How Pimsleur Works

Pimsleur takes advantage of the way the human brain acquires language as speech and creates its methodology around the single fact that there is one central way in which everyone acquires the ability to communicate in any language.

It is well known from studies of the brain that human beings recognize, identify, and capture patterns of speech. This is how human infants learn their mother tongue over the first six years of life.

With that task accomplished, everyone has the necessary physical and mental equipment to go on and acquire additional means of communication -- additional languages! The singular and highly complex fact that allows or prevents adults from doing what comes naturally is the selection and organization of the language materials which are created to manage second-language acquisition. And that's where the value of the Pimsleur Method lies.

For an adult it is no longer efficient to learn simply by being exposed to other languages (as happens as a baby) because being in possession of a fine first language which enables an adult to survive handsomely, there now has to be a different motivating factor, as well as a second-language program which is especially prepared to recapitulate -- in a special way -- the original process of language acquisition for the adult mentality.

It was Dr. Paul Pimsleur who, through many years of research and development, discovered how to select and organize the materials of the second language to fit the one way that the stream of speech of an unknown language can enter the consciousness of the adult and be processed through the language learning power of the human brain.

The Pimsleur methodology that makes language acquisition happen looks singularly easy and transparent, but nothing could be further from the truth. The science and skill (art, if you will) of creating a Pimsleur program requires, nay demands, some 2,000 person-hours of three trained individuals to prepare thirty lessons of a Pimsleur Program.

The fine art of asking the questions which will encourage the learner to induce the grammatical basis for answering the questions, not only correctly but also with the appropriate sounds of the new language as it delivers the meaning involved, is what enables the programmed Pimsleur course to make language acquisition happen whenever the audio is heard.

This is the highly significant difference between Pimsleur programs and all other sets of published language materials. It is the secret to why Pimsleur works and creates in the learner a significant and measurable set of communication skills provided they follow the scheduled learning activities as prescribed by the Pimsleur methodology.

The Parable of the "Building-Block-of-a-Language" Theory

There are those who believe that languages are composed of what they call the "building-blocks" of a language. These consist of neat rows of verb conjugation tables, grammatical rules, vocabulary lists with translations, and other bricks, sand and cement, nails, and associated building materials such as people pile together when they plan to mass-produce houses.

Obviously when a house is being built, the clever logistics of the supplies make it efficient and effective in reducing the time required to produce a number of houses.

Language builders overlooked the fact that the building blocks of language cannot be arranged and taught as spoken communication skills because the missing ingredient is the way human beings string together language in the form of meaningful speech acts, over the axis of time.

The critical point is that unless a learner has learned instances of language-in-use, he has not learned them as language.

If learning to understand and to speak a language were simply a matter of memorizing and storing words and sentences, an infinite number of sentences would have to be over-learned (memorized), which is obviously an impossible and useless task since an infinite variety of sentence patterns is used in ordinary speech.

The complexity of an internalized grammar is such that no linguist has yet succeeded in making it explicit, or in solving the problem of how a learner can consciously apply the academic rules of grammar during actual conversation.

The Pimsleur I program will take a learner form zero spoken proficiency to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Intermediate-Low level in thirty lessons; Pimsleur II will take a learner who has completed the I and II (sixty lessons) to the Intermediate-Mid level; and Pimsleur III will take a learner who has completed Pimsleur I, II, and III (ninety lessons) to the Intermediate-High level of spoken proficiency on the ACTFL Scale.

Dr. Pimsleur selected the one universal feature of human language and, using it with great skill and art, reduced the problem of spoken-language acquisition through making it possible for adult learners to recapitulate the learning of additional language within 15 to 45 hours of programmed instruction.

Pimsleur Method Operational Requirements

Pimsleur customers are advised that there are specific requirements for purchasers intending to obtain these levels of spoken proficiency. The Comprehensive Pimsleur Program comprises three Levels (90 lessons), which contain the core-of-the-language based upon the frequency-of-use of grammatical structures and everyday vocabulary by native speakers of the target language. This language corpus is divided into three discrete parts: Levels I, II, and III. To achieve the proficiency levels described above, learners are advised to complete all Levels in numerical order, starting with Level I.

Keep in mind that a little learning is a dangerous thing - especially for foreign language learners! New Pimsleur learners who previously have not been able to communicate with native speakers, but who still feel, because of some school language classes, that they are past the beginning level and that then make the decision to skip Level I actually will miss the most important basic language elements in terms of usage, that is, a full one-third of the core-of-the-language taught in the program. This amount of missing language information and the essential spoken language practice caused as a result of this deficiency is enough to cause the learner to fail to reach the Intermediate Proficiency Level goal.

Another of the important basic requirements to be able to achieve these proficiency goals is for the learner to complete one (and only one) new lesson every day in each level, in strict numerical order. The limit of one new lesson a day is necessary to allow the built-in practice in the program to be input and the new sounds of the foreign language to be retained in the learner's brain. It is also essential to proceed to the next lesson, the next day, only if you are correctly answering the questions in the lesson at about an 80% rate. The Method is designed to have the learner proceed through the Program with a minimum of frustration and a maximum of enjoyment and a sense of fun!

Pimsleur learners are spared great frustration and wasted hours -- which other methods impose on their users -- in acquiring understandable pronunciation skills of unusual sounding target language items. Pimsleur avoids making the learner repeat sounds over and over in boring rote repetition trying to achieve the impossible: immediate native-like pronunciation of difficult items.

Effective Foreign Language Memory Training as Well as Effective Sound Discrimination Ability

The Pimsleur method solves the all-important memory problem by introducing every foreign word -- both those hard to pronounce as well as the less difficult -- in a meaningful context, with an effective backwards build-up. There is a built-in memory-training sequence designed to provide "successive approximation" repeats which enables the learner to arrive at effective pronunciation of hard-to-say foreign words. In addition to solving pronunciation problems, the Pimsleur Method automatically enters each item in a memory-building module called Graduated Interval Recall. This schedule guarantees that by the end of each level, everything you have learned will have been processed into the language-learning portion of your brain, which will have effectively "stored" the structures and vocabulary from your short-term to your long-term memory, making it available for your use when you are speaking in the target language!

In Addition, You are Introduced to Foreign Language Reading

Learners who do not participate in doing the important Introduction to Reading in those Pimsleur programs in which we teach reading often find themselves unable to correctly pronounce words in the target language when they see them. However, learning to sight-read a language is a subsidiary skill which can only be effectively learned AFTER a learner has acquired basic spoken-language skills. This is why we teach these skills in the precise order -- speaking first and reading second -- as it is done in acquiring your mother tongue.

Pimsleur learners need to be reminded of this skill when they reach the particular stage of foreign-language learning when some learners begin to feel a desire to see the written forms of the spoken language. Linguistic specialists, as well as reading specialists, agree that intelligent and meaningful reading of a language requires the spoken-language base such as Pimsleur provides.

Learning to "read" a foreign language that you do not speak is the primary reason why learners who approach a language from a textbook do not gain the ability to become proficient in the spoken language, or for that matter in truly reading for meaning, as opposed to word-for-word dictionary translations. This also sums up why the Pimsleur Method does not provide printed texts of what is reserved for the practice of spoken language only! Having a printed script of a language you cannot speak effectively defeats your wish to be able to understand and to speak the target language in a way that allows you to engage in real and proficient conversation.

Simply follow these wonderfully uncomplicated guidelines and you will be delighted with the results you will accomplish by investing 15, 30, or 45 hours of your time -- spread out only a half-hour each day. You will be able to talk with interesting individuals in whatever part of the world you plan to visit.

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