Sep 112011

De Niro practising "Are you talking to me?"The Pimsleur method basically gives you an opportunity to practise Polish on your own, through dozens of conversations, which you are going to have with yourself, before your first encounter with a real Polish person. This is why it makes me think of Robert de Niro in “Taxi Driver”.

There’s no coursebook – just audio, a thin manual and glossary. It means you can do whatever you want with your hands, because you will only use your ears and mouth. Whether you practise in front of a mirror and your prop is a gun, or behind a kitchen table and holding a potato peeler, is up to you, and it should work just as well.

There are three options for learners: basic, conversational and comprehensive Polish. I’ve never seen… heard the basic or conversational version, so I can only say something about the comprehensive one (which I would still call “basic” for a couple of reasons).

Pimsleur Polish Comprehensive
The whole course is made up of three parts, and each part contains thirty lessons. Each lesson takes under 30 minutes. So altogether it is less than 45 hours of listening and… speaking.

A lesson starts with a short dialogue in the Polish language, which you might understand a bit or not at all (at the beginning). Then, the expressions used in this dialogue are translated into English. The ‘narrator’ (teacher?) promises you will be able to take part in a similar conversation at the end of the lesson – and if you follow all the instructions, repeat all individual words and whole expressions as requested, this is what actually happens at the end – you can take part in a conversation similar to the one you heard at the beginning:)

Why is it so effective? Language chunks and repetition are keywords here. People think that they have to understand how language works in order to learn it, they think they need rules – and they are partially right. Some learners don’t know that what is equally useful is to learn, even in a parrot-fashion, chunks of language – because it is something that you can use when you need it without making any conscious effort – and this is what you can get from this course: useful expressions, whole phrases and sentences, presented in meaningful context, recycled throughout the course so often that it’s impossible not to memorise them.

The initial lessons in Part one are extremely slow-paced – just listen to the sample lesson below to get the impression. They are ideal for real beginners, people who might have never seen or heard any Polish word. It would be also good for learners who have studied Polish only for a short time, and perhaps a long time ago, or the ones who are struggling with pronunciation. However, these learners need to be especially patient – if the sample lesson below drives you mad, wait for your challenge, it will eventually come at some point, but it might be the 15th or 20th lesson, depending on what you already know. I’m not sure of it would be a good idea to skip them – it might be better to them quickly if you feel you are mostly revising what you know.

For this course to work, you need to say the words or phrases aloud, it’s not enough to think them, it’s extremely important – when you say something you remember it more and you can work on your pronunciation by copying a native speaker, and I think that this pronunciation aspect is one of the biggest assets of this method.

Another thing, the Pimsleur manual advises that you go back to lesson 1 or 2 after every second lesson – and though I’m not sure about every second lesson, it’s certainly not a bad idea to revise from the beginning every now and then, otherwise you might get lost.

I would recommend listening to the dialogue in lesson 30 for a start, not to get discouraged, but just to think for a moment “That’s really difficult, when am I going to get to this point and say it myself effortlessly?”, and then stick to a routine, devote 1/2 or 1 hour a day to “talking to yourself”, and after 30 days you will be there and proud of your own achievements!

How much can you improve your Polish with this course? It’s not a 100% comprehensive Polish, It won’t get you as far as level B2 or C1, but it can help you a lot with the pronunciation and, as the course authors say:

You will be able to handle social encounters graciously, converse with native speakers in travel situations, and use transportation systems with confidence. You’ll be able to ask directions and to navigate your own way around the cities and countryside.
The language skills you learn will enable you to participate
in casual conversations, express facts, give instructions, and
describe current, past, and future activities. You will be able to
deal with everyday survival topics and courtesy requirements.
You will be intelligible to native speakers of the language—even
to those who are not used to dealing with foreigners.

Any drawbacks?
– it requires self-discipline, you are your own boss, you set the pace – so if you can’t do it, it won’t work for you
– it only brings you up to a certain level of language proficiency
– if you have any doubts or questions about something that is outside the scope of the lesson, there’s no one you can ask for help
– it’s not culture or country specific – I’ve used Pimsleur French and Russian, and they all seem to be culturally neutral, only names of characters and streets change, you can feel that the course is designed from a perspective of an American person

And here tou can find a copy of a Pimsleur Manual.

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