- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

In 1799, one of Napoleon’s soldiers unearthed a stone on which was carved a decree issued two centuries before Christ that was written in two languages — Egyptian and Greek — and in three different scripts: hieroglyphics, demotic Egyptian and Greek, which were all being used in Egypt at the time.

Scholars eventually were able to decipher the hieroglyphics by comparing them to the known Greek. The Rosetta Stone, as the artifact became known, provided a key to deciphering ancient Egyptian writing.

I have discovered a language learning software that is a great tool for home-school families. Called the Rosetta Stone program, it provides an immersion learning experience for students in a self-paced set of lessons that include listening, pronunciation, reading, writing and grammar.

Rosetta Stone utilizes a natural language learning approach, in my estimation. The CD-ROM-based lessons use only the target language. The lessons present a series of pictures and statements in the new language. The student is introduced to a spoken statement, is shown the matching picture, and is then asked to choose from among four statements — one of which is correct. The three other statements will be chosen for subsequent pictures. This ensures that the student gets accustomed to the sounds of the language first, and the mind must associate visual cues with the words being heard.

As the lessons proceed, the student is able to detect patterns and retain the vocabulary. After a series of 10 four-statement photo pairs, the student can choose to repeat the lesson or move on. There is a running tally of correct and incorrect responses on the side of the screen, so the student can measure his or her progress. This may compel the student to redo a lesson to earn a higher score, while at the same time reinforcing the material.

Another program option allows the student to speak the words and phrases into a microphone, prompted by the correct pronunciation from a native speaker. The student’s voiceprint is shown, as well as the voiceprint from the native speaker, and the student can record over and over until the phrase sounds and looks the same as the native speaker’s pronunciation.

A third option allows the student to associate the written language with the spoken phrases he or she already has studied. In this way, the symbols and pronunciation are linked but, additionally, the written words present less of an obstacle to the new learner.

In learning to write the language, the student chooses portions of written text that match the spoken phrases, in effect, transcribing the spoken statement.

The system allows the student as much or as little repetition as desired in each of the language skill areas. In this way, the student can decide if he or she needs to keep working in the current level, or move on to the next level of difficulty. Also, because it uses a trial-and-error approach, the student can “match wits” against the system, learning in the same way a player learns from a video game. The running total helps the student evaluate the progress, and see that he or she is truly gaining familiarity and understanding as the lessons continue.

Rosetta Stone offers CDs for 29 languages for the beginner to intermediate levels. Advanced levels are available for 13 of those languages. For a free demonstration of the system, visit the Rosetta Stone Web site (www.rosettastone.com).

This system helped me get over a learning block I had with a language I have avoided because every curriculum I tried started out with learning the writing system. After just one week with Rosetta Stone, I find myself understanding so much of the language — and even the writing — than with any other system. I hope you will check out the Web site and see if this isn’t a pleasant and productive way for your learners to develop fluency in the languages they wish to learn.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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