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Assimil

The Most Honest Assimil Review You’ll Ever Read




NOTE: Be sure to check out my Essential Language Learning Tools page for other alternatives to Assimil.

I use and recommend this course as a more comprehensive online audio resource (multiple languages).

***

After a lot of years of sampling and reviewing just about every major language product (and some hopefuls) on the market, I finally sat down this week to put the famous Assimil series under the microscope.

I’ve put it off until now for one main reason:

It’s surprisingly difficult to get hold of outside of Europe.

When I have been lucky enough to find one of their editions on a shelf somewhere, it’s unfortunately been for a language that I’m not learning.

In particular, I wanted to get an Assimil Super Pack (pictured above) in one of my languages which includes the book, CD’s and MP3 CD (with English rather than French as the base language).

Although some Assimil editions can be found on Amazon, they’re priced outrageously high compared to the main site. In the end the best option I had was to order the Russian Edition directly from the Assimil website itself (to give you an idea of the price difference, on Amazon it currently sells for $195 and on the Assimil site it’s about $75!).

The entire website is in French however with no English order form.

I’ve been eager to sit down and spend time on Assimil because I know how popular it is in the online ‘polyglot community’, promoted by various well-known language learners and the language learning subreddit.

Unfortunately (as with other products), I spent hours trawling online for ‘Assimil reviews’ and found nothing of substance. Just about every written and video review I found was a total waste of energy (usually just “reviewers” flipping through a book saying how pretty it looks). No real attention given to the content or method itself.

Of course, these phony reviews aren’t going to help anyone make a decision on whether or not to use it.

So today I’ve given the series the time it deserves and tried to provide you with a detailed and balanced review of the Assimil method.

I fired off two questions to the team over at Assimil and received their response so I’m going to share my own discovery and perspective based on those answers.

Have you or do you use Assimil? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

1. Is the Assimil Method based on any research data or empirical evidence?

Very difficult question.

We have really little information about the way Alphonse Chérel [the Assimil founder] created his method. All we can say is that Alphonse Chérel knew that there was no product/book/method for a large audience that could be used individually.

He was a visionary because he understood that self-learning was some kind of modern thing related to a growing individualistic trend in European societies. 

A more personal thought: I find some similarities between Assimil’s pedagogy and Hermann Ebbinghaus’ work on memory, learning and forgetting curves. Ebbinghuas ideas were pretty famous in Europe at the time Alphonse Chérel was preparing his own method.

– Nicolas Ragonneau, Assimil

I have to say I was stunned and disappointed by this response.

It shouldn’t be a difficult question for them to answer.

I find it truly fascinating that even the Assimil company itself does not know much about its own product or method and has no way of referencing empirical data or evidence to explain how it works, successful outcomes or how it was developed.

I‘ve only ever seen anecdotal assurances with Assimil.

What they do seem to know is that Assimil was created to fill a market gap at the time for autodidactic learners (people who learn on their own). The creator of Assimil is a mystery even to the people who represent his work and company.

This is in stark contrast to a product like Pimsleur for example where the founder (Paul Pimsleur) and his method are very well documented with lots of supportive evidence and data.

For this reason it’s hard to have much confidence in the effectiveness of Assimil’s method from the outset.

As for the side note, I’m sure that Ebbinghaus was an influential contemporary. However I personally can’t see any direct correlation between his work and Chérel‘s to warrant suggesting that Assimil was maybe/possibly/kinda heavily influenced by or related to it.

It still doesn’t explain Chérel‘s peculiar method either way.

On the Assimil website under ‘La Méthode’, the steps of the Assimil method are briefly outlined and followed by one simple assurance:

Vos résultats vous surprennent.” (Your results will surprise you.)

To me that’s a bit like saying, ‘we have no idea where this method came from or research to back it up but trust us, it’s awesome!’. :)

So what is the method or process it outlines exactly?

Each Assimil ‘course’ provides 100 lessons with accompanying audio, English (or French) native language translation, footnotes explaining a few grammar and pronunciation points, and some translation exercises.

The Assimil method is comprised of two “phases” or “waves”.

Phase one, the passive phase, involves reading, listening to and repeating the first 49 lessons of the book without attempting to translate the material back into English (or French). The reader is assured that by doing so, the phrases will “sink in” naturally.

