Learning a Second Language with Pimsleur
Back in November, when Michole and I decided to quit our jobs and get serious about becoming digital nomads, I set several goals for the next 100 days. One of those was to “be able to converse in Spanish.” Sound like an unrealistic goal? As a disclaimer, I crammed three semesters of Spanish into a summer semester in college. Unfortunately, I forgot most of it as quickly as I had learned it. Still, I am not starting from scratch.
My previous attempts to learn a second language
I heard about Pimsleur on several of the travel podcasts that I like listening to, and I was skeptical. I have tried learning languages on my own before. Each time, things went well for a bit, before hitting a wall. I have used Duolingo, a free app, to learn a bit of German and a bit of Spanish. Duolingo was interesting because it seemed like a happy medium between a Pimsleur like program and traditional methods of learning a new language. In the end, lack of explanations combined with the attempt to push grammar rules brought my efforts to a screeching halt each time.
I also attempted to learn Latin via a series of books and DVDs, but I won’t even get into that. It ended about like you would imagine.
Finally, enter Pimsleur
As I mentioned, I have tried free language learning apps with very little success in the past, so I was not too keen to pay for one. However, rave reviews from some of my favorite podcasters, and a seven-day free trial convinced me to give it a shot. I figured that I would use it for seven days, not be overly impressed, and cancel my subscription before the first charge.
I downloaded the app to my phone and pc. One cool feature is that it automatically syncs your progress across devices, making it easy to begin a lesson on your PC, then finish it during your morning commute.
Finish it during my morning commute, you ask? That is because the Pimsleur app is almost* completely speech based. It consists of conversations between speakers, with you acting as one of the speakers. Naturally, you get a great deal of help in the beginning, but less as you go, and eventually even the instructions will be given in Spanish!
I mentioned that Pimsleur app is “almost” completely speech based because there is a reading/writing component. However, unlike traditional methods of learning a second language, the reading/writing component takes a distant backseat to learning to actually speak the language, to the point that I am a month in and haven’t even touched it yet. The premise is that this is how we learn to speak our first language and that mimicking that process is the best way to learn a new language.
The Pimsleur website is full of “scientifically proven explanations” describing the ins and outs of the program. I will only quote one, which seems to sum up my experiences with the program. “With Dr. Pimsleur’s revolutionary method, you’re able to learn on all fronts — with one common goal: speaking your new language quickly and without rules, drills, or boring repetition. Because you learn the phrases and words you’re most likely to need, language comes alive, and the vocabulary, grammar, and native-like pronunciation are ready whenever you are.”
I do not care too much about perfect grammar. In fact, I have taught English as a second language and studied the English language extensively in college. And I still do not speak English with perfect grammar. Not because I can’t, but because I am from a part of the United States with a certain dialect. I chose not to give up this dialect, even though I am capable of it.
So when it comes to learning a new language, speaking with a perfect dialect and not mucking up any grammatical rules from time to time rank well behind being able to actually converse with people. And for that, the Pimsleur method is perfect. Of course, the idea is that you would eventually master the dialect, but it is certainly not priority number one. That is reserved for conversation.
I am not going to lie, the price is a huge draw for me. 15 dollars per month is not exactly a huge investment for most people, particularly when you compare it to the historical cost of language programs. Before programs like Pimsleur began offering subscriptions, you would have to purchase a set of lessons. These could cost anywhere from 100 to several hundred dollars. And once you finished that set of lessons, you would have to pay for the next lesson in the series.
Pimsleur is without a doubt the most effective method for learning a new language that I have ever tried. Free apps like Duolingo do not come close, nor did programs that I paid hundreds of dollars for.
If you travel abroad, being able to speak with the locals makes for an entirely new experience. In fact, it was my inability to communicate with people in Mexico that motivated me to commit to learning a second language. Not only will it make your life easier, they will be greatly appreciative of your efforts. Furthermore, you will likely end up bonding over a sentence that you mangle!
Have you used the Pimsleur app or other methods to learn a new language? Is it something that you are considering? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below. We can’t wait to hear from you!
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