pengyou)". In China, children a fascinated by foreigners and love to point. I know of no other phrase that so consistently wins smiles from children and parents alike. Even if Michael Phelps had completed all the Rosetta Stone levels, he still would have never known how to greet a child.
I worked at livemocha as an intern back in 2008. It was a hip startup company. There were maybe 20 employees. They had a ping-pong table in the office. The CEO invited everyone to his home to watch the World Cup and eat bbq.
I remember celebrating their 1,000,000th user. There was something special about being able to run SQL queries on 1,000,000 users. The whole system, then, ran on cake PHP code.
One of the things I remember is that they had a wall of the weird requests and things they got from users. One was a man that masqueraded as a hot chick and then messaged himself sexy messages from a different account but the same IP. Another I remember was an eloquent and irate englishman who insisted we use words like colour instead of color.
I just finished my sophomore year as an undergraduate at that point.
I was a integration testing intern. I did things like find bugs, write bug reports, write testing scenarios. I also did some load testing with jMeter. Another automated too they used at the time is called BadBoy. It could record and somewhat generalize testing. They had the whole process from starting an account, to communicating, to running through lessons automated in this way.
I can't remember why I needed to access the "real deal" production sql. I wouldn't have given it to me if I were the boss of me then.
They even let me work from home for a semester after working for them in the summer.
I was able to talk to anyone I wanted to. I remember making a spreadsheet to show that the scoring metric for ordering user suggested translations take into account the percentage of thumbs up and not just the difference between up and down. I showed the designer and it was in production three weeks later.
I run a language learning business that nominally competes with Rosetta Stone in part of the market. Language learning really is about communication with humans, not cramming linguistic junk into your head. Having worked in the same market with them for 1/2 a decade, it's not in their DNA to connect people with language (despite their TV ads to the contrary!). LiveMocha, on the other hand, is all about this.
I can only see the new bosses spamming and burning out the LiveMocha vibe & goodwill because they don't understand it's not a "platform", it's a community. It grew precisely because it's the opposite of how the RS management team thinks. To see more of this perspective, read the press release & coverage from the RS side... very telling.
I didn't mean to imply a single factor. The ad spending may be the lighter fluid and the match, but community referrals are the fuel. They did a good job with that part. I've never seen an ad from them and I refer them to hundreds of thousands of language learners.
I love Livemocha - the online community with feedback from native speakers, and the breadth of languages offered are phenomenal. It's the only service I've found that offers Hungarian; Rosetta Stone doesn't have it, so I certainly hope Livemocha doesn't get shut down or otherwise degraded.
It'd be an interesting move from RS to keep Livemocha as a free service to get people engaged, then upsell them onto a more premium package through RS. So from basic French to advanced French or similar.
Although I guess the cynic inside all of is fully expects livemocha to be down inside a year.
Pimsleur is awesome for pronunciation (I've had a Dutch speaker tell me I sounded Dutch when I explained, in Dutch, that I couldn't speak Dutch), but after you finish the initial work, you get a rather limited vocabulary of about 500 words or so.
Instead, many recommend using a serious course like Assimil, Michel Thomas, or Barron's (basically revamped versions of the Foreign Service Courses) with Pimsleur to help you perfect your grammar and pronunciation. It's a great balance.
Yeah, I found Pimsleur great for the quickie intro courses. Only covers the basic tourist stuff, but pronounced correctly, and well memorized. I did Spanish, Italian, and French, and felt fairly confident in my limited vocabulary.
But when I tried to use the real Spanish I course, I found I wasn't really learning the language, but instead memorizing whole sentence translations. At a certain point, they try to get you to make the logical leap to something you haven't heard before, and I just couldn't get it. And repeating the lessons just improved my memorization, instead of giving me a framework to work on. I think I need the grammar to be explicit, while Pimsleur tries to have you learn it implicitly.
