The Internet has revolutionized the world of language self-study. Before, we had tapes then CDs and books, now we have downloadable products and even totally web-based courses. And there are so many excellent sources of authentic materials in the form of podcasts and recordings of all sorts.
The features seem promising: Exciting graphics, lots of audio-visual material, speech recognition and pronunciation correction software, dictionaries and reference works.
Big names in the field of language packages include Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, Rocket Languages, Transparent Language, Living Language, Tell Me More, Babbel
But do they work? Can you really earn to speak French fluently in the comfort of your home and at your own pace with a computer, headphones and a microphone ?
My answer is “maybe.”
Let me first state, for full disclosure, that I do not currently use any software-based product. Some years ago I toyed with some inexpensive packages, but they are now sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
Here are my observations
1. Despite all the glowing testimonials and reviews about these products, I have yet to see anywhere examples of written or video testimonials IN FRENCH by users.
Here is what I would really love to see: A sort of before and after video diary of someone from day one when he or she first downloads or buys the package to the end of the last lesson . We could have a little video clip after every lesson. We would follow the weekly progress and see the final results. Wouldn’t it be great if the user could demonstrate what they learned in terms like the following?
Eh bien, voilà, nous sommes arrivés à la fin, malheureusement. Merci de votre patience. Pour vous donner une idée des progrès que j’ai pu faire, je vous propose une toute petite présentation personnelle et mon appréciation de ce produit. Je m’appelle….
2. Very high attrition rate. I read somewhere that something like 99% of buyers give up using these products within a few months. The problem is not the products themselves but the limited motivation of the users. Learning a language takes time and a huge amount of effort that few people are willing to give.
3. It is not very clear what the promised outcome will be in terms of any of the recognized language proficiency scales. How much French will you actually be able to speak at the end of the program?
Most products have various levels from beginner to intermediate or advanced. But what does that mean exactly? It’s very hard to tell from all the hype.
My impression is that the so-called advanced levels are no where close to to levels of French that we are studying in this blog. But I may be wrong.
4. Since I strongly believe that actual contact with native speakers is an important success factors, I notice that many of the products do include some form of interaction via Internet with instructors or even other learners. This is an excellent development and augurs well for the future.
5. I am certainly biased. I believe that nothing can beat immersion and working with a native-speaker teacher or coach who can give me the corrective feedback that you need.
That said, I see these products as potentially useful tools for my language toolbox. Some are better than others because they fit my learning style and circumstances.
In my opinion, the great advantage of these products is the fact that you can go over the material as much as you want. And you have sound and video. These are excellent features, but I don’t think that you will end up speaking French fluently and accurately just with one of these packages.