I own the complete Pimsleur Comprehensive series (I, II, III, III+ or IV) for German, Italian, and Spanish, as well as the Comprehensive-I lessons for French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish. Nonetheless, I have put off commenting on this method for quite some time. It seems that people either love it or hate it, and I didn't want to be drawn into the raucous debate. Now for my review:
THE PIMSLEUR EXPERIENCE:
Imagine that you're learning to swim. Mom and dad take you to a wading pool. The water temperature is simply perfect! There are no boisterous children in the pool. Mom and dad help you don a flotation device that looks and feels like your favourite stuffed toy. They guide you through the basic techniques of "treading water" and the "dog paddle" and, even though they treat you like an adult, they never let you go. You exit the pool feeling refreshed and self-confident. Despite the fact that you're NOT a "natural floater", you KNOW that you're going to learn to swim and you LOOK FORWARD to the next session with GENUINE ENTHUSIASM! You have just experienced the Pimsleur Approach.
THE PIMSLEUR APPROACH:
1. Paul Pimsleur incorporated the concepts of "graduated interval recall" and "anticipation" into his language learning method. These concepts are at the very core of his approach to language learning and they account for its success and its justified popularity.
2. This is an all "AUDIO" programme that seems to be directed at the basic communication needs of a business traveller. It is built around a very limited "core vocabulary" that one would most likely encounter in common situations.
3. Grammar is not specifically discussed and, although not so-stated, students are expected to deduce the essential structure of the target language through the thoughtful absorption of the examples.
4. The only written material is a so-called "Reading Guide" that does not correlate well, if at all, to the audio lessons.
1. It works! You really WILL learn to manipulate the "core vocabulary" of the target language and you will RETAIN what you learn.
2. You will ENJOY the learning experience and you will develop a sense of SELF-CONFIDENCE with the basics of the target language.
3. The Pimsleur is an EXCELLENT STARTING POINT for learning the phonetics of a new language. In my experience, the method works well for languages that are reasonably close to English; that is, the Romance and Germanic languages. As these languages share numerous cognates, have similar sound systems, and have comparable - but not identical -- rules of grammar, one can deduce much of the target language's structure through thoughtful analysis.
1. Even the combined Comprehensive series (I, II, III, III+ or IV) contain very little vocabulary. In order to acquire a functional vocabulary, even only that required by a traveller, you will have to purchase some other language learning method and continue your learning. See LIFE AFTER PIMSLEUR, below.
2. The lack of any meaningful written material or any substantive discussion of grammar means that you will have to buy a separate dictionary, a book of verbs, and a grammar and derive your own glossary and your own course notes. See PRO/CON, below.
3. The entire Comprehensive series comprises some 53 or 64 CDs. However, despite its truly remarkable strengths, the material runs like one long, uninterrupted lesson. Since there is neither an obvious end to the series of lessons, nor is there a recapitulation, reviewing the material represents somewhat of a challenge. I adopted various techniques such as: (a) working with the introductory dialogues only, or (b) reviewing every third lesson completely. It would be much easier if the Pimsleur course included one final lesson per Comprehensive Level that recapitulated everything up to that point. However, the publishers, Simon & Schuster, are not open to any discussions on changing their product.
4. Based on my experience with PIMSLEUR POLISH, I am not convinced that the approach is well-suited to languages that are "distant" from English. That is, as the differences in sound systems increase, it can be difficult for an adult learner to distinguish the subtle changes in pronunciation that can have an important impact on meaning. Furthermore, it becomes increasingly difficult to deduce or intuit the grammar or basic structure of the target language.
1. I'm repeating myself here because the Pimsleur Approach may hold a HIDDEN advantage. The only written material is a so-called "Reading Guide" that does not correlate well, if at all, to the audio lessons. The Reading Guide is really a "reading for pronunciation" guide, NOT a "reading for comprehension" guide. Owing to the lack of any meaningful written material or any substantive discussion of grammar, you will have to buy a separate dictionary, a book of verbs, and a grammar and derive your own glossary and your own course notes. PERHAPS this is a hidden strength of the method! Is it possible that Paul Pimsleur INTENDED for students to use the books just mentioned, to work backwards through the English audio to derive their own glossary as means of REINFORCING the learning experience? This is only speculation and the publishers, Simon & Schuster, are silent on this matter.
LIFE AFTER PIMSLEUR:
1. First, be prepared for a SHOCK! Mom and dad are nowhere to be seen! Compared to the Pimsleur Approach, virtually all other self-study language methods will make you feel as if you've been thrown into the DEEP END ... of the North Atlantic ... in winter ... and you're all alone! In a very real sense, you will find yourself wondering what happened ... hey, what's going on here, I thought you were going to teach me to speak a foreign language! Although, in all cases, the information is provided, you will have to develop your own strategy on how to learn it. Oh well, we've all gotta grow up sometime!
2. The world is awash with good self-study language courses for travellers. If your goal is only basic tourist-speak, without much grammar, you might consider the ROUTLEDGE COLLOQUIAL series. Some reviewers of this series are quite harsh with their comments. In my opinion, they misunderstand the limited scope of the Colloquial series.
3. If you want to understand the structure of a language and develop even greater competence, the LIVING LANGUAGE "SPOKEN WORLD" and "ULTIMATE" series are, in my opinion, the best "commercial" packages available. Unfortunately, for many of the more popular languages, Random House now offers only the LIVING LANGUAGE "COMPLETE" series which, while good, is nowhere near as solid as the those just mentioned.
4. If you respond well to the U.S.-Marines-Boot-Camp-style of training ... DRILLS, DRILLS, DRILLS -- and, let's agree here, it really does give excellent results -- then you should consider the relevant FSI (FOREIGN SERVICE INSTITUTE) "BASIC" or "FAST" courses. They are available FREE as pdf/mp3 downloads from the website [...]. You should be aware, though, that the majority of the FSI courses were meant to be studied with the assistance of a competent instructor. Thus, some of them can be a little difficult to follow if you do not have some basic knowledge of the target language. In my experience, FSI Basic German is pretty much a stand-alone course. However, FSI Basic French requires either some prior knowledge or guidance from a francophone.
There is probably NO BETTER PLACE TO START learning a foreign language than the Pimsleur Approach. Even if you find yourself agreeing with my CONS, you WILL AGREE with my PROS and you'll ENJOY the EXPERIENCE!