Language courses for English speakers: Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Spanish, and Russian.
Language courses for French speakers: 40+ languages
(Courses are also taught in Arabic, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish)
Format: books with audio CDs
Price: ~$100 (With Ease series) Assimil on Amazon.com
More than 40 million Assimil manuals have been sold worldwide. Assimil language program is very popular in Europe. It is also the favorite programof many polyglots (people who can speak many languages).
II. HOW DOES ASSIMIL TEACH?
(This review is mostly about the With Ease series – the series intended for beginners)
Above are four pages from lesson 1 in German With Ease (click on the images for larger image size). (You can download 3 sample lessons with their audio files from this site)
A typical lesson will give you:
- A short dialogue in the target language printed on the left page with its English translation on the right page.
- Pronunciation keys for the sentences spoken in the dialogue.
- “Notes”, which gives learners explanations about the language used in the dialogue.
- Translation-type exercises.
After each six lessons, there is a review lesson.
A With Ease book has around 100 lessons. These lessons are divided into 2 phases.
- Phase 1: the first 49 lessons
- Phase 2: begin from the 50th lesson, when learning new lessons, you are encouraged to come back and review the lessons taught in phase 1
Assimil’s recommendation on using the manuals
Assimil suggest its learners to follow the steps below:
(Excerpt from Dutch With Ease)
- Listen to the text with the book closed. It does not matter if you do not understand what is said. You will gain a general impression of the sounds, hearing the pronunciation without being influenced by the spelling.
- Listen to the recording a second time while looking at the English translation.
- Read the Dutch text aloud (with the aid of the phonetic transcription if necessary). Be sure you understand the meaning of each sentence, comparing it with the translation as required.
- Now read the Dutch text again, but this time without looking at the translation.
- Listen to the recording twice, once while looking at the English translation, and once while looking at the Dutch text.
- Listen to the recording again with the book closed. At this point you should understand what is being said.
- Listen to the recording once more. Stop the machine after each sentence, and try to repeat it aloud.
- Carefully read the comments several times. Examine the Dutch sentences being explained. These notes are very important.
- Read the exercises. Repeat each sentence several times. The exercises review material from the current lesson and from preceding lessons. If you have forgotten certain words, consult the English translation.
- Examine the examples of sentence structure. They show how words and phrases are combined in Dutch, which is not always the same as in English.
These steps look complex. However, we don’t have to follow all of them. Few learners do so.
The essentials are to listen as much as we can, shadow, transcribe the text that we hear and, in phase 2, translate the dialogues back and forth.
For example, you can begin your learning by listening to the dialogues without looking at the text to understand as much as possible and examine the grammar used. After that, open the book and see if your understanding is correct. This way is challenging but interesting.
III. HOW FAR CAN WE GO WITH ASSIMIL?
Assimil has 7 popular series. Each series helps us achieve a particular goal.
(Some series may not available in all languages)
- “With Ease” series:
- Designed for beginners.
- Contains a vocabulary of around 2000 to 3000 words. Depending on how much time you put into it, it can take you to level A2 or B2 in CEFR levels.
- You will really get a good foundation in all the skills: listening, speaking, writing, reading, and translating.
- “Using” series: this is the succeeding series of the With Ease. It will teach more advanced idiosyncrasies and idioms of the language. It will get you to B1 or C1 in CEFR.
- Business series: focuses on vocabulary related to international business.
- Idioms series: teaches common idioms.
- “On the Road” series: serves as a travel companion.
- Slang series: contemporary slang usage.
- “For Kids” series: introduces a language to 3-year olds.
IV. THE GOOD
1. The grammar and usage explanations are short but very insightful.
2. The dialogues’ contents are helpful
- Words and phrases taught are practical.
- Some dialogues also contain interesting cultural information.
- Each With Ease book has more than 80 dialogues, more than most language learning programs.
3. The way Assimil organizes their lessons is simple, clear, and effective.
- All lessons have the same format. After learning through some lessons, you can imagine what you will get when you finish the 100th lesson. This vivid goal will motivate you to work hard to achieve it. (A simple structure of instructions and a vivid learning goal are also the cornerstones for other huge successful courses such as Pimsleur or Duolingo)
- Each lesson’s content is connected well with the previous lessons’ content, which will help you to reinforce what you’ve learned.
4. Assimil courses help learners develop all four important skills: listening, speaking, writing, and reading.
5. Assimil suits very well to people who prefer the observation path in language learning.
6. High quality recordings: the voices in the dialogues are clear, warm and alive. Assimil recorded their lessons in studios using professional voice over actor.
V. THE BAD – THE LIMITATIONS
1. Assimil will not teach you to speak the language “from day one”
- It takes weeks or maybe months to see the result, unlike Pimsleur or Michel Thomas, which will teach you to speak right at the beginning of the courses.
- Some words appear just a couple of times, which is not very good to help learners retain the information.
2. Assimil requires a high level of self-discipline and proactiveness
- No lengthy explanation, not manyexercises. To learn effectively, you need to be consistent and build your skills step by step by listening, shadowing, translating, etc.
- Shadowing and repeating aloud require a lot of concentration and energy. It works best if you have an isolated place.
3. Assimil courses were designed for the practical purpose – using languages in real life. Thus, it is not suitable for test preparation, although you may still benefit from it.
- As you progress through a course, you become familiar with the new pronunciation system, therefore the pronunciation keys which give only the rough pronunciation, may not be helpful anymore.
- Assimil does not focus on the US market.
o Assimil does not do much marketing in the US. Most learners in the States have not heard about the program.
o The number of languages taught to English speakers is just 10, compared to more than 40 for French speakers and 27 for German speakers.
o The official website’s language is French and does not have an English translation.
Assimil is one of the best programs in the market. It is good for both people at the beginner and intermediate level.
The program requires a high level of self-discipline and some special learning techniques.
VII. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
1. Other editions
Assimil was founded in 1929. Each of Assimil’s course havegone through some editions. Some people prefer the older versions because they have more text in the dialogues. But generally, there is no significant difference in the lesson format between different editions.
Each With Ease manual (book & CDs) costs from around $50 to $180. For example, on Amazon.com, German With Ease costs $118.75, Dutch With Ease costs $104.50.
The price is two times higher than the price of a Complete Teach Yourself book, another popular language series. However, most learners agree that Assimil is worth the money.
- When buying online, make sure you order both the book and the CDs. Sometimes it is sold separately, without a careful look at the title you may end up buying only the book or only the CDs.
For example, the products below contain only the book:
Example for products with both book and CDs:
Only the book:
- On Amazon.com the price for different languages/ different versions of a With Ease course varies a lot. Some courses have a low price (E.g. French With Ease $50.61, Italian With Ease $85.50); other courses have a high price (E.g. Chinese With Ease $185.25).
However, on Assimil.com the price for a With Ease manual (book + audio) is always 65.9€ ≈ $104.5. The shipping fee to the US is $23. Thus, a With Ease course from Assimil.com costs $127.5. In case a particular course is not available at Amazon.com, you can buy from Assimil.com.
2. Below is another good way to use Assimil
- Close the book, listen to the audio: 10 – 20 times
- Open the book, listen to the audio and read (in your mind) the text in the target language: 5+ times
- Stop the audio, read the English translation and the notes, look up for words in dictionary, creating flash card, etc.
- Play the audio again, try to read the text along with the audio: 5 times
- Do shadowing: listen and repeat aloud exactly what has been said without pause the audio. 10 times
3. The Arabic course is a complete failure, and so avoid it.
5. It is always good to complement any program with additional reading and listening materials. Get high quality materials for free at LingQ.com.