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A Review of

Pimsleur's Egyptian Arabic
Audio CD's

by Pimsleur

 

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Summary

This series of audio CD's contains a series of lessons in speaking and understanding the dialect of the Arabic language that is spoken in Egypt.

There are several different types of packaging for this product. They vary according to the number of lessons contained, with 8, 10, 16, or 30. The pricing, of course, varies with the number of lessons contained in the package, from approximately $15 for the 8-lesson version to nearly $300 for the 30-lesson version.

All versions begin with the same lessons. In other words, the 8 lessons in the lowest-priced version are the same as the first 8 lessons in the highest-priced version. I have completed the full 30 lessons in the most expensive version, the one with 15 audio CD's. Because the three lower-priced versions are simply a subset of the highest-priced version, this review covers all the versions.

Pimsleur 1-10

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

Pimsleur's Egyptian Arabic

Author

Paul Pimsleur

ISBN

978-0743506595

Publisher

Simon & Schuster

Category

Non-Fiction: Language Instruction

Rating

StarStarStarStar

Number of Pages

Delivered as audio CD's, packaged with differing numbers of lessons.

Published In

1997

 

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Description

Introduction

The version of this product that I used for this review is the 30-lesson set, consisting of 15 audio CD's. At the time of this review, I have not yet worked with the 16th CD and companion booklet, which are designed to teach reading. I do intend to work with the reading CD and booklet in the future, and I will update this review after I have done so.

The Pimsleur language materials consist of a series of audio lessons designed to teach a language in the same way that children learn it - by hearing it spoken, and trying to speak it yourself. To accomplish this, it uses a methodology that is quite different from the grammatical-rules approach typically used in university language classes.

Although the Pimsleur product line offers instruction in a wide variety of languages, this review focuses specifically on the packages that teach the Egyptian dialect of Arabic. Pimsleur also offers materials in other dialects of Arabic, so when shopping it is important to pay attention and purchase the dialect that best matches your needs.

 

What the Course Is Like

Pimsleur's approach is quite different from what I experienced in my university-level courses in French, German, and Spanish. I found it necessary to bring an open mind to my studies. I concluded that although Pimsleur's approach is different from my college classes, it can yield results.

My university courses were very grammar-oriented. They taught rules, then provided drills in applying the rules. For example, from the very first day of class they might choose a "regular" verb (ie, one that follows predictable rules) such as "to speak" and then teach how to conjugate it - in other words, they would teach us how to recite "I speak", "You speak", "He/she/it speaks," "We speak," and "They speak". They would then give us a list of other verbs that followed the same rule, and drill us in conjugating those. In a future class, they might introduce a different family of regular verbs that follows a different set of rules and teach us to conjugate that. The benefit of this approach is that it's easy to generalize it - once you learn how to conjugate "to speak", that same rule can be applied to every other verb in the same family - "to buy", "to love", and so on.

Pimsleur, however, takes an approach that focuses on using words in conversations.

For example, it starts with only one form of a word, such as "you speak," and then offers exercises designed to nudge you into using that form in sentences. It doesn't bother telling you that the "infinitive" (dictionary form) of the verb is "to speak". Instead, it simply builds exercises around practicing that one form. Here's an example of how it might flow:

  • It might teach you to say, "You speak," to a man.
  • It would then instruct you to phrase it as a question, "Do you speak?"
  • It might then introduce the word for "Arabic" and instruct you to ask, "Do you speak Arabic?"
  • Next you might be taught a very simple answer, such as "Yes".
  • You would then be guided to ask, "Do you speak Arabic?" and then to answer, "Yes."
  • After some drills of this, it might introduce the "I" form of the word, teaching you to say, "I speak Arabic."
  • The drills would then expand to, "Do you speak Arabic?" and "Yes, I speak Arabic," and "Yes, I speak a little Arabic."
  • Next, it might introduce how to use the "you" form when speaking to an individual woman, because in Arabic many words use different forms for speaking to a man as opposed to speaking to a woman.
  • Once again, you are guided in incorporating the new form of the word into sentences that utilize it.
  • Eventually, after some drilling of this, a lesson will introduce the negative form, "I don't speak Arabic" and add that into the practice.

