Rosetta Stone embraces the social media explosion

There's no denying the online craze for social media and communications. First there was MySpace, then Facebook, then Twitter among the many social-networking platforms. Recently, language software learning company Rosetta Stone (RST) quietly rolled out TOTALe (pronounced toe-tally) -- its latest offering with a social twist.

As CEO Tom Adams previewed to me in June, the new tool adds two new features absent from the basic kit: Rosetta Studio and Rosetta World, which use VoIP technologies that allow users to practice the language of their choice with native speakers and Rosetta Stone conversation coaches. Users can also play games to enhance the learning experience in one of 24 languages.

"People over centuries have known that if you really want to learn a language you go in country and you attend an institute where you learn the language, train there and practice with native speakers," says Adams.

But with TOTALe, he says "We're really the closest thing to being in country, but you can do it from home." Smaller competitors like LiveMocha, Babalah and Palabea have also adopted a "social" approach to enhance language learning.

Compatible with Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, TOTALe offers seven fewer languages (Swahili, Pashto, Thai, Latin, Welsh, Danish, Indonesian) than the 31 found in the basic kit.

Users and techies seem to appreciate the new approach. TechCrunch writer John Biggs reported that TOTALe's "human aspect really brings the lessons home and adds an amazing amount of value to the program," but noted the hefty price tag. It costs $999 for a 12-month subscription and soars to $1,199 after the introductory period.

Beta test users had an overwhelmingly positive response. One user, however, "wordupdowndog," explains why he was unable to give the product five stars:

1. Apparently TOTALe only includes access to Levels 1-3. After several months, most students should be ready for Level 4. Thus, it seems odd to have to buy a 12-month online subscription that only includes access to Levels 1-3.

2. There is too much repetition of certain words that are very similar to words in my native language of English. (i.e. 'radio', 'televisor', 'telefono', 'tenis', 'golf', etc.)

3. The system freezes up more frequently than I would like.

At present time, TOTALe is only available to individual users on the Web or through the call center, but Rosetta plans to roll out the product to all of its distribution channels (kiosk networks, etc.) over the coming year. Corporations will have to rely on the consumer version for a bit before TOTALe is available on an institutional basis.
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