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:
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.
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.
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...
This Audio Set Probably Isn't Right for You If...
What I Liked, What I Didn't
What I Liked:
What I Didn't Like:
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:
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.
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.
Web Site: www.pimsleur.com
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