Pimsleur is also great for making you more comfortable speaking the language. You can memorize thousands of words and expressions, but you need to be comfortable with them and be able to speak with a somewhat conversational speed for it to be useful.
I also feel that the implicit grammar learning works fine for me. I had to memorize German grammar in school, and although I can still repeat my "durch, fur, gegen, ohne, um" and "an, auf, in, hinter, neben, uber, unter, vor, zwischen", and I was very good at grammar at the time, that hasn't helped me at all. To this day I can't speak German even though I was probably the "top" student (read: the only one who was motivated enough to care).
Except that I've had native French speakers butcher my French on several occasions (my wife is French and she begged me to give up LiveMocha for this reason). The quality of help you get is very hit or miss and if you're not already comfortable with the language, you may not realize that you're getting rubbish feedback.
Just think about how awful many English speakers are on the Web and ask yourself "do I want them teaching me English?"
I built http://iijo.org. Its free and does Chinese flashcards and uses spaced repetition. You can build vocab lists from a built in dictionary. You can also directly search the dictionary: http://iijo.org/dictionary.
I found that duolingo is actually not that good for advanced students - everything I saw on there seemed to be focused on learning by translating phrases into English. Thats pretty distracting once you get past a certain level.
I've used duolingo for Spanish review; it's pretty good. Honestly the best thing about it is the UX: you get little bite-sized exercises you can go thru as fast or slow as you want, review, etc., so it's easy to squeeze into a 10-20min/day block. The main weaknesses are a) the examples are arithmetically generated so sometimes you get "My horse only eats milk" or something as an example sentence (it's usually pretty good tho), and b) you don't get a deep grammar review, it's just lots of little examples & practices. The latter point could be seen as a "pro" depending on your learning style.
There's also lang-8.com, where you can get your essays corrected by native speakers. It's particularly great if you're learning Japanese, because the majority of users are Japanese natives (the company that runs the website is in Tokyo).
Sounds like a perfect match. I've always thought about LiveMocha as an online version of Rosetta Stone. It's probably how they thought about it in the first place, when they built it.
I do appreciate how many languages they have, but the courses themselves are not as good as on other sites, and what bothers me most is that they are boring, which can kill the will to learn a language.
My favorite are Duolingo and Busuu (especially if you like the social aspect and want to meet foreigners speaking that language). I wish Duolingo had as many languages as LiveMocha.
Duolingo is good for understanding structure and is far more mobile and immersive than RST. I agree with most of the comments here that it's difficult to find a full-service solution since different learners have different needs.
It's very interesting that general consumers recognize RST for what it is: a massive marketing machine that took a standard, linguistic approach to language learning and applied it across many languages. What other products are so bluntly recognized as overpriced but fantastically executed from a marketing & sales approach to where year in and year out people are coming through the door?!?! I would argue that LiveMocha was just as guilty of applying a standard solution across many langauges. Different languages require different methods and approaches.
I run http://lingo-live.com/ which is focused solely on Spanish. As a result, we have a small customer base who NEED or REALLY WANT to learn Spanish and have catered our product to this very specific need (also we further segmented our users into people who mainly want to SPEAK Spanish vs. write or read it, have very busy schedules, and are comfortable accessing their learning entirely over the internet, including live lessons with their tutor over Skype). Not having to worry about how we teach Chinese/Portugese/English/Esperanto... is a huge benefit and we can rely far less on ad spend and more on referrals and WoM since our students are actively engaged with our Spanish service and have someone keeping them accountable to their learning.
I don't believe LM offers them much in the way of technology but it will be interesting to see what happens with RST's balance sheet behind them from a marketing perspective. The acquisition was a great deal for RST even if they dissolve LM.
The below press release says they will be integrating RST's products into LM's platform but this seems odd. LM runs on Harper Collins curriculum so I imagine the only thing they're integrating is the social network. RST hired Stringfellow last year so this is supposed to be his big splash. We'll see...