The number of lessons (49) for the passive phase appears to be an arbitrary choice based solely on the fact that it’s half way through the book rather than anything else. There also isn’t a very clear progression in terms of ascending difficulty, as some later lessons/topics are technically much easier than earlier ones (although the audio recordings do speed up as you progress).

Once the 50th lesson has been reached, the active phase begins.

This requires you to start back at lesson 1 and (this time) actually complete the translation exercises as you continue to move through the book.

Herein lies a crucially important and problematic point:

Translation is at the heart of Assimil’s method.

It’s also their measure of determining acquired spoken fluency.

There’s a B2 label on the front of my Russian Edition indicating/claiming that by completing the book, I will reach a B2 equivalent in Russian according to the CEFR scale. Well unless they’re referring specifically to literacy (rather than spoken) skills, then that’s false.

You simply cannot become a B2 level ‘speaker’ of anything by reading and translating text. Period.

That would be like suggesting you can become a professional violinist by reading sheet music.

You‘re training a different skill.

As I say all the time, translation approaches to language learning are thoroughly outdated (remember that Assimil was made back in 1929!) and these increasingly obsolete approaches are ineffective at producing fluent speakers. As a language educator, I’ve traveled the world and met many students all over who were taught this way with English using outdated methodology, and while having an incredible grasp of the written language, are unable to communicate in a basic A1 level conversation.

In fact I would argue that one of the characteristics of functional spoken fluency is being able to communicate without translating.

One other point worth noting is that Assimil also states that 20-30 minutes a day for “just a few months” (as long as it’s every day) is sufficient to complete the course and achieve fluency (in the case of my Russian Edition, to reach a B2 equivalent).

You’ll be speaking naturally “without hesitation” it says.

Nonsense. That’s totally insufficient.

To make no mention of actually using the language with people and to claim that half an hour of book study a day is all you need to become a high level speaker is demonstrably false.

Again, the problem with claims like this is that there is no research available to verify Assimil’s claims or even to show where Chérel came up with it.

I know that in my own experience learning many languages over the past decade, I can confidently say that a spoken B2 equivalent in any language takes a serious, long-term and intensive time commitment.

30 minutes a day over a few months translating sentences on paper just doesn’t cut it.

 

2. What is it about Assimil that sets it apart from other language book series and methods (e.g. Teach Yourself and Michel Thomas)?

First of all, Assimil is an older imprint than TY [Teach Yourself] and MT [Michel Thomas]. Assimil was created in 1929.

Secondly, Assimil is inevitably different because it was originated by a single man, Alphonse Chérel, who was unique (as every human on this planet). So there is a strong idiosyncrasy in the Assimil method.

And last, the beginning of the Assimil method is based on the idea of transparent words (My tailor is rich, the first sentence of the English method, may be absurd, but it is so close to the French sentence ‘mon tailleur est riche’ !).

Of course the limit to this starting point is the distance between some languages (it works very well for Indo-European languages, it’s not as obvious when you come to Arabic and Basque!)

– Nicolas Ragonneau, Assimil

The point made there that the Assimil method “is based on the idea of transparent words” is very interesting.

For languages so closely related to English like French, this is indeed a great starting point. But as Nicolas alluded to, for languages that are far removed from English, the same process doesn’t work at all.

This actually makes me wonder if the Assimil method is only beneficial for closely related languages.

If the method itself was designed to help you identify similar patterns and structures then that would make it utterly useless for languages like Arabic or Mandarin Chinese.

In Assimil’s defense, one thing that I think is wonderful (and really ahead of its time back in the 20’s) is that it focuses more on identifying and translating patterns rather than grammar.

What that means is that unlike typical courses which begin with a grammar point and then reinforce that grammar point with dialogues and exercises, Assimil has a strong emphasis on lexical chunk acquisition (e.g. learning whole phrases) which my readers know I’m a huge proponent of (see here and here).

This was popularized by Michael Lewis’ Lexical Approach in English language methodology and has been hugely influential on my own learning.

As anyone who follows me knows, I always teach that a grammar-first approach to language learning is unnatural and backward.

