Without a doubt, the three names that dominate the "Learn Russian" market are Rosetta Stone, Russian Accelerator, and Pimsleur. Each has its own unique approach, and with that comes a very different learning experience depending on which course you are using. I have owned all three courses as I was determined to be able to speak Russian because I was headed to Russia and obviously it made the most sense to able to have a handle on basic Russian when I got there. More importantly though, I was able to save a ton of money on my trips to Russia as well. In this review I'm going to give you the low-down on what makes each course good, where the weak points are, and more importantly, which one gives you the most bang for the buck.
Reviews of Top 3 Russian Language Programs: with regard to depth of learning and speed.
The oldest (and most out of date) of the three is Pimsleur. For decades a leader in language teaching, Pimsleur relies on an audio-only approach. What you are getting is CDs...lots of them. No booklet, no explanations, just CD after CD after CD. It might seem logical to teach with only audio, since language is primarily a spoken medium, but that's not how we learned our own languages. Visuals are a large part of the learning process. How else do you learn what "red" means? By utterly ignoring the visual process in language acquisition, this course does not lend itself to learning a language FAST. I felt that Pimsleur is doing a great disservice to their students (and to me) by leaving out fundamental aspects of the language learning process. It's strong point is that it will be useful for those who are auditory learners, since it is entirely CD based. Of course I did learn a little bit, but not nearly with the same speed and breadth of knowledge as I did from the other courses.
Ironically, the second oldest amongst the top Russian language courses -- Rosetta Stone -- uses the complete opposite approach. They rely on visuals only, with absolutely no explanation of what meaning is intended. Here's how it works: You are shown a screen with four pictures. Let's say: A Cat, A Dog, A Boy, A Girl. The speaker says, "sabaka" and you are to blindly guess which of the four pictures is being refered to. Even if you guess right, by clicking the dog picture, you have no way of knowing if the word indeed means dog, or perhaps the breed: "Poodle". Or does it mean "Pet"? Who knows? You are meant to guess. This works ok for concrete nouns, but is totally ineffective and counter-productive for more complex situations. In one picture, two kids stand on a table as a third kid leans as if to jump, and two more kids stand on the ground. Is it clear what the following sentence means in relation to that picture: "Odeen malchik dumaeit o tom, shtobi prignut so stola a drugee deitee ni xotyat prigat."
Crystal clear, isn't it? The sarcasm is intended...and deserved. For all their glossy attention to their big marketing machine which sucked a fairly large amount of money out of my pockets..., Rosetta put surprisingly little thought into their courses. I spent so much time with my dictionary confirming meanings, that I felt I should have just dropped all that money on a nicer dictionary and passed on the course all together. It's doubtful anyone has learned much Russian this way, certainly not beginners anyway. At best, the course is useful for those with experience in the language already, and who are prepared to look up in a dictionary all the countless ambiguous phrases they present... virtually every phrase in the entire course, sorry but it was frustrating! It's strong point is that the images used in the program are visually pleasing in some cases. Due to the fact that so much time was spent looking up words to confirm their meaning, Rosetta does not lend itself to learning Russian fast.
I learned the most in depth and fastest with Accelerator. In fact the course practically forces you to learn whether you want to or not. At the start of each lesson, a quick video presents new words using a technique called PowerPhrases to implant the words in your memory. The meaning is then rooted deep in your mind via contextual learning. Immediately, your are given a reinforcement exercise that deeper ingrains and confirms the meanings. The way they put this together is devastatingly effective, try and forget the words and phrase: you can't. It's great, and I really love this course. In the middle of each lesson, another video covers a single important grammar point using yet another proven principle called Pattern Recognition. This is perhaps the area where Russian Accelerator most outshines its competition. Whereas the other courses shy away from teaching Russian's complex grammar, Russian Accelerator presents the material so easily, you wonder what all the fuss was about. Even for a soggy brained guy like myself, learning the necessary grammar was a piece of cake. The other aspect where Russian Accelerator has no competition at all is in its personalized Success Coaching. Each and every student is given the opportunity to send audio of themselves to their native speaking Success Coach, for feedback. Because Russian Accelerator combines so many effective language learning techniques all geared toward speed and depth of acquisition, it helped me pick-up Russian dead fast. To this day I still retain what I learned from their training modules.
Sorry if I sound biased toward Accelerator, but as I said I OWNED all of these courses and have some pretty strong opinions due to the lack of quality and price of two of them that left me flat out disappointed. One was just OK, one was worse than just Ok. I'm a fan of Accelerator, because they delivered on their promise of teaching fast and thoroughly. In my humble opinion, Russian Accelerator wins hands down. Mark Thomson, the co-creator of the course and accelerator team leader, has a video on the site that reveals the number one secret to acquiring proficiency in Russian at an unusually fast rate, it's good stuff.