How Does the Pimsleur Method Work?
The Pimsleur System is built around our natural language learning capabilities. When we were children, we seemed to absorb language, as we age, that learning process tends to becomes more difficult. Dr. Pimsleur studied the way that language skills are developed as we grow up and applied those techniques to his revolutionary system.
What is the secret of the Pimsleur programs that makes this happen?
Pimsleur takes advantage of the way the human brain acquires language as speech and creates its methodology around the single fact that there is a central way everyone acquires the ability to communicate in any language.
It is well known from studies of the brain that human beings recognize, identify and capture patterns of speech. This is how human infants learn their mother tongue over the first six years of life.
With that task accomplished, everyone has the necessary physical and mental equipment to go on and acquire additional means of communication (languages)! But—and this is the singular and highly complex factor that allows or prevents adults from doing what comes naturally—it is all in the selection and organization of the language materials which are created to manage second–language acquisition.
It is no longer efficient for an adult to learn by simply being exposed to other languages (as happens as a baby) because, being in possession of a fine first language which enables an adult to survive handsomely, there now has to be a different motivating factor as well as a second–language program which is especially prepared to recapitulate—in a special way—the original process of language acquisition for the adult mentality.
It was Dr. Paul Pimsleur who, through many years of research and development, discovered how to select and organize the materials of the second language to fit the one way that the stream of speech of an unknown language can enter the consciousness of the adult and be processed through the language learning power of the human brain.
The Pimsleur methodology, which makes language acquisition happen, looks singularly easy and transparent, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The science and skill (art, if you will) of creating a Pimsleur program requires, nay demands, some 2,000 person–hours of three trained individuals to prepare thirty lessons of a Pimsleur Program.
The fine art of asking questions which will encourage the learner to induce the grammatical basis for answering the question, not only correctly, but also with the appropriate sounds of the new language as it delivers the meaning involved, is what enables the programmed Pimsleur course to make language acquisition happen whenever the audio is heard.
This is the highly significant difference between Pimsleur programs and all other sets of published language materials. It is the secret to why Pimsleur works and creates in the learner a significant and measurable set of communication skills provided they follow the scheduled learning activities as prescribed by the Pimsleur methodology.
The Parable of the "Building–Block–of–a–Language Theory"
There are those who believe that languages are composed of what they call the "building–blocks"– of a language. These consist of neat rows of verb conjugation tables, grammatical rules, vocabulary lists with translations, and other bricks, sand and cement, nails and associated building materials such as men piled together when they plan to mass–produce houses.
Obviously, when a house is being built, the clever logistics of the supplies makes it efficient and effective in reducing the time required to produce a number of houses.
Language builders overlooked the fact that the building blocks of language cannot be arranged and taught as spoken communication skills because the missing ingredient is the way human beings string together language in the form of meaningful speech acts, over the axis of time, which accounts for the way the human brain evolved to both create and understand language.
The critical point is that unless a learner has learned instances of language–in–use, he has not learned them as language.
If learning to understand and to speak a language were simply a matter of memorizing and storing words and sentences, an infinite number of sentences would have to be over learned (memorized), which is obviously an impossible and useless task since an infinite variety of sentence patterns is used in ordinary speech.
The complexity of an internalized grammar is such that no linguist has yet succeeded in making it explicit, or in solving the problem of how a learner can consciously apply the academic rules of grammar during actual conversation.
The Pimsleur I program will take a learner from zero spoken proficiency to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Intermediate–Low level in thirty lessons; Pimsleur II will take a learner who has completed the I and II (sixty lessons) to the Intermediate–Mid level; and the Pimsleur III will take a learner who has completed Pimsleur I, II and III (ninety lessons) to the Intermediate–High level of spoken proficiency on the ACTFL Scale.
Dr. Pimsleur selected the one universal feature of human language and, using it with great skill and art, reduced the problem of spoken–language acquisition through making it possible for adult learners to recapitulate the learning of additional languages within 15 to 45 hours of programmed instruction.