It’s also the reason why foreign language education all over the world has been failing miserably.

It isn’t how we learn our first language and it shouldn’t be how we learn our second either. See my article titled ‘You Don’t Need To Study Grammar To Learn To Speak A Foreign Language‘ where I explain this in detail.

In the Assimil series, grammar explanations are a mere footnote.

They’re also not exhaustive.

Instead, Assimil focuses on presenting you with complete, useable expressions and even the translation exercises which I mentioned above are for whole phrases rather than grammar drilling.

This means that instead of providing you with conjugation and declension tables, and then telling you to memorize them, you’re given natural sentences in the context of many different scenarios along with the English equivalent.

Assimil is more like a graded phrasebook or interlinear with footnotes.

You’re expected to just listen and repeat.

For example, you’re given an expression (in the Russian Edition) like ‘Какой ужас!’ and its corresponding meaning ‘How awful!’ with no actual explanation of its grammar. You’re just expected to read it, listen to how it’s said and repeat it the same way in similar contexts.

This is excellent.

Explanations are usually what cause the most confusion in language learning and in my opinion you’re better off following Assimil’s lead to ‘listen and repeat’ without digging too deep in the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’.

This is something I advocate constantly.

 

How to get the most out of Assimil

The reason why I chose to buy the Super Pack which contains the MP3 CD as well as the audio CD’s is that the MP3’s are recorded for each individual expression.

Each line of every dialogue is separated (e.g. S01.mp3, S02.mp3 and so on).

So the example I gave above of ‘Какой ужас!’ is recorded as its own MP3 file in the Super Pack.

I found this incredibly convenient as I usually have to create my own audio files for learning using tools like Audacity which is very time-consuming.

Assimil has done this for me.

I can then put those short expressions into a tool like Anki to make flashcards using the audio with images or text, or I can just play them on repeat.

Many of the situational dialogues in Assimil appear completely random and strange, and are not going to be useful to most people in most circumstances. For example, there’s a lesson called ‘The Thief’ which includes a dialogue between a lawyer and a defendant – unless you’re planning to commit a crime it’s an odd scenario to include.

There’s a lesson called “An Inveterate Bachelor” where a guy talks about divorcing his wife because he doesn’t like her cooking.

And there’s another lesson on the sounds that cats and dogs make.

These are just a few examples of the kind of bizarre and unnecessary scenarios the book presents.

However… they’re not entirely useless.

If you take a look at the dialogues of those odd situations, you can take out expressions that you know you’d find useful in other situations.

A big part of language learning is searching for high-frequency expressions that you use a lot and are personally relevant.

So in the case of the ‘The Thief’ lesson (which is a situation I hopefully will never find myself in – especially in Russia! :)), there are expressions like ‘Ну, и что?’ (So what?) and ‘Как вам не стыдно?’ (You should be ashamed of yourself/How are you not ashamed?).

These are situational expressions that I could find useful in many other scenarios.

So I take those expressions, use the MP3 files provided and discard the rest of the dialogue (perhaps until another time).

Instead of spending lots of time and energy learning content that I may never ever need, I’m very selective about learning only the things that I will find useful.

Make sense?

This is how I’m using Assimil, despite its peculiar topics and outdated methodology, and still getting tonnes of use out of it.

I’m not interested in the two phase method of Assimil because I don’t see it as an efficient use of my time to translate text – especially when a lot of topics are totally irrelevant or weird.

Thankfully the quality of the recorded audio is outstanding (at least for the Russian Edition I have) so it’s an excellent source of material no matter how I use it.

 

The verdict: Is Assimil as great as people say it is?

I have mixed feelings about Assimil but I think the best way for me to sum it up is like this:

The Assimil material/content is excellent and very useful.

But the Assimil Method is not.

The method is old and outdated, and therefore I don’t believe its ‘two wave’ approach has much value in light of current SLA trends (although its focus on patterns rather than grammar drills is ahead of its time).

However, the dialogue material and recordings (especially the way they’re separated and presented on the MP3 CD) are among the best I’ve seen in any book course.

So overall it’s an extremely useful resource for those of us who are good at directing our own learning but for anyone wanting a book or course that ‘walks you through’ everything, Assimil is (in my opinion) not a suitable choice.

