Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Rosetta Stone – How good (or bad) is it, really?

Of course everyone will have their own preferences but I honestly believe that most people will come to the same conclusion if they were able to see everything clearly.

If you could compare Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur and all other language programs, I think you’d find that none of them really provide a complete solution to learning a foreign language.

So is it possible to create a complete solution?  Yes, I think it is.  Does it exist?  I’ve never found it.

So how about Rosetta Stone, is it any good? I’ve tried it and I don’t like it. It’s essentially flash cards with modern computer technology. I find it boring.

Here’s a rather entertaining video of Michael Phelps trying to learn Mandarin with Rosetta Stone.  He looks just like I felt using Rosetta Stone and most other language learning programs.

Now I’m sure a lot of people who really like Rosetta Stone will complain in the comments, but I’d like to know how many of them have used it and then could actually communicate easily in the language they learned?

Rosetta Stone teaches vocabulary and phrases but that’s not enough to allow you to communicate with someone in a foreign language.

Here’s another video from someone who seems to have experience with several programs.

Rosetta Stone, like McDonalds, are great at marketing, but does McDonalds really make a good hamburger?

I specifically want to learn French, Russian, and Japanese.  Then I’d like to learn Spanish, and then German because I like Switzerland and my friends all live in the German speaking region.

I’ve yet to find a method or material that I really like so I’ve started making my own.  You can have a look at my Russian material here: Learn Russian.

Before anyone points their accusing finger saying that I’m bad mouthing Rosetta Stone and others, just so I can promote my own, NO, I’m not promoting my own.  …yet. 🙂

I’d LOVE to have someone show me a good program and then I wouldn’t have to build one.

I’ll continue adding to this post and look forward to reading your comments.


Teach Kids English with Go Dog Go! ..and Slideshare

Here’s a great way to teach kids English.  The key is to get them actively using English and the best way to do that is by using simple questions:  What’s this?  /  What colour…? /  How many…?

You can also add in “What’s he doing?” and other questions but focusing on the other 3 questions and building up their confidence and speed  will really create a solid foundation for all their future language learning.

You can see in this slidecast how much they improve in just half an hour.

For a lot more ideas on using the book Go Dog Go for teaching kids English, visit our webpage:  Teach Kids English – Go Dog Go

For younger kids just learning English, it’s best not to have them learning to read.  They’re often just learning to read in their own language so it’s better not to add to the confusion.

Once they’re a bit older, then reading is an excellent way to improve their pronunciation and speaking ability.  The physical action of speaking needs to be learned and practiced.

Again, focus on key elements like ‘th’ and ‘f’ and ‘v’ and ‘w’.  Also ‘l’ and ‘r’.  Don’t push them too hard, give them time to learn it gradually and keep up their confidence level.

One important point: You have to put your mouth in position before you begin to make any sound.

It’s not an obvious point but it’s extremely important. You can see it clearly in this book, Green Eggs and Ham, when they tried to say “with a fox”.

Good luck with teaching your kids English and stay tuned for more material and tips.

The Best Way to Learn a New Language.

So what is the best way to learn a new language?  Is there a language learning program available that provides everything you need?  I don’t think there is, so I’d like to build one.

I came up with an interesting acronym for language learning: ICE.

The primary element is the Idea.  That’s really all language is: the communication of ideas.  Regardless of the language, including body language, sign language and braille, it is simply the communication of an idea or feeling.

So, the underlying element for everything MUST be the idea.  Not grammar rules or anything else.  What is the IDEA being expressed?

When someone says ‘hello’ in any language, including eye contact from across the room, the idea is clearly understood, regardless of whether you know that particular language or not.  Learning your first ‘word’ in a new language is as simple as that.

Next is Comprehension and Expression.  Did you understand the ‘hello’ or not?  Did you reply ‘hello’ or not?

I want to create a language learning system that starts with ‘hello’ and carries on, leading you step by step, word by word, Idea by Idea, until you can Comprehend and Express everything in a new language.

Similarly, if a girl walks across the room, smiles, offers her hand to shake and says, “Hi, I’m Julie.” or “Привет, я Наташа.” or “Konichiwa, watasha wa Yuko.” you can bet your life that I will understand what she said regardless of the language and will reply “Hi, I’m Brian.”

