I recently penned a comprehensive review of the Pimsleur language learning system and deliberately left out my own personal experiences using their courses to keep it somewhat objective. In this post then, I will share a few stories of how I have used this program in this past.
For the record, I don’t consider myself to be anything special in terms of having an aptitude for languages or foreign accents. People put far too much emphasis on ability. In reality, anyone can master a foreign language. Language is a natural activity for human beings that adult learners simply need to unlock.
What does actually matter then? When it comes to learning languages, your results will overwhelmingly come from a combination of working hard, implementing efficient study techniques and using the best tools available. On the last measure, Pimsleur ranks among the very best language learning tools out there.
Italian: The language that started it all
My first experience with Pimsleur was learning Italian as a teenager. Having found out about Pimsleur via Barry Farber’s fantastic book on language learning, I casually mentioned it to my Mum. My Mum being the amazing person that she is then went and researched it and got me the full Italian course as a surprise.
I was 18 years old at the time so my memory is hazy, but I made rapid progress in a matter of weeks. I remember testing out my new knowledge on an Italian acquaintance and he complimented me on my accent. When I said I’d been learning for just a few weeks, he looked pretty amazed.
I completed all 90 lessons of the course and eventually visited Italy where I attended a language school and worked in a restaurant as a waiter. Fun times for a fresh British teenager! Pimsleur gave me enough to ask directions (important at the time with no smartphones!), engage in basic conversations and generally break the ice with locals. While it wasn’t enough to master the language, Pimsleur gave me a solid foundation from which to build.
Japanese: A strong first impression
I still remember the day well. It was March 2005. The weather was bleak outside. It was one of those cold and dark winter days that England is infamous for. I was feeling nervous because I had a telephone interview that day for a teaching job in Japan. At the appointed time, I made the call and after a few rings, a gruff-sounding voice answered the phone in Japanese:
“Hai. Moshimoshi.” (Hello?)
Oops. Wasn’t expecting this! I wonder if this the right number? I mustered all the Japanese knowledge I had after a month of Pimsleur Japanese.
“S..sumimasen. Shimada san wa irrashaimasuka?” (Erm. Excuse me, is Mr Shimada there?)
“Hai. Watashi desu.” (Yes. Speaking.)
“Watashi wa Rohan desu.” (My name is Rohan.)
Luckily for me, Mr Shimada switched back to speaking English with me after that. With hindsight, however, I must have made a strong first impression because I got the job after an extremely short conversation.
When I arrived in Japan, Mr Shimada warmly greeted me in Japanese. He was surprised to find that my Japanese was, in fact, quite basic. My little bit of Pimsleur knowledge had tricked him! He’d even told my fellow teachers (including Justin, the co-founder of Perapera) that I spoke Japanese very well! We all had a good laugh about that. Of course, I did later go on to become fluent and I now translate Japanese professionally. But Pimsleur gave me my start and I’ll always be thankful for that.
Chinese: Pimsleur made it bearable
Many years later, I also used Pimsleur Chinese when I was starting out in the language. Following the Pimsleur course to get a grasp of the basics destroyed any remaining notion that Chinese is somehow difficult to learn. Once you get past the hype of those “impossible” tones, the spoken language is actually quite easy. My Chinese is still no match for my Japanese, but I can dabble a fair bit in it. You could do worse than giving the Chinese a course a go.
Korean: Where is the third volume?
Korean is a difficult language to pronounce for native speakers of English. I might even argue that it’s harder than Chinese in that respect. The Pimsleur Korean course certainly helps in this aspect. As I mentioned in my full review of Pimsleur, it’s a nice tool for getting the hang of the rudimentary intonation of a foreign language and this applies to Korean too. However, I definitely found myself pausing the tape and rewinding it more often. This probably has more to do with the inherent difficulty of Korean sounds rather than there being anything wrong with the course itself.
I admittedly only tried a small sample of the Korean course as I’ve yet too get too deep into my Korean studies, but it did feel as helpful as the other materials I’d tried. Unfortunately, Pimsleur Korean only goes up to 60 lessons. With the recent increase in interest for learning Korean as a foreign language, I wonder if this situation will change in the future. Chinese now has 150 lessons so let’s hope for some development in this area.
That is all for my experiences using Pimsleur. Overall, it’s a useful resource for any language learner and I would recommend it to anyone starting out with a new foreign language.