I bought a copy of the Instant Immersion Italian Levels 1, 2, and 3 this summer at a Costco in New York but haven’t gotten around to doing a full review of it yet. However, since there is an instant savings coupon right now for $10.00 off, I thought I should finally write up my thoughts on the software. When I bought my copy this summer, it was $27.99, so the savings would put that price at under $20! At Costco you can find a variety of languages, if Italian isn’t your thing: French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and English (selections vary by location). If you know someone that wants to learn a language, this would could be a nice gift this holiday season to start them on the path of learning a new language. So, now on to all the details.
The really nice thing about this software is that you get a lot for your money and you can actually learn the language using it. In the box you get eight CDs: two for each level (Mac and PC compatible), a mystery game for further language immersion and fun, as well as an MP3/iPod audio disc. In addition to the CDs you get an interactive DVD language learning game. So, really, you can’t fault them for not giving you plenty of stuff for your money. Each level grows on the skills that you learned in the previous one. In level one you get to learn lots and lots of vocabulary words and essential phrases. In level two you build on that with more complex phrases and refinement of your pronunciation. And finally, in level three you put everything together for full language immersion and full conversations in your new language.
Once you start a disc, the software will keep track of your progress in the student records; there can be more than one student. It will show you when you last used the software, how many sessions you have completed, your score, and any awards you’ve gotten and various things like that (depending on the disc and lesson). As you progress through the software you do various activities and get a score based on how many correct answers you provide, just like in school. Unfortunately, you have to start a new student record for each disc.
With level one disc one you are learning phrases and vocabulary words (a lot of vocabulary words) on a variety of topics: food, colors, body parts, numbers, time, shopping, countries and travel. Luckily, it is broken down into individual lessons so you don’t just have a bunch of words thrown at you. For each individual lesson you have four parts: word practice, speaking practice, easy game, and a hard game, plus you can print a full picture dictionary. Word practice is based around showing you an image, showing you the word in the new language and English, and listening to the native speakers pronounce it, and then you try to pronounce it while the software records you. After you pronounce it, you can then listen to it in comparison to the native speakers to see how you think you did. The nice thing is that you can listen to two different speakers: a man and a woman. This is good because it demonstrates different speeds and slight variations that you get from different people. The approach is very similar to Rosetta Stone, which is based on natural learning processes that you would have if you learned the language as a kid (just like you did English before you could talk). The graphics aren’t quite as sophisticated as Rosetta Stone, but they’re okay.
Disc two of level one is all about vocabulary flashcards that are useful, but this is where you start to see the difference with Rosetta Stone. It’s like a completely different piece of software and doesn’t carry over your student records, which is a real disappointment, I think. I also don’t like that it takes over my entire screen and isn’t resizeable. But on this set of lessons you learn vocabulary for additional areas: positions, professions, plurals, colors, actions, and places through either flashcards or a game. The graphics for this piece of software are really kind of horrible, like stepping back to something you might have had at the end of the 90s.
With level two disc one, you’re all set to take your small phrases and vocabulary words to a new level by combining them into more complex phrases. You also get one of the basics out of the way by learning the alphabet. For the phrases you are learning appropriate phrases for restaurants, greetings, shopping, getting around, at the hotel, on the phone, emergencies, leisure, and business. For each of these sections you’ll have phrase and dialog practice and recording, as well as three quizes. You can also print a dictionary/cheat sheet for the lesson. Phrase practice consists of seeing a phrase in the new language and hearing it in English and then seeing it in the new language and hearing it pronounced and then you practice repeating it without recording. The recording portion, is basically the same, but you have the option of recording your pronunciation to see how you’re doing. The dialog portions of the lessons are really the same as the phrases, however, you are combining two phrases to have a little conversation (two phrases – a question and answer, generally). Luckily, level two disc two is the same style as disc one, you’re just learning different things: vocabulary, family, at school, hobbies and friends, traveling, at home, computers and technology, the world, at work, and sport. But thankfully, the graphics and interface are of better quality than level one, disc two; these are like level one, disc one. However, it still hijacks my entire screen and I still don’t like it, even if the software looks better.
By level three you are putting everything together and fully immersed in the new language to gain confidence and experience conversing in your newly learned language. On disc one there are a variety of conversation lessons but for each you have to listen to what is being said and then pick the picture that is the correct answer. Which is really hard if you haven’t worked your way through the other two levels! There is also a dictation and worksheet activity, as well as recording and playback activities, and quizzes for each conversation area. The style of this software is like level one disc one. With level three, disc two you are back to the same style as both level two discs and doing complex conversations for the following areas: on the phone, business meetings, business travel, careers, negotiations, trading or buying and selling, marketing and PR, IT and communications, banking and the stock exchange; obviously it’s all about business situations you might encounter. The format is just like those for both discs of level two and has all of the same components for each lesson.
If all of the software had the same look and feel it would look like a higher quality program, however, the mish mash of styles makes it look less finished, and certainly doesn’t have the cohesive look that you get from a high end product like Rosetta Stone. Hopefully they are working towards getting all of the content looking like that seen on the level two discs. It’s not just all down to aesthetics though, because I really do think you learn better when all of the software is presented consistently in the same style and format ; it just seems easier. And really, they should just get rid of level one disc two because it is just an embarrassment. If they could keep a continuous student record that would be great too. With a little reworking the student records could prove useful for seeing what lessons you should go back to for a little more work as you progress. I think it would also be good if they could separate out vocabulary from phrases so that you could see if you are stronger in one of those areas too. I have a feeling that I’m much better at remembering and learning the vocabulary words but I’m not totally sure, so it would be good to know that I need to work harder at learning the phrases instead of just a bunch of words. And lastly, they should definitely stop taking over the entire screen of my computer! Nothing irritates me more than programs that do that, and it almost makes me want to say no one should buy their software.
However, that said, you do have access to all of the tools you need to really learn the language. The style of learning is very similar to that used by Rosetta Stone, but without as much repetition I think. And the repetition is really what makes the new words and phrases stick in your brain. Of course, I was able to learn Italian (at least as far as I’ve gotten in level one so far) words and simple phrase, and even remember them. However, I did the lessons more than once and kept going back to earlier lessons to repeat them so that I would remember them better.
Right on the box they compare their software to Rosetta Stone, which is the Rolls Royce of language software really. Since I’ve got both (though for different languages), I feel like I can do a reasonable comparison. I like the style of the Rosetta Stone software more and think that one of its big benefits is that it tells you when you have your pronunciation incorrect. However, sometimes the voice recognition is a bit iffy (but that could have more to do with the mic and not the software) and that can be frustrating. But the feedback to let you know if you are saying the right thing is really a huge, huge help; their ear is probably better than yours honestly. The Instant Immersion software relies on you to do more of the work that is all built in to how the Rosetta Stone software operates. One of the other big advantages of Rosetta Stone is that you can have online sessions with actual native speakers in the new language, which could really advance your language skills and understanding. But let’s face it, the difference in price is enormous and can’t be overlooked. Through Costco.com, Rosetta Stone’s level 1 – 3 language software is a whopping $521.99. At Costco.com the Instant Immersion level 1 -3 software is $32.99 (before the $10.00 off). And as you can clearly see, that’s almost a $500.00 difference between the two software packages. So, depending on your level of desire to learn a new language, you probably want to go with the Instant Immersion software. It isn’t horrible by any means, but it isn’t quite as good as Rosetta Stone either; for $500 though you would definitely expect a difference.
I think I’m going to see how far I can get with the Instant Immersion software and then I might upgrade to Rosetta Stone if I feel like I want a more intense learning experience.