Now, I’ve gone on and on about Anki, but I’ve failed to spend as much time describing my first language-learning love, the Pimsleur audio-course. But I needn’t go into too much detail, as they both use similar methods to get you to remember stuff, namely spaced repetition. What this means in Pimsleur is that after you are first introduced to a new word or phrase, you are drilled on it, say, a few times in the first twenty seconds, then maybe once after a minute, five minutes, twenty minutes, and so on, so that the word is gradually tranferred from your short term to your long term memory. Anki uses the same principle, which is why my first thought when I began to use it was that it was like designing my own “Pimsleur”. There are some big differences, of course, some positive, some negative. A few of the positives:
Pimsleur works by audio, which is better if you’re trying to focus on speaking and listening instead of writing and reading. (I feel this is best when first starting to learn a language, but you may disagree.)
Anki always gives you the same old cards, but Pimsleur is constantly mixing up old vocabulary with new so you’re always producing new sentences.
Pimsleur begins with simpler, usually “core vocabulary” words and grammar and gradually builds up to more complex sentences. Anki will only work like this if you’re very smart and design your own course in this manner, gradually inputting more and more complex cards, which is impossible since you don’t know the language yet. (Alternatively, you could get someone else to design it.)
And some negatives:
Expen$ive! A single course can set you back hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Alternatively, you could borrow it from you local library for free or obtain it by more illicit means.
The course seems designed more for business people and diplomats (and tourists, for that matter) than just average shmoes like me. Of course, a lot of the language is the same, but there’s a bunch of vocabulary that I don’t care to learn right away, though I’m sure I would if I were some globe-hopping government dignitary/corporate executive.
Similarly, you don’t get to personalize what you learn as you can with Anki.
In the end, I’m not really sure why I’m framing this as a comparison between Pimsleur and Anki, since they’re not mutually exclusive alternatives, but both valuable components to your language learning.
I would begin learning a language using Pimsleur (if available), using Anki intermittently as you encounter specific vocabulary you want or need to know, and then when you’re done with Pimsleur, continue with Anki using, in addition, a frequency list (if available) to make the most of your vocabulary building energies.
So far I’ve gone through Pimsleur Portuguese and Russian, each with 90 half-hour lessons, and today I finished the 100th (and last) lesson of Pimsleur German! Every 30 lessons are grouped together (e.g., Russian I is lessons 1-30, Russian II lessons 31-60, etc.) until 90. Then, for some languages, there is a “bonus” pack of ten lessons. For German, this was called German Plus. For some reason, all the vocabulary was based around the publishing industry. I don’t know why they do this instead of continuing to introduce vocabulary of general use. I learned the words for “publishing”, “audiobook”, “editor”, “author”, “publishing house”, “bookstore”, “bookseller”, “bestseller”, and so on. This is kind of bizarre. I don’t know if this is also the case for other Plus packs, but I suspect it is. When you’ve done as much Pimsleur as I have, you start seeing the patterns. For some reason, you always learn the words for “engineer” (before all other jobs, I think), “tennis” and “golf” but so far not any other sports, and so on. Are most people going to foreign countries engineers who play golf? I don’t get it.
Overall, though, Pimsleur is as good a way to begin learning a language as any I’ve come across. And mostly on the basis of Pimsleur and my Yiddish, I can have a pretty decent conversation in German. By the way, I’m on lesson 12 of Spanish III (that is, the 72nd lesson). I listen to these on my Ipod as I go about my life doing various things, and also to Podcasts I’ll talk about some other time. And as long as we’re keeping track, I just got through the first 1350 words on my Russian frequency list.
What do you guys think? Anyone ever try Pimsleur? Or find something better?