This post was updated April 2020.
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Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone
Comparing Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone is pretty close to comparing apples and oranges. They’re both great for starting new languages from scratch…and that’s about it. Pretty much every other characteristic between the two is almost completely different, which will make your decision between the two a no-brainer. It all has to do with what exactly you want to get out of your first experiences with your new language.
Some of you will prefer Duolingo – some like Rosetta Stone. Others still, like me, will be more interested in other means of taking in a new language for the first time. Whatever you decide, there is no wrong answer. None of this is to say that between Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, one of them is better than the other; they’re just different, and built for different kinds of language learners.
Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone: price
The one absolutely glaring difference between Duolingo and Rosetta Stone is the price. In fact, nothing could be more opposite. Once consistently claims it will always stay free, while the other definitely struggles with its price being too high for potential users. Like, to the point where you might not be able to afford it.
That’s why this is the first thing you need to know about Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone. Whether or not one or the other might work well for you, if you can’t afford it you can’t afford it, plain and simple. There’s no working around it.
Duolingo is free. Always has been, and it’s been stated that it always will be. Like most free online resources, Duolingo makes its money through ads. Or, if you want to kill the ads, you can opt for Duolingo Plus. You don’t get any new content, but say bye to those ads. Duolingo offers a free 7-day trial, then it’s just a few dollars a month. So, basically, it’s absolutely dirt cheap.
And that, my friends, is one of the things that makes Duolingo very attractive to meany aspiring language learners: no financial commitment! You’re not buying a gym membership, swearing that the cost of the membership will be enough motivation to go. There’s no stress, no obligation. Just play a fun game!
Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, is absolutely not. It doesn’t matter if you opt for the physical CDs or the online/mobile membership, Rosetta Stone costs just about an arm and a leg. Your cheapest option is a 3-month online subscription, and that’ll still run you $79 dollars. Sure, that option is $26 every month, but you still need to pay the whole $79 upfront.
The online memberships go up from there; you might only technically be paying a few bucks a month for a year-long subscription, but you still pay for the entire subscription upfront. Or, you can buy the physical CDs, but that’ll cost you a couple of hundred bucks, too. Oh yeah, and this is all just for one language. Wanna learn another? Better fork over another couple hundred!
Fortunately, Rosetta Stone does offer a free trial, but it’s only for 3 days. Pretty stingy if you ask me, but obviously it works for them! It’s definitely enough time for you to get a solid idea of whether or not Rosetta Stone will work for you…I guess it’s just weird to me to see a free trial for less than 7 days.
Rosetta Stone has also recently updated their pricing structure to include a $200 lifetime option. While this is still pricey, it is definitely more on par with other language learning resources that offer that kind of thing.
Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone: lesson length
Lesson length is super important because most structured language learning resources use quick, 5-minute lessons. This short time frame makes it easy to get people to use the product, and make big boasts like “fluency in 10 minutes a day!”. They’re quick, easy, and painless, but you know what they say: no pain, no gain.
However, that doesn’t mean you should automatically avoid short lessons. A 5-minute lesson on your way to work is better than no lesson at all, especially done consistently over time, so think about your lifestyle and what’s feasible. If you’ve only got 15 minutes before bedtime, go for it. It’ll build up, trust me!
Duolingo is very proud of the fact that you can complete a lesson in 5 minutes. In fact, that’s their main marketing ploy: learn a new language in just 5 minutes a day! I shouldn’t have to tell you that’s absolutely ridiculous, but it definitely feels good to feel like you accomplished something major in just a few minutes!
That positive reinforcement is super reinforcing in itself; it only takes 5 minutes to learn something new, and that’s easy to do over and over and over and over again.
Combined with Duolingo’s leagues and the competition inspired by them, Duolingo will absolutely keep you practicing!
Rosetta Stone makes no such promises which, in all honesty, is so much more realistic anyways. These lessons are generally around 30 minutes long, which is definitely more of a time commitment, but you’ll definitely learn something. I tell ya, you’ll learn significantly more in a focused, consistent 30-minute lesson than you ever will in a quick 5 minutes.
That does mean, though, that Rosetta Stone is absolutely exhausting. You’ll be learning a lot more with fewer breaks, so you really have to consistently work your brain. I don’t know if I need to say this or not, but this means you’re learning a lot more during these 30-minute lessons, as well as making your brain stronger.
Your brain is a muscle, and what’s a better workout: 5 minutes at the gym or 30?
Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone: available languages
Because both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone are built to take language learners who have never seen their language of choice and offer them a base understanding of them, both offer a lot of languages. As in, since they don’t have to come up with intermediate-advanced content, they can afford to touch on more languages.
Duolingo and Rosetta Stone both offer lessons in the following languages:
I know…holy languages! I guess it’s easy to rack up languages when you don’t have to go too far in-depth! Besides those, Duolingo also offers:
And Rosetta Stone also offers:
You can say there’s a pretty decent chance you can find the language you want to learn on either Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, or both, making both products ideal for learners of new languages.
However, the “completedness” of the languages can also vary, which is something to keep in mind as well.
Because of the nature of Duolingo, lessons are constantly being updated. Which means not only are some languages not complete, but you can sometimes run into the issue where your Duolingo tree resets with new updates. It’s the price you pay considering you’re not actually paying any price.
