Pimsleur Book Review

I have been reading quite a few books on foreign language learning lately. One of the most recent was "How to Learn a Foreign Language" by Paul Pimsleur, Ph. D. This book is interesting in that it was originally published back in 1980. I have the 50th anniversary book that came out in 2013. By 50th anniversary they mean that it has been 50 years since the first Pimsleur Audio tapes were made. To be honest I didn't expect to find anything interesting in this book. I was wrong, there's some interesting idea's on how to study, how to reduce your accent, what makes a good teacher, and more.

In chapter 2 he states any language has three distinct parts, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Surprisingly, to me he said vocabulary was what he considered the hardest. As I read on later I realized he considers vocabulary so hard because of the sheer number you need to learn and retain. I think that the doctor may have reconsidered this if he had lived long enough to see something like Anki. The reason I say this is because he promotes the idea of SRS when he talks about flash cards, and he says on page 76 "Suppose, however that instead of depending on chance, you could "program" the cards so that each word came up at just the right moment to ensure the longest retention with the fewest exposures? Such a program would be worth a lot, for it would reduce your study time to a minimum while virtually guaranteeing maximum retention."

Based on some of the stories he tells I think the doctor agrees with Benny Lewis about Speaking as early as possible. My reasoning behind this is he tells about his experiences observing 2 different teachers teaching from two different styles, and he favors the style where the teacher is talking from class day one in the target language.

Another interesting bit was his approach to grammar. He preferred the presentation of a lot of good input with some timed responses instead of the teach one rule, and practice, then teach another. He did an experiment that showed his method worked better in his experiment.

In the section on picking a good teacher, something he said was kinda an epiphany moment for me. On page 34 he said "... a good language teacher keeps the clock constantly in mind." He goes on to to say that a good teacher will heavily favor student talk time. He also suggest teaching as much in the target language as possible. From my personal experiences, I think learning via the language is great. In the past I head read on other peoples blog where they say get a good teacher, but they rarely lay out any good concise guidelines on how to do that.

He fills the books with some good advice about pronunciation, denouncing myths, and even some charts. Also he explains some more effective ways to study with flash cards and how to use his repetition method. He also has a fun section on cultural differences and stories of people he knew and how they got results in their target language.

This isn't a large book. There's about 100 pages of "book" and another 40 pages of reference material. This book was encouraging for me. It also has some idea's I would like to try out. Overall, I liked this book a lot and thought it had some good advice and a nice flow.


Chinese Status Update July 2014

Welcome back! Long time no see. Glad you could make it. How's the family? OK enough chit chat, on to the article!


Back in January I answered this once. I wanted to expand/modify my answer some. I am learning Chinese to connect with more people. Nelson Mandela once said "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." 

2014 Goals Completed So Far ....

  • Found a teacher, and started knocking out lessons again.
  • Finished Rosetta Stone ( all that I had bought ).
  • Took and failed the HSK 4.
  • Finish Integrated Chinese Level 2 Part 1 book.
  • Finish the Integrated Chinese Level 2, Part 2 book.
  • Complete Olle's Challenge.
So the first three were done at the 3 month mark, the last three are new. The integrated Chinese Book series was very enjoyable. I wish they had 2 more advanced ones. I feel like they did a lot of things right. I worked through these Textbooks with the help of my iTalki teacher. This was an interesting experience. Olle's Challenge was also a fun goal and motivator. I picked my Character set from the Integrated Chinese stuff so that they could reinforce each other. 

Goal for the rest of the year ....

