on May 14, 2004
I have a Ph.D. in linguistics and taught the subject for many years. Pimsleur is absolutely the best system out there for learning foreign languages short of being dropped in another country. (In fact, I'd still take Pimsleur with me if I were going to be set down in a foreign land.) In 30 days you will have basic functionality in the language along with excellent pronunciation-- a real Pimsleur plus. Work through the entire three levels (90 lessons) and you will reach a solid intermediate speaking level-- something that might take 4 years or more of traditional study! I started the Mandarin program from scratch and could not be more pleased. The tones, which will seem impossible at first even if you understand the theory behind them, are much easier after only 7 days and almost natural in two weeks. At the end of the 30 day first course you will barely be thinking about them any more-- so automatic will they have become. Obviously, you will need to further your studies to become as fluent in your second language as you are in English-- but there is absolutely no other course that teaches you so much, so fast, and with so little pain as Pimsleur. (By the way, I have no vested interest in this company-- I just love the system.)
on December 2, 2003
When I first started Pimsleur Mandarin I, about six months ago, I gave up after the fourth lesson thinking it was too difficult. I just couldn't get my head around the tones and the difficult pronunciation. It seemed as though every sentence that I tried to make was too slow or had a wrong tone. Then about a week later, I tried it again and it wasn't quite so hard. I made it to lesson eleven, but then took another week-long break out of frustration. When I picked it up for the third time, it was much easier. I had finally figured out how to position my tongue to create most of the non-english phenomes (pinyin: q, x, j, r, ü, z, c), and the tones were starting to get easier, although I still had trouble when combining two falling-rising tones. After two months, I managed to finish Mandarin I, and then, with a bit more effort and patience, I finished Mandarin II and III. I can now repeat or say any sentence at full speed, and the tones have become almost entirely subconscious, making the language much more reasonable. This is the main strength of the Pimsleur program, it gets your ears accustomed to the sounds, and it forces you to make correct sentences quickly, with good pronunciation. This is especially important for a tonal language such as Mandarin.
Of the three levels, Mandarin I is by far the most difficult and frustrating. This is because the four tones and many of the difficult phenomes are all introduced at once, and it seems almost impossible to master them. I had to listen to the first four lessons about four or five times each. After that, I listened to the remaining twenty-six lessons three times each. When I got to Mandarin III, I only had to listen to each lesson twice, as I had already mastered the tones and phenomes by that point and I only needed to deal with the vocabulary and relatively easy syntax. It gets much, much easier as you progress - trust me. It is also tremendously rewarding. I can carry out basic conversations with Chinese people, which suprises everyone (myself included). However, it doesn't take long before I encounter a word or sentence structure that I'm not familiar with. Oh well, I can't expect to become fluent in six months. As for pronunciation, I've been told that I don't have an accent, which is almost entirely because of Pimsleur.
I highly recommend getting this course if you are serious about Mandarin. It is much more efficient than a tutor, and you'll see results. As for the cost, I'm only reviewing the qualilty of the product and not the cost/quality ratio. However, you should realize that there are other ways of obtaining this course. It is possible to buy it used, or rent it, and some libraries even carry Pimsleur programs. Keep this in mind...
on June 19, 2004
As probably one of the worst language students in the continental US i bought this package with a certain amount of scepticism. However, i read the review by someone who claimed they listened to it in the car each day as they drove to work and ended up speaking with relative ease so it seemed it might be worth a try. After the package arrived i tried this and found myself veering into oncoming traffic and running red lights as i tried to concentrate on what the speaker was saying. i gave this up fairly quickly and finally found the best way (for me) was to go for a walk as i listened to each tape. even then i was stumbling along in an erratic manner and muttering to myself which only helped to lowering my neighbours poor opinion of me.
I had to listen to the first few tapes anywhere between 5 to 10 times before i mastered them. I followed the advice of another reviewer, picked up a copy of the Oxford English-Chinese dictionary and proceeded to write down each lesson. I am now towards the end of the set of tapes and it is definitely getting easier - I can master each tape in 2- 5 hearings, am stumbling less and speak mandarin in a clear voice, oblivious of the looks from the neighbours. I intend to get Mandarin II as soon as i am done.
and now if you will excuse me, it is time for my next lesson...
on June 1, 2003
I'm married to a Taiwanese woman, and I've been trying to learn her language for ten years! According to CNN, Mandarin is number one on the list of "Ten Most Difficult Languages to Learn." Japanese is number two on the list; and English is number three (no surprise here). I salute anyone who even attempts to learn Mandarin Chinese.
