As I mentioned earlier, I began my study of the Korean language with the Pimsleur system. Pimsleur is all by ear (no writing to “distract” you), and since I learn music that way, it sounded like just the thing.
In the Pimsleur method, you usually learn words in phrases. When a new phrase is introduced, you first listen to it pronounced several times (often by two different speakers, one of each gender). The phrase is broken down syllable by syllable, starting with the last syllable and working your way forward. Then the student repeats the phrase several times, going progressively faster. Although the meaning of each part of the phrase is identified in this process, little or no effort is made to connect those parts with previous lessons where they occurred in a different phrase.
I found I had to listen to the first few lessons over and over. I thought Korean was the most tongue-twisting language I’d ever heard, and was completely confused by varying pronunciations of the same material, not only between different speakers, but by the same speaker! The Pimsleur people seemed to be deliberately selecting the most similar-sounding phrases they could find, just to bedevil the poor student. I had a hard time remembering the material, and didn’t feel like I was making much progress.
A couple of things changed all this. First, I began to learn from other sources that Koreans found those tongue-twisting consonant combinations just as hard to pronounce as I did, and dropped many consonants that didn’t play well with their neighbors. In fact, they dropped whole syllables, and even relocated syllables in actual pronunciation. So I stopped trying to pronounce all the syllables and sounds. The Pimsleur method would be a lot more friendly to the new Korean-learner if they explained why the phrase spoken at full speed sounds so different from the syllable-at-a-time breakdown.
The other thing that helped was starting to learn Hangul (the Korean alphabet). Maybe I’m more visually-oriented than I thought, at least where words are concerned. Even though I wasn’t trying to pronounce everything, knowing the underlying architecture of the words and phrases helped me remember, and build a more connected body of information. This also helps with the transition from translating every sound into an English equivalent to conceiving the sounds directly in Korean.
Now that I’m using it in conjunction with other tools, I’ve made peace with the Pimsleur system, and am finding it to be more useful. The opportunity to hear and repeat the phrase a number of times, and the breakdown by syllables are especially valuable. However, I wish they’d start the syllable-by-syllable breakdown at the beginning of the word instead of the end, since I am not saying the words backwards! The frequent review of previously learned words and phrases is also very helpful.
You can load the lessons onto your mp3 player and carry them with you, but note that they are most effective when you can clearly hear the example speakers, and also do and hear your own repetitions, so it may not work to practice your Korean in a noisy environment, or where you (or others) will be uncomfortable if you talk out loud to yourself!
There’s promotion all over the web, claiming you can use the Pimsleur system to learn a language in 10 days. Anyone who has ever tried to learn a language knows this is ludicrous. I spend about a week on each 1/2 hour lesson, listening to it when I cook, clean, take walks, etc., perhaps 4 or 5 times before moving on to the next one. You could probably move on sooner if you were in a hurry, as there is a lot of review built into the system. I have also started putting together my own worksheets with the Hangul for the phrases used in each lesson. I’ll post these as I get them done.
Have you tried the Pimsleur system? Did it work for you?