After completing the full 30 lessons, I am confident I can use the "I" and "one-person you" forms of "to speak" and the other words that I used throughout the 30-lesson course. However, it did not explicitly teach how to say, "we speak", "they speak", "he, she, or it speaks," or "you (multiple people) speak". They did teach these other forms for certain other words, but they never articulated an actual rule. The structure was entirely learn by example. Although I might be able to guess how to use this word with "we/they/he-she-it/multiple-you" forms, I wouldn't be confident of guessing correctly. I feel especially shaky with my knowledge of the "he-she-it" and "they" usage, because the instruction in these forms in this 30-lesson set was very minimal.

Pimsleur's use of a conversational approach rather than a grammatical approach isn't necessarily bad. Yes, I do feel frustrated that although I have learned how to say, "I want", "You (singular) want," and "We want", I do not know how to say, "He/she/it wants" or "they want", or "you (plural) want". However, after completing all 30 lessons, I was able to go to Egypt and argue in Arabic with a cab driver over the price of a fare, give a cab driver directions on how to get to my hotel, etc. In contrast, after 3 years of studyinig Spanish in a university classroom, I can understand spoken Spanish in conversations, but my ability to form sentences of my own is too limited to argue with a cab driver over a fare, or to give directions to someone else on how to get somewhere.

 

Which Words Does It Teach?

This is not a comprehensive list of all words taught, but it should provide enough information to help you determine whether the version of the product you're thinking of buying contains the instruction you're looking for.

Lesson Group

Content

1 through 8
  • Pleasantries (please, thank you, excuse me, how are you, good morning, good-bye, sir, madame)
  • Being understood (speak, understand, Arabic, English)
  • Simple directions (street, station, where, here, over there)
  • Making social plans (eat, drink, coffee, tea, restaurant, would like, now, later, who, when, with, hotel, buy)
  • The number "2"
9 & 10
  • Telling time (ask what time it is, and learn how to say the time on the hour)
  • Some low numbers (1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9)
  • How to make future tense out of a couple of verbs you already know (eat & drink)
11 through 16
  • More low numbers (6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 through 49)
  • More time-related words (tonight, today, at night, tomorrow)
  • Buying & selling (asking the price, money, pounds, dollars, here is, to have, don't have, enough, a lot, give me, future tense of buy)
17 through 30
  • "He" and "She" forms for a couple of words (would like, eat, drink)
  • Family (husband, wife, family, children, son, daughter)
  • "We" forms for a few words (would like, drink, live, want)
  • Coming and going (Cairo, Alexandria, go, car, put gas in a car, liters of gas, far, route, right, left, straight ahead, taxi, leave, arrive)
  • Numbers from 50 through 100
  • More shopping words (stores, open, closed, late, expensive, too expensive)
  • More time-related words (day, a lot of time, week, yesterday, morning)
  • Things to do (see, work, spend a day, see friends)
  • Asking what a word means
  • More future tense of selected words (buy, do, give, see, take, spend time, work, leave)
  • Past tense of selected words (buy, eat, arrive, go)

 

What Was My Experience In Actually Speaking Arabic in Egypt?

The 30-lesson course taught me enough Arabic to ask for directions, and, more importantly, to understand the answer! I could ask where the bathroom was, and I could ask how to get to a certain shop or restaurant. I was able to negotiate fares with taxicab drivers entirely in Arabic, and exchange pleasantries such as "Good morning," with hotel staff. I could negotiate the price of merchandise I wanted to buy.

Many of the Egyptians I interacted with told me that I spoke Arabic excellently. I'm always skeptical when people say such a thing, because I believe they are simply being polite. However, I do think the structure of these lessons were designed effectively to enable me to understand what was said to me, and I was able to make myself understood. When I went to a nightclub with a live band, I was pleased to discover that I could understand bits and pieces of song lyrics. So, based on that, I'm satisfied with what I learned.

