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RosettaStone Launches Totale

totale_rosettastone.JPGLast week a rep from RosettaStone showed me a demo of the company's newest product called Totale, which officially launches today.
If you've ever used RosettaStone (or stopped at one of their kiosks in a shopping mall for a product demo of your own), you already know that it's language-learning software that goes beyond audio CDs by incorporating visuals, speech recognition, and spelling, all of which reportedly enhances one's ability to learn.
What's new about Totale is it takes the entire RosettaStone package, moves it online, and adds two whole new pieces, making three in all: 1) Course (the classic RosettaStone), 2) Studio, and 3) World.
Studio may be the most interesting component for readers of this site, as it is essentially an online class. An instructor, or "coach," as RosettaStone's Chris Spiller corrected me, conducts a 50-minute online class for up to four learners, which are held at all different times of day. A learner logs on and joins the session with the other learners and one coach, who operates entirely in the language being learned. (Support staff are available in one's native language to assist with technical issues.) The lesson that the coach works through is supposed to align very closely with whatever Course unit the learner has just finished, so for example, if you've been learning the numbers, animals, and colors, that's exactly what you'll be working on in the Studio.
All the coaches (58 have been hired so far) are native speakers of the language they teach, and most work from home.
I like the idea of a person deciphering my mangled French rather than a computer with speech recognition, which I have failed miserably in the past. Getting machines to handle anything linguistic, from translation to language-generation, is monumentally difficult, so it only makes sense to include real live human beings in the process.
The third component, RosettaStone World, leaves the coaches behind and connects learners to one another, where they can interact in web pages and using VOIP. The emphasis in World is play, so RosettaStone has developed some low-key games, mostly of the matching variety.
The launch price is $999 for a 12-month subscription to the whole service, and there's no upgrade price for people who already own the DVDs (a shame if you ask me). Because the product has been in beta for a few months, there are already a number of other language learners in World and Studio ready for new subscribers to join their online language party.
I think the most difficult hurdle for consumers, or "learners," is that all you get for a thousand bucks is the ability to learn—no books, no degree or certificate, just the opportunity to listen, speak, play, and practice. It's a dilemma that nearly all online learning providers—as well as providers of other digitally distributed media—have to contend with. What is the actual value of learning, and what are people willing to pay for it?
Jill Duffy, Senior Editor

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