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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommened with Reservations, 12 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: Pimsleur Chinese (Mandarin) Level 1 CD: Learn to Speak and Understand Mandarin Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Audio CD)
I have finished Pimsleur Mandarin I-III and did all the lessons at least 3 times.

The Pimsleur series in general, always encourages a sense of enthusiasm mainly for the deceptive (perhaps too strong a word) marketing and partly for the somewhat raving reviews!

To put my review in context I am a native English speaker with much more natural ability in physical sciences rather than languages I have always been very mediocre in languages and never had any interest whatsoever in learning a foreign language. It more was just a passing interest that first introduced me to Mandarin Chinese. With a curiosity of the impenetrable nature of the language so distant from English grasped my interest but I really just started at a whim. Very Surprisingly continued with it off and on to the end of the 3rd Series.

Pimsleur focuses on the 30 minute a day lessons, Seems easy right? Hence the full course should take 90 days before you have attained a advanced beginner stage. Therein lies the problem. If one realistically expects to get a good grasp of a language with just 30 mins a day, then one is very much mistaken! In my view it takes a lot, lot, longer that this, at least 3 times as long.

Some reviewers are obviously a lot better than I at picking up a language and have noted the slow progress. For me progress was a little too fast and I need to constantly repeat the lesson or going over old lessons, especially as you advance on throughout the units.

I think a lot of points have been made already about the Pimsleur Mandarin Series however I will add some for clarity

Pimsleur Context
No question about it Pimsleur should not be your only source. You should at least have a pocket dictionary (The Collins pocket dictionary is good), a grammar book (Basic Chinese Grammar by Yip Po-Ching, et al), and by series II, a good set of websites. There are loads of excellent free ones that list and detail issues such as measure words, proper discussion of tenses. Even towards the end I hadn't really grasped the proper use of the `le' and `de' particle.

Pros
Its maintains interest!
This should not be underestimated! Learning Chinese is difficult but ultimately rewarding.
**If you are doing it for personal reward like me, this one key point outweighs all the cons below and justifies the course in the first place**
I work long hours and the last thing I want to do is read a traditional text book in Mandarin every evening. I never took to solely slogging my way through a tedious grammar book or constant repetition of words via a flash cards. Pimsleur takes you from the first few basic words to complete (albeit short) sentences by day one. Pimsleur does an excellent job of bite size learning which maintains the enthusiasm!

Great stepping stone
Naively I thought the 3 series would put me at an intermediate stage. You can have a basic elementary conversation with a native speaker who speaks slowly but as soon as the conversation takes off, or they alter the sentence, drop in unknown words, you are lost! This can be very disheartening as unfortunately (or more realistically), most people don't speak with the great clarity as the speaker on the audio files. This is not all bad, you are left with a strong sense of feeling that you can progress at a similar pace should you choose to continue on your own studies or via some other taught course. I read somewhere that 90% of spoken Chinese is covered by 1000 most frequently used characters (note characters not words!). Not sure how accurate my facts are!

Cons
Lack of script.
This is a major drawback in my view. This is the main reason I retract a point from the rating.
The tones and characters can be very subtle. Although the tones should very different at the start as the lessons progress, you forget what exactly the tone the speaker is actually using, so you end up convincing yourself that you have been saying the correct tone all along. Furthermore, `Tone Shandi' is not mentioned at all, For example: in lesson one, you are told that hello = ni3 hao3, i.e. 2, 3rd tone characters, however, when 2, 3rd tone characters appear in a row like this, native speakers pronounce the first one with a 2nd tone, i.e. ni2 hao3.
I am baffled as to why Pimsleur refuse to give transcripts, it can only aid the course. No-one is going to get the script and not use the course! Although you can get attain a transcript fairly easily on the web if one is inclined to do so, you can, with the aid of a dictionary and a few good websites, write you own script and Dictionary. This is tedious but invariably time well spent. I wrote out most of the lessons in Pimsleur with its corresponding pinyin, (with the aid of my Chinese flat mate!) and it was a huge help! Writing out all the words in pinyin will really hammer the tones and pronunciation in. Some tones are very subtle and are a key part of a taught course, where by you are trying to distinguished, for example, between `si' and `ci'. Pimsleur makes little attempt at highlighting the differences

Continuity
Although for the most part, the lessons build from one another, there is a fair portion of words that are never repeated. Contrary to what they recommend I found great benefit from repeating old lessons. Some words in Series one are not repeated after that. Its not a major drawback as they can't very well keep repeating every word regularly but definitely once you finish them all, meander about through lessons.

