Learning a language

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

5 June 2019

The truth about learning a language

Learning a language, beyond my own native English (with an American bent), always serves as a keen interest for me. Maybe it was the two years in French 1 in high school? Maybe it was the two years I spent in French 2 in high school? Possibly it was the crush I had on my French professor in college. Even dated her a couple times.

To this day, even after years of being a terrible French student, I can remember a bit of French. I can understand 30% of what I hear. But I always lack the confidence to utter a single phrase.

Many opportunities to learn a language

Business has taken me all over the globe. I spent years working in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Egypt, mostly). After buying a few cassette tapes on learning Arabic way back then, I think I listened to them just a dozen times.

I learned how to say tea, bread, Al Salaam a’ alaykum (peace be upon you) and the ever important chouai chouai (“slow down” in the Egyptian vernacular). When I took a year abroad in college, I even studied a bit of Gaelic—a big help in business!

Enter Rosetta Stone

learning a languageLearning a language took a big turn for the better with the introduction of Rosetta Stone.

Before that, learning a language was difficult. In college, the gold standard was Berlitz. Remember that? Its reputation of teaching non-native language in those day was rock solid.

I remember thinking it owned the magic sauce. Pony up the bucks and voila (see, I speak French) and any language is mine for the taking.

Rosetta Stone moved to prominence because of the digital age. Attend classes? Nope. Read books on grammar? Nope. Listen to repetitive records (ou et la bibliothèque— the handiest of French phrases)? Nope.

Just speak along with the images and voice, and you are there.

Learning a language suddenly seemed easy

And it is! Like W.C. Fields reminding us how easy it was to quit drinking (“It’s easy. I’ve done it a thousand times”) Rosetta Stone arrived at my home.

I bought French 1,2, and 3. Spanish 1 and 2. Italian 1,2 and 3. And a couple of years back, German 1 and 2. Danka. Money well spent.

However, I still only speak English. (Did I mention Mandarin in that mix?)

The only thing easy about Rosetta Stone is that you can now go through the program online without any CDs. (I wonder how people run CDs on their PCs anymore?)

Of course, the problem is still mine. I don’t practice every day. Overcome with enthusiasm I BUY. Then enthusiasm wains and I stop practicing. After all, Babbel is free. Well, it was (more on that confusion later).

Learning a language. Enter Babel Fish.

Learning a language has never been easier today. Just type a phrase in your phone and there is the multi-language translator. Babel Fish was the answer. Then it became Bing Translator (lost a bit of magic and mystery in that rebranding).

But Babel Fish is still in my imagination. Enough so that a new teaching platform – Babbel – seems somehow familiar. It already owns brand meaning.

I don’t have the market share at my fingertips, but the online language services market is a $46 billion industry. And I think Babbel is the new Rosetta Stone. It owns easy.

And its marketing says so.

Watch these two commercials.

“Instead of focusing on the purpose of the purchase, Rosetta Stone focuses on the process. Foolish idea. No one buys a learning a language package to struggle with being bad at first. We buy because of the magic.”

Rosetta Stone. Playing with scared money.

Playing with scared money is a gambling term. It means playing a game like craps without abandon. You should only gamble with money you can afford to lose. Anything else is “scared money.”

Watch Rosetta Stone’s response to Babbel. Then I’ll tell you why it is a mistake.

The learning a language game is afoot

Even though the magic of learning a language quickly and simply drove Rosetta Stone to prominence (the marketing focused on a purpose). It’s reacting to Babbel by grabbing market space defensively.

Instead of focusing on the purpose of the purchase, Rosetta Stone focuses on the process. Foolish idea. No one buys a learning a language package to struggle with being bad at first. We buy because of the magic.

The sad truth is that purpose always usurps process. And belief usurps both. (Read about the power of precepts in marketing here.)

What Rosetta Stone forgot was it is not in the business of successfully teaching a language. It is in the business of selling a means to do so.

Want proof? Ill dust off all my CDs.

See more posts in the following related categories: brand strategy


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