Final note on the price: in most cases, you’re probably better off avoiding Amazon altogether and using the Assimil website to order it. As I mentioned up top, the Russian Edition was well over $100 cheaper ordering it direct.

UPDATE: In response to this post, I received another email from Assimil. Here’s part of it:

La méthode Assimil is also called the intuitive method, which means you learn without even understand why you learn. But for me Alphonse Chérel had also some kind of intuition when he did that. Call this serendipity, call this whatever you want.

As far as I know Alphonse Chérel hasn’t left any written memo about the way he worked at the beginning. But this doesn’t mean we do not know how it works at all.

There is also a kind of strong tropisme in the méthode, which was created against the official ways of learning in school. From this point of view, Assimil was very disruptive at that time.

But you have to be French or to be raised in France to understand this.

I mean we do not know how it works at a scientific level. I dream of working with neuroscientists to understand what happens in the brain, but we’d need time and money to do this.

Maybe one day.

 

Have you used Assimil? Share your thoughts below!

 

Comments

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  1. I really agree with your review here!

    The Assimil material is excellent. I really like how one learns though natural dialogues, and how the recordings start out slow and gradually become faster. It’s currently my favorite language course based in book and audio format.

    Also, I like that one can use the material to learn in different ways. The recommended method itself (such as the “two phases”) is outdated and not very useful, but language learners can easily use the provided dialogues and recordings to learn in their own preferred way.

    I’ve used Assimil for Japanese, Russian, and French.
    I can see how the focus on “transparent words” and parallel structures makes the method easy for more closely-related languages, but confusing for more distant languages. As for Japanese, I had some prior knowledge of the language, and so the Assimil material was easy for me, but if one was a complete beginner, they would probably be perplexed at understanding the sentence structure (which is radically different from those of Indo-European languages).

    I also agree that Assimil should retract the “B2” claims, since merely using Assimil will not bring a learner to such a high level. One definitely needs a much longer commitment, plus communication with other speakers, in order to gain fluency in a language.

    Another comment I have about Assimil is that different language courses can have significantly different styles. For instance, the French course started out with dialogues that were very long compared to those in the Japanese and Russian courses. And the Russian course has less humorous dialogue situations than the French and Japanese courses did. (However, I’m currently only somewhere around lesson 11, so perhaps there will be more humor in later lessons. The “Inverterate Bachelor” lesson you mentioned seems to be one of such.)

  2. Very insightful article, I was pondering as to wether assimil ship internationally if I order directly from their official website? Thank you.

    1. Yes, they do.

      I ordered it from France direct to California. Arrived quickly too.

  3. I agree. I like Assimil because it’s more dialogue-heavy than other courses, but I don’t really follow the method they recommend at the beginning of each book.

  4. I have both versions of Spanish With Ease and I find the grammar points to be pretty in depth and sometimes confusing. Do you suggest just ignoring most of the grammar points as well as the review sessions?

  5. Try Schoenhof’s Foreign Books in Cambridge, Mass.: https://www.schoenhofs.com, Phone: 617-547-8855

    I just called up and asked them what they had for elementary Japanese and ended up with the Assimil course (Volume 1) for about $80 (they were running a sale). A couple of weeks later I called and got Volume 2.

    Since I’m more interested in reading than speaking, the course is a good fit, but I want to be able to understand the spoken language and have a basis for learning to speak it if it ever turns out that I’ll need it, so I’ve spent a lot more than the suggested 20 min a day on it. (I’m currently at Lesson 46.) I break the dialogs up into chunks rather than complete sentences, so the oddity of some of the dialogs doesn’t bother me. (I make Glossika-style tapes of these with Audacity and play them while working in the yard. Figuring out how to do this has accounted for a lot of the time I’ve charged to Japanese.) After a month or so I started on the kanji, which are easier for words that are now familiar.