Price
Its expensive but it's a great start to the language, much better than Rosetta stone which is all bells and whistles. You will get a lot more that the 90 days @ 30mins a day out of it.

Lack of grammar
As the lessons continue, you need to supplement the course with a decent grammar book. The `le' particle is actually explained properly, (albeit briefly) in one of the accompanying audio notes but nevertheless the use of measure words, particles and time construct, is only loosely discussed. Furthermore a good grammar book will rectify that and be very encouraging to read /dip into. Basic Chinese Grammar, by Yip Po-Ching, et al is an excellent accompaniment. When you read it, you do a lot of "Oh really!", "yes I see!!!", "that makes sense!" etc

Vocabulary
For me this is a minor point, Pimsleur covers about 450 (I have the full list) It's shorter than Rosetta Stone and other competing packs but it is minor, Some other reviews mentioned that you only learn 3 colours, red, green and white. It's a very simple task to take out a pocket dictionary and learn the rest should you wish! Its not important at all. They are used in the same context. I think it is much better to know 400 words well rather than 1000 pronounced incorrectly and used in the wrong context. The Tuttle flash cards are great compliment. You can't compare 2 programs on a cost per word basis,

As for choice of vocabulary, I would have liked to see a different choice of words. You learn about 15 place names in China, 3 in the USA and that's it. A few country names or continent names would be nice. Also there is a lot of talk about tennis and bowling in Series 2 but no mention of Mahjong or ping pong. The only food/beverage they mention is water, beer, tea, wine, coffee and mung bean cake! I am told by native Chinese that it's a odd one to learn! I would have thought that in 90 lessons you could put in a handful of scenarios that ask the waiter for Chicken, beef, fish noodles etc! Its invaluable in China, how to order in a restaurant. There are several websites that summaries frequency of characters in the Chinese language. That is they list every word and character in order of common usage based of statistical studies. Pimsleur can mention character 2000 and miss out the 30th most common character. i.e. you are taught "microphone" but not "fish" Minor points again but shows that the series could be optimised a little better.

My guide to Course
Make your own notes!
I, like other reviews was initially disappointed by the lack of a script. I, 100% recommend making your own notes, Writing the pinyin really does beat home the pronunciation and tones. Also, some great snippets are noted through the lessons but unless you write them down you are left searching through previous units for something that you knew was important but just can't find it. It takes a while for the brain to grasp that there are a huge amount of characters that sound the same and have different meanings (even those with same tones). Your brain naturally starts doing a one-to-one association with mandarin-English link. Hence writing all words out in a table in MS word and sorting alphabetically by pinyin (i.e. mini dictionary) is very interesting to see, you have a lot of `z' and `x' words. You do about 450 words over 90 lessons so about 5 per lesson on average. Its pretty easy to write word in English and corresponding pinyin & characters in MS excel or MS word, Will make a massive difference

Repetition, repetition, repetition!

Other material
I have Tuttle flash cards but to be honest I rarely use them. There are a lot of websites

Avoid False marketing
I see a lot of adverts for "learn 80 characters a day guaranteed" or "become fluent by tea time" by Dr Wang `"4 PhD's" Cheung, ... blah blah. Its not going to happen!

User Reviews
Everybody has they own style of learning, one method doesn't necessarily preclude another.
Read completed reviews on Amazon. There are a lot of reviews where people have be enthuastic about the material and reviewed it after 10 minutes (I am guilty of that to!)

Don't just do it once
Its not like school where you try pass an exam and forget it. If you really want to learn, repeat lessons and when you finished start bouncing around through the course. I listen to it on my IPOD and when I was finished all 3 series I went back over it doing first 10 mins of Unit I, lesson 5, Unit II lesson 5, Unit III lesson 5 etc. Remember speaking a language is not sequential, topics can occurs at any stage

Supplement the course
There is a huge amount of websites around, loads of decent free material. I can't put links in this review but search for "pinyin table", "mandarin" etc A grammar book to dip in and out of by Series 2 is essential in my view.

Update
I recently registered on a mandarin language course and also got a copy of the Rosetta stone CD series.

