Rocket Languages is a language-learning app that couples audio lessons with interactive exercises and some readings that teach you phrases for travel. You learn greetings, the words you need to order food and drink, and how to ask for directions. Within a few weeks, you could learn enough to be a polite guest in a foreign country, but it’s not the right app to choose if you’re looking to build a foundation for a language that you intend to study at length. It’s also not a good option if you need to learn to read and write in a non-Roman script. Rocket Languages’ key selling point is that you pay a one-time fee for lifetime access, rather than a monthly or yearly subscription. If you travel to Italy every year and want to brush up on a few phrases before you go, Rocket Languages would be a fine app for that.
If you are instead learning a new language from the ground up and intend to stick with it for a while, I recommend starting with Duolingo or Rosetta Stone instead. Duolingo is the PCMag Editors’ Choice for free language-learning apps, and Rosetta Stone is the Editors’ Choice for paid programs. If you’ve tried Rosetta Stone before and the style just isn’t for you, a wonderful alternative is Fluenz, though it only has programs in seven languages.
If you’re an English speaker, Rocket Languages has 12 languages for you: American Sign Language, Arabic (Egyptian), Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, and Spanish (Latin American).
Rocket Languages also has programs for learning English with instruction in Spanish or Japanese.
The American Sign Language program is the only one that’s quite different from the others. It uses videos instead of audio files as the core teaching mechanism. Its pricing is different, too.
Twelve languages is a healthy selection, but if there’s one you need that isn’t here, I recommend trying Pimsleur, which has 50 languages, or Transparent Language Online, which has more than 100.
Rocket Languages Pricing
Some software products are perpetually on sale. Rocket Languages is one of them, so the list price isn’t necessarily what you will end up paying. On the one hand, it’s great that you’ll pay less. On the other hand, it’s annoying to not have clarity about pricing up front.
When you buy the program, you pay a one-time fee for lifetime access. How much you pay depends on how much access you need. Each language can have up to three levels of instruction. American Sign Language, Arabic, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian only have one level. Because the Sign Language course is a little different, it has unique pricing. Chinese has two levels. French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish have three levels. The pricing breaks down like this:
- American Sign Language ($99.95),
- Level 1 ($149.95; or 6 monthly installments of $27),
- Levels 1 and 2 ($299.90), and
- Levels 1, 2, and 3 ($449.85).
Rocket Languages offers a free trial. It isn’t limited by time, but rather by content. You can listen to three or four lessons, and you can try out the exercises. The rest of the content is locked.
It’s tough to compare Rocket Languages’ prices to those of other language-learning apps because the model is different. Most apps now charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee, usually on the order of $10-$12 per month. With Rocket Language, you get lifetime access to the program.
An Introduction to Rocket Languages
Rocket Language has two main components: an audio lesson, followed by exercises. It also has culture lessons and writing lessons for languages with non-Roman scripts.
The audio lessons are 20 to 30 minutes each. They’re available in Rocket Language’s web app, as well as in the mobile app. Additionally, you can download them from the web app and play them wherever you like.
The lessons are straightforward. You have an English-speaking host who gives you instructions, plus one or more native speakers. The native speakers demonstrate the spoken language and you repeat. The tone of the lessons is lighthearted and relaxed, though in my very first Arabic lesson, I cringed when the instructor asked one of native speakers if he rode a camel, like, for transportation. Surely it was meant as a joke, but it struck me as borderline racist.
After you listen to an audio lesson, you work through exercises that test what you’ve just learned.
The courses are well structured, and the app does a decent job of keeping track of your progress. A dashboard has icons that change color as you complete the modules they represent. A red icon means you completed the materials but did poorly. Yellow means you did ok. Green is a sign of success.
Getting Into Rocket Languages
I’ve used Rocket Languages in the past in Italian and Spanish. To test it with fresh eyes, I tried Arabic this time, as I mentioned above. I also did a few Italian lessons again to remind myself of how the program works when using a Roman script. The Arabic course uses both Arabic script and transliterations. The writing was by far the hardest and worst part of the Arabic course, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Every lesson starts with an audio file. It’s the core lesson where you learn new material. The audio files are mostly great. The narrators are professional and yet personal, especially in the higher levels. Every so often, you might hear a background rustle or some pages being turned; but, for the most part, quality is high all around.
You learn new words at a slow pace, and the instructors chat from time to time. Compared with other audio-based language-learning programs, such as Pimsleur and Michel Thomas, Rocket Languages feels less formal but also less rigorous. As a point of comparison, Pimsleur lessons are powerfully intentional. Everything about the lesson has a purpose, from which words you learn to how often you repeat them. This is because the Pimsleur Method focuses on the interval of time that passes between when you last used a word and when you recall it again. You’re constantly being asked to tap into your memory from two minutes ago, two days ago, two weeks ago. Lessons in Rocket Languages don’t drill you nearly as thoroughly.
