mardi 2 novembre 2010

Dutch audio courses: Pimsleur and Michel Thomas

About a year ago I posted some thoughts on three weeks of Dutch that included comments on Pimsleur and Michel Thomas. As part of my renewed Dutch effort, I'm taking a second look at them. I'm about halfway through the courses, (13/30 for Pimsleur, 7/12 CDs for MT), averaging 2 MT lessons and 4 Pimsleur lessons per week.

Most of my complaints about these courses come from my experiences with the French versions back in Montreal. In both cases I was an intermediate student using these for review -- I had never actually used either of them for learning a language from scratch.

My previous study efforts had been with Assimil. I was doing fine with the passive wave, but was bogged down during the active wave. I had no motivation to shadow and couldn't keep on a schedule. My production skills stayed minimal. Because of this, I've decided that (for me, anyway), Assimil is a good source of content but insufficient for developing non-trivial speaking skills from scratch. (Again, my success with "New French with Ease" must be tempered with the amount of "background French" I had from my schooling, something I continue to underestimate.)

Pimsleur is disliked by many people, as evidenced by the long heated threads on HTLAL and even more recently Benny's recent review and comments. For once, I agree with most of his points. While I agree Pimsleur is too slow, too formal, and too English, I disagree with his claim it only teaches you to translate. For me, Pimsleur had a very specific role in my language learning. For all its faults, it got me to respond instinctively to small talk and in restaurants and shops. It worked for me for French, and I believe it's working again for Dutch.

The Pimsleur dialogs are still silly and sexist. Many of the dialogs sound like a lonely middle manager frantically trying to have an affair with a foreign colleague while on a business trip.

MT is a bit more complicated. The upside is the drills have a larger variety of sentence structures. The massive downside is the other students with their terrible pronunciation. They're always asking for confirmation from the instructor so their intonation is always a rising question tone. They make mistakes. Their pronunciation is not corrected, even consistent errors on simple sounds that exist in English. (Don't get me started on their butchering of the Dutch vowels...) An example: "alsjeblieft". The "sj" becomes a [ʃ], and the students can't hear it and the teacher doesn't correct them. The teacher doesn't explain any of the other Dutch consonants either, like the v/w/f mix. All in all I find them incredibly frustrating to listen to. In my opinion, the students should be replaced with a second native speaker. Finally, I dislike the stupid mnemonics and non-standard grammar terminology. I'm sure that some of these were designed to make the course more user friendly for first time language learners. However, I'm sure it alienates the subset of people who have the slightest clue as to what they're doing. (A much smaller market unfortunately.)

However, MT is not all negatives. I like the drills of slight changes to the example sentences to clearly show how the new pieces fit together. The gradually increasingly complex sentences do teach the grammar intuitively, something Assimil claims to do (but I think falls short).

I'm also finding it interesting to be doing two beginners courses which essentially teach the same materials. The MT course uses almost exclusively "je". It mentions "u", but it mostly teaches the informal language. (It justifies this by saying that, as a non-native speaker, you will never offend somebody by using "je" instead of "u".) Pimsleur is at the other end of the scale with no mention of "je" and more formal constructs. For the Dutch speakers, compare "Zou U iets willen eaten” vs “wil je iets eaten”, and “Ik zou iets willen drinken” vs. “Ik wil graag iets drinken”. The other differing translation I find interesting is Pimsleur translates "not now" as "niet nu", while MT uses "nu niet". I haven't looked into this more.

I'm not finding either of these courses particularly difficult. I'm not making enough mistakes to make me want to repeat any of the lessons. I'd say this is probably due to my earlier Assimil and other Input Only studies. One of the "great" features of Input Only is that you don't realize you're learning. This is a downside too if you're looking for tangible benefits like a progress bar.

So, my two sentence review: Pimsleur for pronunciation, MT for grammar and structures. And both only as supplementary materials.

As for my non-audio-only courses, I'll probably go back to Assimil after I've finished these ones. I'll be able to look at the gramar and sentences in a new light and hopefully the speaking practice will let me absorb more of the shadowing (and I won't hate it as much.)

I've also given up on my flash cards again. A discussion I had with a friend I think pointed out why. For me, I learn by introducing things that I've book-learned in other (preferably real-world) environments. With sentences on flash cards, the context doesn't change. Even if I can read the sentence, I haven't gotten something that I can usefully apply elsewhere. The "same word in multiple contexts" is something that the Assimil dialogs do well.

4 commentaires:

Leopejo a dit...

Merci pour le 'review', plus ou moins je suis d'accord avec ton opinion de MT et Pimsleur.

Allison a dit...

"The Pimsleur dialogs are still silly and sexist. Many of the dialogs sound like a lonely middle manager frantically trying to have an affair with a foreign colleague while on a business trip."

I remember you saying something similar to this about the French Pimsleur and it did indeed seem hilariously true once you looked at it that way.

Diana a dit...

I have a more generous view of Pimsleur from my own experience of the Dutch first stage course. What it does is get you speaking in a variety of situations that you are likely to encounter if you are a vistor to Holland. The impressive thing about this method is that it hard wires language into your brain so you use it without thinking. The first stage had no silly/sexist dialogues - and as a feminist with many decades of activity, I would surely recognise them - but even if it did, surely as adults and language students, we sigh and get on with it if the methodolgy is good. I agree about the pronunciation but it's not just that. The language rhythms of native speakers also become second nature.
I have sampled Michel Thomas and found that my ears were being corrupted by the mistakes of the weaker student. Assimil seems mind blowing boring.
Currently I am self teaching myself with language partners through Livemocha. Because I have written for a living, I am language aware - so I am learning grammar as I need to use it. My native speaking language partners then correct it for me (in return I am marking English scripts for what feels like the whole of Latin America) Unorthodox but I am making astonishingly rapid progress. And I have native speakers to correct my reading.... It works well for me.

Christopher Ference a dit...


Would you recommend using both the Pimsleur and Michel Thomas methods for studying a new language? For instance, if I were to bite the bullet and purchase the full range of courses for the French language from Pimsleur (I-IV) and Michel Thomas (Intro, Builder, Advanced, and Vocab), do you think this would be a good foundation to achieving an intermediate level of spoken French? If you'd recommend using both programs, which one should be first, and which one should supplement the other? Also... after finishing both would you recommend Fluenz French (levels 1-5) to get more serious about the study of how the language is spoken, written, and read?

Thanks for reading!!