While the Rosetta Stone Japanese learning system is the largest selling language software program, the Pimsleur language system is one of the longest selling systems. Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone share some common elements, but Pimleur also includes elements that appear to be at least theoretically opposed to their competitor’s system.
Both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone take a scientific approach to teaching foreign languages. They are both based on well-tested linguistic and psychological learning models. In particular, they share the belief that languages are best learned from the ground up in the same way that children learn their native language. Neither system wastes time with a lot of translation or grammar lessons. They both jump in and teach the student the spoken language.
Where the Pimsleur method differs from the Rosetta Stone method is that while Rosetta Stone, theoretically at least, opposes the behaviorist (or behavioralist) approach to teaching, Pimsleur actively employs it and has historically used it as part of their marketing strategy. Dr. Paul Pimsleur introduced his language teaching technique over forty years ago, at the height of behaviorism’s popularity.
At its most fundamental level, behaviorism takes a mechanistic view of human behavior. We are basically automatons who respond to stimuli and lack any unique and meaningful human qualities. The strict behaviorist believes, for example, that free will is an illusion.
While a more humanistic approach to both learning and psychology has been adopted in more recent years, nobody denies the effectiveness of many behaviorist-based models, including Dr. Pimsleur’s. Two of the Pimsleur system’s techniques for memorization and retention are particularly noteworthy.
The first of these methods is derived from the “Principle of Anticipation.” What this means is that the learner must anticipate the answer to a question rather than have the answer given to them time and time again until it “sticks.” Dr. Paul Pimsleur, creator of the Pimsleur language learning technique, called this type of interactive learning an “input/output” versus a passive learning technique. While they don’t exactly like to give Dr. Pimsleur credit for it, most if not all modern language learning programs also employ this technique.
Another one of Dr. Pimsleur’s contributions to language teaching is called “graduated recall.” When we learn a new word for the first time, we will only remember it for a minute or two, no matter how many times it is repeated to us. If the word is repeated to us at graduated intervals, more frequently at first and then at longer intervals, we will memorize the word more quickly and retain it longer than if it is repeatedly “drummed into our heads.”
The Pimsleur Japanese learning series of CD’s will appeal to those learners who like a thoroughly comprehensive audio teaching system that can quickly teach students how to speak and comprehend spoken Japanese. This method is used by the CIA and the FBI – hence the Pimsleur slogan: “Learn like a spy! Pass for a native!” At $274 per 30 lesson (30 minutes per lesson) unit, the entire suite of lessons costs over $800, so it is for “true believers” only. It does come with a money back guarantee, but you may want to try their short starter kit first. At just under $20, it contains the first 8 lessons and is designed for people who just want to understand some fundamental Japanese.
If you are interested in learning to read and write Japanese, you will have to look elsewhere. The Pimsleur Japanese learning system is entirely devoted to conversational Japanese. While the approach may be considered limited, Dr. Pimsleur believed that a language can be more thoroughly grasped if it is learned in this way, just as children master their spoken language long before they learn their alphabet.
Teaching students to quickly speak and comprehend conversational Japanese is where Pimsleur excels. While it may not appeal to all, it is a very effective system and has been used by businesses and government agencies for decades simply because it does its job so well.