Comprehensive Japanese I, by Pimsleur

9 / 10
great exposure to the spoken language; plenty of well-paced snippets of conversation and question & answer; lots of encouragement for you to practice; speaking (audio) focused; each lesson is like an extended audio exercise
answer pauses perhaps too short for on-the-go use; provides no understanding of writing or finer points of grammar; learners who already have some mastery of the spoken language should start with level II

I just finished reviewing the ten-lesson Pimsleur Basic version and the sixteen lessons of the Conversational version. The Comprehensive course includes thirty lessons total, covering a lot more material than either of those versions. Still, the method (student-focused audio only) and focus (mastery of spoken Japanese) are the same. So, I’ll still repeat many of my remarks about the Pimsleur method.

Pimsleur offers a well-established language learning method that’s a bit unique compared to most of the books that surround it on the shelves. For starters, these Japanese lessons are audio-only, found on CDs with no accompanying grammar book or written transcription of the dialogues. That’s not necessarily a criticism – the entire method aims to give you a conversational understanding of the spoken language, nothing more, nothing less.

Pimsleur’s audio lessons engage Japanese learners directly. The lessons are like one big audio exercise, and the narrator recommends that you complete one a day. Each lesson introduces new words and phrases, and builds progressively on older ones. The lessons aren’t quick, but spend time dealing with new words, phrases and grammar. The narrator prompts you consistently with “How do you say …?” or “How do you ask…?”, where many audio CDs just include longer snippets of dialogue and hope you can follow along.

The native Japanese speakers (man and woman) repeat new words or parts of phrases. There are plenty of pauses to repeat along and answer questions, but if you really want time to think about it, you’ll need to stop and even rewind the CD. The lack of longer pauses may be worthy of a complaint if you passively listen while exercising, driving or doing some other activity, since the Pimsleur method lends itself beautifully to this kind of learning.

Pimsleur Comprehensive Japanese I contains thirty lessons that will engage you in longer dialogues and fairly complex question-and-answer drills by the end of the course. If you would like even more practice, you can purchase the Comprehensive levels II and III after completing level one, or you can find a package that offers all levels together.

One of the benefits of starting off with the fuller Comprehensive course is that you get a good feel for just how Pimsleur’s lessons build off of earlier material. By the end of the course, you’ll have hours of exposure to the spoken language done in such a way that you’ll likely be able to get by in a wide variety of basic conversations and situations. The comprehensive lessons cover different daily scenarios, from eating and drinking and taking a taxi to using a telephone to understanding politeness levels.

Particularly if you’re an auditory learner, this course is hard to beat. The price seems higher than other lessons at first glance, but the approach is compelling. The program is more effective at immersing you in spoken Japanese than any other at this price. If you want to learn Japanese along with the writing system, I recommend the course, but you’ll need further materials for an in-depth understanding of Japanese grammar, writing and pronunciation.

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