The Polyglot Pimsleur Language Challenge

March 14, 2012 by 27 Comments

PimsleurPeople often ask me about various courses that you can buy to learn a new language.  I have tried many of them, including TeachYourself, Colloquial, Michel Thomas, Assimil, Linguaphone as well as many online materials from LingQ to Busuu to LiveMocha.  I have found that all have something to offer.  One method that comes up again and again is Pimsleur.  I am often asked what I think about it on two points:

  1.  Is it useful for getting a good accent?
  2. Does the course get you to a good level?

Point one is going to be the easier of the two for me to assess, simply because I can decide right away what I think of their technique.  Judging the end result depends entirely on the claims made by Pimsleur and my understanding of those claims.

What level do they expect the learner to achieve with the materials given?

I need to go to source to find out what Pimsleur have to say…

In the video below I set out the details of what Pimsleur claims to provide in terms of level after you complete one of their courses.  I also offer you the chance to challenge me to study a language using one of the Pimsleur courses from 15th April for a 30-day period.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62mSF9Qh0vQ&w=420&h=315]

Vote on which language I should pick on my Facebook page (facebook.com/SpeakingFluently).  I will announce the result of the vote on Sunday 8th April and start learning the language you have chosen for me.

I will write a post about my experience with Pimsleur on this blog at the end of the course.  I will also make a YouTube video to document my ability in the new language.

If you want to hear my thoughts after each lesson, you can catch my tweets (@SpeakinFluently) to get a daily update.

If you speak the language I end up studying and you want, and are able to spare some time, to help me to practice speaking it for the final video, please do get in touch!  🙂

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This post was written by Richard

27 Comments

  • Jeff says:

    Richard,

    May I make a quick suggestion? I would suggest that in order to get a “true” evaluation of the Pimsleur product you should choose something you have no experience with and that won’t play into other languages you have learned. For example, as you know, if you speak Spanish and did the Pimsleur method for Portuguese it would have significantly different results than if you only spoke English and did the Portuguese method.

    That’s just some food for thought! Another question: Are you going to be able to ONLY study for half an hour a day? That would be tough for me as I would want to look up words all the time in regular life and do several other things that would advance myself – which takes a bit away from the competition. I personally think that their claim is ridiculous, but hey… who knows.

    Thanks and good luck!

    Jeff

    • Jeff,

      Thanks for your feedback and encouragement in this challenge. I am indeed going to use only Pimsleur and I decided on offering up these language for the vote because I don’t speak them. Japanese and Thai are the only ones I have had real contact with before, but still not to a great level. Whilst Farsi is Indo-European with many words I will already know from other languages I speak, I thought it would still be a nice challenge if picked.

      I know what you mean about finding it hard to restrict learning, but time-wise I think 30 minutes is enough for me to give up for this. Already the mere 24 horus in the day are a stretch for me to get through everything I need to do in a day! 😉 My thought is to perhaps practice with a speaker of the language to make sure it’s not just done in a vacuum. But aside from that, if I can manage to find some kind soul willing to listen to me, I will not use any other resources for the learning process. In fact, I believe Pimsleur, like Michel Thomas, advise that you only use their course.

      All the best,

      Richard

      • cari says:

        I’m learning snpiash for free using pocasts. If you have iTunes (or download it because it is free), and open iTunes music store and click the link to podcasts. Then click the education link. There you will find hundreds of podcasts which teach Spanish, or French or German or Chinese or Japanese or Greek etc. And the best thing is that they are all free! The only problem you may encounter is that the Spainish language podcasts tend to focus of Spain’s Spanish rather than that of Latin America or the Catalan regions. However, I sweear by podcasts and seeing that they are free there is nothing to lose!

      • Goku says:

        Does anyone know of a Master’s pogrram for LEARNING Spanish?I want to learn Spanish. However, if I enroll in an academic pogrram I need for it to be at the Master’s level not the Bachelor’s level. I realize that most Master’s level Spanish pogrrams expect you to already know the language, but does anyone know of one that TEACHES the language?It would be great if you know of one in Illinois particularly in the Chicago land area.

      • Ravi says:

        Yes. I was fully bilingual by the age of 9, siplmy from watching movies and TV shows in English from the age of 3 (my mother would read the subtitles into my ear). Yes, I’m a bit of an exception, but I do know other people who’ve done it, it just takes a while. Of course you’ll also have to read in Spanish so your spelling is as good as your oral.

