Friday, August 7, 2009

But I Do Feel So All Alone.....

OK, true confession time. For anyone who has never read anything written in this space previously this may come as a surprise. For the other one of you, not so much. Ready? I do not swim in the deep end of the pool of intellect. I know what I know, which admittedly is not a whole hell of a lot. And I know what I do not know, which is a group that requires a much wider lens and a far greater distance from the image to fit neatly into its photo.

I am resigned to the fact that I am the only person in these United States who cannot figure out how the hell the Rosetta Stone "learn a language" product is supposed to work. In their radio spots, which are insidious, they implore us to "learn a new language the same way in which you learned your first one" without actually telling us what that means. Are they daft or simply dumb like foxes? I know not what the answer to that question might be. I do know that I have no blasted recollection whatsoever as to how I learned my "first language". Somewhat critical minds might tell you that I have not in fact done so yet. Criticism from my wife (and OK, my sister Jill as well) notwithstanding, I really do not know how I learned to speak English. I recall Bill taking me to the Rutgers University Library with him on a regular basis, which combined lessons in English and the politics of Southeast Asia (ah, the early '70's), and teaching me how to read - principally relying upon a book starring Donald Duck's three nephews. Hell, all these years later I could not recall their names, which I had to Google simply to be able to say "click here for the answer".

At the risk of passing the buck altogether it must be pointed out that when I learned my "first language" I was only a baby. So I am to be forgiven if my recollection of the process is not spot on. Anything that occurred before college is - at this point - trapped in the ever-yellowing gray matter is a very, very fuzzy image. These Rosetta Stone people fascinate me with their claim that anyone can learn any language in essentially no time. In the radio spot I heard driving back to my office from court on Thursday afternoon, one of the voices belonged to a little boy who declared, "I have learned to speak Russian!" with what sounded suspiciously to my ear to be unbridled enthusiasm. I could not help but wonder why the average less than tenner would need to be fluent in Russian - unless there is some sort of global HALO tournament being waged on X-Box or PS3 of which I am presently unaware - and Junior simply wants to be able to speak to his wing man.

On the Rosetta Stone web site, you are promised the opportunity to "learn the language naturally". What the hell is that supposed to mean? You learn the language you would learn from watching TV? From being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Turnpike on a hot, steamy August evening? From listening to hip-hop lyrics? From studying restaurant menus? Many questions - yet no answers to be found on the Rosetta Stone web site. Instead, under the heading "Our Method" we learn that:

The Rosetta Stone method unlocks your natural ability to learn a language. Even if you’ve tried and failed with other methods before, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll learn with our method. Learn naturally with no translation or memorization. Engage interactively and stay motivated with a range of activities and exercises. Speak confidently and build your conversational skills using our speech recognition software. Have fun—our program makes language learning accessible and enjoyable.

If you read carefully for content - go ahead, show off those mad "first language" comprehension skills, you shall no doubt note that there is actually no explanation as to what "the RS method" is under the banner "Our Method". Even more fun what is found under the "Learn Naturally" banner: We’ve eliminated the traditional approach of using translation and grammar rules, empowering you to think in your new language. After all, who needs silly little annoyances such as grammar when all one is attempting to do is communicate verbally. Come to think of it, way back when I was learning my "first language" I keenly remember being taught grammar be damned! Subjects and predicates are mere suggestions - you put those pesky words any way you prefer. If the listener cares enough, he or she will take the time to figure out the proper order.

Just for fun, I clicked onto the "STORE" banner on the web site. Huge surprise - a part of the program where everything was readily explained. I could learn enough Mandarin Chinese to prepare my own General Tao's Chicken and discuss the events of the day for only $499.00, which I suppose is a small price to pay to learn a language spoken by more than 1 Billion of the Big Blue Marble's fellow inhabitants. After all, 1 Billion of them cannot be wrong, can they?

They'll stone you when you're trying to make a buck. And when they are as well. It is the end game after all. Everybody must get stoned........Rosetta-style.

-AK

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