Review of Rosetta Stone® Language Software for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Rosetta Stone® Language Overview

Rosetta Stone is a registered trademark of Rosetta Stone Ltd.

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Rosetta Stone® language software is a computer package for learning languages. It is unusual in that it does not offer any translations – all the learning material is in the target language.

Through a series of photographs, students gradually build vocabulary and grammar by selecting the appropriate picture after listening to an audio clip. This natural process is similar to how infants acquire language – listening and repeating.

Reading and Listening Skills in Mandarin Chinese

The Rosetta Stone language software has very good sections for practicing Mandarin Chinese reading and listening. These sections present four photographs along with the text (either spoken or written). Your task is to match the text to photograph which most closely represents it. Click on a picture and if you are correct the next screen comes up with a new text.

Certain themes are followed extensively, so the first set of pictures may be about correctly identifying objects or people, and after a few examples of this, the next section may explore colors or other characteristics of the objects you’ve just been working on. This allows you to gradually expand your vocabulary while providing plenty of repetition to become accustomed to the new words.


Listening is the natural starting point for learning a new language, and this is the first section of the Rosetta Stone language software. Each lesson has four listening exercises. The first one is explained above: four photographs and one text are presented, and you must click on the correct photo.

The second listening exercise presents one photo and four texts, and your task is to click on the correct text.

The third and fourth exercises are pure listening – no photos. In exercise three you hear a spoken text and must pick the matching written text. In exercise four there is a written text and four sound files. Match the written text to the correct sound file.

Each exercise of each lesson uses the same vocabulary, so Rosetta Stone offers plenty of variety to practice the new words.

Mandarin Chinese Speaking Skills

Repetition is essential for language acquisition, but human teachers usually can’t spend too much time on this. Software can step in to fill this void, and Rosetta Stone is one of the best methods I’ve seen for this.

When it comes to speaking the language, however, a human teacher can offer immediate feedback and personal attention that audio tapes, or even most software, cannot.

Rosetta Stone language software attempts to bridge this gap by providing a voice-recognition function. Students speak into a microphone, and the sounds they make are analyzed by the computer and matched to the target.

A graphic analysis shows the wave form of the spoken phrase as well as relative pitch changes. A meter indicates how close the student gets to the target.

This is a very good feature that allows you to finely tune your pronunciation by comparing the target phrase to your own recorded sample. And the software has much more patience than a human teacher.

Writing Mandarin Chinese

The Rosetta Stone language lessons for Mandarin Chinese allow you to practice listening, speaking, reading and writing. The reading lessons can be done in your choice of Pinyin, simplified Chinese characters, or traditional Chinese characters. You can switch between each type of reading at any time.

The writing portion is only for Pinyin, and it requires you to input tones as well as the correct Pinyin spelling. I think it’s an oversight to exclude Chinese characters from the writing section, because there are many characters which have the same Pinyin spelling.

Even though Rosetta Stone allows you to practice your Pinyin spelling, (a skill which is useful for inputing Chinese characters on a computer), it uses a clumsy input method for tones. The Rosetta Stone software has its own input method that does not correspond to the Microsoft Windows input method, or any other that I’ve seen.

Rather than use numbers to indicate tone numbers, you must double key the vowels which have tone marks. This is awkward and time consuming, and is not a “real-world” skill that can be used in other applications.

Rosetta Stone Formats

The Rosetta Stone Mandarin Chinese package is available in two formats: CDs and subscriptions.

The CD format requires a minimum setup as follows:

  • Windows 2000 or XP, Mac OS X 10.3 or higher
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 250 MB free hard-drive space
  • 16-bit sound card
  • 800 x 600 display resolution
  • Speech Recognition feature requires a headset microphone (USB or analog)

Subscriptions are available for periods of 3, 6, or 12 months, and give you access to all the lessons from levels 1 and 2. If you are a dedicated student and know you can maintain a regular study schedule, the web-based lessons can save you money. The added bonus is that you can study Mandarin anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Minimum requirements for subscriptions:

  • 56K or better modem connection
  • Browsers (minimum version): Internet Explorer 6sp1, Netscape 7.1, Firefox 1.5, Safari 1.3 and higher
  • Shockwave plug-in installed on browser

Bottom Line

Rosetta Stone language software is an excellent way to learn Mandarin Chinese. It provides a natural learning environment and the progressive lessons allow you to master vocabulary and grammar at a controlled pace.

The only thing Rosetta Stone cannot help you with is conversation. Work with a tutor for this - either in a classroom or one-on-one instruction - and you will get the necessary conversation practice. Rosetta Stone stands well on its own, but if you can combine it with classroom instruction you are well on the way to mastering Mandarin Chinese.

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