Customer Review

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best out there (but still some room for improvement ...), August 25, 2005
This review is from: Italian I, Comprehensive: Learn to Speak and Understand Italian with Pimsleur Language Programs (Audio CD)
First some background about me to help you put my review in context. I consider myself only an average (maybe even less than that) language student. Years ago I took spanish in HS and could pass written tests. But like the proverbial American language student, I couldn't even order a burrito in spanish.

I became interested in learning italian and took a class at a local CC, which I ended up dropping. The pace was too quick, for one. Dozens of new words each week, and the teacher might say each one once. From that I was supposed to know the correct pronounciation -- NOT! I realized I was on the HS path again; I'd be able to pass tests but wouldn't be able to order a glass of chianti if I actually had to ask for it. And I wanted to speak to people, not pass written tests.

Pimsleur has been like a dream come true! The lessons are carefully paced and you hear each phrase or word over and over. They drill you on it, too, just like having your own personal coach who never gets tired or frustrated. "Ask me where Venito street is", "It's over there", for example, with variations until you can do it in your sleep. And they constantly remind you to check your pronounciation against that of the speaker.

I really can't speak an incredible amount after the 30 lessons, its not like I'm going to be reading the newspaper or chatting with people in italian. But I CAN ask how much something costs, know the numbers, can ask what time it is, can ask for beer/wine/water/milk/coffee, know the polite greetings, can ask for simple directions, and more. And all this from talking to my car on the way to/from work! BTW even though Pimsleur suggests one lesson a day I had to repeat each 2 or 3 times (over the same day or 2 days) in order to get it right.

That's the good news, and it IS good. I do want to point out a few problems to keep it balanced. First off, I'm lucky to work with people who are fluent in italian. The CDs don't explain a lot of the grammar, and sometimes the sentence is hard to hear. In the later CDs they tend to present some new material quite rapidly and I'm not sure if its an "ee" or "aa" sound I'm hearing, for example. And the CD's have only a single track per 30 minute lesson! Why the heck didn't they split it into more tracks so you could jump back to an earlier part easily?

And while Pimsleur does advise against relying on written material, I've found I have to write it down in order to review the vocabulary. They're right, the english system is so engrained it interferes with pronouncing some words correctly if you write them down. So it would have been nice if they had a review disk with a few minutes per set of 3 or 4 lessons so you could quickly review, or at least made sure all the words are regularly reused. Pimsleur has this idea of graduated intervals so they'll give you a new word/phrase, then repeat it soon after, increasing the time between repetitions but not so long that you've forgotten it. It works great, but their window seems to only encompass a few CDs; after that they seem to figure you know it forever. There are words you hear over a few CDs and then just never hear again. Maybe Pimsleur expects you to remember them forever, but it isn't working that way for me. So I have to write them down so I can review them.

Don't get me wrong, these issues don't make the program not worth buying; I did give it 5 stars and am delighted I found it. I couldn't have learned to speak any other way. While I can't say that much, at least what I do know IS learned and I won't need to be flipping thru phrasebooks to ask where the bathroom is or order a glass of wine. Bottom-line, thank you Pimsleur!!

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to add a postscript, I took my trip to Italy and the prep from this course was amazing! I could rent rooms, order food, ask directions, etc. Sure, I couldn't carry on "real" conversations. But I could function at a very basic level in the actual language of the country rather than having to be the ugly American who expects everyone else to speak English. The course was well worth it, and now I'm going to do courses II and III for my next trip!
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Location: Los Angeles, CA USA

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