After completing the 30-lesson set, I still don't know enough Arabic to carry on much of a conversation, follow the plot of an Egyptian movie without subtitles, or to understand song lyrics. That's okay with me, because I really didn't expect to after such a small amount of study. However, I point this out to ensure that people reading this review realize that it takes more than 15 audio CD's to acquire sufficient language fluency to do those things. I feel that this program gave me a solid foundation of skills, and now I can build on it by using other products.

I am now considering buying the Pimsleur program for German and Spanish, even though I already know those languages. My ability to speak, putting sentences together, is weak in both, and I believe the Pimsleur structure could help me overcome that issue.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

Even if you have never previously studied a foreign language, I believe it is possible to master the information in this program. It probably won't be easy, but if you are serious about wanting to learn, I firmly believe you can.

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Audio Set If...

  • You have enough self-confidence to believe you are capable of using self-study materials instead of taking a class.
  • You are motivated enough to push yourself forward, without having a teacher to push you.
  • You want to learn how to pronounce the words, and therefore you want audio materials instead of books.
  • You want to learn how to understand others who are speaking, and therefore you want audio materials instead of books.
  • You are an auditory learner. In other words, you find it easiest to retain information you hear, as opposed to information you read.
  • You want to learn the dialect of Arabic that is most widely used in popular songs.
  • You want to learn the dialect of Arabic that is most widely used in the movies starring famous dancers such as Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal.
  • There is someone in your life who speaks the Egyptian dialect of Arabic and your motive for learning the language is to make it easier to communicate with that person.
  • You would like a program that focuses on vocabulary that would be useful to business travelers and tourists visiting Egypt.
  • You would like a program that you can work with while driving your car, riding your bicycle, or walking.
  • You're willing to make the effort to learn Arabic even if it might seem challenging at times.

 

This Audio Set Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • The Arabic-speaking people that you are most likely to meet and speak with are those from the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Libya), the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Kuwait), Iraq, or Levant (Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan).
  • You want to learn how to read literature and other academic materials written in Arabic.
  • You find self-study difficult and would prefer a classroom environment with a teacher to answer your questions.
  • You don't have enough self-confidence to believe that you are able to learn without a teacher's help.
  • You don't have much patience, and you expect instant results.
  • You are looking for a resource that will teach you words that frequently appear in song lyrics such as "sweetheart", "love", "soul", "moon", etc.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • The vocabulary and grammar I learned from this proved to be quite usable when I went to Egypt and tried applying what I had learned. The locals understood what I was saying, and I was able to understand them.
  • The vocabulary in these lessons consists of things that would actually be useful to a tourist or business traveler visiting Egypt.
  • The lessons are structured in a way that enable me to start putting sentences together and start understanding what other people say.
  • The 30-minute lesson length is convenient for me. I find it easy to jump back to the beginning of a lesson and repeat it multiple times before moving on to the next.
  • I feel that this program gave me a solid starting point.
  • Although I still am very much a beginner at speaking Arabic, I find I'm much more capable of saying something in Arabic than I am at saying something in Spanish, even though I studied 2 years of Spanish at the university level.
  • The program has two different people speaking the words being taught, a man and a woman. I find it helpful to hear how two different people pronounce the words, because sometimes one of them is easier to understand than the other. The word is repeated many times by both speakers through the process of drilling with it.
  • The structure introduces one word at a time, then teaches how to incorporate it into a variety sentences. This enables me to wrap my brain around the idea of putting together my own sentences. I much prefer that over the "memorized phrases" approach that another CD that I tried used.
  • The instruction introduces grammar throughout the program, but does so in a way that is not intimidating. I never once heard the words, "conjugate", "indirect object", "subjunctive case" or other such grammatical terms that used to twist my brain into knots in university language classes.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • Later lessons don't provide as much review as I wanted of earlier materials. For example, the verb forms that correspond with "he", "she", and "they" were briefly introduced somewhere around lesson 18, reviewed in the next lesson, and then never reviewed again after that.
  • Although Pimsleur offers other languages with "Level 2" and "Level 3" that take the instruction forward with additional vocabulary and grammar, the Egyptian Arabic set does not. It offers only "Level 1" and leaves me asking, "Now that I completed this, what do I do next?"
  • The printed materials that come with the course fail to provide any guidance on which lessons introduce which material, making it almost impossible for me to go back and find the applicable CD to review specific topics later if I find I've forgotten something.
  • The "User's Guide" booklet that comes with the series is almost useless, consisting primarily of marketing propaganda that extols the virtues of Pimsleur's method. There are a couple of paragraphs containing suggestions on how to get the most benefit out of the CD's but the bulk of this so-called "User's Guide" is merely ad copy.
  • The vocabulary in the lessons is U.S.-centric. For example, it teaches you how to say, "I am American," but it does not teach you how to say, "I am Canadian," "I am Australian", etc.
  • The designers of the course made some odd decisions in which material to group together. For example, around Lesson 4 the course teaches how to ask for directions, but the only responses it teaches at that time are "here" and "over there". You have to wait until much later, around Lesson 24, to learn more valuable answers such as "left," "right," and "straight ahead".

