And let’s face it: There are lots of language learning apps, programs and sites. But how do you know which of these language resources stands out from the rest?
In this review, I’m going to single out one of these language learning programs: Rocket Languages.
Rocket Languages holds a high rating on the review page of their website, and reviews from users are chock-full of accolades and praise.
Does it really live up to the hype?
Let’s take a look at the program’s claims and see if it delivers.
- The Rocket Languages Approach
- How Much Does Rocket Languages Cost?
- The Program Breakdown: The Good and the Bad of Rocket Languages
- Audio Lessons and Interactive Exercises: The Program’s Best Feature
- Culture Lessons: Useful but Not What They Seem
- Track Progress: Useful for Keeping Up
- Apps: Great for On-the-go Learning
- Lifetime Access: Unlimited Usage and Review
- American Sign Language (ASL): A Rare Goodie
- Bumps in the Road: Voice Recognition Issues and Other Bugs
- Does Rocket Languages Deliver on Its Promises?
Rocket Languages Review: Pros and Cons to Consider Before Blasting Off!
The Rocket Languages Approach
Rocket Languages is a popular language-learning website and app. It was created in 2004 by Jason Oxenham and Mark Ling, and as of 2020, it offers 12 languages for English speakers as well as three programs for English learners, and boasts 1.2 million users.
This program is designed for new learners who want to become proficient in a language.
It provides primarily audio and culture lessons, pronunciation practice and flashcards as the foundational facets of the program.
Other features include a progress tracker, a community forum that allows learners to interact with other learners in their target language and a mobile app for on-the-go learning.
There’s lifetime access to all lessons in the target language at varying prices (see below). There’s also a free trial available for each language that’s offered so it’s possible to “test the waters” before committing to the method.
Rocket Languages is available in a variety of popular and lesser-studied languages, including French, Spanish, Hindi and American Sign Language.
For the purpose of this review, I tried out two languages: German, and a less popular language, Portuguese, for comparison purposes.
Rocket Languages’ Claims: What Does It Promise to Teach?
In order to see if Rocket Languages is an effective language learning program, we first need to understand what it aims to teach you.
Judging by the Rocket Languages’ main web page, it makes two claims.
Firstly, Rocket Languages promises it will have learners “conversational straight away by learning the most useful things first.” We can assume that this means we’ll learn through authentic conversations in our target language, and what we learn will be topical and applicable to real-world conversation scenarios.
Secondly, Rocket Languages claims that it’s one of “the most comprehensive courses there are.” This promise is slightly more ambiguous, but for the sake of our review, we’ll assume that the courses will offer reading, writing, listening and speaking practice, they’ll offer content for all levels of learning from beginner to advanced lessons, and they will have extensive vocabulary and grammar learning methods.
We’ll keep these two claims in mind and refer back to them at various points of our review to see how effective Rocket Languages is on delivering on these goals.
How Much Does Rocket Languages Cost?
It appears that the Rocket Languages’ free trial is indefinite, but it only allows learners to access select lessons of each level.
This means that I was able to access the first lessons of Level 1, 2 and 3 for the German course as well as select “Culture Lessons,” and the first lesson of Level 1 and select “Culture Lessons” for the Portuguese course. That’s because only one level of Portuguese was offered as of July 2020.
Other features are available during the free trial such as the resources under the “My Tools” menu, but in order to unlock all lessons and levels, a one-time price is charged for unlimited lifetime access.
For languages that offer three levels of courses such as Spanish or German, learners can opt to pay for only the first level, the first two levels or all three levels. For languages like Portuguese or Hindi where only one level is available, paying for this one level if the only payment option available.
Prices are quite steep, even if users are only paying for one level of lessons. If buying more than one level of lessons, prices are discounted rather than multiplied. Even still, Rocket Languages’ pricing is similar to that of other major language learning programs and monthly subscription-based services.
If you’re interested in Rocket Languages, however, keep an eye out for deals. On the day that I checked out Rocket Languages’ pricing, an instant coupon was available for all three levels of the German course that would have saved me almost $200.
The Program Breakdown: The Good and the Bad of Rocket Languages
So now that we know the Rocket Languages approach, what it claims to do and how much it costs, let’s see what features it actually offers to help us reach conversational fluency.
Audio Lessons and Interactive Exercises: The Program’s Best Feature
The audio lessons that are the backbone of this program begin with very basic conversations. It’s a start-slow and build-up approach that makes getting into the language learning pool relatively comfortable.
Learners begin the lesson by listening to a podcast. Each podcast is between 10 and 20 minutes long, and it includes an English-speaking host as well as multiple native speakers. As the podcast plays, subtitles in English and the target language are shown underneath the player box so learners can read along as they listen.
For the purposes of the review, I chose the first lesson of the German Level 2 course. This lesson revolved around “Last Weekend” and featured a conversation between two German native speakers, Sandra and Matias, and what they did the previous weekend.
