Rocket Italian is an online Italian course made by Rocket Languages. You'll see a lot of people talking about it, because it appears to be an excessively good buy compared to some of the other big language software.
Rocket Italian hasn't been around as long as these big guys, but it does seem to be giving them a run for their money. PC Mag recently named it "Editor's Choice", beating Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Fluenz, Duolingo, Transparent and a bunch of other tools to the top spot.
So what do you get, and more importantly — does it even work?
Let's take a look...
I really love the idea of learning a language through an audio course. I could plug it into my car stereo and learn a language while stuck in traffic, rather than just listening to my playlist of 90s pop rock.
But... most of the time they are deathly boring. I know that repetition is important, but not falling asleep at the wheel is also important.
This is the first reason why I love the Rocket Italian interactive audio lessons. They are not boring.
Each lesson is around 25 minutes long, which is the perfect length for me to learn a bit of Italian on my workday commute.
They are hosted by Maria (native Italian speaker) and Alex (Italian-American), and even though their banter is clearly scripted and their jokes are occasionally corny, I would much rather have that than the personality-free robot dude that Pimsleur dishes up.
Alex and Maria are definitely not robots. They're friendly and human and a little bit silly, and together they do an excellent job of very gently introducing you a genuinely surprising amount of important grammar and vocabulary.
The lessons are built around a conversation, which (in typical language-course tradition) starts out with introductions and greetings, and progresses to booking a hotel room.
Once those staples are out of the way, the conversations get more creative and interesting. At one point Alex has confidence issues trying to ask a pretty lady on a date!
But the actual conversations aren't what you're really learning: You're learning how Italian works. Alex and Maria break down each conversation and explain all the little pieces, and give you other ways you could use those little pieces, so you actually end up with a good working knowledge of basic Italian.
I would go so far as to say that if you're heading on vacation and you need a crash course in Italian, the interactive audio lessons might be all you need to get by.
One important note: You're strongly encouraged to participate in the lessons by speaking out loud after the hosts. It's tempting to just “say it in your head”, but that's not nearly as effective.
This is why it's so great to do it in the car. I also like to put on a lesson when I'm cooking dinner. There's something very amusing about shouting in Italian while peeling potatoes.
If you're after real fluency and a deeper understanding of the material covered in the audio course... you'll be digging into these lessons. They're essentially grammar and vocabulary lessons that go into more detail than the audio course.
These 33 lessons aren't audio lessons in the sense that you can download them to your phone and listen to them in the car, but they do include a lot of audio so you can train your ear and practice your pronunciation.
This is where Rocket Italian really helps you "get it right".
If you're anything like me, your natural inclination might be to go through the material once or twice, feel like you understand it, and then move onto the next lesson.
But the problem is, you don't actually know it back to front. And that's why you get nervous using your Italian on an Italian speaker, and why it's so easy to "go blank" when you're under pressure.
So Rocket Italian gives you a lot of tools to help make sure you really know the material.
I found these tests to be really good at locking that material into my brain and helping me to pull it out again when I need it. It makes me a lot more confident and relaxed.
One of the big problems I had when I visited Italy was pronunciation. I knew the words... but when I said them, nobody understood me. That's the problem when you're studying alone: it's hard to tell how good (or bad) your pronunciation is.
You'll find this handy little Rocket Record utility on practically every audio example throughout the Rocket Italian course. It lets you record your own voice and uses voice recognition technology to say if an Italian speaker would understand you.
The voice recognition is similar to the technology on your smartphone that lets you make voice commands. I really like this because I figure that if the voice recognition can understand me, then a real Italian speaker will definitely understand me!
If you want to give this a try, you can play with the example on the Rocket Italian website. It's about halfway down the page.
In my opinion, Rocket Italian could very well be the best value Italian language product on the market.
There is so much learning material packed in there. You're essentially getting three products for the price of one: The interactive audio course, the language and culture course, and all the testing tools and games.
The lessons are well structured and based on a tried and true mix of grammar, vocabulary, cultural insights and silly cartoons. The testing tools make sure you know the material inside and out, so you feel really confident when faced with a real Italian speaker. Gold star for you, Rocket Italian!