Pimsleur Challenge: Learn Mandarin Chinese In 10 Days

There's something nice about taking time away from the task at hand which helps us to get refocused on it once that break is over. Every time I put something out of mind for a short period of time, I find that my effectiveness is improved once I return to it.

I believe that taking those breaks gives you a chance to convert what you've learned from short-term memory to long-term memory. And this is why I have welcomed what seem to be "distractions", such as my week of Esperanto.

I have found, for example, that while I concentrate on Italian this year, my Russian has improved tremendously! Yes, of course I'm always still learning, but I think the biggest reason for the improvement is the fact that I'm not constantly cramming more and more new information into it. I've given my Russian brain almost a year to relax, and to behave like any brain would in Russian — learning casually, through normal daily use.

Yes, certainly you forget a few things when you take a break. But that's a necessary fact of life, and it's no different from what happens in your own native language.

And so, for that reason I am quite comfortable with taking breaks. And since I'm naturally curios and I want to know everything, I often use those breaks to get a look into other languages. Which brings me to the topic of Mandarin...

Speak Mandarin in just 10 days?

As this blog continues to grow, I get surprised constantly by the new things that come with that growth. Whether that's the emails from amazing people around the world thanking me for writing, or the guest posts I've been invited to write, or receiving free copies of language-related books and learning products.

Last week, I was contacted by a representative from The Pimsleur Approach (I will like to them exactly once here, and I am definitely not advertising nor promoting their products), who offered me a free copy of their language learning materials in the language of my chosing, in exchange for a review.

That's an easy deal for me to accept, because I already write about my opinion of various learning materials, so it's not doing anything I wouldn't already do. But before I agreed to this, I made sure the representative understood that I would write my honest opinion, good or bad.

And I must now admit that I actually have been expecting to hate this product. I've used Pimsleur materials in the past, including having tried some last year for Russian, and I was not satisfied. However, now that I have this product in my hands, I can see that it's not the same as what I tried previously, so I am feeling perhaps a bit more objective now.

Interestingly, I've discovered that Pimsleur Approach is not the same as Pimsleur, and is not in any way affiliated with Simon & Schuster. And so I'm initially inclined to think of that as misleading, even deceptive. I can't tell whether the product itself is related in any way to the products bearing the name "Pimsleur".

I suppose I'll know better once I press play and start using the materials. I guess it doesn't matter if they're related or not. All that really matters is whether or not the product actually helps you to learn a language.

It's a 10-day course on 5 CDs, each containing two 30-minute lessons, though the giant slogan "learn to speak in 10 days" from the web site is conspicuously missing from the actual product. With the exception of a small booklet of welcome text, the product is all audio. Therefore, my first impression is that this product completely fails anyone who has any reading and writing expectations when learning a language.

However, I knew from the start that this was an audio-only course, so I chose a language for which I felt that would not be a huge problem: Mandarin! Since there isn't a hint of phonetic help to be found in the Chinese writing system, I won't lose anything by learning only by audio. And later, I can learn the writing if I choose.

So that's the challenge, and that's the plan. Now, it's time for me to go listen to lesson 1 and learn some Mandarin. I'll write again at the end and let you all know how it went and what I think of the product. But I'll probably also leave some comments on Twitter, so follow me there to see my thoughts as I have them!


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Author: Yearlyglot
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  • You might want to do a search for pimlseurapproach.com. They don't seem to get very good marks, primarily because of their less-than-honest billing (something I've learned is called a "negative option" - meaning you initially pay the cheap 9.95 price for the intro lessons, then are automatically charged for their "Gold" plan).Not necessarily bad, if you know that going in and plan on studying the complete program, but it seems most people aren't aware of this and are duped into paying for the entire program.

  • pimsleurapproach.com website is the same as I've seen on several other sites that sell Pimsleur products. I think their point is more that the site itself (despite having Pimsleur in the name) isn't actually part of Simon and Schuster, but they do sell the standard Pimsleur products.Also, for what it 's worth, the style of the CDs they show on the front page look identical to the CDs that came with my Pimsleur Spanish Comprehensive 1-3 sets.

  • They also contacted me, but had clearly not read any recent posts on my blog where I discussed my Pimsleur experiment. It's an interesting PR move, and I know lots of bloggers will take them up on the offer.

  • Yeah, I remember reading something like that a while ago, but I wasn't sure. Anyway, I'm still going to give an honest and objective review of the product.