    Personally I like the wave approach, even though I’m doing more on the first wave than the 20-30 min recommended. It takes a lot of pressure off starting a new language if you know you’re not responsible for getting everything perfectly, you’ll get another shot at the material when it will all seem easy. I’m not crazy about using an English translation of a French textbook, though – some of the translated sentences in the dialogs are just wrong (tenses, for example), and the the grammar notes are occasionally incomprehensible. On the other hand, if the idea is to get a feel for the language rather than to prepare for a grammar exam, this really doesn’t matter, unless you plan on your first book/course/exposure being the only chance you’ll ever have to learn a language. (On the third hand, I may try the French version for the next one. )

  6. Hi Donovan, nice review. I like Assimil a lot, but I really see it more as a tool for linguistic input. That is, I would not expect one to produce language with it right away, but rather to recognize it and understand it. That said, it is one of the most valuables tools one can have in the language box. Combine it with a good pharasebook to start “producing” in the language, and you’re still miles ahead of most traditional methods around.

    1. I agree with you on that. Good strategy.

      Thanks Rodrigo. 🙂

  7. Assimil definitely doesn’t make you translate everything. The method does have instructions and whats described here doesn’t corellate with the guidance they give for using the course. Honestly, it reads like a hit piece, and the awful rocket ads I’m getting here doesn’t help to counter that.

    You can get to a B1 with the method of you use it as prescribed. A B2 is asking a lot. You’d have to supplement it with some other course and practice with natives.

    That being said, anyone who expects to get a B2 with only 30 minute assimil lessons per day isn’t going to make it through the method without giving up.

    Assimil will definitely take you further than Teach Yourself and Colloquial, and is definitely more economical than Rocket and Rosetta Stone.

    Use it as prescribed, not in some assinine way which can facilitate a hit piece review post.

    Many have used it. The results speak for themselves, and there’s a reason why they’re one of the most popular publishers of language learning courses.

    Studying grammar is needed to be able to form your sentences properly. No one says to kill yourself with grammar books.

    We didn’t learn our first language that way, but we can never recreate that situation. We have native languages which allow us to rationalize structure differences and apply them systematically.

    Learning conjugation patterns is more efficient than learning each individual form of each verb… Individually… For example.

    1. Wait… it reads like a “hit piece” because I didn’t heap shallow praise on it like every single other review has done?

      It’s actually quite balanced and fair. Pointed out a lot of quality aspects too.

    2. Hit piece is how I would describe it, too. Your review is unpolite and highly inflammatory and you do come across as way arrogant. I have known Assimil for decades and I feel it is wonderful. Nothing comes even close. Of course that learning a language to achieve native level fluency, or even a B2 or C1 level, requires substantial effort and committment. La Méthode Assimil is just a beginning. This is a life-long endeavor, my friend.

  8. Very good review. I am using Assimil Mandarin and love it. I will disagree with your review on the fact that it’s only for reading and writing. I use the excellent audio files to speak over (shadowing) until I get it right, then when I can shadow the entire dialog without hesitation I can go to the next chapter. My speech and fluidity has greatly improved since I started doing that!

    1. Yes! It is outstanding for “learning by parroting”. But I personally wish I had focused more on reading the Hanzi characters from the beginning. It really helps. I’m up to about lesson 60, so into the 2nd Wave. I recently also started reading a series of A1/A2 Graded Readers and discovered they coincide excellently with the vocab from Assimil so far – enough to read the 450-word “A2” books. After reading them, i.e. after using the exact same vocab in different contexts, I could suddenly even follow much more on youtube series than ever before. So, for me, learning the characters helped in a Big way – especially to understand the etymology and the distinction between homophones. So I am a definite fan of Wave 2! I must be in the minority 🙂

    2. I didn’t realize but there is a new version with a new author that came out last year for Mandarin. I just went on the Assimil website and it looks like they’re going full speed, which is great news !

  9. A fair review. The “method” is lacking in scientific support and is unlikely to give the results touted on the front of the books, but the content is still very useful. I’ve never been one for “first learn this grammar rule (or memorize this thematic list of vocabulary), then apply it in the following drills” style of book. I prefer to develop some intuition by being exposed to content first, then later have my developing sense of how the language works refined or corrected by a more explicit discussion of grammar, so Assimil suits me pretty well. I’ve used it for four languages so far (but none of them were very distant from my native English, I will note).

