by

The way advertisers are able to target you on the internet is both really cool and kind of annoying. I heard about one of my favorite bands coming to my city through an online ad, but after writing a post for Tofugu about Hawai’i, I saw ads for longboard accessories for months afterwards, despite that fact that I’ve never ridden a longboard in my life.

If the ad gods of the internet think that you’re interested in learning a language, then you’ve probably seen your share of language learning ads. One ad in particular has been showing up over and over for me, and probably a bunch of you too: the stupid “Language Professors HATE Him!” ads.

According to these ads, we’re all missing out on some amazing secret method to learning languages that The Man has been keeping down. The truth is that this secret method isn’t actually all that secret, and won’t be able to teach you Japanese in 10 days.

The Pimsleur Method

Paul Pimsleur was an American who taught French in the 60s. Over the years, he came up with his own method to teach language, something we now call the Pimsleur Method.

The Pimsleur Method is actually pretty modern and effective, when you get down to it. Even though it doesn’t teach writing at all, it incorporates a ton of language-learning methods that are still used a lot to this day. Pimsleur used spaced repetition (like WaniKani or Anki), and focused on teaching the “core” words of a language that are used most often (like the core Anki decks you see).

There’s really nothing wrong with the Pimsleur Method itself, but the way it’s sold nowadays can be pretty sketchy. Companies do things like tell you you can learn Japanese in only 10 days (lol), or start charging you for lessons you didn’t even know you’d ordered. If you decide to try the Pimsleur method, be careful about where you get it from.

Talkingtoofast

Fortunately though, Pimsleur is remembered for more than the teaching method that online ads spam you with. One of my favorite podcasts, Lexicon Valley, just ran an episode about Pimsleur. The podcast talked a bit about the Pimsleur method and stuff like that, but what I hadn’t heard before was how he studied how quickly people speak.

Apparently, Pimsleur thought one of the big problems people had when learning a language is not being able to keep up when hearing the language spoken aloud. I know that I’ve definitely sat by completely befuddled as somebody speaks Japanese way too quickly for me to keep up.

A few months ago, we had a post about why Japanese people talk so fast (it’s because Japanese conveys information slowly), but it looks like we were only scratching the surface.

When Lexicon Valley talked about how Pimsleur studied how quickly people talk, I realized that measuring how fast or slow an language is is actually really really hard. How do you measure speed?

Photo by Gary Eyring

You could look at the number of words used in a sentence, but that seems hard. You can say the same thing using different words in every language, so how do you decide which is the normal or average way to say something? I really don’t know.

One thing that really blew my mind was when Lexicon Valley pointed out how a syllable can be a really misleading form of measurement. The example they used was that “strengths” is just one syllable in English, even though it’s kind of a long, complex word. In other languages (like Japanese), one syllable is a lot more restrictive

You could break it down another level from syllables and measure phonemes, the most basic unit of sound in languages, but that still doesn’t really solve any of the problems we’ve run into earlier.

Maybe there’s not one, objective way to measure how “fast” a language is. It seems like everybody thinks that foreign languages sound really fast anyway. Lexicon Valley points out that in a study of Japanese and American college students, both groups said that foreign languages sound faster.

Pimsleur did what he could in studying how quickly people talk, but obviously there’s a lot more to explore. He never got a chance to completely finish his work, but at the very least Pimsleur’s legacy will live on as long as there are mice to click on banner ads.

  • ちめ

    The SRS Pimsleur developed seems to work as well as wanikani for me.

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    Oh man, this ad. I see it EVERYWHERE.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Do you think these ads work? I hope so, because I ordered up a million of these:

  • http://www.facebook.com/AveryGoodgame Nick Hattan

    AdBlockPlus, don’t care.

  • ジョサイア

    Me also!

  • ジョサイア

    I tried this and it took just 10 days to master Japanese!

  • Marika

    I am really glad that you guys did a post on this. I’ve been seeing this ad everywhere..the claim is so irrational but I wondered if there was any truth to it.

  • YUP!

    Yes, language professors hate him. That’s why language professors choose Ad-Block.

  • HatsuHazama

    Say what??? I was meant to do those 90 tapes in 10 days! But… But… that means I should have done 4 and a half hours of it each day!

  • Tora.Silver

    This ad, and the “want to date Asian girls?” ad. I’m sure that the majority of us have seen those two.