Now, if I had a perfect memory, I’d already know how to say that expression in the new language and I wouldn’t ever forget.

Of course, most people, and definitely me included, have a hard time remembering names, let alone how to say it in a new language.  So, we need to hear the idea expressed again and again.

The perfect language learning system would understand this need but provide it naturally and pleasantly.  And it would also provide the repetition in accordance with your own particular needs, not simply at an average speed for everyone.

So, she then introduces herself to the rest of your friends at the table and you get a natural repetition of the expression: Привет, я Наташа. [privyet, ya Natasha]

She then motions to the empty seat beside you and says: Можно? [moshna]

Well, you’d have to be braindead not to realize that she asked: May I?  And you’d have to be completely dead to anything but quickly reply, “Yes, yes! Please!”

Offering her a drink, learning where she’s from, etc, etc, is perfectly simple even though neither one of you speaks a single word of the other’s language.

Now, if she became my girlfriend and had endless patience and could be with me 24/7, then I’d have “The Best Way to Learn a New Language.”

Since that’s not likely to happen any time soon, and certainly can’t happen to everyone all over the world, there needs to be something else that’s “The Best Way to Learn a New Language.”  There needs to be something online, on the internet..  language learning software that accomplishes the same thing.

I believe it’s possible and I have a friend in Kyiv who’s a programmer and is currently working on just such a program. When we get it finished, I’ll be sure to let you know! Until then, let’s continue to figure out exactly what’s needed.

The language learning program needs to maintain repetition but in a ‘spiralling’ manner.  One of your friends needs to forget her name, so that she has to repeat, “Я Наташа.” and then again but the expression ‘my name is..’ gets introduced:  Меня зовут Наташа. [menya zavyt Natasha]

Other language programs like Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone like to give it a special name, and trademark it, but let’s be honest, it’s pretty obvious to all students. We forget and need to be reminded.

Within seconds or minutes, most people forget what they just ‘learned’.  There’s no need to use any special memory techniques if the learning material is set up correctly.

Pimsleur calls it “Graduated Interval Recall”, and he’s absolutely right that it’s a key element to a good language learning program, and in fact any learning program.

In his research, Dr. Pimsleur discovered how long students remembered new information and at what intervals they needed to be reminded of it. If reminded too soon or too late, they failed to retain the information. This discovery enabled him to create a schedule of exactly when and how the information should be reintroduced.

Thousands of teachers and millions of students all over the world have ‘discovered’ this, as I did, and it is extremely interesting to see it in action.  For some reason, if you see a word 5 to 7 times with gradually increased spacing within the context of a story you will have learned the word.  It will now be ‘locked in’ and shifted from short term memory to long term memory.

I don’t need to be a scientist or perform a whole bunch of (government funded) research to reach the obvious conclusion.  And it’s impossible to create a schedule of exactly when and how the information should be reintroduced.

Different people learn at different speeds.  If you’re gifted at languages or sports or music, you will learn quicker than someone who isn’t, so a learning program needs to take this fact into account.

I envision a language learning software program where the student simply chooses the speed: ‘just right’, ‘slow down’, and ‘speed up’.

If you have a private teacher, you’re not left to decide what to study. Most language learning websites are an imposing array of section on verbs, tenses, etc, etc and students are left dazed wondering where to go and what to do.

I want a language learning system which starts with ‘Привет’ and simply takes me forward and all I need to do is control the gas pedal.  ‘Speed up’, ‘slow down’ or ‘just right’.

Getting back to Наташа, imagine someone decides to have a cigarette and offers her one, to which she replies, holding up her hand: Нет, спасибо. [niyet, spaciba]

From her body language, you know she said ‘no’, so it’s obvious she said, “No, thanks.”

As you continue to enjoy the evening and order a few more drinks, offering Наташа another drink and she replies each time: “Да, пожалуйста.” [da, pazshalsta] or perhaps “Нет, спасибо.”

If you’re listening to the audio for this story while reading along, then you don’t need to see the […] guide for how to pronounce the Russian, and very, very quickly you will have learned how to read Russian; naturally and effortlessly. That’s another key element to the ‘perfect’ language learning program. It all needs to happen naturally and effortlessly.

