I ran across this ad for the Pimsleur language learning audio materials on an electronic Japanese dictionary (denshijisho.org). As a Language Center administrator, I interact with dozens of language professors, lecturers, and graduate student instructors here at Berkeley as well as at other institutions. I can’t remember ever hearing any disparaging remarks about Dr. Pimsleur or the Pimsleur method, although I must admit to having some negative thoughts about the marketing department at Simon and Schuster for running this ad and its denigration of language instruction at the university level. I suppose we could engage in some nitpicking: could the “sneaky linguistic secret” referred to in the ad be the audio lingual method? After all, the Pimsleur method is basically listen and repeat, which is hardly a secret and hardly sneaky. And while one might be free from the computer, one will still be tethered to some kind of audio production device. And just what is meant by “speaking another language” in 10 days leaves volumes unsaid. At the college level we have students speaking after the first 50 minutes in the classroom, so take that!
I suppose I’m disheartened by the attack on one part of the language learning profession by another. Simon and Schuster publishes dozens of language textbooks written by those same language professors now ridiculed by Simon and Schuster, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone, as long as they make money from both enterprises.
Perhaps if universities focused language instruction on analysis of text and development of communicative cultural competence, those who specialize in how to order a cup of coffee will feel less threatened. And, in the interests of full disclosure, I admit to occasionally using Pimsleur materials in my study of Japanese. I definitely benefit from those materials, just as I benefit in other ways from the university language classroom.