Rosetta Stone: Bad at Languages

A German friend recently tweeted this photo of an ad for Rosetta Stone software on the London Tube:

That’s the song “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” with “snow” translated into German, Dutch and Swedish, respectively.

What she means is that they’ve taken the noun form of snow in all three languages, rather than the verb. Which is embarrassing enough for a company trying to sell you language learning software. But it gets better: the press release for the campaign has now been corrected for one word (“sneeuw” > “sneeuwen”), but not the other two:

Stop and think about that for a second: someone at Rosetta Stone (or more likely their “Brand Action agency” MBA) found out that the Dutch word was wrong and went to the trouble of correcting it, but didn’t even check the others.

And here’s the really funny part: Rosetta Stone is far more of a marketing company than an education company, so if anything, you’d expect them to get it right in the ads and wrong in the software. In 2011 they spent more than six times on marketing what they spent on research and development (numbers in 000s):

That’s right: for every time you spend $200 on Rosetta Stone software at the mall, they’re spending about $25 on developing/maintaining it, and over $160 trying to sell it to you. Oh, and another $35 on all the slick packaging. Which, as you may have noticed, is already more than $200. Which is possibly why their stock is down more than 30% since the company went public just a few years ago.

So if you feel like a sucker for buying language software from a company that can only get the word “snow” right one out of three times on the second try, just look at it this way: at least you’re not a shareholder.

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Appendix for nerds: why are the verb and noun for snow the same in English, when it’s obviously such a close cognate with the words above? Well, they used to be different in English too. For example, as Thomas Chestre wrote in Sir Launfal:

(“She was as white as a lily in May / Or snow that snoweth on a Winter’s day”)

I don’t know when the verb “snewen” (?) became “snow,” but I think it’s happened with a lot of English noun/verb combinations, since we’ve lost more of the old verb forms than the other Germanic languages above.

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Appendix 2: I lost the comments when I moved this post to Medium, but it seems only fair to preserve the company’s response:

If you don’t mind a newcomer to your blog, please permit the following post — something of an “official” response from us here at Rosetta Stone:
In a word, we’re ashamed. We tried to capture the spirit and meter of a popular Christmas tune and, regrettably, our enthusiasm for spreading marketing cheer outpaced our respect for linguistic accuracy. We green-lighted an ad before its time. The fact is, we have a stringent pedagogical approval process at Rosetta Stone, and we missed an important check-point here. There’s no excuse. The ads have been recalled. We assure you that from here on out, no one at Rosetta Stone–including marketing–will be taking shortcuts. We’re sure that this post will invite more thoughtful (even heated) criticism, and we hope you’ll understand if we don’t engage further in the dialogue for the moment — we have important work to do on the home-front. Thank you for keeping us in check and have a great holiday. (Hey, maybe we’ll try ‘Silent nuit, holy Nacht’….)