Wednesday, June 14, 2006

REVIEW: Learn Language from a CD

Chinese On The Move
Dr. Blair's Chinese in No Time; Language Learning Comes to Life
Instant Immersion Mandarin Chinese
Beginning Mandarin: The Pimsleur Method

So I've been doing Pimsleur Mandarin now for a few months, on and off. When arrancia asked me for a recommendation, told her to check out Pimsleur from the library. The CDs are available for purchase at Barnes & Noble, but they go from Lessons 1-10, 1-18..., and that's it. So what if you want Lesson 19? Either you pirate them off the internet, or you borrow them from the library.

Anyway, arrancia is going to Costa Rica in a few days, so she wanted to crash into some Spanish before her trip. I heartily recommend Spanish in 10 Minutes a Day, from Bilingual Books (based in Seattle). As a more serious textbook, she also picked up Ultimate Spanish, which she read to me over the phone, and it didn't sound too awful. It sounded like it had a variety of exercises, including discrete item, transformation, and open-ended. Some teach-yourself books are limited to translation; translation is a different set of skills from learning to speak, and it's much harder.

So our friend arrancia couldn't find the Pimsleur CDs, so she asked me if I could recommend any of the other audio based programs. Well, today I downloaded three different audio programs from the county library, and I have to tell you that my answer is NO, I do not recommend any other audio program. Here's why:

Chinese on the Move. Too much talking. Too much entertaining. Too much explaining. Too much trying to be your pal. I listened to the entire first lesson and got so irritated I had to shut it off. There was way more English than Chinese, and a very unsophisticated approach to linguistic input: random vocabulary items, zero integration. It's the audio version of the stupid vocabulary list. You ever wonder why it was so hard to memorize stupid vocabulary lists in high school? Because memorization of lists is not language learning. When you were learning your first language, no one ever gave you a list.

In addition, every topic is punctuated with eight beats of music, guaranteed to break your concentration.

Dr. Blair's Chinese in No Time. Way too much talking, way too much explaining. Dr. Blair has a belabored imaginary situation with pirates, hostages, militias, etc. They are trying way way way to hard. Dr. Blair also presents input without integration, with some interesting twists: he gives English mnemonics, he has a bunch of gringos in the studio to make you feel like you're in a class, he asks you to repeat each maddening lesson at least three times. No likey. They also give you a list to memorize, they even say it: Now memorize this list. Sigh.

Instant Immersion Chinese. Over pronouncing. Too much explaining. The narrator has an annoying voice. She does an HOUR of over pronounced tones. End of review.

So I can only recommend Pimsleur. Pimsleur has keeps explaining to a bare minimum, doesn't have any distracting music, the over pronouncing is not too obnoxious. More importantly, every single item of linguistic input that is introduced is integrated into the program. I don't have to know the seven ways to say "My name is JP." I can read that in a book or figure it out in the wild. Instead of teaching me words like 'helicopter pilot' and 'pirate.'

My initial criticism of Pimsleur had been that it was based on translation, and that it was more of a memory program than a language one. However, the Pimsleur program is light years ahead of this other crap. I feel like the Pimsleur program is the only program with some theory behind it. Dr. Blair? Honestly, I wonder if he's ever tried learning from one of his own programs.

1 comment:

Christine said...

SOOOO, i talked directly to a librarian today, and found out our city library (the winner of the ALA's library of the year award, no less!) has Pimsleur available ONLINE for DOWNLOAD (in multiple languages), and it just expires on your computer after a few weeks - so it's not pirated!

i haven't tried downloading it yet (it's literally new this week), but am planning to try tomorrow. don't know if it's only available for salt lake library card holders or what... but it's very exciting! will let you know.