Linguist Mother & Daughter Carry On Family Traditions
Beverly Pimsleur has an wonderful job: with great joy and dedication she’s working with her daughter on LittlePim, a unique educational animated video series for young children, exchanging roles that once had Julia Pimsleur Levine working for her. When her daughter was four, she was “starring” in one of her mother’s videos (on Greek mythology). Later on, Julia would be a Production Assistant for ACTUEL Video, INC, a small company Ms. Pimsleur ran for a few years. Now, together, they are fulfilling the dreams of her late husband and Julia’s father, Dr. Paul Pimsleur.
On her own, however, Ms. Pimsler continues to edit her husband’s language books (he had completed three at the time of his death) and writing others in light of his pedagogical principles. “Carrying the flame” of his passion to revolutionize “rapid language acquisition” for adults (Dr. Pimsleur also created “the first language lab in the country), Ms. Pimsleur has been moving quietly to reassert the importance of the method, an innovative program that once engaged the interest of the former Department of Housing, Education and Welfare in conjunction with its idea to create a national bank of languages. The Pimsleur Method is now the guiding force of a best-selling, updated audio tape and CD series published by Simon and Schuster.
The modest and articulate former academic (she has an M.A. in Ancient Greek History and took course work for a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at NYU and the Sorbonne. Although she is also a documentary filmmaker, she doesn’t trumpet her own professional expertise, but it’s impressive. She met her husband, a professor of French, at Ohio State; they went to live for three summers in Lyon, first with a French couple, where she realized she had better become fluent fast, at least better prepared than what dubious instruction had provided in school and college. At that time, and no doubt still part of some foreign language curricula, languages were typically presented as reading exercises—translations of literary works and, for aural acquisition, parroting isolated words and phrases. “Boring” and likely to persuade the less attuned that they had no ability to learn. During the summers in Lyon her husband devised an original and revolutionary way to teach the reading of foreign languages. He did not rely on literary standards , then in widespread use, but on short articles of topical, contemporary interest. Compiled, they became a book, the first of which was called C’est La Vie, for which she did extensive research. Her husband’s texts eventually became models for others in the foreign language field, and he added Sol Y Sombra and Encounters to the series.
But it was his innovative idea for teaching rapid language acquisition that made his wider reputation. With a grant from Washington, the newly married couple set off for Greece to try out the method which Prof. Pimsleur called “graduated interval recall.” Ms. Pimsleur describes the method as a device to ensure that words just learned are remembered by putting them in recombined contexts and “recalled just as you are beginning to forget them.” Another feature of the method is what Ms. Pimsleur refers to as “teaching a new word from the back” (not prefix, not root). It works for every language, she says. She still hears from professionals, among them archaeologists who learned Greek with the Pimsleur method and who went to work with the Greek Archaeological Society, about the speed and effectiveness of the method.
The fruit does not fall far from the tree. In addition to daughter Julia, Ms. Pimsleur has a son who is completing his medical internship and will be practicing in Texas where he will also be practicing his Spanish. As The Pimsleur Method demonstrates, if you can learn one language, you can learn any one, including tonal languages, such as Chinese. You need no classroom, no teacher—and, because the target audience is adult, not even a panda (though you may well want to adopt).#