After an 8-week experiment of following the methods and tools to deal with the distractions in your life, this is my account of what has worked and what hasn’t – read on to see whether it might be a good fit for your situation.
Rocket Italian aims for a comprehensive approach, from vocabulary lessons to pronunciation tasks, and is among the best language e-learning platforms out there. However, it uses too much English, even at higher levels. Despite a well-designed curriculum and very positive student reviews, I find that the program is best for learning the basics but less for the nuances that are inherent at a B2, C1, or C2 language level.
Rocket Languages is a language e-learning company that offers online courses and resources in more than ten languages, including Sign Language, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, and, of course, Italian, which will be the focus of this review. Jason Oxenham, co-founder and CEO of Rocket Languages, has said that textbooks, traditional classes, and other software programs didn’t work for his own learning and that Rocket Languages is an effective alternative based on the problems and challenges he encountered. As a former student of Italian, I was interested to see how this platform performed – let’s have a deeper look!
Overview of Rocket Italian
Rocket Italian is a Rocket Languages course that, as the name suggests, focuses on Italian as a second and/or foreign language. There are three types of lessons:
- Audio Lessons, based around an Italian conversation between two or more speakers
- Language & Culture Lessons, which cover Italian customs but also language mechanisms
- Survival Kit Lessons that focus on vocabulary
Level 1 (A1/A2) has eight modules, Level 2 (B1/B2) eight modules, Level 3 (C1/C2) eight modules, and Travelogue (lessons around an audiobook) has ten chapters, and all these include many more lessons.
It should also be noted that Rocket Languages serves students but also teachers through educational and non-profit licenses that enable institutions to incorporate Rocket Languages resources in their own lessons.
Practical features & components of Rocket Italian
Because I chose a step-by-step approach, I’m going to focus on my experience with the very first lesson, an Audio Lesson based on a 17-minute conversation. This lesson, called Let’s Get Started!, included seven sections:
- Play It!
- Lesson Vocabulary
- Hear It! Say It!
- Write It!
- Know It!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great impression of the Audio Lesson per se because it was almost 100% in English. Note that, at Levels 2 and 3, there is less English, but still, almost everything was translated. As a language student and teacher, I find that Rocket Italian would be much more effective if it relied on Italian from day one, not on English. Obviously, this would only be possible if the lessons were more video than audio-based, with a human or an AI-generated teacher that used gestures, drawings, and other strategies combined with Italian. What I’m trying to say is that everything that was in English could have been in Italian. In my view, no language course, whether at an A1 or a B2 level, should be in a language different from the one being taught. Let me give you an example: using English pronunciation/writing KO-MAY is less effective, clear, and accurate than using demonstration techniques or the Italian phonetic chart to explain the pronunciation of come, i.e., Italian for how.
1. Play It!
This section includes a task that enables you to practice a conversation similar to the one in the Audio Lesson. The coolest thing about it is that you can role-play both sides of the conversation. I clicked on the “Play as…” button to practice Alex’s lines while interacting with Maria and then did the opposite. It’s funny that it works perfectly. In the picture below, Alex spoke first, and then, as Maria, I clicked on the microphone icon and practiced each line at a time. The voice-recording system rated my pronunciation, moved on to the next part of the dialogue, and even let me listen to my recording to check my own pronunciation, which is useful, especially when the score is not perfect.
2. Lesson Vocabulary
This section enables you to learn and practice Italian words and phrases that are related to the Audio Lesson but aren’t in the conversation played at the beginning. It was as useful as the previous task. And Rocket Languages definitely keeps its promise to focus on pronunciation.
The only downside is that the speech recognition system doesn’t always understand what you say, even if your pronunciation is correct, which means you have to say the same thing over and over again. Another thing: you can only learn how to pronounce a word or a sentence by repetition, but sometimes repeating is hard.
I wish there were videos for learning the trickiest parts of Italian pronunciation, which showed, for instance, how to position and shape your tongue and mouth correctly. I would find this extremely helpful for the pronunciation of double consonants, For example, if you only have access to a recording, but you feel stuck, and you never manage to get a score of 100%, you end up not having access to useful tips and strategies.
I found this section to be the least useful and intuitive. You look at the front side of a flashcard, which can be in Italian or in English, depending on what you select in the settings, then you click on the “Reveal” button, and the translation appears on the backside. And there’s only sound upon reveal if you select that option in the settings. Either way, adding sound is also possible in the “Lesson Vocabulary” task, which is much more dynamic. Because it’s not interactive, say, a real-time competition or a speed contest, I didn’t feel motivated.
According to the instructions, you should reveal the reverse of the flashcard, rate how well you know the word or expression (easy, good, or hard), and change what you are tested on in the settings. Basically, I didn’t’ find that this task added anything to the previous ones.
4. Hear It! Say It!
The Hear It! Say It! section includes a series of tasks in which you listen to the audio, record yourself, and then click the “Reveal” button to see if you understood what you heard. Because the voice-recording system rates your pronunciation, you can also see how well you pronounced it. It’s great that you only have access to the written word after you pronounce what you heard; therefore, you can really practice your listening and pronunciation skills without any written support.
