August 2, 2009 | Russian

Pimsleur Theory

The theory behind the Pimsleur method.

Here’s a weird thing about the vocabulary for “year” in Russian:

  • year = god (pronounced somewhere between English “god” and “goad”)
  • 4 years = 4 goda
  • 5 years = 5 lyet

From god to goda to lyet. How mysterious.

I just finished Pimsleur IIA, which means I am halfway through the intermediate level. (“Intermediate” is not accurate, though; my skills are primitive.) At the end, there was an explanation of the Pimsleur method, as well as some biographical details about Dr. Pimsleur himself. A calm male voice reassured me that, if I got low marks in language classes in school (I didn’t; Math 121 and Applied Math 105b did not go so well, however), I may have believed that I had no aptitude. The voice offered Pimsleur-related learning advice, such as: don’t write while listening (very good recommendation; too distracting), daily contact is imperative (that’s what I’m doing), and don’t do more than half an hour a day or you won’t retain it (oops).

Dr. Pimsleur, I learned, had a doctorate from Columbia, in French, and taught at UCLA, the University of Heidelberg, SUNY Albany, and various other universities. According to the man on the recording, two principles Dr. P. followed were:

  1. anticipation. He felt it was important for students to be able to anticipate the correct answer, to retrieve it from memory before the correct answer was given to them. That’s actually what I love about these Pimsleur lessons. I have a million more opportunities to figure out the answers than I did in language classes with 15 other students.
  2. graduated interval recall. There is a kind of schedule of how to reintroduce information. For example, a word or phrase is given to you, and then in the lessons, intervals between reminders gradually lengthen to maximize retention, transferring the information from short-term to long-term memory. I feel the technique working!

Go, Dr. P.!

Comments (2)

Katherine • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 5:45 pm EST

If I remember correctly, the word let, лет, and the Russian word for summer, лето, have the same root, because in pagan times the summertime was considered the mark of the new year.  Where god, год, comes from I don’t remember.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 7:50 pm EST

Thank you, Katherine!

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