Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pimsleur Irish Language Learning CDs

Since I checked these out ten months after I had first done so from the library today, in preparation to upload them to my iPod for dull but necessary practice drills in hearing and getting my mouth rather than my passive gaze around the mumbles and garbles of Irish as she is spoke---here's a review attached to an earlier Amazon review in turn, as Pimsleur keeps putting out the same basic product but now as of last month in its third different packaging...

This is a review of the version with a gold and green trimmed cover in larger plastic tape case, and 5 CDs; it also exists in a 4 CD version in a white paper box with a Celtic Cross. The third and newest version here, just out in Feb. 2007, is apparently significantly more money and has Simon & Schuster's name added to the crimson cover. I cannot confirm that the contents are the same, but my suspicion is that they are across all three versions (the other two are cheaper than this newest issuing!). The 4 CD paper box is the same core as the 5 CD plastic one-- the only difference is an admittedly useful fifth CD that explains the Pimsleur method and how to get the best use out of the system; this fifth CD may have been added after users complained that the 4-CD version gave no printed material (that's the whole point of Pimsleur on the other hand!) and no context. I found the extra 5th CD helpful in learning how the Pimsleur system was invented and applied to the audio lessons. I might add that despite their shortcomings, you can upload Pimsleur CDs to a computer or MP3 or iPod player and have instantly portable Irish practice.

What follows is my Amazon review [May 2006] of the plastic box 5CD set...

The pros and cons of these tapes have been sufficiently enumerated by the reviewers who've posted here (that is, at the earlier version for these tapes, i.e, the 4CD box!) . What I want to add is that the "First Course" version (a green cover, no Celtic Cross, more rectangular, whereas the Quick & Simple version is in a square white box) has not 4 CDs but 5. This 5th, called a User's Manual, explains how Dr. Paul Pimsleur developed his method of language learning and then introduces the rationale and set-up that the lessons will follow. Why mention this? On the 4CD newer version, it seems that no orientation is given. I happened to find the "Short Course" version, and having heard the 5th disc first, it greatly eased my expectations when I cued up the first lesson. Naturally, when you're beginning to study a language where for an English learner, Irish orthography differs so much from the spoken sounds, further jitters caused by not knowing why the Pimsleur method eschews texts only worsen one's readiness to learn Irish by imitation and example, as done here.

I leave the Munster dialect debate aside; I think that having speakers in all three major regional dialects would have been preferable, to condition one's ear to how Irish is spoken in the media. Now that you can get RnG feeds at your computer, hearing "real" Irish in its native setting is possible anywhere. The use of these tapes, I suppose, is to make you wrap your tongue and clear your throat around strenuous attempts to keep trying to speak out loud a bit of Irish. Granted, by the end of 8 hours you'll be able to hold a rudimentary conversation, but if you know that the course only aims at this limited ability, perhaps you'll better be able to judge if it's the kind of learning aid that works for you. These tapes are in many public libraries too, by the way. For eight hours of drill, they're cheaper than any tutor and for learners like me who get too nervous to speak well when put on the spot in live settings, these tapes offer a more encouraging environment to learn in.

I agree with many users: not having the text in front of me was far more a disadvantage than a help, since I learn best by "seeing" in my mind's eye the spelling of the words that I am speaking. Not being able to do this with Pimsleur does put stress on the learner, but if used in conjunction with other tapes and books, it does force you to try to enunciate, however imperfectly, some approximation of spoken Irish. I kept figuring out after being found wrong by the "answer" on the tape that only belatedly could I match the phrase said to the my delayed realization of how the phrase would be written. You have to repeat lessons, therefore, to get the value out of these tapes. That User's Guide 5th disc tells you that competency is when you're getting around 80% of the answers right, and I know that nearly no honest learner just starting out is likely to score this all the way through eight hours--especially given the dialectal distinctions between the two voices heard and articulation hurdles you must jump.

True, however drastically the words as written differ from those spoken in Irish, not having a sense of how "ca bhfuil" is said vs. spelled will not help any learner wishing to set a solid foundation in Irish. Thus, I would take on these tapes only after having a basic foundation in at least having read in book form the phrases generally employed at this level of conversation. Their one advantage: any tapes goading you to say something out loud make you less of a passive learner overconfident that simply looking at dialogues in a primer will push you to fluency.

I do wish that the makers would make a series by Pimsleur with advanced levels of Irish for conversation; this type of speaking practice beyond the few phrases taught here is a sorely needed product that outside Ireland itself is still often far from readily available on CD for higher-level but still beginning learners.

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