This article is a major update to my previous review of Rocket Languages (updated for the new 2017 edition).
I’ve had to adjust some of the harsh criticisms below I made in my earlier review of their courses because the new edition has fixed or removed most of the major flaws I pointed out earlier (I’ve also included a video below).
Simply put: it is significantly improved now compared to when I first used it.
Features such as voice recognition, testing, games, in-built flashcard app and overall design have changed a lot in the newly released edition (click here).
NOTE: I occasionally use affiliate links in review posts like this one which help me to maintain and improve this site and the quality of the content I post.
I only ever positively review and recommend products that I personally own or genuinely find useful and being honest is very important to me. There are language blogs out there solely concerned with profiteering and this is not one of them.
If you’ve ever spent time searching online for language learning resources then there’s a good chance you’ve already stumbled upon Rocket Languages at some point.
To describe it in its own words it’s a ‘recognized leader in online language learning’ and it’s been around for quite some time (about a decade according to its about page).
Despite my initial hesitation and frankly low expectations of the program, I have to say that I was actually very impressed by the course’s quality which I’m going to explain below.
Although it does contain reading and writing lessons, its strength is definitely in speaking and listening, and the grammar is demonstrated rather than explained in heavy detail.
From the Arabic version:
“Using a scientific process called ‘chunking‘, Rocket Arabic breaks down every day Arabic conversations into small segments so your mind can more easily absorb and remember them. The chunking method means that you’ll be able to work on your conversational Arabic and overcome the fear of saying the wrong thing, in the privacy of your own home.”
Rocket Languages currently has the following languages available: Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic (Egyptian), Italian, Hindi, German, French, Chinese (Mandarin), Sign Language (American) and English (for Spanish speakers).
The first level sells at just under $100 for lifetime access (or around $260 if you decide you want the intermediate and advanced levels).
The price does seem steep but I’ll explain below why I think this price is still justifiable.
I’ve put together a quick video here to walk you through the new edition’s interface (note: the video shows the 2016 edition which has since had a few significant improvements in the 2017 edition):
Before you continue reading the review, these are the languages in the Rocket series if you’d like more info and samples (select one):
Below I’ll list what I believe are the negative aspects of Rocket Languages but do continue reading because I make some very important points toward the end of this article.
Unrestrained, aggressive affiliate partners damage its reputation
I hope the folks over at Rocket read this. (EDIT: They did read it)
I must admit that I was reluctant to even sample and review Rocket Languages at first because of frustrating experiences with its affiliates over the last few years.
Searching for language learning content via search engines inevitably leads you to fake, spammy review websites created by Rocket affiliate members (not Rocket Languages themselves) and I’ve had many instances of them polluting my blog with sales links which I immediately delete and ban.
I posted this on Twitter a while back in fact:
Anyone leaving links to Rocket language products on my site are instantly banned. Constant spam from their affiliates. @rocketlanguages
— Donovan Nagel (@mezzofanti) October 29, 2013
It’s due no doubt to the fact that Rocket Languages has a generous commission scheme in place and runs through a third-party affiliate payment system (making it harder to control who does what) and this makes it way too susceptible to aggressive marketing abuse by its members.
This is not necessarily the direct fault of Rocket Languages at all but they need to be aware that dodgy partners are very harmful to their brand and reputation.
Overall, I believe Rocket Languages is actually a good quality product which I’ll explain below so I do hope they keep a closer eye on their partners.
The desktop interface
is was very outdated
First up, the Rocket interface has improved a lot since I first wrote this review.
While the Rocket Android app interface seems to be relatively unchanged, the Rocket Languages desktop interface has come a long way. It was previously very outdated and unattractive compared to its competitors (e.g. Duolingo).
Although it never detracted from the high quality of the course content, the large blocks of black text on dull grey were awful to look at.
Now it’s very sleek and modern-looking, and very easy to navigate.
This makes it a pleasure to use.
One of Rocket Language’s best features is its comprehensive audio content (see below) but it’s made better when everything is easy and comfortable to navigate.
Spelling issues seem to have been fixed
When I first used Rocket Languages to write my initial review, I mentioned a few careless English spelling errors in the course content.
This appears to have been fixed.
I hadn’t noticed any problems with the Arabic content which was a relief but the English spelling mistakes gave me the impression that somebody was in a hurry to finish the product.
Like the interface design, something as simple as an obvious spelling mistake can turn learners off what is otherwise a potentially great tool so I’m glad this has been taken care of finally.
The pointless Word and Phrase Master games are now gone
When I wrote my initial review, Rocket included several small, web-based games which I said were a complete and utter waste of time that should either be improved or removed.
Not only were they too easy but they lacked any real educational value. Educational games should be both fun and challenging but the Word and Phrase Master games were neither.
Rocket’s finally removed them in the latest edition.
Arabic writing lessons still could be better but testing has improved
The testing has hugely improved in fact.
This isn’t relevant to you if you want to use the Spanish, French or another European language edition.
For Arabic in particular, the writing lessons have lots of potential but are just not explanatory enough for new learners in my opinion. The videos demonstrating how to write are just a few seconds long which may not be adequate for some people.
In many of the lessons the new words are given but you’re not actually shown how to write them until the following lesson as a review.
This makes no sense to me at all.
The videos demonstrating how to write letters, numbers and words are actually quite good but there’s not enough of them to justify calling them writing lessons.
If you’re going to create writing lessons (especially for a language like Arabic), you should either do it properly and comprehensively or leave it alone and focus on the speaking and listening component (which Rocket does very well).