  10. Assimil’s suggested methodology is useless for me. I got next to nowhere. Like you, I had to adapt the material. I first go through the whole course just focusing on reading and looking up the grammar points. I use FLTR program for reading. I do 3-5 lessons a day. Then I go back through it from lesson 1 this time with a focus on listening. That takes about 2-3 months all together. I can usually dive into native texts after that. I also mine for useful phrases to memorise about 4 or 5 per lesson. That way works very effectively for me.

  11. Oh and I totally agree that all other reviews for assimil were almost all useless. So thanks for doing a proper one!

  12. Assimil suits me very well. It has the right balance between reading, listening, and speaking, and grammar points are introduced clearly, but only when the need for them arises. I personally like the grammar-translation method, which works for me, but if it doesn’t work for you, by all means use what does. I have CEFR certificates in four languages, at C1, B2, B1, and A2, so Assimil seems right for me. I suggest that people should give it a try and then decide whether to adopt or abandon it.

  13. Hi there! Im using Assimil for French and I love it. But its true that you have to find your own way on how to use it. First of all the dialogs are very interesting and it shows french mentality. I repeat a lot until I pronounce perfect and with ease and write out new words with explanations. Aslo in an active phase Im not just repeating previous lessons, I learn them by heart, write them without looking in the book and then check myself. It takes much more efforts and time that just 30 min per day but that’s the way I like and in a short period of time (like 6 months) I could already support a conversation and French speakers were amazed by my pronunciation, “french“ intonationand having no fear to talk. I aslo tried Assimil for German but it didn’t work as good as with French, so I guess this program is not so good for some languages, but it definitely great for French language.

  14. I used assimi since the 80s when my dad introduced me to it. I think it is the best material available for starting a new language. What surprises me most in this review is that you say there are many topics you’ll never use. I’ve always believed it is the habbit of bad students to select “useful” and “useless” words. I find their dialogues very amusing even when the context is not common. Of course you are not likely to find yourself in a situation when you talk to a lawyer as an offender. But not every lesson can/should cover topics most people encounter everyday. That would be extremely boring. And how do we select “usual” or “common” or “useful” anyway? I still think you just didn’t make yourself understood, cause saying that you limit yourself strictly to the most useful expressions sounds like your goal in life is to order a coffee in a shop. People who are passionate about languages would never think in these terms. And second, about the “waves” – two waves are actually not enough and I usually apply a “multiple waves” method instead – I translate and listen tens of times.

  15. Assimilation will easily get you to a B2 if you are learning a language in the same family (like French to Italian, or Spanish to Italian), but English to Spanish, I doubt It

    The Phrases in Assimil are not practical, imho.

  16. Hi,

    I felt moved to comment here because back in the mid 90’s, I needed to learn Hindi, and there were very few resources available.

    I was in an Indian village but access to native speakers did not help getting the basics.
    Hindi is very different than English of course, and although I worked hard with Teach Yourself Hindi (Teach Yourself Series), it seemed an infinite chasm between the book in my hands and the real spoken language around me.

    After my first six months in India, I spent time in Belgium where I discovered the Assimil “Le Hindi Sans Peine” … and even though I hadn’t gone beyond high school French, I was able to use it to get proficiency.

    One and only reason Assimil was so helpful: The recorded dialogues.

    It is a wealth of material expertly programmed, naturally spoken, entertainingly written. Just by forcing myself to practice those dialogues, paying close attention to intonation and pronunciation, gradually bringing them up to speed, I was able to convert the previous book learning into actual use of the language. Then when I returned to India I could speak with people and continue the process naturally.

    I have seen similar quality in Assimil Italian and Dutch courses.

    Conclusion: Assimil … YES!!! For the recordings. I would say integrate it in your language learning, but don’t rely on it as your only source.

    1. Nothing comes even close to Assimil.

  17. I had fluent conversations in Italian and Greek after completing the Assimil courses. While Assimil lacks in the vocabulary department, it certainly teaches an intuitive application towards grammar. The vocabulary certainly isn’t sufficient for B2 level- the grammar, however, is. I guess this is hardly controversial, since there exist a lot of handbooks specifically to teach vocabulary in your target language.