Let's face it. Learning Mandarin Chinese is hard no matter what method you use, even Pimsleur's. But this is the best method there is. Believe me; I've tried them all: Transparent language, Berlitz, two semesters of Mandarin at college. With the Pimsleur method the phrases are methodically timed for the best optimal learning & recall. And you are required to put your own sentences together instead of tediously parroting back phrases like a Berlitz course.
The Chinese know how hard it is for us Westerners to learn their language. And I must say it is satisifying to see their eyes widen in surprise when I speak a little Mandarin AND be understood. Believe me, it makes a good impression.
This latest edition of Mandarin I is head over heels better than the first edition. And now Pimsleur finally released Mandarin II & III. I've just ordered Mandarin II, and I can't wait to start using it.
on October 13, 2003
Pimsleur's Chinese is as of yet by far the best money I have spent on language learning materials. The method of repetition, questioning, and recall combined with a broad variety of phrase combinations and sentence structures (these are really the key to "unlock" your language knowledge) provide a solid foundation of spoken chinese. In my opinion, the most priceless facet of the Pimsleur method is the impeccable pronunciation that develops from learning by listening alone- there is no pinyin here to pollute one's chinese phonetics with crude approximations of chinese sounds. In this manner one picks up difficult chinese initals (j, zh, c, q, etc.) as well as the tones much more naturally. The serious flaw of the Pimsleur method as applied to chinese, though, is the issue of reading and writing- the ideographic language cannot be taught through CD's alone. If you are at all serious about learning the language, a tutor, class, or at the very least a character workbook of some sort is a must-have. By learning the written language, you will also catch on to some of the grammatical and idiomatic subtleties that that course fails to address (although to Pimsleur's credit they do a great job of fitting a solid base of useful, conversational chinese into only 15 hours of instruction).
My personal experience with the course was a lot of fun- I had enrolled in a course at school and wanted to get a bit ahead of the class, so I bought the course. I started off, with my small previous knowledge base, and took off at a break-neck pace, doing two or three lessons a day- while driving in the car (this is a HUGE plus to the Pimsleur system; it is totally hands-off), waiting for class to start, or just sitting at home in the evening. I know this is not the pace suggested by the course materials, but I found that the more aggressively I tackled the lessons, the more I wanted to learn, and that the faster pace was not harming my retention in the least. On the rare occasion that I did struggle, it was simple to just repeat the lesson until I felt comfortable with it. After just two or three lessons, I found myself mumbling chinese to myself to practice the tones and pronunciations and at one point even attracted a compliment from a chinese passerby who wanted to know who my tutor was! After about eight or ten lessons
(well under a week for me), I could order, settle checks, and make a bit of small-talk in a chinese restaurant, much to the amazement of the waitress!
Having a comfortable grasp of the Pimsleur material helped me immensely in class, too- I found it much easier to associate the written characters with the words I was already familiar with from Pimsleur than to try to learn both the characters and the words all at the same time. The speaking and conversation practice you get from the Pimsleur courses is invaluable and will make you sound like a pro compared to those attempting to learn from a book or in a large class setting.
Overall, this course is a great investment if you are planning a trip to China (the first lessons are useful skills in introductions, restaurants, and short conversation) or are just interested in learning the language (the lessons topics and vocabulary grow more diverse as you progress through the course). I personally cannot wait for levels II and III.
on July 18, 2003
Mandarin is an incredibly complex language, and anyone who has tried 'travel phrase' type programs will understand why those wont work. If you're looking for a conversant proficiency in 4-5 hours - FORGET IT!! After the 8 hours (really 24 or so if you're listening to each lesson several times and moving one lesson a day.) You will be able to apologize correctly for the atrocities you are committing on the 'peoples language'. It is doubtful that you will understand much from a conversation between two native-speakers, but you will be light-years ahead of the 'travel-tape' crowd. Most of all, you will make sufficient progress to earn the respect of those who speak this extremely difficult (for occidentals) language. All this I say by way of discourse, to encourage reasonable expectations. Anyone with reasonable expectations will be thrilled with the Pimsleur series.
on October 7, 2003
I must admit that having lived in the PRC for six months, without benefit of speaking Mandarin ("a stranger in a strange land"), I am motivated to learn Mandarin. While I am not particulary strong in languages, Pimsleur has met all my expectations. I am using the CD's as one part of my efforts to learn Mandarin. The good Dr Pimsleur states that his intention is to teach Mandarin solely through audio means. It works.