Pimsleur V Rosetta Stone
There is a review on Amazon by Timothy bender I think on the Rosetta stone series. It's a spot on review in my opinion. Rosetta stone is all bells and whistle and more like a entertaining bit of software rather than a serious means of learning a language. The subtleties in pronouncing the initials and finals in pinyin are completely missed by the voice detection system. You can say a word with word sound and wrong tone and Rosetta stones says you got it perfectly even on the most sensitive detection level. RS teaches characters so that's a positive. Personally I think the `immersion' system or whatever they call is a gimmick in my view. A native English speaker has been engrained with speaking the language, it cant be undone.
Pimsleur beats it hands down (for oral of course, no characters)

Pimsleur V Taught course
I recently started a taught Mandarin course at well known language school. There are pros and cons. Cost is an obvious one. Pimsleur starts to look fairly priced compared with a taught course. Taught courses have the benefit of interaction, being able to ask questions, discussion points about mandarin phrases etc
Disadvantages are, don't cover as much material on a cost basis, grammar covered more, may not meet schedule.
Naturally, it completely depends on ones circumstance, and the nature of the taught course. A lot of taught courses here in the UK are simply taught by native speakers and actually they don't make the best teachers (i.e. could you teach English successfully?)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Expensive, has its limitations, but the best way to kick-start learning Mandarin, 29 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Pimsleur Chinese (Mandarin) Level 1 CD: Learn to Speak and Understand Mandarin Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Audio CD)
If you aren't familiar with the format of Pimsleur, it is roughly as follows:

- 2 native speakers, a man and a woman, have a conversation.
- An American speaker, with the help of the native speakers, breaks down the conversation into its relative parts, explaining word meanings, their pronunciation, and how they fit into a phrase/sentence.
- You are asked to repeat each part of a word, the word, and a full phrase, after the native speakers. The American man will ask you to recall words and phrases, and you then check whether you are correct when the native speakers give the right response.
- A third native speaker steps into the role of telling you what to say, so more and more instructions are in Mandarin.
- As the course progresses, you are expected to retain vocabulary and instinctively use it in new phrases,and vice versa.

The pros:

- You start speaking in the first few minutes of the first lesson, and by the end of 30 minutes, you should be able to hold a limited conversation. This is very encouraging, as to a westerner Mandarin seems like such an alien, complicated language, and there you are, nattering away with the nice lady on the CD.

- The pace and structure of the course mean that if you are an averagely competent language learner, you should follow with little difficulty while still feeling sufficiently stretched, and even if you are not, you will hear words and phrases repeated several times in subsequent lessons, so you don't need to panic if you missed something. The course doesn't bombard you with tons of new vocabulary; it builds up gently, and you use it in different situations, so you are more likely to retain it long after the lesson.

- The course is great if, for whatever reason, a study book would not be very convenient to use. You could use it while driving, running, sitting on the bus, doing your housework, etc. Lessons are around 30 minutes in length, and you are supposed to do one a day, so you can probably fit a complete lesson somewhere into your busy schedule.

- While the vocabulary is limited, what you learn is probably going to be fairly useful in real-life situations. You learn various common structures, so it gives you a good basis to start from.

The cons

- It's expensive! I borrowed copies from the library for nothing. I personally wouldn't be prepared to pay so much for a course, but if you compare it to the price of actual Chinese lessons with a real life teacher, I think you would make a lot more progress with Pimsleur in the same time span. Plus it's flexible - you learn when you want to, and repeat as many times as you need.

- A lot of words sound very similar and sometimes identical. I would prefer a little more emphasis on pronunciation and tones to really hammer home the correct way to say certain things. For example, the American man could give a quick explanation of how a word is spelt in pinyin (Romanised letters). Sometimes there is some ambiguity and I have had to refer to other materials to check sounds.

- At the end of the course, you will still only have a limited range of things you can say and understand. You will have no reference to what you have learnt. It is all there in the recordings, and hopefully in your head, but if you can't remember the word for X, or the way to say a certain phrase, you are helpless, and you certainly will forget things. You will have to repeat the course at regular intervals if you don't speak Chinese in your daily life or have someone around to help you.

To conclude:

This is a high-quality course, but you will need to supplement it with some kind of introductory self-study book if you really want to get to grips with the old Mandarin. The best thing is that you immediately feel confident and enthused, which is really important when learning a new language.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely distributor, great way to learn Mandarin, 14 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Pimsleur Chinese (Mandarin) Level 1 CD: Learn to Speak and Understand Mandarin Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Audio CD)
Thank you so much for my own personalised letter. Yes they were used, but they were in pristine condition. I appreciate their kindness and speedy delivery. Pimsleur is a great way to learn the language. Find your own way to take notes and develop the correct pin yin.
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