After being introduced to the topic and the native speakers, I then listened to a short, simple conversation in German. The transcript to this dialogue was available underneath the play box under the “Play It!” box, and there was a second box for “Extra Vocabulary” that was used during the podcast.
After the dialogue, the podcast host walks the learner through the vocabulary and grammar of the conversation in English and instructs on how to participate in such a conversation in real life. The host then prompts the learner to repeat what they hear and respond to prompts with the help of native speakers.
There’s a casual informality in the conversations that comprise these lessons. They almost feel as if you’re chatting with friends rather than studying. In short, they make the learning experience light and friendly.
While I didn’t find these dialogues and podcasts particularly exciting, the fact that they’re teaching highly useful conversational language is undeniable. Rather than learning standard phrases that a university textbook might teach you, Rocket Languages teaches you the language that native speakers actually use—and even slang! These types of audio lessons would definitely help any learner become conversational in their target language.
A clear strength of these lessons is the use of native speakers who model proper pronunciation. During the podcast and in the subsequent dialogue and extra vocabulary breakdowns, learners hear their target language pronounced properly and clearly, and voice recognition software lets learners record their own speech know how their pronunciation stacks up.
After the podcast and dialogue material, learners engage in a number of interactive exercises. The exercises give learners the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned, and they include:
- Flashcards where learners get English words and phrases and have to translate them into their target language. These flashcards have target language audio and can be tagged for later review by clicking the “Easy,” “Good” or “Hard” buttons on each flashcard.
- “Hear It! Say It!” where learners listen to a word or phrase in their target language and then record their own audio.
- “Write It!” where learners listen to a word or phrase in their target language and then write it out in that language.
- “Know It!” where learners read an English translation of a word or a phrase and then translate it and record it in the target language.
- Quiz where learners use multiple-choice questions to test their knowledge of target language vocabulary and usage.
While I found these exercises a little boring since they all deal with the same words and phrases over and over again, Rocket Languages knows that repetition is key, and each repetition of a word or phrase solidifies it in the learner’s brain.
As you move through each level, the lessons gradually increase in difficulty so making use of the exercises is an excellent way to ensure readiness for subsequent lessons. Further lessons build on one another, so you’re learning new material while constantly reinforcing old material, and I imagine you could reach a respectable level in your target language.
Learners are able to repeat lessons as many times as necessary to gain optimum success. This is also beneficial when reviewing material or if there’s been a break in a learner’s schedule. Forget a key lesson? Just go back and redo it!
Each level has 60+ hours of lessons so there’s lots of material to learn.
At this point, you might be wondering if there’s a way to get the benefit of repetition without the tedium of seeing the same thing over and over again. We might be just a tad biased (you are reading the FluentU blog, after all), but there’s one program that can deliver memorable, fun content that’s reinforced through repetition: FluentU.
FluentU’s use of real-world videos means that you can watch content that you enjoy while getting lots of context for the words or grammar concepts that you’re learning.
You can actually find other videos that use the words you’re trying to learn through the video-enhanced flashcards. Plus, you can add any word to your vocabulary list then use quizzes to test your knowledge of each.
The quizzes combine videos, audio, images and multiple example sentences to help you really remember what you’re learning—without getting bored with it.
Culture Lessons: Useful but Not What They Seem
In addition to language lessons, each level also contains culture lessons. They’re designed to show a language “works,” which confused me a little because I always associate “culture” with art, music, traditions and food. In any case, these culture lessons focus on fundamentals like grammar and vocabulary.
The lessons are denoted by a globe icon beside the lesson title—in contrast to the speaker icon that denotes regular lessons—and culture content includes audio of thousands of common words and phrases.
This section also covers navigating various language topics. In short, it teaches how to discuss past events, nail down proper pronunciation and other essentials that aren’t fully explained in the lessons themselves. These lessons also have the same five types of exercises as regular lessons to aid with understanding and reinforcing.
So while these culture lessons may not deal with “culture” in a literal sense (or in a semantic sense), these lessons are vital to a well-rounded learning regimen with Rocket Languages.
If you want to learn about the nuances of the language you’re learning, authentic videos like the ones on FluentU give you a peek into the language and culture.
How much should you really move your hands when speaking in Italian? Is it polite or antiquated to bow to your superiors in Japanese culture? You can pick up on these cultural cues by watching authentic videos—while, of course, also catching some key authentic language usage.
Track Progress: Useful for Keeping Up
Rocket Languages has done a super job of making it easy for learners to see how they’re doing.
Progress is clearly noted on the dashboard page—and it’s simple to resume with lessons wherever you’ve left off. I liked that I could see what I’d done, how I did and what I needed to do next—all from the one page.
Learners accumulate “rocket points” which go toward earning “rocket badges” which is a fun incentive to keep studying your target language. It feels a little like a game, earning points and badges. Coupled with a leader board that allows users to view their progress by comparing it with how other learners are doing, this progress and competition feature has its appeal.
