How to learn a language in 10 days

Learning a foreign language in 10 days sounds like a linguistic crash diet. I, along with many of you, have been given the dreaded requirement of completing a certain amount of credits in a foreign language in order to graduate college. Luckily, I am finally done with my second language, but it would have been nice to know I could have "wired" my brain to pick up a new language in record time. This "wiring" method is known as the Pimsleur Approach - "a well known provider in audio-based language learning." (SmarterLifestyles) Even the FBI purchased it and it was featured in Forbes! 

Dr. Paul Pimsleur created this method based on the idea that it wasn't the amount of words you know but rather the relevance of them. According to this article, studies show native speakers only use about 2,500 "distinct words and phrases on a daily basis."(SmarterLifestyles) The Pimsleur Approach uses these "language building blocks" to teach these specific 2,500 words. 

He unfortunately died suddenly in 1976, at 48 years old, before his courses were even available to customers. It wasn't until 1980 that a "listening booth" was used at the Harvard bookstore so "prospective learners could sample the lessons and understand how the Pimsleur Method worked"(Simon and Schuster's) before they were convinced and committed. 

Pimsleur's methodology behind his method was based on several key concepts he deemed important in learning a language. 

1) Anticipation
Pimsleur argued that "to repeat after an instructor" was a "passive way of learning."
(wikipedia) Instead, he created a "challenge and response" technique. 
Thumbnail image for pimsleur approach ad, devil horns.jpg
The student would translate a phrase in his/her first language "into the target language." Pimsleur said this was a more "active way of learning" forcing the student to "think before responding."(wikipedia) 

A way of learning language through retention by spaced repetition. Vocabulary is tested based on Pimsleur's "memory schedule" - 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years. To me, this is similar to using flash cards but for a longer period of timing (Pimsleur, P.; Modern Language Journal) 

3) Core vocabulary 
As stated above, studies have shown native speakers only use a specific set of 2,500 words regularly. Pimsleur says in the English language "2000 words composes about 80% of the total printed words."(Nation, Paul; Waring, Robert) 

4) Organic learning 
This is his school of thought that "auditory different than reading and writing skill"(Charles A.S. Heinle)  

I looked for any statistics of students using the Pimsleur Approach versus say Rosetta Stone. I did not find any. I also looked on statistics solely focused on results from using Pimsleur - also nothing. Until I see some data I am intrigued in learning a language in 10 days, but not convinced. 

Pimsleur, P. (1967). A memory schedule. Modern Language Journal, 51, 73-75.


This would have seemed crazy to me last year, but I actually believe it because I saw something similar. It wasn't in ten days, more like 1 month. My sister took Italian her entire high school and college career, but her junior year in college she studied abroad in Barcelona. I visited her after she was there for a month, and watched her perfectly speak and communicate in Spanish with everyone she talked to, like people at stores and restaurants. I was completely amazed. So, I think it is possible for someone to learn a language in 10 days if they completely commit to it. They should really do studies on this!

I have always heard that you can'y fully understand a language until submersed in it. Your sister is an excellent example of this because I'm sure she was forced to commit to the language once living there. I wish I could have found more studies on this as well. Statistics would have been nice to support my blog. Maybe there will be more research done on this in the future as speaking second and third languages becomes more and more crucial in the global business world. Studies might be difficult though because some participants might be faster learners than others.

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