Deficiencies of Callan and Pimsleur Methods?


Arkady Zilberman of Language Bridge recently has answered a couple of questions about language learning methods and then he asked me this:

“Here I came to the point when I want to ask you a question. Torsten, can you please explain why the Pimsleur method, which has so many deficiencies is widely used by millions whereas such a modern and patented system as Language Bridge is used by thousands of customers only?”

I think that Pimsleur is so popular because the product has been around for a decades and Simon & Schuster have done an excellent job in marketing the system. The Pimsleur Approach was probably the first language learning system that has been commercially promoted.

What reasons do you see for its commercial success?
Many thanks,
PS: Here you can read the interview with Arkady Zilberman.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEFL listening lectures: A lecture from a marine biology class[YSaerTTEW443543]

There were many commercially promoted language learning systems before Pimsleur. Many, many. Linguaphone, Conversaphone, and several commercially promoted repackagings of US government audio learning programs.

There are many reasons why Pimsleur would be more popular than Language Bridge:

  1. The Pimsleur approach is a reworking of the audiolingual method that was the pedagogical rage from about the 1940s through the 1970s. The audiolingual method was popularized when private companies began repackaging and selling the US Foreign Service Institute self-study programs, so people were already familiar with using that sort of method. For a couple decades pedagogues have been disparaging this method, saying it doesn’t work, and they push for the communicative method. However, many people have acquired languages effectively with this method (more effectively with the FSI courses than with Pimsleur), and current neurological research is starting to rehabilitate its reputation.

  2. The second reason may or may not be peculiar to North America: Language Bridge requires you to set aside time and park your butt in front of a computer. Many Americans and Canadians don’t have time to do that on a regular basis, and they do a great deal of language learning in the car. The same thing that drives the popularity of audiobooks drives the popularity of Pimsleur and similar programs. If you look at the recorded language instruction titles in an American bookstore – “Drive Time Spanish”, “Learn Spanish in Your Car”, etc. – you can see this. Now even the software program producers acknowledge this, and try to meet the demand in some way. Rosetta Stone can now be bought with audio CDs, and TellMeMore lets you burn your own custom audio CDs of the lessons you’re working on. Many companies – including even Volkswagen – have lost market share in North America because they didn’t acknowledge how people use their cars and what they do in them.

And to the car you can add the gym or time running the streets. People use Pimsleur and similar programs when they exercise, which you can’t do with software.

  1. Even heavy computer users don’t read well from the active screen, and they can often absorb more from the printed page. So Pimsleur or similar audio along with a printed book can be more effective and less fatiguing for many people than a computer program. Plus, you can carry the book around with you, stick it in your pocket, etc., and it’s cheap enough that you don’t have to worry about it being stolen (like a laptop).

  2. Production values. If something has very good design or production values, people trust it. Pimsleur is very well recorded, and Rosetta Stone has very beautiful graphics. Language Bridge has a very ugly design. The interface looks like it’s from the mid-1990s, and the images are cheesy clip art from the same era. When something looks that cheap, people don’t trust it.

  3. The Language Bridge website has English information, but the text is composed Russian-style. It also has a “Manifesto” instead of a mission statement, which sounds creepily Soviet and makes the consumer imagine shouting people with their fists in the air. The video is in Russian, with English subtitles, so native English speakers will just click out.

Those are just some of the reasons that come to quickly to mind.

Which of these methods would you say are close to, or describe fully, the Callan and Pimsleur methods, Torsten?

“A presentation methodology is based on the belief that out of accuracy comes fluency. A task-based methodology is based on the belief that out of fluency comes accuracy, and that learning is prompted and refined by the need to communicate.”

M Willis

People by and large have a hard time to put aside stereotypes and just listen to things as they are. I have been told that Amie K. actually has a lot of experience in applied linguistics. Unfortunately, Amie evaluated Language Bridge by relating it to his own experience and knowledge; not surprisingly he did not appreciate the new approach of the patented Language Bridge method. For example, Amie did not notice that the Language Bridge software has a built-in function allowing any lesson or drill to be printed out, and corresponding audio files to be transferred to any MP3 player to work in the most flexible way with or without a computer. He compared this non-commercial no-grammar no-memorization approach to the commercial Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone programs, stating: “Pimsleur is very well recorded, and Rosetta Stone has very beautiful graphics". The strength of Language Bridge is in using a new mechanism of learning and not in graphics or recordings.

I agree with Robin Callan, who many years ago expressed his opinion: “Most language books are written by linguists for linguists. It is very difficult for linguists to understand the difficulties non-linguists have in learning a language. Jamie K’s cannot understand that what was easy for him to learn is extremely difficult for others”. Language Bridge is written for others, for those who have difficulties in acquiring a foreign language by conventional methods.

The majority of all adults who want to learn a second language suffer from a so-called “cross translation” problem and think they are “language incapable”. There are estimates that about 90% of adults belong to this group. Language Bridge is the first, unfortunately non-commercial, program that helps this group of adults to learn English in one-quarter of the time.

Dr. David Nunan one of the world’s foremost experts on English instruction published in 2006 White Paper entitled: “The Evolution of Technology and Value of Online English Language Learning”. In this paper he described the benefits of computer-based course delivery over more conventional classroom-based instruction. “Technology has advanced so far as to make online language training not only viable but superior to traditional methods for many users,” said Dr. D. Nunan. “We have to replicate the classroom experience by providing multisensory learning, constant interactivity and immediate feedback while creating a personalized learning environment and a private space for students to make mistakes.”

Nowadays the global economy develops so fast and demand in English speaking employees is so high that we have to develop a new method that would be multisensory multimedia and adaptable to ever-changing environment from self-study to classroom or online study or study in a car. The Language Bridge Mission described at the web site outlines in details how we can meet the new objective in learning foreign languages.

Amie K. did not read this document and in his evaluation of Language Bridge method there is not a single word about the new learning mechanism that was implemented in prototype software. The methodology of learning a foreign language should be changed from Learning to Doing, and then the brain starts working as a creator of a new language skill. The new skill is acquired by speaking in a class or in online course or during self-study four times more than in conventional school. It is an effective alternative to expensive and time-consuming classroom education, which cannot accommodate the millions and millions of the employees of the Global economy.

By 2025 the number of English-speaking Chinese is likely to exceed the number of native English speakers in the rest of the world. The Global economy needs a new system of learning English as a global language by millions of ecitizens of the world. Language Bridge meets the requirements of our time which were clearly expressed by Dr. D. Nunan in his white paper.

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