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Rosetta Stone CEO Tom Adams Gives Us a Glimpse Into the Future of the Workforce

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine
December 2010

Do you speak a foreign language? How about your employees? Have many, or any of them, mastered a second language or lived in a foreign country?

If not, you may be behind the curve in terms of the future of the workforce, believes Tom Adams, president and CEO of Rosetta Stone, Inc.

“Speaking more than one language is no longer just an asset in today’s job market; it is a requirement,” insists Adams, whose company provides interactive solutions that are acclaimed for the power to unlock the natural language-learning ability in everyone. “The United States risks falling behind in the global economy if we do not strive to be a multilingual society.”

Consider this: According to a national survey conducted by Wakefield Research, which was commissioned by Rosetta Stone, more than half (58 percent) of Americans fear that high-paying U.S. jobs will be filled by workers from abroad in the next two decades because of the country’s lack of foreign-language skills.

What’s more, Americans do not consider their lack of foreign-language skills as solely their own challenge; they see it also a challenge for the nation.

And roughly half of Americans think the lack of foreign-language proficiency has put the United States at an economic disadvantage compared to its foreign counterparts.

This perception has become a reality, according to the 2010-2011 “Global Competitiveness Report,” which was released in September. In it, the World Economic Forum found that the United States has become less competitive, falling two positions to fourth place — behind Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore.

How do parents feel about this international trend? The Wakefield Research report tells us that nearly 60 percent of parents surveyed think that the current role of language instruction in U.S. schools is an afterthought and not prioritized as a core part of curricula, explains Adams.

“Although 70 percent of parents believe that children who have studied a foreign language can introduce themselves in that language, only a third (35 percent) of parents think that their children would know how to ask for directions, and only 20 percent think their child would be able to write a personal letter in the foreign language they have studied at school.”

In fact, 66 percent of parents surveyed believe their children will need to speak Spanish fluently in adulthood, and 34 percent feel that learning Chinese will be increasingly important during the next 50 years; 67 percent of parents reported that they would rather their children learn a second language than play a new sport or a musical instrument.

Find out more about the Wakefield Research study on YouTube.

Rosetta Stone is ready to assist. If Adams has anything to do with it, more Americans will be using Rosetta Stone’s products to learn foreign languages in the coming years. And, more foreign-born folks will be learning English.

The company’s new product, Rosetta Stone® Version 4 TOTALe™ (pronounced tow-TALLY), integrates the well-known Rosetta Course software with access to Rosetta Studio™ sessions. These live, online, conversational coaching sessions are facilitated by native speakers around the world. Their growing online language-learning community will initially be available in 24 languages for learners ages 13 and older.

Adams has translated his personal experience into his business success. The Swedish-born executive has often been the foreigner in the room. But thanks to an immersion program, he was able to make the transition to learning other languages.

“I was born in Stockholm, and my family moved to France when I was a toddler,” he shares. “I didn’t learn English until my parents moved the family to England when I was 10. It was weird being an ESOL student, but I loved being immersed in a language and culture until you come to understand what is going on.”

Adams went on to get a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Bristol University in England, and he worked as a commodities merchant in Mongolia before receiving his MBA from INSEAD, which bills itself as the “Business School for the World.” When he met the owners of Rosetta Stone in 2003, it was a perfect match.

“Rosetta Stone was the brainchild of Allen Stoltzfus, who was trying to learn Russian back in the early 1980s, but became frustrated with his slow progress,” Adams explains. “He knew there was a better way to learn a language, through immersion, which he had experienced years earlier while studying in Germany.”

Stoltzfus’ command of German was a direct result of being a part of the culture and the world of Germany, instead of sitting in a classroom. He immersed himself in the language, and learned German the way he had acquired his first language — naturally and without translation.

He envisioned unlocking the natural language ability in everyone by using computer technology to simulate the way people learn their native language ― with no translation. Stoltzfus explored the possibilities with his brother-in-law, John Fairfield, who had a Ph.D. in computer science. While Fairfield loved the idea, he and Stoltzfus had to wait until technology caught up with their vision.

That came in 1992, with the development of CD-ROMs. The Fairfield family came together to form Fairfield Language Technologies in Harrisonburg, Va. Stoltzfus recruited his brother, Eugene Stoltzfus, from the world of architecture to be the company’s first president. They named their product “Rosetta Stone,” after the artifact that had unlocked the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphics for linguists.

Stoltzfus died in 2002, and Adams was hired shortly after to be CEO. After spending three years running the company, in 2006 he and his team decided to sell the company to the investment firms ABS Capital Partners and Norwest Equity Partners.

Today, Rosetta Stone is headquartered in Arlington, VA, and has offices in the Shenandoah Valley and Boulder, CO, as well as London and Tokyo. Adams says that more foreign offices are on the horizon.

What advice does Adams have for business leaders? Click here to read his Tips for Entrepreneurs.


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.