I've studied four languages in my life, each of them through different programs. Latin was the first and longest, but without it, I probably wouldn't have the desire and fascination with learning more languages. After studying it in the classroom for eight years, I learned much about grammar, both in Latin and in English. Latin's grammar is one of the toughest, and my greater understanding of it has helped me in learning new languages. Also, some of the best prose and poetry OF ALL TIME is written in Latin, and there are certain clever jokes in them that do not perfectly translate over to English.
The next language I attempted was Czech, in the summer before I left for Prague. There weren't that many books about the language, but I found a very good one in the Teach Yourself language books.
For this program, what you put in is what you get out. You learn practical things to begin with (the alphabet, greetings, introductions, numbers, etc.), and I studied a fair amount, but I stopped my independent studying when I got to Prague and had to take a class in it. My own studying helped me incredibly; I had a lot of confidence in speaking to Czechs, and I didn't need to study at all for my 8:30 am Czech class. The time I put into learning with the Teach Yourself books was worthwhile, and I would recommend them for learning a language.
My next challenge was Korean. Everyone knows about Rosetta Stone (the program, not the actual stone). The company's widespread marketing campaign has made their product very well known. They have kiosks in every mall and commercials on many stations. The monopoly they have on the language learning market allows them to create their own price point of $300+ for one level of the program. It's expensive, but because of the tremendous advertising, most of the public believe that it is the best and fastest language learning program, and people are willing to shell out the cash for the (marketed) quality.
The Rosetta Stone method is unique. It doesn't use any English at all. The way you learn is with pictures and listening to the language. For instance, they will show you three colors on at a time, saying the Korean word for the colors as you see them. Then you will see all three colors at once and have to click on what they tell you. "Paransek", it will say, and then you have to click on the color blue.
Their method comes from how babies learn their native language. They see something, and they hear the word. It seems easy enough.
But I don't think I learned at a faster rate from the Rosetta Stone learning method. I made flashcards, and learned faster by using them. Also, Rosetta Stone did not teach me the Korean alphabet at first; I guess I was supposed to figure that out as I went along. It did teach you it eventually, and slowly, which was inconvenient for me because I wanted to start reading as soon as possible. How are you going to show me the words written in Hangul if I can't read them yet?
But Rosetta Stone's biggest flaw is in their order of practicality. At first I learned the words man, woman, boy, and girl. Okay, that's pretty basic, and I'll probably need to know them. But then we learned colors and animals. I learned how to say horse, dog, cat, purple, white, pink, and well, you get the picture. We moved to things later like running, window, door, and sleeping.
I completed an entire level and a half of Rosetta Stone Korean. Not once did I learn the word "I understand/I don't understand", which I consider to be the most important thing to know when learning a language. Sure, I could say "Purple Monkey", but how the hell is that supposed to help me when I'm buying groceries or asking for directions?
I had learned a bunch of useless words, but the worst part was the time I spent. I would spend one to two hours every day studying Korean, only to come out of it with more impractical words. I did this for a few months. If only I had spent that time with another program.
In the end, Rosetta Stone is garbage. It's slow, overpriced, and you spend most of your time with words you will rarely use, and you learn them without the context of a conversation.
Since I'm leaving for Uruguay in less than a year, I thought it best to start learning Spanish. This time, however, I would do some research before selecting which program I would use. I read a bunch of reviews, and the general consensus said that Pimsleur was top notch. So I went with it.
Pimsleur's language learning theory was much different than anything else I've seen. In an completely opposite approach to Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur only uses audio tracks. Each lesson is thirty minutes long, and they recommend that you do one lesson per day. It starts with the pure essentials of practical language use (I am American. I speak English. I understand). The speaker will teach you something, and then ask you to say it. You continue building up your knowledge, and the questions will always refer back to what you've learned in previous lessons. You use the knowledge of prior lessons so much that there is no need to study outside of these thirty minute daily lessons.
Pimsleur provides you with very practical pieces of converstations throughout the lessons, usually with two characters talking, saying each line in English and then pausing for you to say it in Spanish. Level One starts slow (too slow for someone who knows beginner's Spanish, which I did not), but the pace picks up quickly. It teaches you new vocabulary in every lesson with different conversational contexts.
Pimsleur's excellence is in its order of practicality. Each new word or phrase you learn is the next important thing you should know. Currently, I am halfway through level two. I can talk about working, traveling, directions, family, and food & drink. I can use the past and future tenses, and I've learned essential verbs like "have to", "believe", "know", "think", "like", "want", and "need". I don't know a single animal or color in Spanish (except for the colors of wine: vino tinto and vino blanco) because I wouldn't need to use those words in a basic conversation.
But of course, the Pimsleur system is not without a flaw. Because everything is in listening and speaking, my pronunciation is great, but my spelling is not very good. There is an additional reading and listening section with each level which helps you with that, but I haven't looked at the one for level two. My spelling mistakes probably can be corrected by one look at a list of the words I've learned, but I haven't done that yet.
Yet overall, the Pimsleur system is the best in my experiences. With only thirty minutes a day, I've gone from knowing nothing about Spanish to feeling very confident in speaking. I have surpassed my knowledge of Korean at least ten fold, and I've probably spent less than a third of the time I spent studying Korean with Rosetta Stone. Of course, Spanish is a much easier language to learn as an English speaker, but nonetheless, the program I used has made a huge difference.
If only I had used Pimsleur for Korean with the time I spent on Rosetta Stone. I would probably have a second blog in Korean.