  • I absolutely agree with you on the taking-a-break part, I inadvertently did this with Spanish a couple of times and found that my ability to learn was MUCH better after I came back, in other words it has really been proven useful for breaking through the inevitable plateaus you'll run into, that's where the take-a-break-for-a-week-or-two technique really shines. This is especially true if you find yourself burning out and getting sick of the language, that's your brain telling you that you really need to chill out for a bit.Same thing goes for weightlifting, dieting, and just about anything else: you MUST take breaks every once and a while, if you don't it'll actually result in worse results than if you had, you'll regret it later. I've gotten to the point that I actually schedule breaks in my workout and diet routine (maybe a week off once every 3-4 months or so), I probably ought to do the same thing for my language-learning.Cheers,
    Andrew

  • Yeah, I was thinking about that, and I'm not sure what they're expecting. There were definitely no shortage of reminders in the email about what the URL is, so it's possible that they're just angling for some Google "link juice"... but I think it's more likely that they just want to make sure that they're getting the sales, rather than pimsleur.com.I don't know... I guess the only thing I care about is that I'm learning some Mandarin for free. :)

  • Interesting correlation.

  • I have tried Pimsleur a few times, ultimately I get bored with it very quickly but even the first few lessons do seem to stick something in your head. Should provide a good intro.In the long run Pimsleur is a spike, it builds along a path that works well if you get into a simple conversation with someone who sticks to the script. Also worth mentioning that in some places you can actually check Pimsleur courses out from libraries :)

  • Well, beyond the PR value of Pimsleur contacting you, I'm interested in what happens with your experiment. My feeling is that in 10 days you could certainly learn basic niceties, and a few phrases that would help you during a trip to China and Taiwan, but that real two-way communication is probably a bridge too far.That said, though, people often rate Mandarin as ridiculously hard because it's exotic. It's not easy by any means, but it's not nearly as hard as many folks make it out to be. I'd say if you made it a yearlyglot mission, you'd be reasonably comfortable in social situations by the end of the year.

  • The first lesson seemed to be a really drawn out way of learning a small amount... but that's probably to be expected with any new language. "Spike" is a great choice of words.

  • I don't really know what to expect after 10 days. The slogan on their web site is "speak Mandarin in just 10 days" or something like that, but it doesn't quantify what you shold expect to be able to say or understand in that time.Mandarin is a yearlyglot mission I'm not ready to consider, partly because I have other things that are closer to the front of my mind, but also largely because I don't know how I would manage the blogging aspect of a language in which a character = a word, and there is are no phonetic hints. On first consideration, it seems like I would have to make heavy use of video posts... or at least audio.I think that's the aspect of Mandarin that makes it "hard". There is really nothing at all to relate the words your hear and say to the characters you see and write. That's a huge disconnect... and it gives me a lot of reason to believe that I could one day become both fluent and illiterate in that language.

  • I tried out the 30-day Cantonese course quite a while ago when I was first getting into Cantonese, and I was a bit underwhelmed. I already spoke reasonably fluent Mandarin, though, so I was coming at Cantonese from a different direction than their average customer. Still, it was just painfully slow going, and taught a bunch of stuff that isn't useful to someone who is in the country long-term (I think those were also two of Benny's complaints). As a very basic introduction to the language, though, you could certainly do worse.it gives me a lot of reason to believe that I could one day become both fluent and illiterate in that languageOh, absolutely! I know a lot of people in Shanghai (both overseas-born Chinese, and foreigners that have lived here for a while) that are either fluent or at least really decent Mandarin speakers, but are more or less illiterate. I don't know how they do it (frustration at being illiterate is what drove me to learn to read in the first place), but plenty do.I think that characters are a big challenge, but also there's the total lack of cognate help (for English speakers, at least -- Koreans and Japanese have it a bit easier). You really have to learn the vocabulary for almost everything from scratch (save for a few dozen recently introduced things -- sofa, salad, coffee, etc. -- that are phonetic loans).It's a great language though. :)

  • Pinyin is the solution to all your phonetics issues. Makes Mandarin so much easier to learn, because then you only have to memorise the characters which is nowhere near as difficult as you might imagine or as people say.

  • Given that Chinese isn't really written in Pinyin, I wouldn't call that much of a solution.

  • Solution to phonetics issues. Plus typing uses pinyin with character matching (I believe).

  • It's true that learning to read/write Chinese is a huge amount of work and is not "phonetic" in the sense that, say, a language with an alphabet can be, but it's very wrong to say there's "nothing at all to relate the words your hear and say to the characters you see and write. " While there are no hard-and-fast or consistent rules, there are many characters with phonetic and/or meaning components. It takes a while to get acquainted with how the writing system works, and even then it takes an immense amount of time and effort, but the phonetic and meaning components of characters help a LOT in learning new characters.

  • Really a nice writing it is. I will frequently be visiting this expecting more writing on mandarin learning. It is truely well written and well organized.And anyone can learn mandarin with me.Good Luck to all.

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