Tag Archives: language learning

More Language Learning Resources Than Would Have Filled a Tower of Babel Library

Ellen Jovin is my hero.  And that would include being just a little crazy in her absolute devotion to Language Learning Resources Tower of Babelthe study of language as it relates to her Sisyphean project: Words & Worlds of New  York:  Four Years, Seventeen  Languages, One Devoted Language Lover.”    Think Julie & Julia, only substitute  “Poulet au Porto” conquered in one day, with Mandarin Chinese which Ellen began last November and still has on the front burner in April.

[In the full disclosure department, Ellen is a huge fan of Pimsleur, rates us very highly, and we quote her cogent argument for “Why Pimsleur vs. Rosetta Stone” on our site.  No kickbacks, just mutual admiration.]

A totally different dimension was added to Ellen’s site this month, a
Language Learning Resources Review section, “a survey of language-learning tools for the do-it  yourselfer” that cross-references all of the various resources that Ellen explored in learning each of the languages on her journey.  They range from the obvious courses, Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, to grammar books and verb-conjugation charts, flash cards, and other media including audio and video resources, and extend to places (shops, museums, markets) she has visited, and to language-packed annual events like Brazilian Day or Steuben Day in New York.

The entries in the Language Learning Resources Review section have the same direct, honest point of view as the Jovin Blog.  This comes from the fact that she’s reporting back personally on each of these resources that she came across.  Some she used, some she rejected, but all are evaluated from the point of view of someone looking for ancillary materials to use in her study of a given language.

I love that many of the photos of the books she uses are not bright and shiny new copies, but the Language Learning Resources Frenchused books she picked up somewhere along the way, yet another way the emphasis is on the usefulness of what she’ s reviewing vs. its marketing budget.

I beg to differ with her comment about Complete French Grammar,  where she says:  “The vocabulary is oddly advanced throughout the book, and a little insecurity-causing … I was told how to say  ‘to caramelize’ (caraméliser), ‘to grind’ (broyer), ‘to braise’ (braiser), ‘to scale fish’ (écailler).   That’s a little too much even for an intermediate student.”   We bought our twin nephews a caramelizing blow torch, and taught them the vocabulary before they could say Bon Appétit.   Of course it now occurs to me that pompiers, extincteur, and amiante might have been added to the list of precocious kitchen vocabulary.  (firemen, extinguisher, and asbestos)

The Language Learning Resources Review is packed with study aids.  I think my favorite is the Mandarin Tone Quiz from About.com of all places.   The differentiation of tones in Mandarin has been what has scared me away from trying to learn Chinese, but if this handy dandy quiz makes a dent in that fear, I may have to think again.

The strengths of Ellen’s Language Learning Resources Review site are, of necessity, its weaknesses on the one hand  — the entries are all over the place, which is great on the other hand casting such a  wide net pulls in some really creative language learning tools many of which you can access for free or little money.  But I did find myself scrolling past entries in Spanish which seemed less useful on the surface.  All of this is likely to be ironed out soon as she is constantly refining the entries and the organization and the  links between them.

ellenThe Librarian of Babel:  It boggles the mind to think that this one woman, albeit a graduate in German from Harvard, who so loves language, could amass this encyclopedic, useful, smart, and, original survey of otherwise hard to find language–learning tools in such a short time, while working at it solo.

Language Learning: Tutore, Traditore

Tutore, Traditore

Recently I found myself with a couple of hours to kill downtown, so I did what I’ve always done with free time:  made a bee-line for a bookstore.  In this case, the Barnes & Noble multiplex on Union Square in Manhattan.  After some serious browsing, the dizzying feeling of so Language Learning - Barnes & Noblemany books and too little time set in and I found myself in the store’s café that must seat 100 people, but is nonetheless always full.

I begged the second seat at a table with a guy who had a stack of very thick economics books in front of him and quietly concentrated on my soup.

Ten minutes into the soup, a pattern began to emerge in the conversations around me.  It seemed as though fully half of the tables were occupied by language Tutors and their students.  Many of them were American guys teaching the English language to women from other countries.

Filtering out as much of the general noise as I could, the typical tutor/student dialogue emerged:

“Now give me an example of a gerund with that same root.”

