'Language learning should be natural'
Learning a foreign language should be a natural and instinctive process, like learning one’s first language, said Stephen Swad, chief executive officer (CEO) of Rosetta Stone.
“The acquisition of vocabulary and expressions should take place without having to link them to translations,” he said during an interview with The Korea Times at Rosetta Stone’s Korea branch in southern Seoul, June 27.
And such an experience is precisely what Rosetta Stone provides, he said.
Rosetta Stone was named after the artifact that had unlocked the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs for linguists. Likewise, Rosetta Stone aims to unlock the secrets to language learning success.
It is a computer assisted language learning program which now covers 31 languages. The software called Dynamic Immersion is the cornerstone of the Rosetta Stone learning method.
“This is what differentiates us from other companies offering similar language learning products,” said the 50-year-old CEO. “The software is based on extensive research, so that it enables the learner to acquire the language like one’s first language.”
The learner picks up vocabulary and expressions by directly associating them with images that are lined up in a sequence. The software is tailored to the learner’s level as they progress.
Then there is the speech-recognition technology that compares the learner’s speech to that of a native speaker and provides immediate feedback, helping the learner to polish up their pronunciation.
Live human coaching follows, where the learner practices with a native English speaking instructor what they have learned in the previous sections.
“Another great aspect is that the program is on demand whenever you want it,” said Swad. “I can access the program with my iPad on my back porch or when I’m on the train. It provides flexibility and convenience, transcending limits of space and time.”
Two new products, ReFLEX and TOTALe were launched in Korea last summer. ReFLEX is a solution specifically designed for adults to awaken their language learning ability, utilizing what they have learned over the years. TOTALe is a program that enables learners as young as five to participate in live coaching sessions and interact with other learners of the same level.
“The experience of learning a language goes beyond merely being able to speak that language,” said he said. “It entails growth of confidence and a change in attitude that can lead to a life-changing experience.”
Swad talked about a Korean boy in one of Rosetta Stone Korea’s promotional videos. The boy who couldn’t speak English, had been very shy and timid. An English speaking playmate had visited but he kept avoiding contact and was unable to play with her even though he wanted to.
But after studying English through the program for several months, not only did his skills improve, but a significant change in his attitude could be seen. Having gained confidence, he was actively engaging in play with the playmate who had visited again.
“In such terms, Koreans, who have an extensive knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, but lack confidence in speaking will be able to benefit greatly from the program,” said Swad.
And together with the tremendous fervor for English education in the nation, the CEO sees enormous potential in Korea’s market.
“This is in fact, why I am here,” he said. The CEO was in Seoul from June 25 to 27, to have a regular business meeting with employees of the Korean branch.
Swad said he had been focusing on expanding the market in Asia ever since he had taken the top position last February. The recent relocation of the president of global consumer markets to the Tokyo office shows the company’s commitment to serving the market in Asia.
“It was actually very interesting to see the Korean employees at the branch speak in English and Korean during meetings,” he said. “While they spoke with great fervor in Korean, when they switched to English, they immediately toned down their voices.”
“Our goal is to have people speak foreign languages in the same manner they speak their first language,” said Swad, adding “You know, it would be great if I could talk to employees at our branches around the world in their native languages.”