With Rocket Languages, you continue learning after the audio lesson finishes by completing exercises below it. The course is heavy on speaking, listening, and writing, but not reading. You won’t find longer reading passages or podcast-like material to challenge you. Rosetta Stone has some decent reading included, and Duolingo now has a podcast for English speakers learning Spanish.
You can jump around at will in Rocket Languages, so you don’t have to follow the lessons in sequential order. The website’s structure is decent. You can see a list of all the lessons you’ll eventually work through at the top of the page. When you’re in a lesson, you get the audio file at the top and all the exercises beneath it in one long scrolling page. In terms of interactive design, it certainly leaves something to be desired. But it works.
My Experience With Rocket Languages
The joke about the camel was in poor form, but there was one other moment early on with Rocket Languages where the app didn’t put its best foot forward. Nowhere in the pre-purchase materials did it specify that the Arabic course was Egyptian and not Modern Standard. They’re two different languages, even if they share similarities. Within the course, the topic of MSA versus Egyptian comes up a few times. There’s even a lesson where you learn the same word in both languages. It’s an important distinction, however, and should be made in the app’s advertising before the point of purchase.
The Italian lessons I did were breezy. Level 1 has 7 modules (similar to units) with 4 to 5 lessons in each one giving a total of 32 lessons. By modules 6, the lessons still felt relatively easy. “I’ll have the pesto lasagna!” Did you know tiramisu means lift me up? How fun!
The Arabic courses were so much harder. Each lesson packs in a lot of new sounds and words. The first time the instructors introduce a new word they usually break it down, but it still felt a bit fast to me. There wasn’t as much repetition in the audio lesson as I would have liked, and by the time I got to practicing in the exercises, there was no slow mode button to hear a word or phrase at half speed. Many other language-learning apps have one.
Additionally, learning the Arabic script is really hard because each letter can have up to three different shapes depending on whether it’s at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Typing that script is nearly impossible for beginners. In Rocket Languages, you see a virtual keyboard on screen with Arabic letters. The letters automatically change to their different forms as you type more letters before them or after them. There was a moment when I got so confused that I messaged a friend of mine who speaks Arabic, and she told me plainly, “Typing in Arabic is so so so hard.”
In one of the early audio lessons, the instructor explains that Rocket Languages substitutes certain Arabic sounds that we don’t have in English with a number. So, instead of hezam (belt), you see 7ezam. But then it’s hardly ever used, and it’s completely confusing when it does appear.
Rocket Languages’ Exercises
As mentioned, Rocket Languages covers listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Exercises fall into different modules that get you to develop these skills. There are also modules for flashcards and a quiz.
The listening and speaking are solid. You hear a short audio clip in the foreign language and then you record yourself repeating it. Your recording goes through speech analysis, and you get a score. The app then shows you the written version of what you just said and uses green and red type to indicate the parts you said correctly and where your pronunciation need work. There’s one big problem with this design: It doesn’t work for anyone with red-green color-blindness, which is the most common type. When I did these exercises, I didn’t yet have a good grasp of Arabic script. I could see the red and green, but I didn’t know what sounds those letters indicated.
Rocket Languages uses a lot of self-assessment. Instead of the program marking your answers right or wrong, you rate yourself on a scale to show if you thought coming up with the answer felt easy, good, or hard.
In the writing exercises, you listen to a short audio clip and transcribe it in the foreign language. I loved this in Italian and hated it in Arabic because, once again, I didn’t have a firm grasp of the script yet. Written Arabic is especially tough for beginners because the letters change depending on what letter follows it. I opened an on-screen keyboard so that I could more easily choose the letters I needed, but if you don’t know how Arabic script behaves, it’s impossible to do these exercises.
Another section called “Play It!” is a dialogue between two people, with each person’s lines written down. You read through it as one person and then the other, with the app recording what you say. You can play it back or just move onto the next set of exercises when you’ve had enough of it.
Is Rocket Languages for You?
Rocket Languages is a useful language-learning app if you’re looking to pick up some travel phrases and intend to come back to the software every few months or years before you travel again. It’s not great at helping you develop a foundation for learning a language, and it doesn’t do a good job of teaching foreign scripts. The pricing will be especially attractive to those don’t want to pay a recurring subscription fee for another language-learning app, as the subscription model is what nearly everyone else uses these days.
Rosetta Stone and Duolingo remain our Editors’ Choice apps for paid and free language learning. They’re both polished and do a better job of helping you build a foundation. They aren’t as chatty and relaxed as Rocket Languages’ lessons, so if that’s more your speed, give it a go with the free trial.