  • Pass the HSK IV.
  • Visit China  Visit Taiwan.
  • Reduce my accent.
  • Beat the iTalki World Cup Challenge.
  • Read Ender's Game in Chinese.
  • Complete extra homework from the Integrated Chinese Books.
  • Learn more 成語.
  • Work through PAVC 3.
  • Work through PAVC 4.
  • Get some conversation partners.
These are me big goals. I took the HSK IV in March as I mentioned in my last Chinese update. I didn't pass at that time. Since then I have learned quite a lot and I feel I am at the point where I can pass it. I'll keep ya posted on how I do. You may also noticed I have abandoned taking the HSK V for this year. I did this in part because I previously underestimated how hard HSK IV would be, and in part because I'm in too much of a hurry. Three months ago when I was writing the last update my brain was saying "I want to be conversationally fluent now!" In the last 3 months I have progressed a lot, and like in other trades going from one place of ignorance to a place of less ignorance just shows you that you were even more ignorant than you previously thought you were. ^_^

We were hoping to visit the mainland, but it looks like we don't have enough time. Instead we are going to go back to my wife's home in Taipei for 2 weeks and I will get to practice my Chinese while I'm there. ^_^ I was there last year and I already could do and talk about a lot in "tarzan talk", but I still had a long way to go. This year I feel like I'm miles better than I was last time, but as several recent conversations I had have demonstrated I still have miles to go before I'll be content.

The next couple items on my list are things I feel are important, and should help me overall but probably won't give me the deep learning that the last 3 items will. These last three, I am working on with my iTalki teacher. PAVC 3's topic list mirrors a lot of what was in IC 2.1 and IC 2.2. I skimmed the book and found only a few terms per chapter were new. Even the grammar looked familiar at first glance. I was seriously tempted to skip right to 4. Now that I have completed the first 2 chapters in  this book I can tell you some of it is really hard! Doing the grammar exercises are somewhat hard, but rewarding in the end. I'm walking away from these lessons feeling mentally beat up. This is good. :-) But I don't want to be beaten up too much so I am sticking short 成語 stories in  between each chapter. I am starting with extremely simple stories and working my way up. Usually the story comes with a vocabulary list of 10 - 20 words. On that list I usually know all but a few. After we tackle the story and it's related materiel we spend a little time talking about it. These conversations are great. Positive conversation is a huge motivator. Because of this I will start looking for some conversation partners. Not teachers, but just people I can talk with. iTalki is also a place where I can do that, I just need to force myself to stop being so shy.

How I'm Getting There

The short answer is a little bit at a time most every day. Habit is stronger than will power. I try to set up a lifestyle that makes reaching my goals as easy as possible. It's not dieting if your lifestyle is to eat healthy. It's not a chore or burden to me to spend 10 minutes reviewing an anki deck while I sip my first cup of coffee. Now for my circular reference. I set up mini goals to help me build these habits. :-) Olle's Character Challenge has helped me stop missing days on the weekends, and now I feel wrong if I don't do my Anki decks. For June through July I am doing the iTalki world cup challenge. This is keeping me in the habit of doing at least three iTalki sessions a week. Also I am logging all of this on The Daily Practice to help show myself how I am doing and keep myself accountable. I have also joined a forum that is for people who are learning Chinese. I have posted some of my goals there, and gotten great feedback. Now on to the long answer. 

One thing I suggest for any term you have learned is to put it into an anki deck. For me, I'm maintaining 5 anki decks. I just finished all the new cards in one, and it has been a 10 minutes a day deck for the last few months. That will taper off to just 2 - 3 minutes a day after this next month. My decks generally have less than 50 cards a day total, and I'm averaging about 5 new cards a day total. This comes in spurts as I start a new chapter or short story. One of the great things about me following Textbooks is that nice people have already made great decks for my text books. So in total this activity only takes up 30 minutes of my day.

I listen to several hours of music, and radio a day. This isn't some form of focused studying, but more of an immersion thing for me. Since I can listen to music while running, working, or driving there is really no excuse not to get the extra exposure. While I'm working I make sure what I am listening to is not something I have to pay attention to. This type of listening is something I can do while doing other things so I don't count it as exclusive time, but I probably average 2 - 4 hours a day of basic to passive listening.

I am also trying to watch 4-5 hours of Chinese video a week. This has turned out to be pretty easy. Partly because my wife has plenty of shows she has watched in the past and partly because I can type "mandarin" or "Chinese" into Amazon Prime and get stuff speaking Chinese and subbed in English. YouTube also has a lot of Chinese TV shows. Again making it part of my routine is important. For me I have taken to watching something in Chinese during my lunch or dinner period where I usually watch something in English.