When Наташа gets a phone call and says to you, “Извинте.” [izvinitiya], you know she said ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’. And when she answers “Ало.” [a’loa], you’re very surprised by how close it sounds to ‘hello’ but it has a slight inflection that you can’t quite figure out.

And if you’re really on the ball, when she’s done you’ll ask: “Можно your telephone number?”  🙂

… to be continued

Pimsleur Language Courses – How good (or bad) are they, really?

First off, I don’t want to offend anyone who likes the Pimsleur programs and I would really like you to keep reading with an open mind and I think you’ll agree with virtually everything I have to say.

Clearly, the Pimsleur Language Courses have some very good features but from a student’s perspective, I still find them lacking in many ways.

One, I want the text.  Learning to read a new language is just as important as learning to understand it in spoken form and I really don’t understand at all, why you wouldn’t begin both at the same time.  More on this later.

Two, I want to be in control to go at my own pace, and I don’t want to spend time listening to a bunch of English.

Those are my main 2 criticisms, so now let’s look at the course in more detail.

Here’s some typical literature about Pimsleur Language Courses and I’ll make comments as we go.

Why Pimsleur?
Pimsleur Language Courses are audio courses. Since there are no books included, the Pimsleur courses are great way to learn while driving, exercising, etc.

A complete course can easily have a suite of audio material that’s even much more extensive and complete than Pimsleur’s.  Why not include soundtracks from movies?  Music with lyrics to learn while not driving then you can sing along while driving. Radio interviews, programs, etc.  Much better, right?

The Pimsleur language courses teach you to both speak and understand a new language. You’re not just learning “phrases” with the Pimsleur method, you’re acquiring essential, conversational language skills! You’ll be thrilled to discover you can hold real conversations in your new language when you have finished the course.

Uh, well, that is the point of learning a language isn’t it, so you can have a real conversation! It’s sadly true that most programs, especially those in schools and universities don’t provide students with the ability to communicate in the language.

Dr. Paul Pimsleur’s original and unique method enables you to acquire new language ability as effortlessly as children absorb their native language. You will succeed because the Pimsleur program makes sure that you learn vocabulary and grammar correctly and easily in conversational settings without mindless repetition. Pimsleur is the only language program that includes exclusive, copyrighted memory training that ensures you will always remember what you have learned.

Let’s be honest, these claims of “learn as effortlessly as a child learning your native language” are completely ridiculous.  There’s an element of truth, but I for sure don’t want to be completed immersed in a language and wait more than a year before I can say ‘Mama’.  There are many programs making similar claims but when you really look at the programs closely, none of them, including Pimsleur, are delivering what’s really needed and wanted by virtually ALL the students.

…sorry I have to run now, but will continue this soon. 🙂

For some samples of Pimsleur Russian along with the text that they don’t provide, please visit: Text for Pimsleur Russian

Text for Pimsleur Russian

UPDATE – August 2014:

If you want the text for Pimsleur Russian (I, II and III) we have them available for $10 each. It was a lot of work for my friend to put them together and check them, and I think it’s fair that she be compensated for that. Plus, struggling with the difficult situation in Ukraine this year, she can use all the help she can get. For information, just email me at or visit our website for learning Russian:

And Pimsleur and their lawyers have suddenly gotten nasty again, sending this email:

This is a verified DMCA Removal Request from Attributor

Dear Sir/Madam,

I certify under penalty of perjury, that I am an agent authorized to act on behalf of the Rights Holder identified below, the owner of certain intellectual property rights in the Work(s) identified below.

I have a good faith belief that the information contained in this notice is accurate, and that the page or material listed below is not authorized by the Rights Owner, its agents, or the law for use by the individual(s) associated with the identified page listed below or their agents.

To the extent that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the European Union’s Directive on the Harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society (2001/29/EC), and/or other laws and regulations relevant in European Union member states or other jurisdictions apply to your service, if at all, I HEREBY DEMAND THAT YOU ACT EXPEDITIOUSLY TO REMOVE OR DISABLE ACCESS TO THE PAGE(S) OR MATERIAL(S) at the Infringing URL(s) identified below.

Note that in some cases the pages/material may have been removed after the sending of this notice but prior to your review.