 

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Conclusion

The Pimsleur instruction in Egyptian Arabic provides a useful place to start in learning to speak and comprehend the Egyptian dialect of the Arabic language. It teaches grammar and vocabulary that could be useful for a tourist or business traveler to know when visiting Egypt, and I would definitely recommend it for people whose usage of Arabic would be in these situations.

Comparing what I learned in this program to what I would have learned in a semester of a college language course:

  • This CD set let me choose the specific dialect of Arabic that I wanted to learn (i.e., Egyptian.) A college course would almost certainly have taught me Modern Standard Arabic. That is good for some uses, but it wasn't the version of Arabic I personally wanted to start with.
  • A one-semester college course probably would have taught me more vocabulary words than the 30-lesson Pimsleur set did, and certainly would have provided me with more in-depth understanding of grammar rules than Pimsleur.
  • After two full years of studying French at the university level, I struggled to form complete sentences when I went to France on vacation. Although I could ask for directions, I had difficulty understanding the response. I certainly would not have been able to argue with a cab driver about the fare. In contrast, after completing the 30 lessons in the Pimsleur's Egyptian Arabic program, I was able to put sentences together easily and confidently, and I was able to argue cab fare solely using Arabic.

There is a saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Learning Arabic will be a long journey for me, but I feel the Pimsleur's program has helped me get as far as the first rest stop. I have far to go, but I also feel very positive about how far I have come up until now.

If you are confident in your ability to do self-study, then I recommend proceeding directly to the full 30-lesson package. If you're unsure of how well you can discipline yourself to focus and learn, then you migiht want to start with one of the lower-priced versions containing fewer lessons. I started with the 10-lesson version, and after completing that I went to the full version.

 

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Disclosures

I don't know any of the people involved in producing this set of language instruction lessons.

However, my opinion toward this set probably is influenced by my previous experience in studying French, German, and Spanish in a university classroom. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in French and journalism. In addition, I took enough university-level coursework in German to speak it semi-fluently, and I probably could have obtained a formal "minor" in German if I had filed the paperwork to request it. I also took three years of university coursework in Spanish, resulting in my ability to read Spanish and understand the spoken word, although I struggle when trying to say something in Spanish.

The result of the above previous language study is that I can knowledgeably compare the academic methodology I experienced in the university classroom with the very different approach that Pimsleur uses. I have concluded that each has its merits.

Despite this previous background, I find it very difficult to learn languages that are foreign to me. I envy people who can pick up new languages easily - I am not one of them. So even though I've learned three prior languages, it wasn't easy for me to work my way through these Arabic lessons. Another hurdle for me is that I'm a visual learner, and I frequently wished for a companion textbook to help me digest the spoken words.

 

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Contact Information

Phone: 1-800-831-5497

Web Site: www.pimsleur.com


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