Monday, November 18, 2013

Rosetta Stone as Cultural Assimilation

I can't stop thinking about the several commercials that Rosetta Stone uses for propaganda to target the market for Spanish speaking, non-English speakers of America. I believe this is partly due to the fact that I get goosebumps and a very big smile of disbelief when I see them en la tele, but that is not really the matter. Yes, the commercials are catchy and at times digitally and choreographically impressive, but they are also controversial.

Take this one, for example (which is the first one I saw about a week ago on Univision):

In this commercial, Rosetta Stone advertises English not only as linguistic acquisition, but as a tool for Anglo-socialization. In all the cases of "before and after" [the learning of English], the commercial emphasizes that "the power of communication" is a tool for assimilation as it achieves integration for the English learning subject into a new linguistic and socio-cultural environment. The last example illustrates this idea quite clearly, as the man in the video claims to have been called "Pedro Fuentes" prior to his integration, which made it possible for him to become identified as the assimilated "Peter Fountain."

It would not be unfair to claim racism on the part of Rosetta Stone even though their commercial does employ people of color to represent American culture, because in this commercial the people of color become token subjects. Do notice, for example, how none of the people of color actually speak in the commercial. In fact, in the commercial the emphasis is placed on the illusion that a white Spanish-speaking people can become "accepted" by the white English-speaking people once the first can pass for the latter, because, according to the Rosetta Stone logic, that is the key to obtaining better possibilities for oneself.

These possibilities are clearly outlined by the Rosetta Stone ad campaign as the very same possibilities that U.S. hegemony is providing its elite members of society as the Rosetta Stone software, the campaign claims, has been "used by the State Dept., NASA, the U.S. Army, and Fortune 500 Companies."

In other commercials, the cultural assimilation campaign is even more deliberate. In the following commercial for example (see below), Rosetta Stone does not shy away from suggesting that everybody should learn English "because this is...[the] United States... of America."

Not only is this commercial founded on logic commonly used to oppress minorities that do not speak English in America, this commercial plays on the desire of English learners to become accepted by native English speakers in the U.S. by suggesting that a simple coffee break with your tablet Rosetta Stone tutor is enough to transform a struggle of cultural acceptance into a party that enables you to "open your world" to better possibilities, including getting any job you want, going to any school you want, or going to a club and dancing with a "rubia." [Fanonian discussions are ommitted here just for the sake of blog brevity].

Lastly, I find it extremely curious how in almost every single commercial by Rosetta Stone, including those made for other language learners, there is an emphasis placed on the disclaimer that Rosetta Stone "is not memorization" and yet, all they ever show is the repetition of phrases or words and, barring dance scenes like the one in the last commercial, no real interaction whatsoever. In fact, when "Peter Fountain," from the first commercial, replies to his boss's question as to whether he "would prefer to work in the office," we can see a total failure of communication, as Mr. Fountain replies with "Repeat me?" 

Perhaps, that is exactly the problem with Rosetta Stone, as we can appreciate that all its ad campaign really does is to appeal to cultural assimilation techniques and to repeat one stereotype after another.

If this is how Rosetta Stone markets, I cringe at the idea of finding out just how they "teach."


  1. I'm a native white american and I was offended by these commercials (I laughed my ass off, but who wrote this shit...Dick chaney?)

  2. I'm Hispanic and find these commercials entertaining and not offensive in the least, although the "open your world" one annoyed me before I actually paid attention to it. This IS an English speaking country and you are missing out if you don't learn it. I don't see the problem pointing that out.

  3. Dear Anonymous, it seems you have missed the point of my argument. In this brief essay I explain that Rosetta Stone teaches cultural assimilation rather than language acquisition, at least from what can be gathered from it's publicity campaign. Whether you find cultural assimilation offensive or not, that is really your own judgement call.