How would you like to learn conversational Japanese in just 30 minutes a day?
That is the premise of the audio Japanese course taught by the company Simon & Schuster, Inc using The Pimsleur Method.
A lot of people don’t know about Pimsleur language courses, but they really should since there is a lot a value that you can get through using their courses. Simply put, they work.
I’ve used Pimsleur’s Japanese courses 1-3 in the past, and so I thought that I would write a Pimsleur Japanese Review on them so that you can learn what it’s all about from someone who’s already gone through it.
I must say though, that they currently have a level 4 & 5 that I have not tried out. It must have come out after I had already gone through the course myself.
So I don’t know what those particular ones are like, but based off of my experience with levels 1-3, I imagine that they are more dialog, vocabulary and such, albeit at a higher difficulty level.
And let just me say that this is only my personal experience with using it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that what I write comes from the Heavens, but rather this is just what I think about it
That being said, let’s start at the beginning!
What Does Pimsleur Mean?
Pimsleur is actually the last name of the late Dr. Paul Pimsleur who invented the language learning method that this course uses.
He was an incredibly intelligent guy who studied things such as applied linguistics, psychological statistics, and language acquisition.
One of the things that he focused on was organic learning, which is the way that children learn their first language.
“Learn the way kids do” is the big Rosetta Stone pitch, but Dr. Pimsleur didn’t stop there.
Using that knowledge, he figured out what materials to use to help people learn a second language in such a way as to harness the natural language learning power of the human brain.
Personally, I think this is really cool since anyone who is reading this review already knows English and would be learning Japanese as a second (or third?) language and not as their first language.
I don’t want to dig too much on some of the more popular approaches here, but why learn like a kid when you’re not a kid, right? Isn’t it true that adults are much smarter than kids and just might be able to use their more powerful brains to learn Japanese faster?
Just a thought.
What Do You Learn?
Each level of the course consists of 30 lessons that are each 30 minutes long. So add that all up and there are a total of 15 hours worth of material per level.
It starts off really basic with some phrases like “I understand a little Japanese” and some other common greetings.
Then towards the later levels you will begin learning how to talk about your family members, your hobbies, your work, and other daily stuff like that.
I believe that you get some notes along with the course, but for the most part it is a completely audio course. So you will learn how to listen to Japanese and how to speak Japanese, but not how to read Japanese.
As for the Japanese itself, it’s all in the polite -mass form except in the higher levels there are a few things that you learn the casual form for.
What this basically means is that this course is good for people who are actually going to go to Japan and interact with Japanese people (ahh, crazy I know!), but if you want to read Japanese manga, watch Japanese anime, or play Japanese video games, then you’re outta’ luck.
Also, I would say that there is not a lot of material that you learn per lesson.
This is partly to help you to really nail down some core vocabulary (which is awesome for beginners!) but they never really get away from that model of learning, even at the higher levels of the course.
To sum it up: you will only be able to say a few things in Japanese, but you will definitely be able to say them very well! When it comes to speaking Japanese, confidence is key.
How Do You Learn?
When it comes to their method of teaching, they do a couple of really cool things:
(1) They nail pronunciation. Learning how to correctly pronounce Japanese right at the beginning is rarely talked about, but is actually a very important aspect.
Put simply, if you learn the right way to pronounce the words of the language, you will have a much easier time understanding people when they talk at a normal conversational pace.
“Normal conversational pace” seems like “light speed” when you are just starting out!
How do they teach pronunciation? Well it’s actually really interesting because I’ve never seen anyone else use their methodology.
Learn new words by saying the last syllables first.
Here is an example. Let’s say that you want to learn how to say the Japanese word for “good morning.” Pimsleur Japanese would have you say:
Most other courses would just say the whole word from ‘beginning to end’ and have you follow along as best as you could. Which sounds easy, but it’s actually quite hard when you’re not that familiar with Japanese.
This “saying the end, first” method does make everything take longer, but you end up nailing the correctly pronunciation and the new Japanese word becomes a part of your muscle memory. Very nice!
(2) They use SRS. This means “Spaced Repetition System” (although they actually call it “Graduated Interval Recall” in their program, but it’s the same thing). This is a method that has become more popular lately, but not universal. You’d be hard pressed to find it used in a traditional school’s program.
It works like this: you learn new vocabulary and review it that same day. Then you review it again the next day. Then a few more days (lessons) pass and it “pops up” again. Finally a few weeks or so pass before you hear and repeat it again.
So rather than reviewing the same words every single day, you review them a lot right at first, and then less and less often as the word becomes a part of your long-term memory.
The great part about it is that there is a lot of science that supports the effectiveness of SRS and Pimsleur has worked it into their program so you don’t have to do anything special. Just follow the program and you’ll encounter it naturally.
(3) They use guessing/anticipation. This is also something that I rarely (if ever) see in other programs. How it works is that they teach you some words:
- I eat = tabemasu
- I drink = nomimasu
And then at a certain point they teach you a new grammatical form of a word that you already know.
- I ate = tabemashita
And then they ask you “can you guess what the past tense word for ‘I drink’ is?” And chances are actually pretty high that you will nail it without even thinking.
- I drank = nomimashita
It’s not something you hear about a lot, but people’s brains are actually setup to look for and find patterns all the time. This is especially true when it comes to the grammar of a language.
So your brain saw that changing “masu” to “mashita” is how you go from present tense, to past tense in Japanese. And it then said “okay, that’s how it is for everything!” and you nailed it when you had to guess.
When you spend a certain amount of time learning and using a language, you kind of unconsciously pick up the rules of its grammar, and then when you are asked to guess a new word or something, you often times get it right!
Not the easiest thing to explain in words, but when you do it in the course a few times, it feels pretty dang cool! ƪ(˘⌣˘)ʃ
But What I Don’t Like About It Is…
The huge price!
This course will easily run you hundreds and hundreds of dollars to buy it! I think you spend almost half a grand if you buy the completely package of levels 1-5.
That is a lot of money, and I can totally understand why a lot of people decide not to pay it. But don’t worry, I’m going to tell you how to get the basic Pimsleur Japanese stuff at a much lower price that you definitely can afford.
Some other people also complain about the small vocabulary contained in the course, but I think they miss the main point of Pimsleur. It’s not to fill your head with thousands of words, but rather to build a framwork in your mind that allows you to converse with natives easily.
You can always study additional vocabulary on your own, and then combine it with the speaking abilities that Pimsleur grants you.
You’re only going to reach a conversational fluency level at best, but I would imagine that most people would be thrilled to hit that level.
So What Can You Do?
Personally, I feel that there is a nice solution to the money dilemma I mentioned earlier.
How can you use Pimsleur Japanese and their awesome methods that actually do work pretty fricken’ well, but not go broke buying a course that will only let you have some nice conversations with Japanese people?
Only buy the basic course!
They sell the first 10 lessons of level 1 as a “basic course” for less than $20.
In my opinion, THAT IS A DEAL!!!
This will help you to get perfect (or at least near perfect) pronunciation, and also learn some very basic greetings, all for a very reasonable price.
They’ve also got what they call a “conversational” package for a little less than $40, but it’s only lessons 1-15 of level 1.
What I would recommend is that if you are brand new to Japanese, or if you’re not sure that you are pronouncing the words correctly, that you pick up a copy of the basic or conversational course and use it as a great way to get started.
But I can’t honestly say that the full Pimsleur Japanese courses are a good buy if you want to do any of the following:
- Learn to read (for manga)
- Learn casual Japanese (for anime)
In my experience, there is just not enough material for these areas of learning Japanese.
Again, I love the Pimsleur Method! The way it teaches truly does work and Pimsluer Japanese is highly, highly, HIGHLY recommended when you are first starting out with learning Japanese!
So, that’s what I think about it. If you are interested in checking it out for yourself, then you can pick up a copy of any of the levels at Amazon.com
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this review! Have you used any Pimsleur courses before? What was your experience with it?
Or is there another course that you would recommend? Let me know with a comment below!