Basically I do not believe in learning to speak a language without learning to read it at the same time. You will acquire knowledge of the principles of Mandarin pronunciation and some syntax. The course is very repetitive and the amount of vocabulary you will learn is very limited. The repetition is part of the Pimsleur method of memory training, absorption and immersion. Having completed the course, I now feel somewhat familiar with Mandarin pronunciation and at ease with it. But you will only acquire about two or three dozen sentences of polite conversation between an American Gentleman and a Chinese woman he meets.
PIMSLEUR : Quick & Simple CHINESE MANDARIN. (Eight Audio Lessons on 4 Cassettes). Simon & Schuster Audio, 2001. ISBN 07435-0771-1. Every country in the world is agreed that a knowledge of foreign languages is important. Every year the world devotes an enormous amount of time, energy, and money to trying to teach its young people to understand and speak some foreign language or other. In the West, millions of high school and college students are busy desperately trying to learn French, German, and Spanish; in China and Japan they are undergoing the torture of English courses. But despite the intense effort and enormous resources that are devoted to these studies, the results, as everyone knows, are pitiful. After years of study, students might be able to read simple passages in a foreign language, but usually won't be able to say much beyond such things as - "Good morning. How are you?" - and they will be completely baffled when hearing foreigners speak. I've often wondered why no-one ever seems to ask why the teaching of foreign languages is such a catastrophic failure. Why does it produce so few who become fluent? I've wondered because the answer is painfully obvious, and can be stated very simply : WE LEARN LANGUAGE THROUGH THE EAR, NOT THE EYE; LANGUAGE CANNOT BE LEARNED THROUGH THE EYE. No child ever learned its own language by studying a book and working out exercises. We learn our own language through the ear, first by listening to others and then by participating. That's why we learn it so effortlessly and so well. Reading is a secondary skill that comes much later. If PIMSLEUR is an anagram for SIMPLER U it makes sense, because not only is the PIMSLEUR method SIMPLER for YOU, its also the ONLY method that has any hope of real success. Language is primarly an AURAL-ORAL phenomenon, a matter of listening and speaking. Using these tapes gives you lots of practise in both. Repeated use will bring a basic fluency that will give you the confidence to start interacting with native speakers of Chinese or French or whatever language you are studying. And if you have enough opportunities for that you'll soon be on your way to real fluency. These tapes require application but they do work, and after finishing them you'll almost certainly want to get the Comprehensive Program, because it's not only work but fun. But what a wonderful idea the PIMSLEUR method is! I wonder why no one ever seems to have thought of it before? After all, if you do think about it, it's the only method that makes sense.
Anyone who thinks he can learn a language in four tapes is of course a fool. The real purpose for these introductory tapes is determining whether the Pimsleur method is going to work for you -- before dropping a couple hundred dollars on the Comprehensive volumes. Certainly, over the course of the four tapes you'll get some basic vocabulary, the ability to construct a few simple sentences, and good practice on pronunciation. I give these tapes five stars because 1) I had fun going through them, 2) I love the fact and the challenge that the course is purely audio, 3) I got to jump start my mainly book-learned and non-conversational Chinese, 4) and they confirmed that the Pimsler method works for me. If you already know that you like the Pimsleur method, then go ahead and get the Comprehensive I set -- which contains these four tapes.
This would be great for someone just going on a short trip to china; a few key phrases that should get you around fairly well. However, I'm going to be an exchange student in China in the next year and really wished I would have splurged and bought the comprehensive series (the extended Pimsleur program), and I think I just might regardless. The Pimsleur tapes are the best that I've come across (and I've tried nearly 10 others), the vocabulary-as they claimed-was given to you over again at just the right intervals so as to store them for the long-term. I would recommend the Pimsleur method for anyone going abroad with only a little time to learn the language.
This is not a language course but it is an easy and pleasant way to become acquainted with the language. It is easy but it is slow. If you don't want to work too hard and you want to see if you would like to continue at a higher level I would recommend it. You don't get any written material but just listen to the recording. It is easy but thorough. It gives you enough to get started. I wanted a little Chinese as I will be working in China and Singapore next year and it has given me a start. If I decide I want to learn the language seriously I will probably buy a different program. This program has done exactly what I wanted.
This abridged version of the full Pimsler series has been a wonderful introduction to Madarin for me. I find that the repetition and the emphasis on sound and tone of the tapes to be especially helpful. However, at least in this abridged version, there is no accompanying text that presents the words and sentences you are learning through the tapes. Such a text, even with a romanized version of the words, would be helpful. To compensate, I have been relying heavily on the introductory section of: Reading and Writing Chinese : A Guide to the Chinese Writing System by William McNaughton and Li Ying, which goes into pronunciation in extensive detail. But for the price, it is a wonderful start, and I have found these tapes to be a wonderfully educational, and even enjoyable, addition to my morning commute.