    I am surprised that the inductive, reading and hearing (!) based method that Assimil offers gets criticised for being… too deductive? Your criticism of the active phase is simply asinine, since a word-for-word translation isn’t even intended. If the core of the argument is “Hurr, durr, you won’t get fluent unless you speak with real people”, well, no shit Sherlock.

    Take care,

    Jan

  18. Donovan, I appreciate your review, but I respectfully disagree with the idea of the method being somehow inferior to other so-called modern approaches. Full disclosure, I am no linguist, but I do speak three languages at the C2 level, and now trying to learn a couple Mandarin and German to get to a bare bones A1 level.

    I tried Assimil in the context of these two languages, and I was so surprised by the results. Specifically in relation to Mandarin, I had tried nearly everything so far, but my language skills simply couldn’t take off. This was humbling, since while I don’t think I am a gifted language learner, I do think that having learned other languages in the past would give me an edge.

    While I appreciate the whole “never translate” discourse, in practice that’s just not attainable in the beginning. In other words, before a language becomes automatic, you will necessarily have to struggle with not having the words to express what you want, meaning that you *will* have to constantly go back to your own language (or languages) and try to adapt whatever you might have at hand. In terms of grammar, you *will* make tons of mistakes while attempting to go from what you know to the new target language.

    As all of us know, trying a new language for a full day while immersed in another culture is simply exhausting. By the end of the day your head is about to explode, with the constant translation gymnastics. And you know what, the translation gymnastics pays off, as after sometime the translation will start moving into a process where the words simply come to you in a natural way.

    Now, why do I think that Assimil is good? Honestly, I still can’t figure that out. I couldn’t even identify the main principles behind it until I read your post. Despite my blatant ignorance, it just simply works for me. I find that the translation (to English as well as the literal, word by word translation) brings so much clarity to what before was a very nebulous concept that I just couldn’t infer by myself. The notes on grammar are wonderfully repetitive. And I should say that Assimil made me appreciate how much I need repetition, since often times I won’t really connect all the dots until I am exposed to an explanation two or three times. The weird phrases they have simply make me laugh, and as long as they get the message across I couldn’t care less if I might not use them while going around Beijing.

    In sum, although the whole idea of different learning styles is not that popular today, I do think that people have different preferences and what might work for some folks simply won’t do much for others. As far as I am personally concerned, Assimil is on the top of my language toolkit.

    1. hey how did you get c2 in those three languages?

  19. Thanks for your review.

    I am a Turkish native, English fluent and French speaker person. I tried to learn Spanish since it seemed very easy to me after I got enough French, and I tried three different programs: Rosetta, Assimil and one more (I could not remember).

    Assimil was by far the best and easy to follow. It was also strikingly effective to mimic the conditions presented in the program. In other words, I was able to greet people, to find my way around when I travelled to Spain.

    Now I live in the US and decided to restart from where I’ve left. I could only remember Assimil again. I have just ordered a superpack at $54 through Amazon.

    I cannot explain why but it has an effective and non-boring method.

    Thanks again.

  20. Hi Donovan,
    big fan here 😉

    I wrote myself a review about Assimil. Perhaps the part of your readership more comfortable with Spanish and Italian than English, would benefit mine as well:

    I disagree on some points, however it’s always interesting to know your viewpoint in all things language.

    Keep up the amazing work.
    Cheers from Valencia, Spain 🖖
    Fabio

  21. In the mid 80s I went through the USAFs defense language course in Russian. I have not used what I learned since. Recently I downloaded pimsleur Russian language course. I went through the 4 lvls including level 4 twice. I found I recalled most grammar issues easily and may just need to find a place to converse as a next step. Do you have any suggestions on further learning? Also any source for reading material?

  22. You just have absolutely not the slightest idea what you’re writing about. Assimilation is THE method. I learned Hebrew by myself first, when I first arrived in Israel, the day after my arrival I went to the post office all by myself and managed to register for my health insurance through a very satisfactory conversation in Hebrew THANKS TO ASSIMIL.

