Patterico's Pontifications

5/31/2004

Learning a Foreign Language

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Patterico @ 8:41 am

For anyone interested in learning a foreign language, I strongly recommend the Pimsleur system. In 90 days, you can learn enough to communicate basic concepts with a level of comfort that will surprise you. It’s incredibly expensive — several hundred dollars for the full 90-day course — but maybe you can find it at your local library. That’s how I did it.

The key to the system is that it focuses entirely on teaching you to speak in the other language. You are given an English phrase or sentence, and you’re told to say it in the other language. Period. No mindless drills. And all words and concepts are reinforced at carefully calculated intervals, so that they pass into your long-term memory with no extra effort on your part.

I have listened to the Pimsleur courses for Spanish, German, French, and Italian. (Our local library has the full 90-day courses for all these and several others, which is pretty rare. Most libraries have only the two-week introductory course in a handful of languages.) After listening to the German and Italian courses, my wife and I traveled through Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. I was able to communicate basic concepts, and it was amazing to me how nice people were to us when we tried to speak with them in their own language.

I’m doing Japanese now, which is pretty different. It’s harder, but not impossible.

I guess this sounds a little like an ad, but it’s not. I haven’t been paid to plug Pimsleur, and I have no financial interest in this company whatsoever. I just think it’s a great system, and I want to spread the word.

BARELY RELEVANT CLOSING ANECDOTE: When I was a kid growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, I once heard a guy say in a thick Texas accent: “I sure do admire anyone who’s bilingual in six or sev’n different languages.”

If you try the Pimsleur system, you can earn the respect of people like that guy.

2 Responses to “Learning a Foreign Language”

  1. A proviso: contrary to Patterico’s experience, which may hold perfectly well for Germans and Italians, French people actually like you less (but respect you more) when you speak French. After living there several years and acquiring fluency, I found myself occasionally pretending that to be a monolingual American tourist. Smiles always accompanied the tortured English response. This method also has the benefit of permitting you to guage your interlocutor’s real attitude when they address colleagues.

    do (a5558a)

  2. Take a look on EBay. There’s hundreds of Pimsleur courses for sale there.

    John Jorsett (0730f9)


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