Pimsleur Spanish IIf you’re mainly looking for my lesson notes on Pimsleur Spanish I, you can directly download the PDF here.

I love languages. I love listening to people speaking in different languages. But more than that, I love learning them. While I believe the best way to learn a language is to surround yourself with native speakers, most of us aren’t fortunate to have a multilingual circle of friends.

Signing up for language classes is one option, but not always a possibility. Besides, large groups narrow down your chances of receiving adequate teacher-to-student interaction.

The second and, in my opinion, best alternative is self-learning (of course!) And I’ve been lucky to have stumbled across an incredibly good set of language learning tools for self-learners: The Pimsleur Method. Let me tell you about it in greater detail.

Pimsleur Spanish I is the first 30-lesson course for absolute beginners. It assumes that you have no prior knowledge in Spanish, or in language learning in general. In fact, it omits grammar altogether and makes you learn the language organically.

It may sound counter-intuitive to dismiss grammar, but thanks to Pimsleur I’ve discovered an efficient way to master the basics of a language so that you can actually use it in real life. Here’s how it works…

One of the core principles employed by the Pimsleur language programs is a method called Graduated Interval Recall that stores words and phrases in your long-term memory. Your virtual teacher will introduce practical words and phrases relevant to the theme of the lesson at a comfortably slow pace, not to make you overwhelmed with terminology. The words are then transferred from your short-term to your long-term memory by using them in similar contexts at carefully chosen intervals. Your virtual teacher will, for instance, ask you, “Do you remember how to say ‘What time is it?'” The idea is that these frequent pop quizzes make sure that words don’t drift away as you progress.

So is it all about repetition? Absolutely not. While you’re frequently repeating the same words and phrases, you’re also making variations of them and using them in different scenarios. So there is definitely a fair amount of repetition, but not the dull kind (except perhaps during the first couple of lessons when your vocabulary is still very limited).

When I had to study Swedish in junior high and high school, our teacher would take an audio tape from her drawer and play it to us. Later we would answer a dozen questions related to what we had just heard. It was for improving listening comprehension, but it lacked interaction and purpose. At least I just felt like an outsider passively listening to a conversation about an uninteresting topic, trying to figure out what was being discussed. We weren’t part of the conversation responding to expressions naturally as the conversation progressed.

I’ll admit, of course, that Pimsleur does have its share of plain and cheesy conversations, but you’re not going to care when you get to actually use the language yourself. It’s not just listening comprehension because you’re expected to understand what people are saying and respond to them accordingly. You are actually being trained to take part in conversations.

Here’s a simple example:

You meet María in front of your hotel…
She says, “I want to eat something.”
How would you answer: “I know a good restaurant called Bolívar on California Street. Let’s go there together.”

On other occasions you’re expected to come up with your own answers:

You are taking a walk in a small Peruvian town when a friendly old man walks up to you.
Mr Rodríguez: Hello. How are you?
You: [your response]
Mr Rodríguez: Are you from here?
You: [your response]
Mr Rodríguez: But you speak Spanish well.
You: [your response]

The great thing about having no grammar lessons is that you are never asked to memorize complex declension tables or conjugation rules. The program takes care of that naturally. So rather than scanning through a hazy mental image of the conjugation table for the irregular verb estar, you’ll automatically recall how the phrase is going to be constructed when referring to José, that is, a third person. The program conditions you to dynamically employ the material covered in the course based on context, rather than formulae.

So what you’re not going to learn during the first course are the 10 tenses. Instead, you’ll learn how to speak confidently in the present tense, and how to express yourself in present perfect—i.e. “I have drunk Mexican beer.” Why would you want to start off by confusing yourself with dozens of different rules when you could just skip it and focus on learning how to use the most commonly used present tense?

What you’ll learn…

  • In a nutshell: you’ll learn to have basic conversations in Spanish, with variety.
  • Get a solid foundation.
  • Present tense (“I eat,” or “I’m eating.”)
  • Present perfect (“I have eaten.”)
  • Verb conjugations for I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), they
  • The casual you (Tú quieres.)
  • How to ask for directions
  • How to order food and drink in a restaurant
  • How to introduce yourself
  • How to ask a girl to write down her phone number

…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s hard to categorize everything since there are so many small things that make up the whole. To get a complete list of topics covered in the program, you should download my notes, and explore.

Some Bottlenecks

Of course, rarely does a product come without any flaws. Let’s take a look at the two main weaknesses that I’ve personally found while using the language program. Pimsleur Spanish I is such an excellent program that I’m going to be nitpicking rather than giving solid criticism…

Since Pimsleur Spanish I is primarily a course on Latin American Spanish (it’s clearly printed on the cover), the first course does not cover the pronoun vosotros (casual form of the plural you), which is more commonly used in Spain, nor any verb conjugations associated with it. This means that you’ll either have to learn it in a later course or use alternative sources to figure out how it works.

The reading booklet that comes with the audio discs is extremely shallow. I know that it’s an audio program, but since they decided to include a booklet, they could’ve put a bit more effort into it. The booklet just covers a handful of phrases used in the last unit of the course, and doesn’t really have any substantial benefit. You’re obviously not going to learn how to spell your Spanish words correctly just by studying the booklet. This is actually why I’ve created my own “booklet” for revision and for learning how to read and write Spanish.

My Lesson Notes

These are my personal notes I’ve taken while using Pimsleur Spanish I. They’re not to be taken as a transcript of any kind. I’ve only tried to record the main concepts covered in the program. While there certainly is repetition in the notes, I’ve handpicked the variations that I’ve deemed most important. The notes alone are not going to teach you how to speak or understand Spanish, so you’ll definitely need to get a copy of the audio program to accomplish that. My notes are only there to complement the audio lessons.

I’ve decided to publish my notes because I believe they can help those who already own Pimsleur Spanish I and are looking for a more comprehensive reference than the official booklet. I’ve used Google Translate to get the correct spelling for every Spanish word used in the notes, but if you notice any typos or other errors please let me know.

» Download Pimsleur Spanish I Notes (PDF 90 KB)

If you’re interested in learning Spanish on your own, I recommend you either buy the Pimsleur Spanish I language program or borrow it from your local library. It’s pricier than other self-study courses, but it’s definitely worth the investment. I don’t know of any other language learning program that can teach you how to speak Spanish as effectively and without hassle as the Pimsleur program.

From Amazon.com

If you’re interested to learn other languages using Pimsleur’s innovative method, you might find these language programs interesting: