Thoughts on Pimsleur Conversational Czech

The Pimsleur language learning system may not be highly regarded in formal language education, but it remains a best-selling language self-study course. I have never used a Pimsleur-branded product, so I went through the 16-lesson Conversational Czech course. Couldn’t hurt, and there are relatively few competing resources out there for self-study of Czech.

Mostly Pimsleur sells 30-lesson courses downloadable as MP3s for about $100 (or on CD for $300). These lessons are intended to be listened to once or twice a day, to take advantage of spaced repetition/graduated interval learning. The lessons are purely audio, involving listen-and-repeat and simple translation exercises. Conversational Czech is kind of a holdover, since it provided the first 16 lessons on CD for about $35.

The first few lessons were very easy for me, even as a novice, but quickly became difficult enough that it became worthwhile to listen to each half-hour episode twice per day. The rate of speech was appropriately challenging, and Czech pronunciation is difficult enough for me to make lots of this kind of practice worthwhile. However, I never fully grasped some of the question-forming patterns they used, and the format makes questions or further exploration of difficult points impossible. This is what started throwing me off the course. Also, I was listening to these programs on my commute, but an interruption in my schedule after lesson 10 led me to skip lessons for almost two weeks. After coming back to it, my knowledge was very stale, and I largely gave up on the course and burned through it to finish it off. The later lessons focused more on numbers, which I know fairly well already. The vocabulary and phrases taught are unquestionably valuable, if slight. There are several dozen words taught, perhaps over 100, along with maybe a dozen high-frequency and useful verbs. The situations covered are all very useful and practical. The format, with one male speaker and one female speaker, can make some of the gender distinctions more subtle: the course repeatedly puts the user in the shoes of the male speaker.

A couple of interesting sound changes were apparent in the audio, as well. In some non-standard usage (according to Naughton [13]), is changed to . This can make the distinction between words such as kde “where” and kdi “when” fairly subtle.

All in all, I can see some value to this, especially for beginning learners who do not have access to native-language teachers or conversation partners, and who have a means to extend their learning immediately after the course. But doing a whole 30-lesson course in a month sounds like it would be a long slog. The ideal case would probably be a person flying to the country in a fortnight or month, who can begin interacting with native speakers immediately after completing several days of lessons. The course doesn’t try more than basic active fluency in common, practical situations, but that is still a good goal. But it’s no more than a means of jump-starting the gradual acquisition of a language in conversation with other speakers.


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