As far as I’m concerned, Assimil is one of the best kept secrets in language learning. They offer materials for a number of Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Thai.
I was first introduced to Assimil by Professor Arguelles, who claims to have extensively used their courses to achieve a grounding in a multitude of languages.
Largely unknown in the English-speaking world
If you have ever been to a bookshop in France, then you will know that Assimil titles can be found there in abundance. Their unavailability in stores across the UK and US is a crying shame because Assimil produce some excellent courses for the independent learner. There is a certain French academic rigor to their books with no dumbing down permitted.
Assimil seem to create more interesting and realistic dialogues than other publishers. I was especially impressed by the quality of the conversations in their Japanese course (see below).
Perhaps my favorite thing about Assimil is the detailed notes which are placed on an adjacent page to the dialogues. They are well-written and to the point, so you easily pick up tons of cultural and grammatical knowledge. It’s nice to be treated like an adult for a change, with new items explained properly, but not too much that you get confused.
Assimil’s courses progress in a systematic manner with acquired knowledge being built upon later. What you learn today will be used again tomorrow and next week. This is a common factor shared with other good courses such as MT and Pimsleur.
Recommended Assimil Courses
I have successfully used both volumes of the Chinese with Ease course. The content is a little basic but the dialogues are both humorous and of high quality. You can pick up a brand new copy for only $50. Check it out here.
Assimil have also produced a course for learning to write Chinese characters but I have yet to check it out for myself.
I have not personally used Japanese with Ease, but I got my dad onto it. He has been learning some basic Japanese for his annual trips to visit me here in Tokyo. According to him, a combination of this course and Michel Thomas have been very helpful. He still can’t remember how to say “Gochiso sama deshita” to save his life though.
I have listened to the Japanese dialogues and they are extremely authentic. None of the stilted, oversimplified crap you often find in audio courses produced by publishers in the UK and US (sorry guys). It’s impressive how far they take you by the end of the course. Some of the points covered took me years of living in Japan to understand! It would have been a much faster process for me if I’d had this course at my disposal. Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, the Assimil Korean Course is only available in French. If you have a decent base in Korean then you may still find it useful. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, it will also help you brush up your high-school French too! By the way, the “Sans Peine” (literally “Without Pain”) series is the equivalent of the English “With Ease” courses.
After a business trip to Southeast Asia sparked my interest, I have recently started on learning some basic Indonesian. Assimil was naturally the first course I turned to and it has delivered so far. Again, it is only available in French but give it a shot if you fancy a challenge or simply want to show off in front of your friends!
(Update: We recently tested out IndonesianPod101 and loved it)
Thai is another language that has long been on my wish list. I will definitely pick up the Assimil Thai course if and when I decide to learn Thai. Too many languages, too little time!
(Update: We really like the Innovative Languages Thai course. Read our Review of ThaiPod101 here.)
That is all for today. Do you know of any other high quality courses for Asian languages? Let us know in the comments!
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Rohan has spent years studying Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and currently lives in Japan. He created the perapera pop-up dictionary plugins to help other learners of Chinese and Japanese.