When Madison Area Memorial High School in Maine was unable to fill a foreign language teaching position, it turned to computers. After being unable to fill a vacant teaching position, but already having students signed up to take Spanish and French, a school guidance counselor and the superintendent began researching less conventional solutions and came up with Rosetta Stone.

“It was coming down to the wire and school was starting,” Principal Jessica Ward told the Morning Sentinel. “Students were already scheduled for foreign language, and we can’t just not offer it.”

The guidance counselor and superintendent suggested using the computer program Rosetta Stone as the full-time Spanish and French teacher, along with an education technician to supervise students and oversee the program’s administration.

“Ideally we do want to get a teacher in,” Ward said. “This isn’t perfect, but it was the best option to move our students forward this year.”

Madison Area Memorial High School won’t be the only school faced with foreign language teachers in the coming years due to a nationwide teacher shortage. Computer programs such as Rosetta Stone allow schools to continue to offer foreign language programs, even if there isn’t a qualified teacher available. Additionally, for smaller schools, which don’t necessarily need a full-time teacher, a computer-based language course may be a more affordable option.

Rosetta Stone is used in more than 4,000 schools nationwide; however, ideally the software is used in conjunction with a live teacher, said Franklin Moomaw, a Rosetta Stone regional sales director for education.

One key benefit of Rosetta Stone is that the school can expand its language offerings. Madison Area Memorial High School now offers students their choice of 30 languages, versus previously just offering two. The program also allows students to move at their own pace, so students who learn quickly aren’t held back and students who learn more slowly aren’t rushed.

However, the program does change the focus on how the language is learned.

“With a teacher there’s more focus on grammar and vocabulary,” said Paige Wong, a student at Madison Area Memorial High School. “This is focused on listening and conversation.”

Madison Area Memorial High School is still looking to hire a foreign language teacher for next year, even if the Rosetta Stone program proves to be successful.

“It’s hard to replace having a real person there to help students when they are struggling or to make the learning relevant to their lives,” Ward said. “Yes, they are learning the language with the Rosetta Stone program, but I worry that they are missing out on the cultural education and the personal touch of having a real teacher available.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.