My contact information is as follows:

Organization name: Attributor Corporation as agent for Simon & Schuster Inc.
Phone: 650-340-9601
Mailing address:
400 South El Camino Real
Suite 650,
San Mateo, CA 94402

Nothing contained in this letter or in any attachments constitutes a waiver or relinquishment of any right or remedy possessed by the Rights Holder, or any affiliated party, all of which are expressly reserved.

My electronic signature follows:
/Eraj Siddiqui/
Eraj Siddiqui
Attributor, Inc.


Infringing page/material that I demand be disabled or removed in consideration of the above:

Rights Holder: Simon & Schuster

Original Work: Russian I, Comprehensive
Infringing URL:
Infringing URL:
Infringing URL:

Original Work: Russian I Lessons 1 to 10
Infringing URL:

…needless to say, I deleted the files which isn’t a big deal anyway, since people looking for the text already have the audio files.

UPDATE – Feb 2013:

We’ve now started a new audio series for learning Russian where you learn 30 new words in each 30 minute audio. Have a listen:  30-30_01 – Your First 30 Russian Words

UPDATE – June 2012 :

I now understand exactly why Russian friends of mine and other people never managed to type of Pimsleur Russian. It’s incredibly boring for them and they know it’s not good Russian so can’t see the point. Thus, it took a lot of begging and pleading to get it done.

We now have the text for all 3 levels of Pimsleur Russian, and I think it’s only fair to pay her for her time, thus I now ask for $10 for each level. As a thank you, I’ll also pass on other material to help you learn Russian. You can get it  here: Text for Pimsleur Russian

UPDATE – June 2011 :

If you’re looking for the transcript or text for Pimsleur Russian I, you can get all of it here: Text for Pimsleur Russian

We’re now working on the text for Pimsleur Russian II.  If you comment below then we can send it to you when it’s ready.

UPDATE – 2010 : A nasty letter from Pimsleur’s lawyers which shutdown my website!!

Well, that was interesting!!!  Here’s the letter from Pimsleur’s lawyers to me via my hosting service, PowWeb.  Because I didn’t check my mail and take action within 48 hours, they did in fact shutdown my website. (It’s back online now.)

Dear Mr. Brock:

I write on behalf of my client,  Simon & Schuster, Inc. (the “Rights Owner”) the owner of the rights to the PIMSLEUR® Language Programs and under penalty of perjury, the information contained herein is accurate and true.

To the extent that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 512(c) (the “DMCA”) applies to your service, if at all, we are notifying you of infringement at the following location:

We have a good faith belief that this material is not authorized by the Rights Owner, its agents or the law.  Such copying and use of this material constitutes clear infringement of the Rights Owner’s copyrights under the Copyright Act, including the DMCA, and its counterpart laws around the world.

As we diligently protect the Rights Owner’s properties in all forms of media, we hereby request the immediate removal of this content.  Should you need additional information, please contact me at the number or email listed below.

Nothing in this letter shall be construed as a waiver or relinquishment of any right or remedy possessed by the Rights Owner, or any other affected party, all of which are expressly reserved.

Sincerely Yours,

Mallory Levitt

Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Intellectual Property
51 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
P: 212-975-3633
F: 212-975-0114

Lisa Cattan
Michael Buccino
Online Enforcement Clerks

WOW, eh?  That’s almost as good as getting a letter from Bill himself saying stop using pirated copies of my Microsoft!

So, I got the opportunity for a reply:

Dear all,
My apologies for infringing on any copyrights but I was simply putting up some material which is readily available elsewhere on the internet.  I’m rather surprised that you managed to have my website shutdown so quickly yet the sources where I got the material remain operating.

It’s not really an important matter for me, except that it’s quite annoying to have had my website shutdown.  You should pass on some advice to your client, Pimsleur, and suggest they provide the text which people are looking for.  They could make money selling it and save money by not paying expensive legal beagles to run around stomping on small fish.

Best regards,

So, I have to apologize that I can’t provide you with the text for Pimsleur Russian in a simple straight forward manner, but if you leave a comment below I will email you the text. It’s a simple Word file with the text along with our comments and notes since some of the Russian isn’t the best.

If you want a bunch of great material (audio AND text) to help you learn Russian, you’re just a click away.

There’s also a lot of great material to learn Russian with movies. Come for a visit!