Have you ever successfully learned a language using tapes/CDs?
April 9, 2009 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever successfully learned a language using tapes/CDs? If so, did you have any particular technique? Read on for more info.

I really want to learn French and German, and it seems I collect language tutorial CDs. Usually I get a few lessons into the course before dropping out. I can spare the time, but I just can't seem to get around to listening to the lessons. It's odd, and hard to explain. Are language courses on CD a chimera? Do you have a technique? Which particular courses would you recommend?
posted by humblepigeon to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I did 3 solid months of French with Michel Thomas CDS and listened to about 30-40mins - 5 days a week.

Well I just put them all on the Ipod and listened / mumbled to myself on the Way to/From Work each day. (15 mins on the Train + 15 Mins walking each Day). And I just kept doing it for Months and Months.

it wasn't a chore and it really does start to get into your head. I do happen to find the Michel Thomas method very good as well.

(I can't actually speak french to this day though).
posted by mary8nne at 5:15 AM on April 9, 2009

If you're going to pick something, I'd pick Pimsleur. I have French 1-4, all 90+ lessons. I'm keeping a spreadsheet of which lesson I do each day, because I need to backtrack a couple lessons every three lessons or so. I don't think there's any perfect solution out there, but I doubt you could do better. Check out the reviews on Amazon--they seem pretty balanced.
posted by zeek321 at 7:01 AM on April 9, 2009

Seconding doing it on the way to/from work. I have about a 20-minute drive each way, which is enough for a full lesson (Pimsleur Hebrew in my case) each day. Of course, some of them have to be repeated. If you just make sure you have the next CD available in the car (or the next lesson on the ipod), it doesn't take long to get into the habit of just doing it each day.

My only caveat is that if you're like me, you don't feel like concentrating that much every day. So I like to intersperse the lessons with songs and news in the language I'm learning; I just burn myself cds every so often from Hebrew internet radio. When I'm feeling like being lazy about my learning, I listen to those and then I don't have to listen so actively.
posted by greenmagnet at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2009

Seconding The Thomas Method
posted by alcoth at 7:34 AM on April 9, 2009

Thirding Pimsleur + iPod + morning commute. I do mine in the car. It starts my day off nicely.
posted by wheat at 7:50 AM on April 9, 2009

Finding the time to do it is much like setting an exercise regimen. You have to do it regularly, the same time each day, whether you feel like it or not. If you aren't doing it nearly every day, you may be getting frustrated because you don't practice often enough to actually advance.

I'm doing Pimsleur Spanish right now and it's great. I do it after work, once I'm home and settled in a comfy chair with a snack, and it has actually become part of my relaxation routine. I think setting up rituals like this are important. Even if it seems silly, perhaps try adding some sort of small luxury incentive (expensive tea, etc) that you only do when you are practicing.
posted by susanvance at 8:47 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just starting Pimsleur Mandarin, myself. It's working out, except that I'm visual, and the Pimsleur method seems to be "just listen, don't ever see the words". (OK, I exaggerate, but sorta.)

I'm cheating with a vocab list for "Pimsleur Mandarin I" I found by googling, which I check after the lessons, and before reviewing them.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 AM on April 9, 2009

I did Pimsleur Spanish as well, and it worked great for me. I also did it on my daily commute. Please check with your local library before going out and spending $$$ on CDs. They may either have them available for check out or you may be able to download them through an audiobook affiliate program. I got mine through my library's NetLibrary portal. Great stuff.
posted by bristolcat at 2:41 PM on April 9, 2009

This post is more about what I've learned about language learning vs. what I've achieved so far, so take it as you will.

I've been approaching learning Japanese via Pimsleur (with significant supplements...see below) for the last month or so. Via some threads on AskMeFi I found Khatzumoto's great site All Japanese All The Time. He started learning Japanese and within a bit more than year had applied for a job in Japan and...gotten the job. He now lives there and continues to work on his fluency and in addition is learning Cantonese. I think he has a good idea of how to learn a language in terms of really truly being able to speak the language.

If I was going to generalize his approach, it would be to immerse yourself in the language as much as you can, and do this consistently. This isn't as much of a problem if you live in the country (or is it?), but outside of that country you have to expend a bit more effort to immerse yourself.

The strategy that goes hand-in-hand with this that Khatzumoto trumpets is Spaced Repetition learning. Basically, this technique takes advantage of the durations between which you are most like to forget something and emphasizes your ability to recall that bit of information at the right time. The nice thing about this is that the time between when you need to be reminded of something so that you don't forget it gets longer and longer and longer as time goes on...

The Pimsleur approach was (as far as I understand) the first language learning system that took advantage of this approach. Even though I'm only on lesson 9 of the Pimsleur Japanese CDs, I can state that, at least for what we've covered, I've pretty much got it down. I know a heck of a lot more Japanese than I did a month ago. In addition, conveniently I work in the Foreign Languages & Literatures department at MIT, and my boss is a German language instructor (among other things). When I was beginning to learn Japanese, I asked him roughly the same question you are asking, and he stated that the only audio recording packages they had available in the language labs there where the Pimsleur ones, 'cause (according to him) the Rosetta Stone ones are overpriced crap (I can't speak to Michel Thomas though, I didn't ask him about those).

His point (not mine, I have no idea frankly, so if you have counter-examples about Rosetta Stone please do bring them up) was more that the Rosetta Stone system, unlike Pimsleur, treats cultures interchangeably: a car in German is a car in Russian is a car in French is a car in Japanese, so why bother using different strategies for learning? Just take the same materials and slap a different language on 'em. By comparison (again, based on me taking what my boss told me as fact about Rosetta Stone)--and I've grasped this already, just a little more than a week in--Pimsleur makes you very conscious of the particulars of why are you asking about certain things in certain ways, based on cultural quirks, and in addition makes you aware of the patterns in the language very cleverly by introducing you to different conjugations and structural patterns strategically. As I said, I know a lot more Japanese now--and I can hear structural patterns I recognize, even if I don't know the specific meaning in spoken Japanese I hear outside of Pimsleur already.

Which leads me to my next point: augment what you do with a learning tape with everything else you can get your hands on. All day long at work when I can, I put on internet radio in Japanese. I'm working on my Kanji now and as soon as I can actually switch my computer over to reading all system text in Japanese without looking up every freaking thing, I will. I go and eat lunch and dinner whenever I can at Japanese restaurants, and make a fool out of myself by asking the waiters/waitresses poorly structured and pronounced Japanese, and forcing them (which they do so far very graciously) to correct me. I learn even by screwing up constantly! And I just got a Japanese native speaker for a tutor who I'm going to be meeting with once or twice a week to have Japanese conversations with and who will correct my pronunciation.

Point being, if you want to learn to speak the language, you need constant repetition, and as much immersion as you can introduce into your life. I'm sure there's a lower-bound threshold on how much effort you have to put in to learn, but the point is that it's really a willful thing and if you have no regular stimulus to force you to learn to comprehend spoken language, respond with spoken language, read the language, and write the language, you will not do so.

That's my two cents (um, dollars...). I hope it helps. Good luck!
posted by dubitable at 9:53 AM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

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