Pimsleur Usage: An Unofficial Instruction Guide

Techniques to get more mileage out of your Pimsleur sets


Dr. Paul Pimsleur already did most of the grunt work when it came to figuring out how best to teach us new languages.  He came up with innovations such as 30 minute lessons, graduated interval recall, and the challenge-response format that makes his courses so famous.


But do you stop souping up your Toyota Supra even though you know it will outgun your neighbor’s Camry at the stoplight?  No, you add that turbocharger to make sure you add a few more feet of dust between you and your neighbor.  Likewise, here are three techniques that you can use to help turbocharge your Pimsleur experience.


Stop the tape or CD before responding


The first thing one can do to improve retention is to stop the tape before responding.  Especially at the beginning of a new phrase sequence with new vocabulary, your response time will be slow.  The gaps are not long enough.  Take your time, think of the response, and then speak it aloud.  Then unpause the tape.  Over time, the neurons in your cerebellum will start to reorganize and before you know it, your response will be as quick as a reflex!


Create mnemonics for new vocabulary words


Secondly, create a mnemonic for every new vocabulary word you learn.  This will help your short term recall.  For example, let’s imagine you are listening to Pimsleur Comprehensive Japanese from Catee’s Language World and you hear the new word kuruma, which means carKuruma sounds a little bit like “Cool Room Ah”.  You can think of a car, perhaps from MTV’s Pimp My Ride,  as a “cool room, ah!”  The inside of that car is a “cool room” (especially with the air conditioner on).  So next time the tape asks you to say car in Japanese, you can think of your tricked out Toyota Supra with spoilers, racing stripes, and embedded Playstation 2.  It’s your “Cool Room Ah” -- kuruma!


Don’t overdose on Pimsleur


The last piece of advice is for the overachievers in the audience (you know who you are).  I call it Pimsleur Overdose Syndrome.  Symptoms include high enthusiasm with consumption of ten or more Pimsleur lessons a day.  I commend your enthusiasm, as the author has also been diagnosed with Pimsleur Overdose Syndrome many times.  The prognosis of Pimsleur Overdose Syndrome is lack of retention of newly learned material into long term memory.  Remember that the Pimsleur courses were designed for one 30-minute lesson a day.  By going over all the lessons in one day, you prevent reinforcement of material over a period of days, which is essential for retention over the long term.  The two treatment options for Pimsleur Overdose Syndrome are 1) slow down the learning process and 2) review older material.


I hope these three unofficial tips have been helpful to you.  Remember:  1) stop the tape  2) create mnemonics, and 3) don’t overdose.  Good luck on your linguistic journey!

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