However, I am augmenting the CD's by writing the lessons out in Pinying and by being coached by a native Mandarin speaker. To date, I have covered the first set, part of the second set and have ordered the third set of CD's. I am not a speed daemon, presently I am doing roughly two lessons per week. I listen to each lesson twice. The third time I use Pinyin to write down all new words and phrases. The the forth time, I again just listen to the CD's. The fifth time through, I transcribe the entire lesson in Pinyin in MSWord (complete with tone marks...these documents make great review notes). The sixth time through, it's just the CD's again. With roughly six hours spent listening and transcribing the CD lesson, I'm ready for a two hour session with a live Mandarin speaker. The coaching session discusses any unusual or regional expressions that might have been used on the CD's, augments vocabulary with related words and discusses differences in Chinese and North American culture as related to the lesson contents.
Results so far are encouraging, the CD's prepare me by getting most of the "heavy lifting" of pronounciation and phrasing out of the way. I am not wasting the coach's time with extensive pronunciation practice.
The Pimsleur Mandarin CD's, along with a Pinyin dictionary (Oxford Starter Chinese Dictionary) and a native Mandarin speaker have worked well for me! Highly recommended.
on November 9, 2002
I have not found a better way to learn to hear and speak a foreign language than the Pimsleur series. I've used both Mandarin I and II, and they have been a big help in enabling me to conduct everyday conversations in China.
The hard part about Chinese is that you don't run into any words that look even vaguely familiar. But the Pimsleur method is gradual. Each lesson begins with a brief conversation between two native speakers. The first time you hear it, you have no idea what's being said, but by the end of the lesson you'll be able to understand it and participate in the same conversation. But I found there's a lot of value in going through each lesson several times.
The emphasis is all on listening to native speakers and responding to them in short conversations. The method forces you to learn how the language really sounds, and you get lots of chances to practice getting the pronunciation right. It also has the advantage that you can do the course while driving or exercising. There is a very small reading book, but it's not essential.
If your goal is to read Chinese characters, you want a different course or a text designed for the purpose. The best introductory text I've found is "A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing" by Joel Bellassen and Zhang Pengpeng. It's very user-friendly, and puts a lot of emphasis on the history of each character, which helps a lot in learning them. Trouble is, it's hard to find. Hint: Amazon should sell it.
on November 10, 2003
Once again Pimsleur offers an excellent course for the spoken language with relevent conversations and a teaching style that is both automatic and effective. Users should realize that spoken and written Mandarin are different and this course is ONLY for the spoken language. However, it is excellent for listening and speaking. The speakers in the series are clear and easy to understand. My only objection to this course is the lack of written material to accompany it (though the booklet that does come with it is very intersting and informative). Unfortunately, much of Mandarin sounds alike and most 'words' have multiple meanings depending on tone, accompanying words and context. A pinyin or other phonetic guide to the conversations would be very helpful. But for those with a good ear who want to learn by listening and speaking, this course is excellent.
on October 27, 2003
This was a very solid method of learning that focuses heavily on speaking and conversation. Learning characters at the same time as the speaking language can be very intimidating and most professors would agree that there should be a substantial amount of lag between the spoken and written chinese. (see Chinese Primer Ta-Tuan Ch'En - the books I use for my Georgetown University Chinese classes) The Pimsleur method does not offer character knowledge, but it does allow a student to grasp the tones and sounds which are so vital to the language. I would suggest to anyone who is listening to the audio cds to begin with the cds and then, only when comfortable with pronounciation and tones, to go pick up some character and vocabulary texts. This was definitely money well spent because it really was a great way to begin my intensive Mandarin Chinese course.