on December 3, 2003
After finishing Mandarin I, I felt as though I had a good feel for the language, but my vocabulary was too limited to be of any real use. Mandarin II solves this problem by introducing the most basic and useful structures which weren't included in Mandarin I (For example, "should, have to, never, always, before, after, etc."). It is almost impossible to carry out basic conversations without these structures. Mandarin II also deals extensively with the past tense (which isn't really a tense) to the point where it can be used, more or less, with confidence.
Mandarin II is very similar to Mandarin I in lesson structure, pace, and quality. Like Mandarin I, the lessons are intense, and they teach so much in such a short time, but they're also very fun. As I worked through Mandarin II, the tones and pronunciation started to shift to the subconscious level and I could successfully combine two falling-rising tones in a sentence without even thinking about it. It's as if I'm absorbing the language naturally. This would have taken forever without Pimsleur. Even with a personal tutor, the use of time wouldn't have been nearly as efficient.
I've also finished Mandarin III (which is also excellent) and I now feel as though I have a good overall knowledge of Mandarin, and my pronunciation is close to perfect (I've been told that I don't have an accent). I am now trying to learning the more advanced aspects of the language through self-study and conversational practice, which is entirely possible after completing this course.
When I started Mandarin Chinese I charged ahead learning all kinds of vocabulary as well as reading and writing characters. I just assumed speaking would catch up. It never did. Teachers would always say, "You seem to know a lot, but no one can understand what you're saying". So now, I 've done Pimsleur's Mandarin 1,2 and some of 3. Before, I would never have had the patience to appreciate the plodding and assiduous attention to detail of the Pimsleur method. The Pimsleur courses emphasize pronunciation, tone and cadence. Mastering tonality is such a huge obstacle since it is so unfamiliar to English-speakers. And cadence is also important. As one of my professors said, "Knowing where to pause in a sentence goes a long way to being understood". So, I would agree that the range of vocabulary is limited. But there is a trade-off. Pimsleur is not easy. Even though each lesson lasts about half an hour, still I found myself being really pushed, having first to think of the translation, then faithfully repeat the speaker's pronunciation and tone. The technical quality of the recordings is outstanding. The Mandarin pronunciation is a true international standard that would be easily understood by Chinese speakers everywhere (whether or not Mandarin is their mother tongue). My only criticism is that they never really pointed out the difference in tongue position between "ch" (as in "chuan" - ship) and "q" (as in "quan" - rights); and between "sh" (as is "sha mo" - a desert) and "x" (as in "xi wang" - hope) The first phoneme in both examples has the tongue retroflexed, the latter phoneme the tongue is against the teeth. English does not make this distinction. But these are minor peccadillos. The Pimsleur courses are excellent for what they are designed to do.
on March 4, 2004
I have sung praises for Pimsleur language tapes/CDs both on Amazon and elsewhere on the net for many years now. I know of no other self-teaching method that gets you up and running in a foreign language so effectively. Indeed, I have completed their full courses (i.e., 3 unabridged volumes) in French, German, Spanish, and Italian as well as their mini-courses in Thai, Hindi, and Czech.
The Pimsleur Mandarin series is excellent, as usual. However, in working with this current series I am reminded once again of a major limitation that never fails to frustrate me. I refer to the basic working script. This differs slightly in content and emphasis from language to language, but is roughly the same throughout all the unabridged courses.
My fundamental problem with all the Pimsleur scripts is that they seem to be oriented toward a (hypothetical) individual working in a foreign subidiary of a multinational corporation. I consider this a problem because it emphasizes social niceties and water-cooler talk instead of practical on-the-ground vocabulary. I mean, sheesh, shouldn't I know the words for east, west, north, and south by lesson 20 of Mandarin II? I frequently find myself tearing out my hair because I am not being given the tools (vocabulary) for successfully negotiating everyday travel situations.
In sum, Pimsleur is a great method for learning a foreign language. I just wish the content of the courses were more strongly focused on the practical, everyday needs of independent travelers.
on August 24, 2002
I wrote a review on Pimsleur Mandarin I. Excellent set. Waited for II. Now it's out. PM II maintains the excellent standards of volume I.
Two months after getting PM II, I went to Beijing for a science meeting (for ten days). I was in excellent shape. Nearly everyone understood me: waiters, shop people (bargains galore), taxi drivers, etc. I never quite had the time to master volume II like I did volume I. But the best thing is the diction and sound that you CANNOT get from a book alone. Pimsleur uses stock phrases to a point, and then mixes them and creates new ideas. Sentences do become longer (occasioanlly they are so long I can't remember them to translate -- I am after all driving). It is not a trivial list of slogans. You actually learn. They speak at a pace that forces you to become more fluid and conversant -- but you can replay the units. Of course it cannot mimic the spontaneity of real-life conversations, but it does an excellent job nevertheless.
Pimsleur is best if regular opportunities exist to practice. Pimsleur is not that simple, yet it is comfortable and thorough. The different arenas: eating, travel about town, "small talk", are all well chosen. I used all of them in Beijing-- some more haltingly than others, some comfortably naturally.
I now hear most tones the first time. I still don't quite stress them strongly enough (I discovered this while there). The down-and-up tone is really emphasized. The daily practice is getting my tongue more and more comfortable with the unusual sounds and twists.
I still think it's a bit pricey. I have the convenience of sitting in a college class -- which does NOT give the oral practice that Pimsleur does, but the class does give me a wider understanding of context and word order.
I will get Pimsleur III when it comes out. I'm serious about learning the language. I think Pimsleur can deliver a lot, but not everything. It is convenient, CDs don't wear out, and I'll keep reviewing. You need to find supplemental ways to expand the dialog still. I AM a satisfied Pimsleur fan.
on August 8, 2002
I waited a few years for this, and it was worth it. I'm a native English speaker, and I've dabbled in German, Spanish and Japanese, but I still think that Mandarin is the easiest language I've ever learned. It is a straightforward, simple, flexible and consistent language with no surprises. The tones are not that hard to learn; there are basically only four of them, and you learn them by experience and practice, and by HEARING and REMEMBERING them, not by memorizing. All in all a very well-done and polished production. According to the Amazon release date, Mandarin III should be out February 2003; can't wait! I also hope they do a fourth level, like they have with the German and Spanish.