    • Amber says:

      I’m now following Benny. I arppeciate the interview, and I’ll be checking out his program. I’ve wanted to learn Spanish for so long. 2 years of Spanish classes in highschool was challenging, but I never attained fluency(I think very much for the reason Benny gave in video. The aim was perfection)Anyway great post/interview Cody!

  • Jimmy Mello says:

    Hi Richard,
    I thought your idea was great, in fact I love Pimsleur courses, but I do not agree with the level they claim we reach at the end, but for sure you can reach a really good level almost effortlessly. I think Pimsleur take you to A1 or even A2 (after the three levels), maybe a person with good sense of activation and ability to explore the knowledge can reach B1, but nothing else besides this point.
    How about if we tried this challenge together, each one at one’s country, with different linguistic background and different native languages, and at the end of one month we could try to maintain a dialog over Skype in the target language, everything only using Pimsleur as the only material?
    Best Wishes,
    Jimmy Mello

    • Jimmy,

      Please do feel free to do that and see how you feel with the language too. I am happy to have a chat with you on Skype to see how that works out.

      My hope is to see how a native speaker will find my progress – I will be looking for someone brutally honest. I have the skin of a rhino and I like to hear how things really are. If they say that I am crap, then that’s fine! 😀

      I will leave the voting options up on my Facebook site until the start of next month to see which language emerges as the winner. When I get back from my trip at the start of April and finish my A2 exam for Turkish, I will be ready to start the challenge! 🙂

      All the best,

      Richard

      • Resul says:

        it’s terrible, but Spanish class in high ooschl is a great way.Ok, just here me out. Simply look at it as less of a class that’s dedicated to teaching you Spanish, and more of a tool to your disposal. All of those vocab lists and sentences can come in handy.Hace tres anos que estudie la idioma y comprendo mas o menos (yo se olvido los accentos mi telecado no tiene :/)IF you’re not in highschool, then read wiki articles online with a translator, use grammar lessons, etc.A great idea is to listen to your family and mimic the way they talk.

      • Shobha says:

        Quick ways to learn spanish (programs)So my fneird is hispanic and I’m having her teach me spanish (as in conversational) but it’s rough because I don’t know how to put sentences together in spanish. My high school and college classes are far behind and I don’t remember much from them. Anyone know of good programs online .that are free? Or perhaps cheap books or what not? Thanks!

      • Esza says:

        Hi Brett,Thanks so much for the link and the recommendation, I rlealy appreciate it and I’m so glad you find my blog helpful in learning Spanish. I’ve got a ton more stuff planned for the site (I’m working on a book right now, which is why I’m only managing to get a new post up once every two weeks or so, but that’ll change once the book comes out in a few months), I focus primarily on using popular media that the individual learner in question would enjoy such as movies, music, books, etc. to learn Spanish you should choose something that you personally would enjoy were it in English, such as a movie, and then use that to learn Spanish. Make it as fun as possible, the more fun it is the less likely you are to get bored and quit which is what ends up causing more would-be language-learners to fail than anything.Cheers,Andrew

    • Miralp says:

      Thanks, Benny. Reading it now! Enjoyed your interview with Cody pinohg our travel paths will cross at some point! Let me know if you need any help with Nepali Fun language to speak, you sound like a Star Wars Ewok!

    • Margarita says:

      How do you learn that many languages? That’s just crazy! I would iiagmne that you would accidentally speak the wrong language at times since you know so many. So far, all I know is English and a little bit of Mandarin Chinese.

    • Evon says:

      I listened to the niiervtew last night: really really interesting!Anyone that wants to learn foreign languages should listen to this.Benny has an interesting theory, proven to be true: start talking day 1, no exception, no excuses. Turn off English or your native language and you will see significant results in 1-3 months. I have been interrailing several times during my life and I was amazed how learning languages becomes so much more effective and fun when interacting with people and not worrying about mistakes. I am definitely going to buy the language hacking guide.Great stuff !

  • Luqman Ranto says:

    I also suggest you learn a language that you have never learnt before even a bit, a language that you just know the name. So when you listen to Pimsleur for the first time, that should be the first moment you hear the sounds, tones or the intonations of the language. Only by that manner you can assess the Pimsleur Language Programs accurately and know how it works for you to acquire the phonetics, grammar and vocabulary of the language, only by way of the Pimleur audio, not other resources. You should make it the only independent variable (cause) in learning your target language. That is how the assessment should be done.

