Learning a foreign language – Pimsleur courses

French, Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand French with Pimsleur Language Programs (Simon & Schuster's Pimsleur)
French, Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand French with Pimsleur Language Programs (Simon & Schuster's Pimsleur)

Have you ever had the need or desire to learn a foreign language on your own? If so, how did you do it? Did you take a class or get a tutor? One popular way is through a self-study course. The problem is, how do you decide which of the many available teaching packages is best for you? My answer is Pimsleur.

When the opportunity comes to travel to a foreign country, I try to take full advantage of it.  This includes learning as much as I have time to learn about the places I will be visiting before I arrive. This also includes learning a little of the language if the language is not English. Again, time does not always permit me to do this, but on three occasions, I have been able to do this. I have studied French, Cantonese Chinese, and Russian. And in all three cases, I am glad I did this because it added to my enjoyment of the visit.

Learning French

The first time I tried to learn a bit of a language for a trip, the language was French. I did a bunch of research, but really could not figure out what brand of audio learning CDs to buy, so I took a best guess stab at it. I ended up with a “learn as you drive” brand. As I started, I thought it was just me, but I was really having a hard time with French. I couldn’t understand how the words were being pronounced and didn’t understand the grammar rules they were telling me bu not explaining. I also seemed to be learning phrases that I could not remotely understand how they might be applicable to a person in my situation. By the time I was ready to leave for my trip, I felt like I really hadn’t learned anything. I just attributed it to my difficulty in learning new languages and felt I needed to try harder the next time and get some tutoring.

Learning Cantonese

Chinese (Cantonese), Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand Cantonese Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Pimsleur Instant Conversation)
Chinese (Cantonese), Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand Cantonese Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Pimsleur Instant Conversation)

 For my next trip, it was Cantonese. While shopping for the CDs and doing some more research, I decided to try the Pimsleur brand. They had as good, maybe a bit better, of reviews as the other brand I tried, so I gave them a chance. This time around, I was hugely more successful than the first time. Things just made sense the way I was being taught. I breezed through the lessons and felt the effort had been very successful. However, I do need to confess you that I kind of cheated. I had previously studied Cantonese (and Mandarin for that matter) years before, so I am sure this made a big difference. I still want to give credit for the teaching methods used in these CDs though.

Learning Russian

Russian, Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand Russian with Pimsleur Language Programs
Russian, Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand Russian with Pimsleur Language Programs

My latest experience was with Russian. I went with Pimsleur again, and this time I have had no experience with the language. The result was that I made reasonable progress, far more than I ever did with French. I attribute my success in part to the Pimsleur teaching methods and in part to Russian being easier for me than French. In any case, I feel like I have discovered a good brand of audio CDs for learning languages. The next time I go somewhere, i will go with Pimsleur  again. Maybe it will be Italian.

Pimsleur method

I like Pimsleur in part because they just start into teaching you common and useful phrases. They just don’t’ have you memorize a list of words and then later try to use them, nor do they try to give you a bunch of rules at the start before they get to actually  saying things. They give  you a basic sentence, which they walk you through and then they use what you have learned to build more complex sentences and multiple sentences. One thing I did notice is that there is a slight difference between how material was presented for Cantonese and Russian. I don’t know why this was. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was noticeably different.

Conclusion

I realize we all learn differently, but I am a big fan of the Pimsleur CDs. I generally just buy the beginner course – these are the least expensive. Sometimes they have expanded versions of the basic course, they also have more advanced courses and sets of multiple courses, so you have a lot of options, depending on your needs.

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