Friday, April 6, 2012

Life After Pimsleur

The ninetieth, and last, Pimsleur lesson started a lot like the first. My journey was the same at least. I walked out my gate, sweated up regent street to the crest of a hill, where it intersected with Cleveland, and then down its gentle undulation to Central station. By the time I rounded the corner into Kensington street, past the labourers directing traffic to and from the demolition site of the old Coopers brewery, I realised that there would be no kickline, no song where all the characters from the little Pimsleur narratives would assemble together, to sing me off into the Russian speaking world. 

In fact the Russian speaking world was far from open to me - having completed 90x30 minute lessons (45 hours) I was far from fluent - something that had seemed a certainty to have been achieved by this stage, when I had begun. In fact, instead of entire areas of conversation (like ordering at a restaurant for example), fully realised like completed panels of a stained glass window, I had only the barest outline - the ironwork that held the glass in place. I knew that I had made considerable progress, especially in comparison to my class mates at the continuing education course at Sydney Uni. This was because I was studying every day, and they weren't. The issue was that the progress in language was so difficult to quantify, if I thought about all I had learned it seemed considerable - but then I'd get caught in a translation from English to Russian and realise I didn't know the words for happy or sad. 

Regardless, having completed Pimsleur course, my relief and satisfaction turned to anxiety when I thought of my hardwon Russian vocabulary slowly eroding, no longer anchored to anything. The way I had learnt the language so far seemed perfect - Pimsleur kept the sounds in high rotation in my mind - a daily reignition of the spark that was now fading. I always returned to the main shortfall of Pimsleur which was that it did not explicitly teach you the rules of Russian grammar. While this might sound like a Steiner school - descriptive mode of teaching the reality is in a language like Russian the rules must be taught, children told to sit down, shut up and listen. Complementing Pimsleur was my CCE course, taught by, Katia, a middle-aged Russian woman with infinite patience and humour, who actually made the 2.5 hour grammar attack on Monday evenings, after work, palatable and perhaps even enjoyable. I learnt a great deal from these classes and, as a result, on Tuesday mornings the Pimsleur lesson was always much easier than the day before.

The problem was that these CCE courses, after my third term, were coming to an end too. I was now cast out into the world with more knowledge than a beginner but less than an intermediate. I tried several audio courses - including conversational Russian and Russian slang - to try and give me more legitimacy on the street when I'm asking "Which way to the post office, please?" All seemed far too difficult, dispensing great slabs of Slavic conversation, too quick and dense for me to decode, or little skerricks too fleeting to stick. It seemed I was not alone in my situation - scouring forums there seemed to be a bunch of people that needed a bridging course from Pimsleur III to intermediate. My hopes were briefly rallied with RussianPod101, "The fastest, easiest and most fun way to learn Russian". I became a member the instant I saw that they had Absolute Beginner, Beginner and Lower Intermediate courses - perhaps this was the bridge I was looking for. At least it was cheap - I paid $8 for one month and was able to download all the audio lessons in one go from their iTunes feed. The problem was the quality of the lessons - most go for about 10 minutes and although they are quite rigorous in the grammar (explaining the rules), the Russian content only constituted about 1-2 minutes of the lesson - the remainder was taken up with a lot of naff flirting between the male and female hosts and constant advertising of "premium products" within the lessons themselves. Some of it was funny:
"This tool is the perfect complement to the line by learn audio. Anna, have you seen this tool?"
"Eric don't make me blush"
A lot of it is pretty cringeworthy. 

Furthermore they say words then never return to them - so unless you listen to the same lesson again and again (making the flirting and smalltalk particularly nauseating) then you'll forget everything you learnt thereby wasting your time. I cancelled my membership after a single month.

My latest discovery is In the course outline it explicitly says it is "Suitable for students that may have completed Pimsleur III". I will begin this course on Monday and will see how it goes. I'm a little aware of the stilted delivery which could get annoying after a while. More news on this to follow.


  1. Any update on audialearn? I fell in love with learning Russian when I adopted a 4 year old from Russia. Started learning some simple phrases from a Russian for adoptive kids book; bought an atrocious Berlitz book (I thought I knew a lot but got there and 80% of the pronunciation was not correct as taught in the book), then primsleur 8 lesson pack and finally parts of Teach Yourself Russian and Basic Russian (but by this time the last 2 were same old stuff). By my last trip to Russia I was better then beginner but worse then intermediate. My 4 year old thought I was fluent. Despite daycare I was able to keep his language going for 2 years but now losing it and he is just OK in his Steiner school language class. Mine is fading...I can no longer watch a movie but can read children's stories easily and Tom Sawyer/Charlotte's Web with some help. Someone recommended Russian in Lessons for really nailing down grammer and reading but haven't applied self to it yet. Never heard of audialearn and going to follow the link now.

    1. Hey ywilbur.

      Audialearn is great. Their three CDs are extremely dense, so much so I had to listen to each section at least half a dozen times. If you are interested in learning grammar this is a perfect tool as well: Russian I goes into great detail about the difference between perfect and imperfect for instance.

      My only grips is that the delivery is pretty dry and awkward. Think libravox audiobooks. This is not a problem mostly because you're concentrating on the content so much you're not worried about the guy reading it out. For around $30 its a bargain and I'm going to get the next one soon.

  2. A great post with some much personal things revealed for us. Thank you for sharing and participating along with me too


  3. I have used pimsleur for both Spanish and Japanese at the same time, and to be honest I wasn't expecting to be fluent after completing the courses. I stop using both because of something personal, but I did manage to pick up some words. Honestly I was just using it to listen to the language and to absorb while just doing chores around the house. I am planning on using lingq for reading and listening. thanks all:)

  4. Hey Kiddy the Kid. I'm trying to find a Spanish course to bridge that same gap you're discussing. Didn't see AudiaLearn Spanish being something that exists. :( Any other suggestions?