    As for my use of the Pimsleur Language Programs, I learn other resources before or nearly at the same time with the Pimsleur Programs. Therefore I can finish listening to the whole program simply in a few days or weeks according to my dedication to it. In other words, I do not need three months to listen to the whole of it. It takes around one to two months to learn all my resources I have, for example Teach Yourself Series and Pimsleur Programs to reach A2 or even B1 level of CEFR. I use Pimsleur only to improve my listening skill at the very beginning level which is very useful.

    I listened to the Pimsleur Programs for French and Spanish and I am currently in the process of finishing the Levantine Arabic and German ones and all I can say is that they can be useful only for “getting by” in the language when you travel to the country where it is spoken, not more than that because it has a limited number of vocabulary, only very basic vocabulary.

    Even now I can predict what you will be able to say when you have finished listening to part 1 of the program. You can say greetings, how you are, where you are from, what your name is, what you want to eat and drink, where and what time, directions, numbers, and at the end of the program you will know a little bit of the past tense.

    I think you should not use other resourses if you would like to use Pimsleur and stick to their advice, otherwise you will regret as it is a waste of money, time and effort.

    That is all I know of the Pimsleur Language Programs. You can correct me if I am wrong 😉

  • Luqman Ranto says:

    I do not want to use Pimsleur as the only resources since it will take me much more time just to learn the basics of a specified language. I can not learn the right phonetics just by listening to the audio, I also should know the points and manners of articulation of each and every phoneme of the target language. They sound vague to my ears only by depending on listening to them and I am not sure if I pronounce them correctly.

    The Pimsleur Programs are intented to learn a language like a baby, only by listening. Babies need more time than adults to get the pronunciation right. That being said, I am not quite sure whether my opinion is accurate. I need some enlightenment.

    • I am going to see how the challenge goes and I will write a review of how I feel it works. That said, I mentioned in my interview with David Mansaray that I do find it absurd to not use our advantage over babies, that’s to say…our ability to read and write. It is certainly an important resource to have and, as you quite rightly say, babies do take a while to learn the basics of a language because they are doing it completely from scratch!

      After the Pimsleur course, I will try to comment on all aspects of it, including whether I think it was an effective use of my time.

      All the best,

      Richard

      • Elijah says:

        If you need a tutor just to pass a class (or classes), then go right ahead.But if your goal is to ellray learn Spanish (like learn how to speak it and be able to use it in daily life) then look somewhere else because a lot of their tutors are non-native, book-taught and some actually can’t even speak it. If this was the case for you, then I’d rather find a qualified NATIVE instructor (who can help you pass the class, of course, but also teach you to speak the language) by going on LanguageTrainers.com because their rates are about the same, if not much lower (!) than WyzAnt.

    • Jore says:

      i want to watch spanish cihldren show programs to learn spanish.?if i want to purchase in amazon, what title should i look for? is there like spanish version of sesami street or something where it’s relatively easy to understand and learn spanish? also, i’m in NY and we have some spanish channels. can i watch any channel in evening time to get those cihldren programs? thanks

  • Pammela says:

    That is very impressive. I guess when you study guelaagns, you have to know lots of them. There’s just one thing.I’m a native Croatian, and your croatian (/bosnian/serbian, whatever you call it) isn’t very good. I guess it could be enough for comunicating, but it was very hard for me to understand you. But your method of learning it from tv is a good idea, you just have to listen to it more and practice speaking.Cudos on albanian, I heard it’s a very hard language to learn (and hungarian)

  • Ritu says:

    I had a professor in cglleoe who could read 32 languages. He was in his ’60 s. He knew mostly dead Indo-European languages, his academic specialty, and Hebrew. Among the languages he knew were English, Old English, French, Latin, Greek, Lithuanian, Old Church Slavonic, Classical Armenian, Hittite, Tokarian A, and Tokarian B.

  • Barbare says:

    Great interview guys!I’ve been dlenessly impressed by Benny’s language skills, but I love how he really breaks it down here. Like anything in life, if you focus hard, you will have success. No excuses. Karol

  • fabswt says:

    Pfft… I’ve just lost a very long comment due to a bad login attempt. Anyway, here are a few points I wanted to share:

    I think your Turkish will actually help you with Hungarian. I don’t speak any Turkish but a Hungarian friend who speaks it told me the structure is very similar, though the vocabulary rarely is, and Turkish speakers usually have it easier.

