What is Pimsleur?
Pimsleur is an audio program for teaching languages that was developed in the 1970s. They used spaced repetition to teach you languages. It’s a fairly effective approach.
Why use Pimsleur?
It seemed to be the best audio program available at my library. It focuses on listening and speaking and it can help build a foundation.
How I used it
Once I had the Pimseleur, I began to listen, mostly in my car. On longer drives, I had some time to work on it. The first lesson seemed easy to jump into. Words and phrases are said and you repeat them. Some seemed easy to grasp, others tended to be harder.
The Pimsleur course suggests repeating lessons until you get about 80%. I ended up repeating the lessons many times. The first few times, I would often make many mistakes. Eventually the lesson would become more comfortable. Overall, I probably listened to the first 10 lessons about four times each and later lessons that were more difficult more like 5 or 6 times.
When things were more comfortable, I could start fine tuning things more. My pronunciation of a certain words was not quite right or the tone was off with that word, etc.
One thing that began to help a lot with learning Chinese was building a foundation. If I could connect a certain word to another word, things started to make a lot more sense. Sometimes it seemed like my mind started forming these connections a bit randomly, my subconscious pieced things together. The connections could be strange even.
英文， Yīngwén (English language) sounded kind of like ‘onion’ the first time I heard it.
飞机 Fēijī (airplane) had a similar sound (in my head) to Flugzeug, the word for airplane in German.
The color white, 白 Bái, is used for the alcoholic drink baijiu, which is a clear ‘white’ drink.
Sometimes the connections were strange, other times seeing part of another word in a different place helped.
Starting by hearing something that sounded like ‘onion’ for the English language, I slowly started pronouncing it more correctly. Having a rough, but memorable, starting place was helpful and then there was gradual improvement.
And as I started to learn more about Chinese, I started seeing patterns and other elements that were actually simple. The verbs didn’t require conjugation. In German the verbs are somewhat simple compared to Spanish, in Chinese they are more simple. Another thing was that adding a suffix to certain words made them similar but slightly different.
Overall, Pimsleur does a pretty good job of making things approachable and helping build a foundation that you can expand. It seems to have been made with an American man with a family going to China on business as the audience, which is not a bad thing but may or may not apply to your situation. Many words that are taught are important regardless of your specific situation.
I like the idea of focusing on listening and speaking early on, especially because writing in Chinese is quite complicated.
When I began using Pimsleur, I didn’t know about many other resources, but it seemed like a good one to focus on for a while. Sticking with a program that is fairly comprehensive can help you move forward with Chinese in a consistent way. Everything builds in the program. That can cut back on frustration that might result if you go between many different sets of materials.
Slowly, with quite a bit of repetition, most of level 1 Mandarin from Pimsleur became comfortable. I could say a few things and was beginning to understood more. Most importantly I developed a foundation which I could begin to expand with other resources.