And for those who believe their biggest competition is themselves, the program keeps track of “streaks” in order to keep self-motivated individuals consistently coming back. The streaks show how many continuous days a learner uses the program. Personally, I like this motivation tool!
Apps: Great for On-the-go Learning
We’re all so busy that any program that features a way to take language learning on the move is worth checking out. Sometimes a fantastic app can be a language learner’s best friend!
The Rocket Languages app makes this totally mobile. It’s possible to learn and practice anywhere and anytime.
Random pockets of time all have language learning potential with this app. Also, it’s possible to download lessons so even if you’re in a situation without internet access you’re able to access some content.
Rocket Languages is available for iOS and Android.
Lifetime Access: Unlimited Usage and Review
There are no monthly subscription fees with this program. Learners pay one price that allows them unlimited lifetime access to materials.
Even free trial offers offer unlimited access to the first few lessons for life.
American Sign Language (ASL): A Rare Goodie
ASL isn’t offered by a lot of language learning sites so having it here is a nice option. This is a language that has been missing from most programs so it’s sure to have a wide appeal for those who have been waiting for it, myself included.
The course relies on video rather than audio for its lessons.
Bumps in the Road: Voice Recognition Issues and Other Bugs
Voice recognition software is almost essential for language learners. It really assists with correct pronunciation.
Unfortunately, using this program and its voice recognition feature was mildly disappointing. It just didn’t always recognize the voice on each first attempt. I wondered if it was my voice, specifically, that gave it issues so I asked two others to try it out and they had similar experiences.
My next issue with Rocket Languages is minor but when you’re trying to learn a language and maybe have a limited schedule, it’s frustrating to encounter bugs and be denied access to material. I attempted twice to see pages that were part of the material open to me and repeatedly saw an “oops” page instead, including the download page for the PDF version of my German lesson.
In fact, it seems that glitches and issues with the voice recognition technology are common with users, as exemplified by reviews on Rocket Languages’ Android and iOS app pages.
No, it’s not a deal-breaker but it definitely puts a learner off his or her game when it happens. Hopefully, Rocket Languages has a plan to deal with bugs and glitches so they don’t overshadow what language learning potential the program does offer.
Does Rocket Languages Deliver on Its Promises?
Remember Rocket Languages’ two claims that we examined at the beginning of the post? To recap, Rocket Languages promises that its programs will get you conversational quickly, and that it’s one of the most comprehensive programs around.
Let’s look at the legitimacy of these claims individually.
Can You Get Conversational Quickly with Rocket Languages?
Based on what I’ve experienced, I think it’s safe to say that, yes, Rocket Languages can get learners conversational quickly in their target language.
There are some conditions, however.
Mainly, I think that the answer to this question greatly depends on the language you’re studying with Rocket Languages. For languages such as German, Spanish or French, the courses are quite expansive with lots of lessons. Because of this, I believe it’s possible to get a good basis in conversations in these languages.
For languages like Portuguese or Hindi, however, I don’t think a conversational level is possible: There just aren’t enough lessons in a single level to cover a full range of conversation topics.
Is Rocket Languages the Most Comprehensive?
The simple answer to this question is “no,” and this answer to this question is actually tied to the assessment of Rocket Languages’ first claim.
Sure, some Rocket Languages courses will get learners to have comfortable conversations on common topics in their target language, but the usefulness of this approach greatly depends on your definition of “conversational fluency.”
In other words, is Rocket Languages so comprehensive that you could eventually become fully fluent in your target language and excel in every single conversation in it?
The answer to that is firmly in the “no” camp.
This program definitely stands up to its “new learner” angle. In fact, it’s a perfect starting point for absolute beginning learners, but the claim that it’ll take learners to a proficiency level seems unlikely.
The reality is that Rocket Languages courses leave out major parts of language learning. For example, Rocket Languages doesn’t offer the learner an opportunity to speak the language spontaneously: They can only repeat after native speakers and answer predetermined questions. That’s very far from the reality of actually speaking a language where conversations can be unpredictable and learners may find themselves needing more than just what Rocket Languages has taught them.
In the same vein, Rocket Languages doesn’t give much opportunity for reading and writing. Sure, learners must read in order to complete Rocket Languages lessons, but most of this reading is in English or transcripts of lesson dialogues. There’s no actual reading of real-world material in the target language.
Further, writing is limited to only lessons exercises where a one- or two-word translation is required. Fluency requires writing longer texts.
In short, Rocket Languages is a great component of an overall language program but there doesn’t seem to be enough material or resources to take learners to total fluency or a highly proficient point.
In conclusion, Rocket Languages offers a lot of benefits for language learners.
Its material is engaging, informative and interactive. It’s a solid resource for language learning that made learning fast, focused and fun. Better yet, in conjunction with other language learning resources, Rocket Languages is an excellent addition to any language learning regimen.
After my positive experiences with German and Portuguese, I’m looking forward to trying my hand at ASL next.
I’m pretty sure that while this won’t take me into orbit I’ll certainly have a successful language-learning blastoff!