    On the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, I’d be A2 in Hungarian, working on getting through B1 (maybe 1/3 or half-way through). For months I’d been learning from abroad (from Paris) without much success. I finally went to live in Budapest as part of an experience of sorts and it only took me 2 months to go from beginner to intermediate.

    I’d join you for the Pimsleur challenge but I’ve already started using it for Dutch and do not want to use it exclusively. I’m also experimenting with Rosetta Stone for it and will have daily access to a Dutch speaker (one of the reasons I’m learning it *now*).

    I really like Pimsleur for its focus on speech rather than text, unlike too many methods. I’ve only recently read about shadowing and it seems somewhat similar to me. I mean it as a way to focus on sound and disinhibit oneself because of it. I suspect experience language learners such as yourself will want to do more than the recommended one lesson a day. It seems very manageable to respect the “80% of understanding before next lesson” rule while doing so. For example, one could do one lesson and another one a few hours later. In this way, the material will sort of “sink in” into you in the meantime. In that respect also it’s reminiscent of shadowing (the suggestion being to use it several times a day).

  • fabswt says:

    Pfft… I’ve just lost a very long comment due to a bad login attempt. Anyway, here are a few points I wanted to share:

    I think your Turkish will actually help you with Hungarian. I don’t speak any Turkish but a Hungarian friend who speaks it told me the structure is very similar, though the vocabulary rarely is, and Turkish speakers usually do have it easier.

    On the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, I’d be A2 in Hungarian, working on getting through B1 (maybe 1/3 or half-way through). For months, I’d been learning from abroad (from Paris) without much success. I finally went to live in Budapest as part of an experience of sorts and it only took me 2 months to go from beginner to intermediate. I did give up English and French much as I possibly could while I was there though.

    I’d join you for the Pimsleur challenge but I’ve already started using it for Dutch and do not want to use it exclusively. I’m also experimenting with Rosetta Stone for it and will have daily access to a Dutch speaker (one of the reasons I’m learning it *now*). I’m trying a new learning style, where I’ll use

    I really like Pimsleur for its focus on speech rather than text, unlike too many methods. I’ve only recently read about shadowing and it seems somewhat similar to me. I mean it as a way to focus on sound and disinhibit oneself because of it. I suspect experience language learners such as yourself will want to do more than the recommended one lesson a day. It seems very manageable to respect the “80% of understanding before next lesson” rule while doing so. For example, one could do one lesson and another one a few hours later. In this way, the material will sort of “sink in” into you in the meantime. In that respect also it’s reminiscent of shadowing (the suggestion being to use it several times a day).

    • Dewa says:

      My impression of Pimsleur prgaroms is very positive. If you plan for a three month course to take you from knowing nothing to fluency you are a bit on the optomistic side. Actually mastering (becoming conversational, let alone fluent in) a language demands starting with baby steps. Learn a little, and master what has been learnt. Then start filling out the rest (developing vocabulary, mastering rare forms, learning odd idioms etc.)The thing I like about Pimsleurs is that it demands just such a start: you learn a handfule of useful words, pharases, and constructions, but what you learn (though small) is learnt completely (at least if you do it right); by the end of the program you simply respond to the questions without thinking of the grammar, you just think about what you want to say and say it.

  • Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I am having issues with your RSS.

    I don’t know the reason why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else getting similar RSS issues? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  • I agree that that Pimsleur is great that it’s purely spoken but I find that it takes too long to build vocab and it never adequately explains grammar rules often leaving you guessing. I completed the Pimsleur Lithuanian short course and at the end of it only knew a handful of phrases. I’ve since started their Russian course and it’s exactly the same pace but since there’s a lot more of it, I’m hoping that it will be more useful.

    There is a better method that I’ve come across: SaySomethingIn which is exactly the same approach as Pimsleur but cleverly pairs words together e.g. adjectives and verbs or adjectives and nouns which I found really helps to cement the knowledge and at the same time doubles your vocab. It also takes more care to explain the grammar rule after you’ve come across it a few times. They only really have a complete Welsh course at the moment but they are slowly building other languages.

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