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More on language learning

In a discussion with my college classmates last year (2022), I wrote:

Thu, Dec 29, 2022, 6:22 PM

This discussion prompted me to write up my amazing language-learning experience:

- ge

I subscribed a couple of days ago to Pimsleur language learning app

Searching my gmail for pimsleur”, I came across the 2022 discussion, where I found a reply that I don’t recall having read:

Steven Ledbetter

Dec 29, 2022, 7:36 PM

George, I was fascinated to read your description of language learning with the FSI method. I believe that it was either designed by Paul Pimsleur or else he adopted it further as the Pimsleur Method,’ which is now commercially available widely in a much larger number of languages. The program begins exactly the way you described your French study. Through high school and college I had studied German over 6 years (the last two of high school and all four at Pomona) with traditional classroom methods of instruction, though happily my teachers were better than one normally finds in a classroom situation. I also had a German exchange-student”sister” from Munich living with us in Tucson during the 1959-60 school year with whom I could converse in German (though she, of course, was supposed to be concentrating on English). She quickly became a real” sister in our family and has remained so ever since. We’ve all visited one another many times over the years, and we arranged our own informal international exchange with our kids on both sides over the years. She will turn 80 on February 13, exactly two months to the day after I did.

When I realized that I would be doing work in Italy for my dissertation, I had to learn that language quickly. I had a six-week intensive reading course at NYU during the summer of 1967, then spent the following academic year in NYC reading lots of stuff in Italian (and trying to appreciate the poetry of Petrarch and others that were often set to music by Marenzio, my dissertation topic). In that case, reading became fairly fluent, but conversing was pretty bad; I only grew fluent when I met a wonderful group of Italian university students at the Archivio di Stato in Modena, where I did most of my research. I was the first American they had gotten to know, and we spent daily coffee breaks, train rides back and forth from our homes in neighboring towns, and regular lunches simply talking all the time–in Italian, happily for me. They taught me 90% of my Italian fluency.

Then a few years later, in Boston, I wanted to learn Russian, because I was singing fairly frequently in Russian with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in memorized performances. I greatly prefer to understand the words I’m singing (and that makes them far easier to memorize, too). So I decided to try the Pimsleur Tapes in Russian to get at least a start with the language. At the time Pimsleur only offered one course” for each language–30 half-hour lessons, using the FSI system you described, George. I bought that and discovered to my surprise when I took it home and opened it, that the Russian program had been created by someone I knew very well in high school! He had known Pimsleur when he was teaching Russian for CIA agents. (Later he taught for years at Ohio State.) Anyway I had the Pimsleur program just a month before I would be heading to Russia for a little over a week, planning to meet Mary Lee in Moscow when she arrived there after a month in China.) I practice the tapes urgently, one less a day (though to internalize as much as possible, I repeated each lesson two or three times a day). After 30 days, I flew to Europe (first visiting some friends in Rome, then my German sister’s family in Munich, and finally flying to Moscow–having practiced conversations in Italian and German before getting to Russia. I certainly was not FLUENT in Russian after 30 days, but I was able to get around on the streets, hotels, restaurants, bathrooms, and the Bolshoi Theater. I was even after to go to an international telephone office and place a phone call to Massachusetts to with my son greetings on his 21st birthday. I decided that the Pimsleur program was very practical, though quite expensive. Later on I found that public libraries often stop it in various languages, so when we were planning to travel to Ecuador and Peru a few years later, both Mary Lee and I went through the program in Spanish, which was of tremendous benefit for everything we did there.

Pomona Class of 1964 Mailing List

I replied


I don’t remember reading your email when it came, but I just subscribed to Pimsleur in order to learn Japanese in preparation for an August trip to Japan (our daughter-in-law is Japanese, so we will have an amazing trip). Pimsleur is indeed like the FSI method. The major difference after two days is that they teach the dialogs using English to explain the meaning of the dialog. In Peace Corps training, the teacher could explain the general idea and then have us act out the dialog with gestures, pictures, etc. I don’t think that the Pimsleur detracts at all by using English.

Here’s something I noticed talking with our son’s family in Japanese” was that it’s hard to recall the words I’ve learned until I actually use them. It was like that in Arabic back in Tunisia: I could do my flashcards just fine, getting the words correct, but they weren’t available when I needed to use them!!?? But if I did remember a word or was reminded of it and actually used it, it was as if the word moved into a different memory bank or something. I believed” that people actually used the word. I wonder if you experienced this phenomenon with all your language experiences?

Thanks retroactively for your reply!

- ge

I wonder if other people have the same experience with new words?

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