The ability to learn additional languages has definitely improved with the rise of broadband internet services. Prior to widely available high speed internet, solo study of other languages was reserved for people who could afford fairly pricey CD courses from bookstores. Now a host of options have become available for download or direct study online, making these languages accessible to many more people.
One such program is Rocket French (RF), an interactive French language course that takes a different approach from others.
RF has long been considered an affordable competitor to the better known but more expensive Rosetta Stone programs. Online accessibility made it easier to keep RF to an affordable price, compared to the expensive CD based instruction offered by the yellow-box competition.
Rocket French Premium
For this review, we shall be looking at the Premium edition of RF. Despite the name, this is actually the baseline level of the program. That said, at first glance the options offered in the Premium package are still quite impressive.
For $99.95, The Premium Course Offers:
- Interactive Audio Lessons (33 Lessons)
- French Language and Culture Lessons (53 Lessons)
- Voice Recognition Phrases
- Flash Card Sets
- Advanced Learning Techniques
- Progress Tracking
- Phrase Finder
- Vocabulary Builder
- Badges and Leaderboard Access
- 24/7 Lifetime Customer Support
- 24/7 Lifetime Access
- Free Updates
- 60 Day Money Back Guarantee
Most of this is fairly easy to understand. After all, who hasn’t made flash cards to practice their language studies? Several of these options do stand out for students interested in online French lessons however.
The first is the Vocabulary Builder setup. This is an option students can use to flag certain vocabulary words. As lessons progress, flagged words will be highlighted and hyperlinked in the lesson. Students can make notes for each of these words, and clicking the hyperlink will bring students back to these notes. It’s an option that allows for quick review of previous concepts, and eliminates the tedium of paging through multiple layers of interface to move between lessons and notes.
The Voice Recognition Phrases are an interesting implementation of the technology available. Since Voice recognition software has progressed to the point that the computer can recognize proper pronunciation, it has become a very useful tool in language courses. Students are either played an audio file or told to read text on the screen, and do so into their microphone. The program then displays text of their words, with proper pronunciation colored green, and mispronounced portions in red. It’s a clever approach that breaks down the lesson point by point, rather than simply giving a binary right/wrong status.
Old Dog, New Tricks
The mention of free updates to the software might seem fairly standard at this point, but in RF you may just find that a valuable tool. Previous versions of this audio course suffered from some serious complaints that impaired user functionality.
Visual interface issues were one of the original problems with RF as a learning tool. The flash cards were dull and uninspired, the interface was difficult to navigate through, and the entire program had a flat, sterile, and unappealing look. This has been updated to a much more appealing and intuitive interface that emphasizes the ease of transition between the student’s notes and the lesson at hand.
Voice recognition compatibility via the Rocket Record tool was also absent from earlier editions. Only the most recent versions include it, in fact. Previously, students had to content themselves with listening to the audio lessons and hoping they were pronouncing their replies correctly. With the updated approach that provides actual feedback, it’s clear that the updates from Rocket Languages are worth having.
What is the Premium Edition Missing?
There are several features that aren’t available to users of the Premium Edition, and are instead in the upgraded versions.
In essence, the Premium edition is intended to give students a basic level of conversational French. It will serve as more of a foundation for future study and practice than for fluency, but will still allow students to understand conversations. The “Combo 1&2” package will increase this to a modest degree of fluency in conversational French, while the “Combo 1, 2, & 3” package will introduce advanced conversational topics, up to and including flirting according to some reviewers. Paris is, after all, the city of romance.
A Conversational Focus
The previous example is part of the charm that RF offers over its competition. Most French classes take a very formal approach to the French language, but people don’t speak to eachother as if they’re in a textbook, or reading from a newscast. They use idiom, puns, and slang with eachother. This is where RF courses take a distinct difference, focusing heavily on making students conversant in French, rather than overemphasizing a book-level understanding.
This isn’t to say that formal vocabulary lessons, conjugation, and grammar aren’t included. These are indeed incorporated in the Language and Culture section of the lesson plan in particular. Rather, these French classes emphasize making sure that students are able to have a sensible, casual conversation in French, and then use that as a base to build up to formal grammar concepts. If this sounds familiar, that is because it is how people learn to use their own languages. We learn to speak conversationally from our parents, and only later do we learn there are rules and structures for the words we use.
Where to Buy Rocket French
As with most products, there are multiple places to purchase Rocket French online. In addition to the primary site, there are a number of affiliate sites offering the courses for sale, presumably on some manner of commission scheme.
Rocket language courses always come with a 60 day money back guarantee, regardless of whether they are purchased through an affiliate or from the core site. This means it is largely a matter of personal preference as to where you wish to purchase the program. You get the same product, with the same guarantees, so there isn’t a particular risk in either case.
Rocket In Your Pocket
Perhaps one of the most innovative additions to the newest version of RF is the inclusion of the Rocket in your Pocket mobile app. This is exactly what it sounds like: a mobile phone app version of the online French course. You can access each of your lessons on the go, track your progress, and in essence always have an excuse to easily practice your French if fellow speakers aren’t available to practice with.
The value of this really cannot be overstated. One of the keys to proper learning and integration of a language is immersion in it. The longer you spend each day speaking a language, the better your brain retains the information for your use. The biggest weakness of other class types is that they train the brain into patterns where a certain time of day you use French, and then let it sit for the remainder of the day. Having an application at hand means that the time you spend with the language goes up, and prevents the “hour a day” syndrome.
As said, the app is fully integrated with your core version. As you progress through lessons in one, the app is updated alongside your main program so that you don’t have to fumble through a phone interface just to remember where you are. This makes keeping up with your lessons on the go seamless as well as convenient.
What’s the Verdict?
At $100, Rocket French is a very good investment simply from a per-hour standpoint. The premium edition offers 172 hours of instruction through its lesson plans, averaging out to less than a dollar per hour of investment. When was the last time you spent less than a dollar per hour for anything of interest, much less something that can have a distinct benefit such as teaching you a new language?
The variety of features, the obvious dedication to improving their product, and the inclusion of an on-the-go application version are very nice touches. The risk free product guarantee is up to industry standards. There are honestly very few risks in purchasing the Premium version. While the upgraded versions are more expensive, they’re still feature-rich and maintain the “less than a dollar per hour” ratio of cost to instruction. This reviewer gives it a solid recommendation for French students.