Along with Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur is one of the most popular courses available. The Pimsleur method focuses on teaching conversational vocabulary through a trademark prompt and recall method. The method was developed by Dr. Pimsleur (himself a linguist), and has been featured in countless Pimsleur language learning courses since the 1960’s.
But how well does the method work for Chinese Cantonese? That’s the question we’re going to answer in this article.
Pimsleur Cantonese is an effective way to learn basic conversational Cantonese and develop a clear accent in the language. The course emphasizes practical vocabulary that you can use in real life situations. The Pimsleur method works well for a tonal language like Cantonese. You will constantly be comparing your pronunciation to that of the program’s native speaker. If you’re a beginner who wants to learn Cantonese then this program is worth a look.
The main drawback of the course is that it’s only available in a single course level.
Is Pimsleur Cantonese right for you?
Yes if you’re new to the language
The Pimsleur method was designed to teach foreign languages to students with no learning experience. So even if you know zero Cantonese, you don’t have anything to worry about when taking this course. You won’t get lost.
Yes if you want to master pronunciation
If you want to speak Cantonese with a good accent and gain an understanding of Cantonese tones, then Pimsleur is worth looking at. New words and phrases are taught syllable by syllable. This lets you focus on the tones and sounds of Cantonese language. The course itself will also point out sounds that are different from English, and you’ll be able to compare your pronunciation to a ntaive speaker throughout the course.
Yes if you want to speak Cantonese
Pimsleur is a program that teaches you how to speak conversationally. If you complete the course you will have a foundational vocabulary, and should be able to hold your own in most basic Cantonese conversations.
No if you’re at an intermediate or higher level
Because there’s only one level of Pimsleur Cantonese, intermediate and advanced learners will not find much new information.
No if you want to read and write Cantonese
Pimsleur is an audio course. You will learn to speak, but you won’t learn how to read or write Cantonese characters.
Pros of Pimsleur Cantonese
Pronunciation is extremely important when learning Cantonese. Cantonese is a tonal language, which means the pitch or intonation you use when saying a word could change it’s meaning entirely. If you don’t have a good Cantonese accent, no one will be able to understand you. Depending on who you ask Cantonese has 6 to 9 tones (compared to the 4 or 5 in Mandarin). You’ll need to master each of them if you want to speak with a good accent.
Fortunately Pimsleur Cantonese helps a lot in this area. Careful attention is paid to your intonation through the course. You will constantly be speaking and comparing your tones against a native speakers’. If you work through Pimsleur consistently, the tones will become second nature.
Pimsleur uses a unique prompt-recall method that teaches you to think and speak in Cantonese. Each lesson teaches you a series of phrases. Through the lesson you will be given prompts telling you to ask or answer questions in Cantonese using what you’ve learned. You have a limited amount of time before the correct response is revealed. As you work through the program each lesson will mix and match prompts from the previous lessons. You’re never quite sure what you will be asked next. This forces your brain to work harder and recall the Cantonese you already know. It’s not unlike the way your brain works when speaking Cantonese with a real person.
Cons of Pimsleur Cantonese
There’s only one level
Our main complaint about Pimsleur’s Cantonese course is that it only has one level. Pimsleur courses for more popular languages have as many as five levels and bring you to an intermediate level of conversation. With just one level, Pimsleur Cantonese doesn’t take you past the basics.
Alternatives to Pimsleur Cantonese
Cantoneseclass101 is a website/app that offers hundreds of Cantonese lessons in the form of podcast episodes. Each lesson features a real conversation between Cantonese speakers. There are always two lesson hosts who introduce the dialogue and teach you the grammar and vocabulary being used. You can create flashcards right from the lesson and review transcripts in both English and Cantonese. The podcast episodes are spread across five difficulty levels, so everyone from beginners to advanced learners should find something that challenges them on Cantonesepod101.
Cantoneseclass101 also has a large collection of bonus resources such as a Cantonese to English dictionary, interactive phrase lists, pronunciation guide, downloadable eBooks, and more.
Learn Cantonese with Master Ling
I think of the Master Ling app as an interactive phrasebook for learning Cantonese. Lessons are sorted by subjects like family, weather, travel, and work. The app uses an array of minigames and exercises to help you learn and remember new vocabulary. There’s a Cantonese chatbot you can practice with (this is one of my favorite features). You can review with activities like fill the blank, matching, and listening comprehension exercises. Master Ling even features full dialogues in Cantonese too (withl transcripts).