But here’s the good news: the testing for writing is loads better.
If you’ve used Duolingo and are familier with the writing tests on there, you’ll like this new feature of Rocket Languages testing.
Even for Arabic, it does a really accurate job detecting the correct and incorrect spelling of words you type (marking the correct letters in green and the wrong letters in red).
New recording feature uses Google Web Speech API for accurate voice recognition
UPDATE: The voice recognition feature is now available (as of the new 2017 edition) on the mobile app version also (with excellent accuracy).
In my early review, I noted that competitors like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo use technology that automatically matches the sound waves of your voice with the native speaker’s voice giving you a correct or incorrect response.
Rocket was a step behind its competitors in that it lacked a voice recognition feature like this.
The new edition utilizes the Google Web Speech API to recognize your pronunciation and compare it with the native speakers in the Rocket course.
This is a huge improvement to the previous edition.
I must say however that I’ve never seen the value of this approach to pronunciation practise and Duolingo and Rosetta Stone are often terribly inaccurate anyway with voice recognition (occasionally I’ll purposely say something completely wrong and receive a correct response from both of them).
Aiming to correct your pronunciation by having a piece of software tell you you’re right or wrong is definitely not a natural way to improve your pronunciation but it’s good to see that Rocket has finally caught up to its competitors in offering this feature.
It’s not going to hurt using it of course but I don’t see a whole lot of value in it personally.
The quality and comprehensiveness of Rocket Language’s audio is excellent
This is what makes Rocket Languages worth buying despite the negatives I’ve listed above.
I was genuinely impressed by the overall comprehensiveness and quality of the audio and dialogue content for the Egyptian Arabic version I sampled.
Firstly, the very fact that it teaches a spoken dialect rather than standard dialect puts it miles ahead of Rosetta Stone.
The content really does present the spoken language as it’s naturally used which is hard to come by with Arabic language products.
It covers a wide range of topics beginning with the absolute basics and leading up to discussions that are actually quite advanced in level and unique for a course of its type (e.g. in addition to basic content like simple greetings, there are dialogues on relationships, sport, literature, and lots of other topics relevant to the country – all with accompanying audio by native speakers).
It consists of two sections:
Interactive Audio which is where you’ll find lots of quality dialogue material and Language and Culture which is full of grammar and detailed cultural notes.
The dialogues and lessons are presented in a humorous and interesting way too and unlike Rocket’s competitors they don’t use a cookie cutter approach (in other words the content is unique to each language version).
The person who’s presenting the content in English actually engages with and comments on the content which I think is fantastic.
For the audio content and its comprehensiveness I would say that the price is justifiable. On this point alone I’d recommend the product to anyone.
The mobile app (Android and iOS) is great
I mentioned the mobile app above which is available both on Android and iOS (for free if you’ve purchased a Rocket course).
I much prefer it to the desktop interface since it’s much more simplified and it only really lacks features such as the games which I believe are unnecessary anyway.
MAJOR UPDATE: As of the new 2017 edition, the iOS and Android apps are outstanding. Features work flawlessly and the interface (UI) and navigation are a joy to use.
I’m told by the guys over at Rocket that more features for the mobile apps are in the works and due to be released soon.
Rocket provides an active forum for discussion about the language and culture
Members have access to a learners forum for the specified language as well as a general forum for everyone.
This is a good feature to have since it allows people to ask for clarification and engage with one another.
Questions regarding various aspects of the grammar and expressions not found in the course content for example are asked and answered.
The forums appear to be actively moderated by native speakers although it is unclear how often they check in.
Scheduler and points system is a nice motivator to keep up with daily practise
While not innovative and a fairly common feature in other products, it’s nice to see that Rocket has incorporated a scheduler and points system to keep people motivated.
UPDATE: This is another feature that has been improved a lot in the 2017 edition and is also set to be an included feature in the mobile apps.
The scheduler is there to encourage study streaks (much like Duolingo) and the points help you to move up a leader board and compete against other learners.
Phrase Finder ‘My Vocab’ tool is super useful
This is a brilliant feature.
Since the Rocket content is so comprehensive, it makes sense to have a good search tool to find exactly what you’re looking for.
It’s a powerful search tool and as you can see in the picture, the results come back with all sentences containing the word or expression in the search query.
UPDATE: It was called ‘Phrase Finder’ originally but now is part of the ‘My Vocab’ section. Functionality and appearance are a lot better since the 2017 update.
All audio and lessons are fully downloadable as MP3 and PDF files
You’re not restricted to online access with the Rocket content.
This is actually a great selling point since every bit of content on the site is downloadable and able to be used offline. The MP3 audio is ideal for listening during commutes and the PDF’s are easily printable.
Competitors like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone are limited to use in the application or online so it’s nice that Rocket gives you complete access to the content you paid for.
Overall the downloadable, comprehensive audio content of Rocket Languages outweighs its few negative aspects
… and justifies the somewhat steep cost.
While I can’t comment on the specifics of all language versions, Rocket Languages is definitely a quality product I’d recommend because of the comprehensiveness of its content and quality of its dialogues.
The price for all 3 levels is quite steep but totally justifiable when you consider that you’ll get years of value out of the extensive course content (unlike some of its competitors).
The changes and additional features in the new edition of Rocket are a massive and very welcome improvement too.
If you’re interested in trying it out or listening to samples of their lessons, you can do that here.
Choose your language to get started:
If you’ve used it before and have your own feedback you’d like to add (positive or negative), you can do that in the comment section below.
This was written by Donovan Nagel.
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