Monthly Archives: October 2013

How to Learn a Foreign Language by Paul Pimsleur

For me, this is the perfect book on learning a new language.

How to Learn a Foreign Language hardcover by Paul Pimsleur

How to Learn a Foreign Language Hardcover

It is all the things most language–learning tools are not. It’s direct, full of useful pearls of wisdom that can be easily incorporated into one’s day-to-day study of a new language. It’s clear and well-written — and nowhere does “academic speak” sneak in to the text. Most importantly, in the book Paul Pimsleur gives it to you straight: in this 30-year-old time machine we get what is still contemporary wisdom, straight from the professor’s pen.

Paul Pimsleur’s theories, as expressed in How to Learn a Foreign Language, are deceptively simple. In his own teaching, Dr. Pimsleur saw students repeatedly failing and being turned off of what to him was the most exciting challenge in the world: learning a new language. From his research he came up with Guidelines to put back the excitement and fun in language learning.

The book speaks equally to the different kinds of would-be language learners –– from those who thought themselves scarred for life by High School Spanish Hell to the more confident learners who want to approach the full range of different languages. You’ll be surprised at the Foreign Service Institute’s grouping of “easy” to “hard” languages: what language ranks where isn’t entirely obvious.

Paul Pimsleur was very direct in his advice on what to look for in a teacher: from when the classroom experience is not going to help you learn and when it is, to when you’re within your rights to object to your time being wasted by methods that aren’t going to teach you anything.

A lot of what I’ve come to know as the Pimsleur Method is developed from the ground up in this book.

As Pimsleur walks you step-by-step through his straightforward advice on how to learn a language, he sets out the principles of The Pimsleur Method, answering many of the questions I’ve had about the reasoning behind the program. By the end of this short book, you’ve gotten the benefit of his years of experience and the results of his research that lead to defining the behaviors proven to result in your learning a new language more easily.

It’s a book that could enhance the experience of any language program – whether classroom, purely independent study, Pimsleur, or (gasp) Rosetta Stone. Much of the book discusses how to choose the language you should study, based on your need/desire, but also on degree of difficulty and the range of usefulness, and then how you might go about building a study plan that fits your particular learning style.

Little Pim logoI’m lucky to be in frequent contact with Dr. Pimsleur’s wife, Beverly, and his daughter Julia (whose company Little Pim is churning out future Big Pim customers), each of whom cheers us on in spreading the word about Pimsleur. As importantly, they each keep Paul Pimsleur from becoming a lifeless statue, constantly providing insights and anecdotes that enable us to think of him as present in our daily business.

Dr. Paul Pimsleur was always in the forefront: in the 1960’s he was responsible for developing the first computerized language laboratory at Ohio State University where he set up a venture with Ohio Bell Telephone Company that enabled students to learn at their own pace, dialing in directly to hear pre-programmed tapes. I can’t help but think he’d admire the revolutionary Course Manager App we’ve developed. And he’d be inordinately pleased with the 50 languages we now offer.

Once you start reading How to Learn a Foreign Language, you’ll find it hard to put down. And you’ll remember what you read. Paul Pimsleur’s wisdom is as valuable today as it was when this book was originally published in 1980.

Pimsleur App: 50 years old, offering 50 languages — and now a “Killer App.”

I’ve always dreamed of being within a mile of a Killer App.  Merriam-Webster defines one as “a computer application of such great value or popularity that it assures the success of the technology with which it is associated.”  In fact, my Facebook membership dates to August 6, 2007 when I got it into my head that I could invent a Killer App for SparkNotes (where I then worked), just by a little osmosis and a lot of hutzpuh.  No such luck.

Years later, our Killer App, better known as the Pimsleur Course Manager (Pimsleur App), is now responsible for moving the digital courses from our website to your phone, tablet, or desktop, without your having to look under the hood and locate where the downloaded MP3 audio files have been hidden.


All you have to do is follow the link for your free Course Manager App of choice:  iTunes for all the Apple mobile devices, the Google Play store for Android, and then two desktop versions –one for PC’s and and one for MAC.  Activate the Pimsleur App, then log in using your email address and password.

Pimsleur App Homescreen

Pimsleur Course Manager Homescreen

It’s at this point the miracle happens (ok, it’s just another cool use of WIFI):  the App’s Library fills up with a list of the Course(s) you have purchased on, and when you touch the appropriate icon the app begins to import your Course(s), allowing you to determine the amount of  download– from all at once, to lesson by lesson, depending on how much available space you have.

Once the Pimsleur App has you squared away with your course, it ceases to be a download manager and becomes the perfect companion for learning with Pimsleur.  Basically it lets you focus solely on the content of the lessons, proceeding daily through each half-hour session, remembering where you left off if you take a break.  The Pimsleur App makes the courses truly Pimsleur-Portable.

Pimsleur Course Library

Pimsleur Course Library Screen

The Pimsleur’s Course Manager App operates on the same principle as the Nook for i/Phone, or the Kindle for i/Phone apps.  Nook Icon kindle iconEach is free, and only requires you to log in with your Web ID and password, displaying your library of digital books and then letting you read a book in the same environment as the full blown Kindle or Nook.

For me the “Killer” aspect of the Pimsleur App is the perfect marriage between how we recommend you do a Pimsleur course and how the App effortlessly walks you through the daily application of the lessons and readings.  Pimsleur is a linear program and with the Pimsleur App you spend your time learning, not trying to remember what lesson you are on and where it’s stored.

This simple, free shell of an App that takes 120 half-hour lessons of Spanish (and/or lessons from 49 other languages) and delivers them up one-by-one, keeping  your place no matter where you leave off,  magnifies the effects of the Pimsleur Method by letting you focus on your accent and not your hard drive.