Do-It-Yourself Language Learning: the Good and Bad of the Pimsleur Method

The goal of the Pimsleur  method is to teach the spoken language without an accent.   The method claims that you learn to speak as a baby learns the native language.

I think it is a worthy goal to learn to speak a language without an accent  but not to the exclusion of learning words in the language.  In the French product, I found the subject matters of the lessons somewhat tedious.  (Yes, I get it:  it’s Mad-mwa-zell and not Madam- mozell).  Then,  after listening to the correct  pronunciation of  Madamoiselle over and over,  I saw  a Daily Mail news item that the French Government had banned the word from official documents.  Hmmm.

Benny Lewis “The Irish Polyglot” who we featured in  previous posts  tried Pimsleur’s Hungarian series and didn’t feel he learned much vocabulary.  He also complains that there is too much English on the recordings.  I agree with both observations as true of the French package as well. 

Perfection in a foreign language from the start is not one of my goals.  My biggest criticism of the course is there is no written or pdf script to follow as I  listened. I want to be able to read and write the language as well as speak.    I think that is a big failing of this course.

Benny Lewis also did not enjoy the situations and conversations.  I found that the more I listened to the lessons the more tiresome it got.  Here they were after 3 hours still standing in the street arguing over where to have cocktails and  dinner.  It seemed like an old  1950’s movie  romance gone bad.   I got bored with the situation, and dozed off and  then Spike Jones  suddenly came to me in a dream:

Forgive me.

I’ll say in defense of the Pimsleur audio discs that the French speakers have pleasant voices and have good, distinct  pronunciation.  That  matters more than most language teachers seem to think.  I remember I had the Spanish class in high school where the teacher used tapes.  The speaker on those Spanish  tapes sounded like he had a hangover and was full of gas and distress.   The Pimsleur French Speakers were much easier on the ears.

It is also worth saying in Pimsleur’s defense that I bought a closed out product.  I have no idea what changes they might have made.   Language lessons  like anything else can become outdated.  I remember a set of Swedish lessons I got from the library some years ago included a lesson on how to send a telegram from the Post Office in Sweden.  Times change.  I think people mostly stopped sending telegrams in the 1950’s.

Nevertheless,  the main lesson to be learned here is that there is no “killer app” language learning system nor a one size fits all  size 8 shoe for language learning.

The Spike Jones television show outtake from the 1950’s  comes with fond remembrance of my late cousin Walter Gabrielson.


About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
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