  • http://twitter.com/hymnia7 Joie Brannan

    I’ve been working my way through the Pimsleur Japanese CDs from my local library, and I have to say that I think they are great–I definitely would endorse them if you want to work on listening to and speaking Japanese at a natural pace, and in a way where you don’t have to consciously memorize vocabulary. However, I’ve been at it way more than 10 days, and am far form mastering the language, I assure you. So yeah. Very misleading ad. I mean, I guess it all comes down to what you mean by “learning” a language. But I’m pretty sure most people would agree that how far you get by day 10 of the Pimsleur course is still a long way from having “learned” Japanese.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    It’s really annoying when YouTube puts this as an ad on the list of related videos (which are almost never related anymore! I want similar videos, not videos you think I’ll like! You don’t know jack about my tastes!). No adblocking software will get rid of it.

    It really bothers me though when rather decent products get put out through sleazy marketing methods. From what I’ve read, Pimsleur’s method is actually pretty good for learning to listen and speak a language. It won’t do this in ten days though nor will it make you fluent (I’m pretty sure they fall into the textbook issue of giving you really outdated words too). It will get you good at what it teaches though. I also think their pricing is a bit sleazy too, but you can probably get all the lessons from the library (support your local libraries and independent book sellers please!).

  • http://www.facebook.com/Angel.Valis Sean Douglas

    If you read the fine print and listen to them really closely in the ad, they only claim that you’ll have basic language skills that could potentially help you get around in the language’s native land in 10 days. The ad walks that fine line between true and false, where technically it’s telling the truth, but says it in a way that completely skews viewers perceptions and expectations.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    The Japanese Language Learning Industry hates him! Learn Japanese in 10 days using this one weird, old tip…

  • linguarum

    The backwards build-up method that Pimsleur pioneered probably deserves honorable mention too. Something about teaching a phrase backward helps you learn faster. “Bananas. Green bananas. Like green bananas. I like green bananas.”

  • Mashimaro

    I watched a bit of that video, to humour myself… I love how they say,”Learn the language, with no annoying vocabulary!”… A magical language learning method! It doesn’t even require you to learn the language and yet you still learn the language!

  • DAVIDPD

    He is like the Dr. Oppenheimer of linguistics. Haha.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.hollingsworth.75 Mike Hollingsworth

    I’ve tried a few language programs and honestly I think Pimsleur is probably the best *in combination with something else more formal*. A club or class where you’re learning grammar, reading and writing. They do provide printed material, that corresponds with the lessons, so you can actually see exactly what you’re saying (helpful when you can’t quite catch a syllable or with some languages that “swallow” word endings…).

    This combination seems to help me to bridge the gap between a rigid class structure (where you may not be speaking much, especially at first) and more flexible, conversational learning. The two methods seem to re-enforce each other nicely.

  • Koichiben’s Spirit

    Koichiben, who makes the awesome drawings that precede each article? I really want to know. Please, tell me. :)

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    I really like the Pimsleur method, and I completed the whole course years ago when I started learning Japanese. It got me up and speaking quickly, which was a big help. The course uses some sound, basic principles that many people just starting out would find valuable, such as spaced repetition, review of the previous day’s lesson, learning in the context of sentences, and visualization.

    The only thing lacking was any advice of where to go once I’d finished Level III. Having just completed an all-audio course, I was inclined to keep going using audio instead of reading. That turned out to be a really bad move in the long run. You’ve got to learn the kanji if you want to progress in Japanese. Just sayin.

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    Hmm, I’ve never seen it. Guess I’m just lucky!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Angel.Valis Sean Douglas

    They don’t mean that you don’t have to learn the words, they’re talking about learning holistically. You pick up the meaning of the words in context rather than having to memorize lists of vocab out of context. And depending on the person and the word(s), this can be incredibly useful; sometimes a word makes little sense out of context.

  • 范謙謹ジョサイア

    hey I have the same name as you with chinese name:P

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    That’s @ayabuns on Twitter!

  • ジョサイア

    That’s nice, but I had the name first so that is techniclly a copyright infrengment. :b

  • Koichiben’s Spirit

    Thank you, Mr. Cool Frood! :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    No problem, my spirit

  • anin12

    nice referernce to the ad block!

  • Ricky

    this ad is hella annoying..

  • Jonathan Baumgart

    I find these type of ads kind of silly so I decided to create a Tumblr blog dedicated to poking fun at them: http://callingallhaters.tumblr.com/