Lost in Immersion: Speaking French on the Web

Katherine Boehret:

If you’ve ever learned a foreign language, you know the vast difference between completing workbook activities and speaking with others. The latter experience can involve sounding out unfamiliar accents or guttural pronunciations and, though intimidating, is ultimately more rewarding. By immersing yourself in a language and navigating through situations, you learn how to speak and eventually think in that language.
Rosetta Stone has long used visual learning without translations by pairing words with images –one of the ways a baby learns to speak. For the past week, I’ve been testing its newest offering: Rosetta Stone Totale (pronounced toe-tall-A), which is the company’s first fully Web-based language-learning program. It aims to immerse you in a language using three parts: online coursework that can take up to 150 hours; live sessions in which you can converse over the Web with a native-speaking coach and other students; and access to Rosetta World, a Web-based community where you can play language games by yourself or with other students to improve your skills.
Totale costs a whopping $999, so if you aren’t serious about learning a language it’s a tough sell. Rosetta Stone says this program is comparable to an in-country language-immersion school. The company’s most expensive offering before Totale was a set of CDs (lessons one, two and three) that cost $549, included about 120 hours of course work and had no online components.