Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone

Since we made our decision to move to Italy, I have become addicted to reading everything I can get my hands on about Italy and expats living in Italy.  The least little word or fragment of a sentence written by those who have blazed the trail before us, I have read it, am reading it, or have it saved to read soon.  I search for every tidbit, every morsel of information.  Have I ever mentioned my analysis overkill?  Oh, yes, that was the previous post.  So anyway, language barrier is one of the top three reasons some folks pack up and head back home, their dreams dashed.  Determined to “not be one of them,” I decided we needed to get serious about learning Italian.

Now before I go any further, everyone learns in their own way. I get that. So what follows is based on my personal experience and will not apply to everyone. What works for us, will not work for everyone else and vice versa.

I bought Rosetta Stone.  Lesson one started out with pictures of male and female children and adults in groups and as individuals. Each picture had its Italian word and corresponding article depending on whether the word was masculine or feminine.  In the first lesson, we learned the words for boy child(ren), girl child(ren), man, men, woman, women, and how to say insert newly learned noun is running, writing, or reading.  I was not so sure how any of that is going to help us on day one after stepping off the plane, but ok.  Every lesson required that I click on the correct picture and correctly pronounce the word when prompted. Many lessons later, I finished Unit 1.  By this time, I had learned the word for apple and some other stuff I can’t remember now.  Hhhmmm now that I think of it, the only word I remember from all of Unit 1 is bambino.  That’s going to be useful.

I felt very accomplished having finished the first full unit. My biggest frustration was with the pronunciation feature. There were times when I was pronouncing the words EXACTLY like the voice on the program and the program kept giving me the big “incorrect” buzzer like a bad guess on a game show. I’ll blow my own horn and say I have an ear for languages and can mimic the pronunciation very well even though I might not know what the heck I’m saying. The program would just keep making me repeat myself like a ninny until it came out of its coma and decided my performance was sufficient to move on to the next item. Poor G-man, who does NOT have an easy time learning new languages and was being quite a trooper doing his lessons at the kitchen table….only because I had threatened to leave him stranded on a street corner in Italy if he thought he was going to get away with relying on me to be his personal interpreter….but I digress. There he’d sit, kind of like a little kid having to do his homework before he could go out to play, in front of the computer, headphones on, repeating and repeating and repeating and I’m sure if I had not stopped him he would have slammed the computer to the ground and stomped on it like a MMA pro in a cage match. In an effort to keep him going back for more, I did not let on that I was becoming frustrated, as well. However, I knew that I was going to have to try something different or “we” were going to have a problem.

I ordered Pimsleur. Just the first ten 30 minute lessons to try it out.  Pimsleur is completely auditory.  Listen to the 30 minute lesson on the cd and repeat as prompted.  Honestly, I was stunned after the first lesson at how much I had truly learned.  When I say learned, I mean hours later I could recall what I heard in the lesson and repeat words and phrases.  Heck!  G-man and I could actually repeat the little mini-conversation we learned in the lesson and actually KNEW what we were saying!  Nice.

Two unique approaches that I liked about Pimsleur were the spaced repetition and the back to front pronunciation guide.  Spaced repetition is learning a block of information then over increasing intervals of time being asked to retrieve that information.  For example, in the first Pimsleur lesson one of the first things we learned to say was “I understand” and “you understand” in Italian.  When the phrases were first introduced we had to repeat them twice each.  About a minute later, we were asked to say one of the phrases.  About ten minutes later, again, we were asked to say one of the phrases.  All the while new information is being introduced.  The back to front pronunciation is when they have a new word that is kind of complicated and they say the word then starting at the end of the word pronounce the last syllable, we repeat, add the next syllable, we repeat, and so on until we have the whole word.  Crazy, but it helps.  G-man is having success, too, and that is the part I like best!  He listens for thirty minutes at his desk while he eats his lunch then comes home and says stuff to me in Italian.  I love that.

Now, on the down side….I have to say this part in order to be fair.  I must make myself sit still and focus for the whole thirty minutes.  This is huge.  I have ants in my pants and am a big multitasker.  I read and watch TV at the same time.  As a matter of fact, I cannot just sit and watch TV.  Ever.  I have to be doing several things at once.  So for me to sit still for T H I R T Y minutes is quite an event.  A few times I’ve gotten up to sweep the floor but even this kind of mindless task is a distraction and seems, for me, to interfere with the learning process.  And a few times I’ve caught my mind wandering, so I have to force myself to really be present and pay attention.  It is not hard, but I do need to keep myself aware while in the lesson.

So there you have it.  Bottom line – We are Pimsleur kind of people…..until we can become TOTAL IMMERSION kind of people.  WOOT WOOT!!  2029 days and counting….

3 thoughts on “Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone

  1. I have always wondered what it was like to learn a new language. Recently, I had found a free version of a software package called Byki 4 (Express and Full Versions available). Ironically, I had started learning Italian also, not because I am moving to Italy (although that might be nice). Simply because I have always wanted to 🙂

    It’s really cool how you compare and contrast the way the two packages teach. As you say, no two people learn the same way and it’s great that there are so many good options out there. I may have to demo one or both of these to see how they work out!

  2. I tried Rosetta Stone once to brush up on my Spanish skills. It was too elementary and rather mind-numbing. I even tried different levels with the same results. I thought that maybe it was because I already know the language and Rosetta is for newbies. Then, prior to Italy, I downloaded the free trial audio for Pinsleur on Italian. As a newbie to Italian, it made more sense than Rosetta Stone and was more useful. I never bought the full version as I ran out of time. However, I do want to brush up on Spanish again and plan to purchase the Spanish version.

  3. This is really helpful… I have Rosetta Stone but am finding it a bit too basic, so it just doesn’t hold my attention. Will have to give Pimsleur a try. You’re right though, total immersion is the way forward. Unfortunately my wife is Italian and I’m quite lazy so I usually just let her do the talking. Must try harder!!

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