Modernizing language learning

Software and CDs like these can make leaning a new language

Maybe those repetitive tapes weren’t the answer. (

Buenos dias, se
ñor! Donde esta el cine?

Five minutes after the cassette came to an end, you couldn’t
remember any of the phrases you’d just repeated back in monkey-like
fashion, right? Not to worry.
Maybe those repetitive tapes weren’t the answer. (“Buenos dias, señor! Donde esta el cine?”)

Five minutes after the cassette came to an end, you couldn’t remember any of the phrases you’d just repeated back in monkey-like fashion, right? Not to worry.

Most adults struggle with language retention outside of their own dialect, but newer language technologies are teaching the science of speech through more highly developed principals, utilizing audio CDs and even CD-Rom software with integrated videos and teaching components included.

Now that’s self-education for the 21st century.

One of the most popular language systems in vogue right now is the ubiquitous Pimsleur audio system, developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, a professor of French Phonetics and Phonemics as well as director of the language laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles for much of his career.

Pimsleur spent much of his career studying language acquisition, especially the ways in which children acquire language despite their lack of formal structural knowledge, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

His language system, based on two general ideas called the Principal of Anticipation and Graduated Interval Recall, was the result of studies on children, adults and multi-lingual adults.

Research suggested that people given the option of answering a question themselves prior to a narrator’s introduction were more likely to actively use the language.

Studies also indicated that the brain gradually assimilated knowledge, requiring less and less repetition of a word or phrase as time went on to incorporate it into the memory.

For instance, “shoe” might be said once, then five seconds later, then one minute later, until the respondent had no need to think about the subject to recognize the word, “shoe.”

The professor died in 1976, years before seeing the true success of his program. Since 1980, more than 25 million people have ordered the system from authorized Pimsleur dealers, with retail giant Barnes & Noble leading the pack in recent times.

The company now features major displays of the language system in their stores. BookSmart in Morgan Hill also carries in-store or may order from any number of the 37 language categories covered by the company, said Brad Jones, co-owner of the store as well as a fan of language, who has used Pimsleur products himself.

“I think it works better for older people,” said Jones. “Certainly the best way to learn a language is when you’re young and you’re able, but I think the main problem with most language programs is they’re trying to teach current language at adult levels.”

Jones prefers Pimsleur to CD-Rom programs he’s tried, but the computer-based approach is the latest trend in language learning.

For around $100 to $200, at-home users can purchase CD-based programs that not only offer language instruction, but reading materials, pictures, video, games and more.

There are nifty bells and whistles like side-by-side playback, allowing a user to record their own voice, then play it back in conjunction with the narrator’s to make sure pronunciation is correct.

The Rosetta Stone line focuses on creating the illusion of cultural immersion as a teaching method, while competitor Tell Me More seeks to lure in potential customers with the promise of 3-D lips modeling speech patterns and guiding software that varies lessons to accommodate a participant’s learning speed.

Still, said Jones, the idea of taking the time to learn things the old fashioned way is appealing.

“My dream is to go down to La Paz for six weeks, hang out a resort that does language immersion, learn some Spanish and lay out with my drink,” said Jones. “If I couldn’t do that, though, I’d probably start with children’s picture books that labeled the item. That way you have an image to connect with the words.”

So, hasta luego. Off you go to the bookstore. That said, language learning is best done at your own pace.

For more information, call BookSmart at (408) 778-6467 or visit

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