Thursday, December 6, 2012

Using Pimsleur (Or any audio language course) with SuperMemo

Language acquisition is not a simple, cut-and-dry matter. A great deal of blood and sweat is required, and no single language course is a "silver-bullet" for becoming fluent in a language. Each language course has strong points and shortcomings. Pimsleur is a language course that has strong points and also shortcomings, but I believe that the strong points outweigh those shortcomings, especially when you are starting out with a language.

When I first started learning Japanese (And before I started using SuperMemo), I listened to Pimsleur Japanese I, doing one lesson a day. Although I read reviews criticizing Pimsleur's Japanese course, I found it very useful in acquiring a few phrases and getting rid of my American accent. After I was using Pimsleur for a couple of weeks, a Japanese friend (Who is very strict at correcting my Japanese) called me, and I picked up the phone and said "hello" in Japanese, and my friend said "I thought I accidentally called a Japanese person." I say this not to toot my own horn, but to show that Pimsleur language courses have at least SOME bit of usefulness.

If you've never heard of Pimsleur, they are a company that makes (Expensive) audio-only language courses. What makes them effective is the "fill-in-the-blank" structure, which requires that you produce responses frequently AND the smart use of graduated interval recall to aid in short and long-term retention (It helps short-term retention like nothing else I've ever used, personally).

For years I have not been using Pimsleur, but after deciding to learn Hindi, I have started using Pimsleur Hindi. This time, I am going through the course with the aid of SuperMemo.

This has been my routine, and it has been very useful for me:

1. Listen to a lesson of Pimsleur with SuperMemo turned on.
2. If I hear a new phrase or word used, pause the lesson and make a flashcard of that phrase.
3. If I have trouble producing a phrase they ask for, pause the lesson and make a flashcard of that phrase.
4. Keep doing this until lesson is finished.

Two things I've noticed so far:
This whole process takes about 35-40 minutes to complete.
The Pimsleur lessons take care of short-term retention while SuperMemo can take care of the long term retention. If you do more than one lesson per day relying ONLY on Pimsleur, you risk messing with their spaced repetition algorithm. Using SuperMemo ALONGSIDE Pimsleur removes this barrier, allowing you to complete more than one lesson per day.
You can also go days or weeks without doing a lesson without losing progress. Typically Pimsleur courses are best done one lesson per day, every day. Again, SuperMemo acts as the safety net you would otherwise be without.

I'll create another post if I find anything else notable as I go along this course. I suspect I will be finished with Pimsleur Hindi in the next couple of weeks, mainly due to various demands of my time.


  1. I would gladly take on Primsleur Japanese. What you're describing seems like a very good aproach. I wonder though how letter and ideogram learning fits into all this? Do you have some suggestions?

  2. You're a Genius! I'm gonna start using this method.