5. Write It!
In these types of tasks, you listen to the audio, type in what you hear, reveal the answer, and then rate how well you did. The written form only appears after you reveal the answer. After that, you also have the chance to activate your microphone and have the voice-recording system score your pronunciation, which makes this a listening, writing/spelling, and speaking task.
One positive aspect is the foreign digital keyboard, which you can see in the picture below. It’s very handy if you have, say, an American keyboard that doesn’t let you use accented letters or diacritic symbols.
One negative aspect is mainly related to the dictation of sentences: because the speaker doesn’t dictate any punctuation marks, you might think you made mistakes because you used a comma instead of an exclamation mark, for example, but, in fact, both alternatives may be correct. Punctuation is subjective and flexible; therefore, dictations should include all elements (check TV5 Monde’s French dictation/writing/listening resource to check my ideal format for this task).
6. Know It!
Know It! relies on translation as a teaching technique. Basically, you read a word or phrase in English, record yourself saying it in Italian, and then reveal the answer. The only negative aspect is that it forces every lesson to be translated to help you memorize what matches what, i.e., which is the Italian equivalent of a certain English word or phrase. Problem: Sometimes, you can say the same thing in different ways, which makes this task a bit inflexible because it relies on automatic answers that don’t make room for any alternative or creative options.
This series of multiple-choice questions gathers all that you learn in a specific lesson and works as a sort of review task that reinforces your knowledge. I found it very useful. At higher-level lessons, the Quiz section also includes written/oral comprehension tasks about the initial dialogue.
As for the Tools section, my favorite features are the Leaderboard, the Benchmark Test, and the Forum.
The Leaderboard is an interesting feature for competitive students who feel more motivated when there are rankings, badges, and prizes. You can check your daily and total amount of points, your streak status, the Leaderboard for Rocket Italian, the Leaderboard for all languages, and your points history, which are illustrated in the pictures below.
The Benchmark Test is a series of 100 questions that cover all language skills according to the Rocket Languages format: Hear It!, Know It!, Write It!, and Quiz. I like the fact that you can access the same test to assess your ability from time to time, which might be more motivating because repetition is key to memorization and learning, but also because you can keep track of how your Italian level is progressing. The only downside is, again, the use of English language and translation to explain Italian grammar and vocabulary. I confess that I found the question below very confusing because it was in English. Still, in my opinion, teaching a gendered language through another language, especially if genderless like English, is ineffective.
Last but not least, as a language enthusiast who sometimes struggles with the perks and quirks of languages, especially at higher levels in which nuances and exceptions to the rule keep on coming, the Forum is definitely my favorite feature. I love these platforms where native speakers, language students and teachers can interact, share questions and answers to help each other as an e-learning community. In the Italian Forum, you can rely on Rocket Languages tutors as well as all members of Rocket Italian to help you out with tricky and perfectly valid questions, like where to place an adjective in relation to a noun. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find a reliable answer online, which is why I find this feature extremely helpful.
Pricing of Rocket Italian
Let me start with my absolute positive aspect: flexibility. Not having a credit card, I usually struggle with online purchases. But Rocket Languages has got you covered through alternative payment methods, namely direct debit and PayPal.
As for pricing, you can either purchase a lifetime access pack or pay for the platform on a monthly basis. The latter option includes all three levels, but it quickly becomes quite expensive.
Note that if you would like to try out the platform before purchasing, the free trial gives you access to seven Level 1 lessons (all types), two Level 2 lessons, one Level 3 lesson, and two Travelogue lessons.
I had the possibility to use an “Earlybird” coupon code when purchasing the course – I could have saved up to 44% of the total amount. I admit that, the positive student reviews combined with the lower prices made it tempting!
Pros & cons of Rocket Italian
As for the pros of Rocket Italian:
- You can listen to native and foreign speakers, which might make you more at ease with having a foreign accent;
- You can check your pronunciation through a voice-recording system that rates your pronunciation and lets you listen to your own recording;
- There’s an App available on the App Store and Google Play;
- It’s available for both students and teachers;
- Most reviews and feedback are positive;
- There’s a Notes section, which is an interesting way to incorporate a sort of notebook into an online lesson.
And as for the cons of Rocket Italian:
- The lessons may become repetitive;
- Too much reliance on English;
- Lack of visual elements;
- The writing/dictation tasks don’t specify punctuation;
- The voice-recording system doesn’t always capture what you say, which means you sometimes have to repeat the same task.
Recommendations for potential students
Rocket Italian does a lot right. However, based on my experience as an Italian student, there are language learning needs I feel that Rocket Italian doesn’t fulfill, namely immersing the student in an Italian-only environment.
But, based on positive student reviews, as well as Jason Oxenham’s story, I know that every student learns their own way, which is why you should definitely give the plaform a try.
Just like Jason Oxenham, and as a fellow language learner, I’ve found my go-to method: regular classes with a human teacher, whether face-to-face or online, which, to me, is the most interactive, personalized, and comprehensive way to learn a new language.
Even so, in my opinion, Rocket Languages, as a comprehensive and well-designed platform, might be a good fit, especially if you’re traveling to a different country and/or want to learn the basics. Either way, give it a chance through the Free Trial. As a unique student with a unique learning style, Rocket Italian might very well fit you like a glove!