Back when I first started learning Japanese, I stumbled upon the Pimsleur language learning materials. I’ll always be grateful for the solid foundation I received from them, and that’s why today I’m doing a Pimsleur Japanese review.
Originally when I took the course, there were only 3 levels with 30 lessons per level, for a total of 90 lessons. However, nowadays there are a total of 5 Japanese levels and 150 lessons.
That means that there is new information in the overall course, but the format and language learning philosophies have remained constant.
I recently signed up to their website for a free trial to see how they are utilizing today’s technology to deliver their content, so you will see screenshots of it throughout this post.
Language Learning Philosophy
The Japanese course is built around the language learning philosophies of the late Dr. Paul Pimsleur. This is also where the name “Pimsleur” comes from.
I’ve bolded several of these philosophies that are explained in the handbooks that you can download off their website, and also embedded within the structure of each lesson.
The first one is conversations with native speakers. All of the courses are audio-based and center around a conversation between two people entirely in Japanese.
The lesson then takes time to break down each word and grammar point, along with any pertinent cultural information so that you can understand exactly what was said.
By the end of each lesson, you should be able to fully comprehend the native conversation.
This brings us to the next point: respond aloud when the tutor instructs you to.
As you go through each lesson, the tutor will ask you to answer questions like “how do you say ‘understand’ in Japanese?” and you are expected to actively participate by trying to say the correct word out loud.
Thankfully you don’t need to get everything right, as the quest for perfection is actually detrimental when you are in the beginner or intermediate stages of learning a language. Instead, your goal is to keep moving forward as long as you can understand 80% or more of the material.
If you can’t, then all you need to do is repeat the lesson a second time. This can be on the same day, or the following day as long as you do one lesson per day and get continual exposure to the new language.
This is a pretty easy thing to do since each lesson is approximately 30 minutes long which is based on the optimal time for concentrated learning tasks.
Since these are intended to be self-instructional materials, you can do them whenever you have some time alone such as at home after work, at the gym exercising, or in the car driving.
Finally, don’t take notes! The reason is to keep your mind engaged in the present conversation and on recalling the information from a speaking-perspective.
It also helps avoid bad pronunciation, since you won’t be relying on the English alphabet in your notes for speaking the Japanese language.
Dr. Pimsleur’s Unique Methods
Dr. Pimsleur invented his own unique method for teaching and learning a new language. It is aptly called “The Pimsleur Method” and has some unique elements to it that set it apart from other learning methodologies.
The first one is the “Principle of Anticipation.” This is based on the fact that our brains are pattern-seeking and pattern-recognizing mechanisms.
If I were to ask you to fill in the blanks, I’m sure you would have no problem:
“The apple doesn’t ____ far from the ____.”
In this case, you probably guessed “fall” for the first blank and “tree” for the second, both of which are correct.
The reason why most English natives find this exercise easy is because we’ve heard that saying so often, we don’t need to hear all of it to know what comes next.
This is actually how language works on a much grander scheme. If you know the right patterns, then you can correctly anticipate which word should come next.
The Pimsleur courses are designed in a unique way to stimulate this part of your brain while learning, so that the questions they ask you during the lesson allow you to naturally anticipate which word should be used.
Having used it myself, I can say that it’s super cool and a little bit scary how well it works.
The second element of The Pimsleur Method is a scientific principle of memory training that he called “Graduated Interval Recall.”
Most people know this as “Space Repetition System (SRS)” but the basic explanation of it is that your brain naturally forgets information that it doesn’t re-encounter soon enough.
However, if it does run into the new information again before it forgets, then it actually prolongs the memory time frame for an even greater length.
That means that you can strategically review old information at the optimal time so that you never forget it with minimal time spent.
Information In The Course
The course primarily focuses on teaching people conversational Japanese. The very first lesson assumes that you are brand new to the language, so it slowly introduces each aspect of the language such as the unique grammar, word order, etc.
If you log into the web-based portal or use it through the smartphone app, then you can actually see the written Japanese on things like flash cards and vocabulary sections.
This is nice as it allows you to practice a little bit of reading as well, but the main skills that are used in the course are listening and speaking.
The topics for the lessons are actually pretty varied across all 5 levels and some of the more common situations that you might find yourself in are ones like:
- Visiting Japan on vacation
- Business conversations
- Talking about hobbies
- Asking about someone’s family members
- Ordering drinks and food
And a lot more beyond just those. In addition to the different topics, the course also talks about levels of formality a lot and the different words, or different forms of words, that are appropriate during each situation.
My Personal Thoughts
I think this course is actually a fantastic way to begin learning Japanese. Perhaps I’m biased because it’s what I used, but I feel that their method of teaching you conversational language is incredible for motivation since it allows you to actually talk to natives right away.
That being said, most people will probably want to use it consistently for a month or two before actually holding a 15-minute conversation. The reason I say this is because it takes a little while to build up a big enough vocabulary to have a nice talk.
Since this course doesn’t rely on learning how to read Japanese, it’s not really the best option for people whose goal is to be able to read Japanese novels or manga.
But if you are planning on traveling to Japan within the next 1-5 months, then this course could be a nice fit since it’s just one 30-minute lesson per day for 150 days (assuming you have all 5 levels).
I also found their teaching method to be pretty intuitive and I didn’t feel like I had to strain myself to remember the words.
Instead, it all felt pretty natural when recalling the Japanese phrases needed to have a natural conversation.
Where To Try It
So that’s the basic explanation of Pimsleur Japanese, along with my personal experience and opinion on it.
There are a lot of ways that you can get a hold of this course, but in order to get access to their most updated materials and technologies, I think going directly to their website it the best option.
If you’ve tried them out in the past and would like to add your own thoughts to this post, then please feel free to do so by leaving a comment in the section down below.
Or if you had a specific question about anything that I talked about, I’d be happy to address those as well. Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: