I LOVE PIMSLEUR!!!
My tutor’s suggestion to buy Pimsleur was a godsend!
I’d studied six languages before studying Chinese without a problem–it only took me three months to become conversant in French–so I knew how to learn a language. I knew I was good at learning languages. But Chinese! CHINESE!!! Chinese was killing me! I was beginning to lose confidence in myself. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t remember any of the words I was learning. I listened to CDs for hours, bought all sorts of books, practiced with my two language exchange partners. But every week, the same thing would happen in class: the teacher would ask, “Did you study?” My partners would say, “You’ve got to study more.” They didn’t believe I was really trying. All my friends were frustrated with me, and I was wondering what was wrong with me.
Of course, I did know that part of the problem was that I couldn’t read; I’d learned the other languages by reading interesting novels. But, I didn’t have time to learn how to read. I needed to speak, right away! So, I was slogging through PinYin and CDs that made me fall asleep or spoke so quickly that I could never quite keep up. Watching kung fu movies helped a bit, but it still wasn’t enough. And really, how much vocab from a kungfu movie can you use on a regular basis?
Anyway, I got the Pimsleur CDs and started listening. My tutor noticed a difference in my fluency within two days. My vocab retention increased tremendously because of the repetition incorporated into the tape. Plus, they use a systematic breakdown method for the more difficult words/phrases in which they say the word/phrase backwards, part by part, and then two parts at a time, so you get physically used to positioning your mouth before you say the whole thing properly. Each new lesson builds on the previous one, with the timing of the repetions being lengthened so that you are encourage to store it in your long-term memory. Plus, it encourages a natural learning of the phrases by teaching the words in context, and using the same word in different contexts so you can see how just a few key words can be put together to make numerous useful phrases. I especially like that it doesn’t make you wait to learn past tense and adverbs until the end. And I always get complimented on my tones.
As for the downsides to Pimsleur, yes, it is basic. So, if you’ve already studied Chinese for a year, or intensively for a semester at a university, you probably don’t need it because you already know all the vocabulary. However, if you haven’t studied much Chinese, or you’ve studied, but don’t feel comfortable listening or speaking, then Pimsleur is a great buy. Don’t worry about the Beijing accent or mainland-specific vocab. That will be easy enough to sort out during your first three months in Taiwan.
Basically, Pimsleur helped me reach that “critical mass” level at which I have enough of a foundation in Chinese to learn (or at least understand) new words quickly–because I have a knowledge base to stick/relate them to.