“Can you think of an adjective that would fit in that sentence?”

“Which word is the adverb in the sentence I’m about to say?”

                What I did not hear were the responses, as the questions were designed to elicit monosyllabic replies from the students, not actual spoken English.  The sessions over, tutor and student would rise, shake hands, the student would leave and the teacher would resume his seat quickly before someone got the mistaken idea that he was leaving.

After a few of these sessions, the penny dropped.  This was what we are always trying to explain about language learning with Pimsleur.  Here was 30 minutes of halting exchange where way too much time was spent on “meta-language,” labeling each part of speech, learning grammar as if it came first and not the spoken language it attempts to describe.  In a Pimsleur lesson you are listening to the new language being spoken, or you yourself are speaking it aloud for some 80% of a half-hour lesson.

In order to lay the groundwork for your being able to take what you learn and add in new vocabulary when you are out in the real world,   Pimsleur teaches what are called “structures” in each lesson. They are not labeled as such, and you don’t know you are learning them until you begin to use them in conversation.Language Learning - English Grammar

I must admit to getting a kick out of diagramming sentences in Ms. Staats seventh Grade English Class – what Virgo wouldn’t?  For me, however, actually speaking another  language – Spanish daily, with the Abuelas in my apartment building, French while haggling with rug merchants in Morocco, or Italian first learned because I had a huge crush on a certain Florentine native speaker– is the payoff.

These are the things that inspire me and which the Pimsleur Method™ with its combination of science and magic puts within reach of its learners in a way that no other language learning program does.

Language Learning - French Grammar

Note:    Tutore, Traditore, is a pun on an Italian pun.  The more familiar version is Traduttore, Traditore – which means Translator=Traitor, aka to translate is to be untrue, disloyal to the original text.  Tutore more precisely means “guardian” in Italian, but precettore would rob me of the alliteration.



Sputnik Spawns 50 Years of Pimsleur Language Programs

Pimsleur speaks, directly to its students, and for 50 years, a world of foreign language learners have not only listened, but spoken back.

In that way they have learned countless new languages, and Pimsleur has continued to develop and refine, program after language program,  so that we can now offer the Pimsleur  Method in 50 different  languages.


It’s fitting that a company with Pimsleur’s global perspective should have had its catalyst in the furor  over the launch of the Soviet Union’s Cпутникaka (Sputnik) satellite in the Fall of 1957.    Dr. Pimsleur, along with a number of other renowned linguists and experts in the field of language teaching were called to Washington, D.C.  in 1962  for a discussion on what  could be done  to improve foreign language  teaching in the States.  Math and Science were not the only areas that had been found wanting when the US education system was examined in the wake of Sputnik and the Soviets winning the race to space.

Dr. Pimsleur proposed to create a self-study audio language program based on his own classroom methodology and his experience with students at the Listening Lab, which he had created at Ohio State University.   In order to be able to judge the effectiveness of his approach he was asked to choose a language not familiar to most English speakers.   He chose Greek, which also had the advantage of a non-Romance alphabet.

Pimsleur and his wife Beverly, who served as his field researcher as he produced and recorded the course, went to Greece in March of 1962. They returned in August of that year, and the first Pimsleur Course, Speak & Read Essential Greek, A Tapeway Program,  was published in March of 1963.

We’ll delve further into Dr.  Pimsleur’s method and how it has been applied to develop Speak & Read Essential Greek, and the subsequent languages that were undertaken by Dr. Pimsleur:  French (1964), Spanish (1966),   German (1967),   and Twi (1971).  Then we’ll look at the Pimsleur Programs we produce today and how our pedagogy is rooted in the fundamentals set down by Dr. Pimsleur.

The idea behind Pimsleur Speaks  is to report on the state of language learning today – where technology is adding value, where it’s just window dressing,  who’s learning to speak a new language and why, what the global trends are–for example the overwhelming demand for English language education.  We also hope to bring news of exciting travel innovations and cultural news of interest to linguaphiles.

All this and an in-depth look at Pimsleur’s programs:  the history of the company and events we’re planning for the 50th. Anniversary year.  We’ll profile particular languages, with a focus on what our students have said about them, and other insular topics.

Stay tuned.