Rosetta Stone is similar. The length of the lessons are much more set in stone (okay okay, I’ll show myself out) so they’re a lot less likely to change, but that doesn’t mean all languages take the same amount of time to complete.
Rosetta Stone’s languages vary from 3 to 5 levels long, depending on the language you choose.
Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone: language skills
The best/most important way to understand any language learning resource is by understanding which language skills it focuses on if any. The 4 language skills don’t include grammar or vocab, which are just as important, but it’s helpful if these products help us out with actually using or understanding the language.
Who knew, right? In any case, it’s super important that you think about exactly what it is your learning when you use any language learning product. There aren’t any bad options out there, per say, just different options that work for different people.
Duolingo…not so much, at least not if you’re working on the “tree”, Duolingo’s main event. It focuses almost entirely on vocab – again, helpful, but you definitely can’t actually achieve fluency without any outside help. I mean, there’s a little bit of speaking sometimes, but even then you can opt to turn the microphone off for an hour.
Duolingo has brought some new material to the game, though. And I won’t lie – it’s pretty legit! If you switch to the Labs tab, you’ll find a few options, including Stories and the Podcast. Stories are an awesome way to practice reading comprehension and listening, which is a huge step in the right direction! The podcast is also produced entirely in your target language (as long as you’re learning one of the available languages).
There’s still no speaking or writing, so no active use of the language, but that doesn’t mean reading and listening, or passive use of the language, or any less important.
Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, really shines in this category. These lessons hold your hand through practice specifically meant to improve all four language skills, which is amazing! This is one of the reasons Rosetta Stone is both so well-known and so expensive – it’s really fantastic quality.
Because both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone are made for beginner language learners, it’s really helpful that Rosetta Stone shows you exactly what and how you’re supposed to be learning. I know I’ve gotten through my Duolingo tree, been told I’m at 100% fluency and then didn’t know where else to go from there. So I fell off the habit. Rosetta Stone shows you how to learn, which is insanely helpful.
Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone: immersion
Immersion, if you can get it, is the best thing for any and all language learners. This is especially true for newbies, because it does take a tick to figure out how best to more or less fake it for yourself. And, while it may not seem like immersion would be that important in the beginning, it’s arguably more important.
The habits you start should stick – so if you get in the habit of only using one resource (spoiler: this never works), you’re going to get a pretty one-sided experience of the language, which just won’t help you. Languages are multi-faceted, so you should treat them as such.
Knowing that Duolingo doesn’t really focus on working the language skills, it should be no surprise that immersion isn’t really a key component to it, either. Besides the Stories and podcast, the only other way to find immersion is by checking out the forums and see if any other users have suggested a good resource. If that doesn’t work, you can ask yourself.
Duolingo’s forum is very active, and you can find lots and lots of really helpful information there. It’s full of people learning several languages on Duolingo, so you can bet they know what they’re talking about, especially if they’ve continued their studies past Duolingo itself and found more advanced resources elsewhere.
Honestly, I highly suggest you take a look at the forums. There’s a seriously good chance you’ll find what you’re looking for, whether your question has already been answered or you need to ask yourself.
Where Rosetta Stone is concerned, I don’t actually think you can find higher quality immersion anywhere besides buying a plane ticket and going to the actual country. Rosetta Stone really excels at creating an immersive atmosphere, in that the only language you will ever see or hear is your target language. And it’s perfect because that’s how we naturally learn languages, anyways.
You’ll get a collection of pictures, and have to use your brain to figure out which picture the word or phrase is referring to. It’s easy enough by itself, but you’ll find yourself really pushing this stuff in your head since you’ll be learning the language authentically through immersion.
Not only that, but if you decide to opt for the online version of Rosetta Stone, you get access to a few fun games that help you to practice learning to process what you learn. Like in this game, for example, where they say the phrase, and you have to pick out the picture it’s describing before time runs out.
Trust me, I know about this immersion stuff. I tried learning Spanish for years but could never get past the beginner stages until I actually moved to Spain. They’re not lying when they say immersion is the best way to learn a language.
Duolingo and Rosetta Stone seem to land on two different sides of the branding spectrum: Rosetta Stone is historically exclusive/expensive (which is fair, considering they were one of the only options for several decades), and Duolingo will always be free for everyone.
Besides pricing, how does that affect language learners? Community (or lack thereof).
Rosetta Stone is an app (or CD boxed set, though that option is being pushed less and less) and that’s it. Duolingo, on the other hand, includes forums. And subreddits. And community events. Very, very inclusive, especially compared to Rosetta Stone.
Which is better for you?
At the end of the day, the route you go to start learning your language is entirely up to you and what works for you. Yes, Rosetta Stone is way out of budget for a lot of us, but is it worth it? It absolutely can be, if you’re their target audience (ie. someone who has never learned a language before and is planning a trip somewhere). Click here if that sounds like you!
At the same time, it’s not a secret that Duolingo is probably the most commonly used language learning website there is, and that must be for a reason! To be honest, it’s probably how heavily gamified it is, and how easy it is to feel good about yourself. Not to say that these are bad things, but don’t go about Duolingo thinking it’s more than it really is!