Pimsleur Italian Update, 55 Lessons In

I discussed a while back by decision to try the Pimsleur course over other brands.  So far I have been happy and I feel like I have retained a lot.  However, it is NOT for everyone.  It did not work for my wife, for example.  Here are what I think are two key considerations in committing time to this course / approach:

  1. You have to be able to learn from hearing and speaking.  There is only a little reading and no writing.  This is perfect for me -- taking notes actually interrupts my memory retention process.  But my wife likes to write, take notes, make lists.  She is a memorizer, I am an experiencer, if that makes sense.  By the time she gave up she had this huge long list of words and definitions she kept referring to.  If this is your learning style, it is not going to work well for you.
  2. You have to be a bit of a detective.   This did NOT fit my wife but did fit me (I was someone who would never memorize an equation if I knew I could derive it on the fly if I needed it).   The tapes almost never, ever explain any grammar.  You learn by example, and then are expected to construct the rules yourself in your head from the examples.  For example, never are the rules of verb conjugations given.  You just start noticing that all the first person present tense conjugations tend to end in "o".  I had little trouble with verb conjugations because I learned them in Spanish in a rigorous way and they are fairly similar in Italian. But Italian article and preposition rules are unlike both Spanish and English.  They have a lot of "a vs. an" type rules that can be a bit non-intuitive, and the preposition choices between "a" and "in" and "di" and "da" and "per" can drive English speakers up the wall (for example, you use a different proposition for going to a city vs. going to a country).  Now, most of us learned the "a vs. an" rules just through usage long before we had a grammar class, and a lot does sink in this way just speaking and listening, but I finally had to buy an Italian grammar book to make sure I had the full set of rules.

The other thing I have trouble with is that my hearing is not great and Italian is all about running your words together.  They LOVE contractions and blending ending vowels into beginning vowels of the next word.  I keep a Google translate window open on my desk so I can actually see new words they are using to make sure I am learning them correctly.

Postscript:  I have decided that Italian articles are Fate's revenge on me for years of fake Russian Boris Badanov accents where one makes fun of the tendency to drop articles (e.g. "Ve must get moose and squirrel").  Italians use articles in many circumstances where we typically do not in English.


  1. Robert Hewes:

    You might suggest that your wife try Duolingo (duolingo.com). I'm really enjoying their Italian program -- their way of reinforcing vocabulary especially. And it's uses primarily reading and writing. Oh, and it's free

  2. jimcraq:

    I'm enjoying doing French and Spanish (both of which I had before) on Duolingo. Although some users often complain about the lack of explanations, there is this thing called Google....

  3. obloodyhell:

    More ridiculous is the tendency of romance-derived languages to have ridiculous variants applying to "gender" across the entire freaking sentence.

    More(female) ridiculous(female) is(female) the(female) tendency(female) of(female) romance-derived(female/female)... :-S
    Not a single word of the sentence needs any rational association with a gender.

  4. Jaycee:

    I'm enjoying babbel.com - mix of usage and grammer seems good, they introduce the grammar after the usage. It uses reading, speaking and selection.

  5. Michael George:

    I used Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone for Italian. Both were great, but the shortcoming of both is that it is difficult to go back and review only those parts that need to be reviewed. I am in the process of going through Pimsleur to write out those sentences and phrases that highlight each chapter. Would anyone be willing to share this work with me? That is, we could each take on certain chapters and share results.