March 4, 2013 | Mandarin

A Pimsleur Nightmare!

In which everyone but me remembered everything they learned.

Last night I had a Pimsleur nightmare. It began benignly enough, with the discovery that my New York City cab driver and then also his fellow cab driver friend, who materialized in my dream without logical explanation, were totally familiar with Pimsleur.

Somehow we all ended up standing by their cabs on a street corner discussing Pimsleur.

What Remains of Nemo in New York City

What Remains of Nemo in New York City

Then I went to a language class at a local recreational center, rather run down. A bunch of people, kind of granola, were all doing a Pimsleur lesson together in a big room with a concrete floor. You could hear the Pimsleur prompts boom out, and they would all respond, and they were in unison all getting the right answers without apparent effort.

Some of them were kind of walking about distractedly, not seeming to pay attention, and yet would still get the answers.

I think the language was Hebrew, and I was kind of dismayed to see how easy it was for everyone.

Then there was a break, and some of us ended up talking about other languages, and they were amazed and rather scornful that when I began studying a new language, I would forget things I had learned from Pimsleur lessons for previous languages. 

One of the amazed people, a smug middle-aged woman in a ratty oversized sweater, started rattling off pieces of Pimsleur dialogues in French as well as other languages, demonstrating how it all stayed perfectly clear in her head. After that demoralizing demonstration, then the class continued with the collective Pimsleur lesson.

After a few minutes, I was shocked to realize that they had switched languages and were now doing Chinese, something they had studied quite a while before, and that they were all still getting that right, too.

The dream came at a funny time, because Pimsleur is actually going not so badly for me right now. I am frustrated by two main things: (1) my confusion over the different measure words for schools versus restaurants versus notebooks versus money versus people and so on and (2) my confusion over the different past tenses.

With past tense, I think I am doing reasonably well with the difference between the particles guò and le, but I often choose wrong between le and shì-de. I find myself wondering whether Pimsleur made the distinction clear enough in its initial explanations, and I suspect they did. I probably just don’t remember.

Oh, one final thing I am having trouble with: I can recognize the first and third tones fairly well (high level and falling rising, respectively), but the second (rising) and fourth (falling) are causing me problems. Pimsleur tells me something is a falling tone, and I’m like, really? 

I guess this is why I did not end up in the music business.

Here’s a tone quiz you can try. My grade was very bad the first time.

Comments (4)

Robert Adams • Posted on Fri, February 15, 2013 - 10:34 pm EST

All I can say is, French is a BITCH of a language. . . I completely understand what you mean about the languages.  Chinese seemed easier to me than French!  Which begs the question, and related to our previous questions about brain makeup and language ability, do people who find certain languages easier than others have differently structured brains? Are certain people SUPPOSED to be able to speak certain languages?  Or, getting metaphysical, could we be reincarnations of people who spoke foreign languages who have the basic capability of a foreign language still imprinted on the soul?  Things that make you go. . . “What the crap!?!?!?” :-)

James • Posted on Wed, February 27, 2013 - 7:09 pm EST

I have had dreams in other languages too. What is interesting to me is that I am much more fluent and less uptight about making mistakes when having one of these dreams. I wish I could transfer that confidence to my waking hours. What really amazed me, though, is when my wife recently told me that I gave a coherent lecture on the differences between German and the Romance languages, in my sleep, for fifteen minutes! She admitted that it fascinated her, even though it kept her awake. I must state my credentials here - I am only a language hobbyist with no degrees, only school and university courses, self-study, and exposure via travel and my musical career.

Neal White • Posted on Fri, March 08, 2013 - 10:13 am EST

Ellen, big fan of your blog! I am in full agreement that Pimsleur is hands-down the best way to learn a language. I am on lesson 29 of Pimsleur Spanish 1 and love it! Looking forward to your next post.

Alizee • Posted on Fri, March 15, 2013 - 2:38 pm EST

I would also say that after doing the speaking repetition a bunch to the point where you feel comfortable, seeing the word as it’s actually spelled is a great way to anchor it in your head. You will have a “ah ha” moment as you make the two connections.

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