I'm reviewing old lessons and doing the supplemental homework. This is actually really hard for me to keep up with. While the homework is OK, and even a little enjoyable, it is still homework and I want to procrastinate outta habit. Breaking this old habit and building a new one is the hard part. I have set myself a fairly low goal for it. Do 1-2 reviews/homework a week. 

Reading isn't something I plan for anymore. I have enough Chinese in my twitter, FB, weibo, wechat, counter-strike:source, etc that everyday I see several people say something in Chinese. Also every iTalki lesson I spent a portion of that lesson reading paragraphs and sentences out loud. While I still can't pick up a newspaper or novel and just read it, the gaps in grammar, and words are getting smaller. I'm probably spending 5 hours reading, but since some of it is just "so and so had a birthday", or "today in soccer", or "you were kicked from this server" and so on I rarely feel like it's work.

Writing helps with my reading and really helps me lock in new information. I mostly do this as a little list of things here, or a note there. I plan this month to restart keeping a journal in Chinese. I would also like to start doing short stories again like I did in my college class. That was a lot of fun. Right this moment this is probably the area I am worst at practicing. I'm going to change that.

Speaking is the most important for me. I care about connecting with people, and speaking is how I want to do it. I try to speak a little every day, and most days I am attempting to converse at least an hour. On days I have sessions with my iTalki teacher this is easy. On other days this can be hard. Usually during the weekend I do ok since I spend 4 or more hours with Chinese friends I can work in an hour of conversation.. Going forward I am going to seek out some 50/50 partners. This should help expose me to different accents, outlooks, and maybe I'll make some new friends in the process. My eventual goal is at least an hour a day, currently I'm probably doing 5 hours a week.

It's Not A Lot Of Time!

Ok, now I'm gonna hop up on the soap box for a few minutes. If you agree with me feel free to wander off. ^_^

5.0 hours/week talk
5.0 hours/week high quality listening ( wife, friends, and italki teacher )
3.5 hours/week anki
5.0 hours/week reading 
18.5 hours/week || 2.64~ hours/day spend on Chinese.23

All that stuff above sounds like a LOT. But it's not really. Especially when I spread it out the way I do. I'm taking a coffee before I work, and taking at least one 15 minute break throughout my work day. While on those breaks I do my anki decks. When I eat alone, or with just my wife I can watch some Chinese video. So again no additional time has been specially allotted from my day. Putting on a radio china, or YouTube playlist in the background while I work takes all of 2 minutes. Again no real time loss for me. Listening to my friends talk about things while we are hiking, biking, or having a meal again doesn't take any special time set aside, and nor does trying to talk to them in Chinese. So really that only leaves my iTalki sessions and homework as something I have to set aside time specifically for. iTalki is taking up 3-4 hours a week, with 30 minutes of prep per lesson. And like I said earlier I'm probably only spending 1-2 hours a week on my homework. So the amount of time I have to take outside of my usual routine of everyday stuff is now down to about an hour a day. That's a ridiculously easy commitment to make.

Until Next Time

Well if you made it this far, thanks for reading! I'll try to post another update around October. Wish me luck!


Sensible Chinese Character Challenge 2014 Milestone 4!

Sensible Chinese Character Challenge 2014

Yesterday marked the end of the Sensible Chinese Character Challenge put on by Hacking Chinese. I'm happy to report I made my final milestone. This last milestone completes my learning all the new cards from my Integrated Chinese Level 2 deck. From here on out I will continue to review this deck, and periodically study the material related to it.

This challenge had a good amount of participants. The challenge is not strict on the rules, rather it gives some basic guidelines, examples, and goals Because of this setup, I got to read about how different people tackled character learning in several different ways. This was interesting and gave me some new idea's. 

Again I want to thank Olle for putting it on, and I look forward to next year's Challenge. I also want to give a big congrats to everyone else who participated. At milestone 3 I won one of the randomly allotted prizes. I want to thank Hanzi WallChart for supplying that.

That's all for now. I'll have a Chinese Status Update this weekend detailing where I am at and where I plan to go.