  23. In my previous post Assimilation should be read Assimil. It was an automated miscorrection.

  24. I would just like to say, that I went up to lesson 70 something (French) during my lunch breaks for around 4 months (work permitting) after that I took a French test to enter an immersion course and I got assigned to level Intermediate 3, (there were only 3 more levels up) and the rest of my classmates had taken way more classes, so, I think this speaks loads for Assimil. My plans are to finish the book in a week or two and then continue with the next book, which is only 20 euros!
    So, yes I would recommend it!
    Claudia

  25. Their new e-learning methods is full of bugs. Bad quality control. I bought it, and it was impossible to access the full contents, I only could access the trial version contents.

  26. Because it’s a traditional coursebook, Assimil really doesn’t have a way to keep you accountable. It’s up to you as the learner to monitor your progress there are no leaderboards, progress bars, or points awarded for working through the material.

  27. Hi Donovan! I’m not so good in foreign languages, but have seen some methods of learning it. Translation is good as one of the methods. One who has great passive knowledge in foreign language and is poor at speaking need only 2 weeks among native speakers to put it into practise. Far best method is to take lessons in some foreign language school for at least one year, and to simultaneously read easy books series and comics(for dialogues) and watch movies. Great majority of self-learning courses like Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone,Michel Thomas, are dumb and dull methods good to get you to nowhere. What I’ve seen so far, Assimil and german course Pons are at the top. When it’s about serious language learning for diplomatic purposes, then its full day job in top school for 6 months.

  28. I really like that Assimil jumps right in and skips the laborious introductions that span several chapters in other courses. My only criticism is that you are not equipped with everything you need to give a full introduction to someone you’ve just met. While I don’t need to know how to describe my entire extended family, it would be nice to get a bit more content for introducing myself, my hobbies, and my preferences.

  29. Hello 🙂

    As a french, I understand why he said in respond to your post : But you need to be french, or raised in France to understand.

    Our educational system is completely old, outdated and useless. It’s true that Assimil is an old method for those days, but at that time he created the method, it was a good opportunity to discover a different method than language teacher where applying in classe. Their problem ? didn’t updated.

    This doesn’t explain the level we are supposed to reach B2, and the method. I also find very weird for a representative of the brand, to speak like that.

    Anyway… I still try to learn spanish and english. And I don’t know which method to use.

  30. Just wondering if the ‘intuitive’, communication-based approach, using conversational language, lines up well with Krashen’s ideas on comprehensible input? Seems like it is an intuitive precursor to this.

    It also reminds me of the serendipitous “direct” method as applied by Charles Berlitz – don’t worry, not trying to justify the Berlitz scam here!

    1. LearnerGuy,
      Comparing Assimil and Krashen would reveal that the former indeed FEELS like a precursor to the latter; the ONLY thing that would actually be different between both methods is that Assimil is an extremely good introduction to the language with roughly 100 lessons, while with Krashen, you are expected to work with material that would run into several hundred, if not several thousand, pages. But the fundamental strategy — exposure to the language in all its forms — written, spoken — is the same.
      The only caveat is this: 20 minutes a day won’t cut it, but if you’re a real language lover and learner, you WILL spend much more time than that, no matter what Assimil says. And as far as the “second” or active phase is concerned, what this reviewer seems not to have understood is that that second phase is not part of the LEARNING process, but rather intended to check your own progress: if you CAN retranslate into the language you are learning, you WILL be able to carry on a connversation in real life. If you CAN’T, well you know you have to study some more.

    2. The short answer I would suggest is “sort of.” In the years since Krashen first proposed the Input Hypothesis, he has argued that input must be not comprehensible, but comprehended and compelling. To the extent that one finds the dialogues to be interesting and is able to comprehend them, they would lead to acquisition according to his hypothesis. I don’t think he would advocate any follow-up exercises such as translation. In research he co-wrote about with Beniko Mason, it was found that reading itself was more efficient than reading + follow-up comprehension activities, so while translation might be a decent assessment strategy, acquisition itself would be better served by simply more listening/reading. I’m not sure what the other response is saying. It sounds like he’s suggesting that Krashen advocates sink-or-swim immersion, which is not the case at all.

  31. Hello there 🙂
    I am learning German with Assimil. So far, I am pretty satisfied. I can say, this method is certainly not a learning method for those who wish to teach one language, or use it on a professional level, but for ordinary learners like myself, who wish to get acquainted with a lingua in order to be able to communicate it in both spoken and written way, (in Germany in my case), and then probably upgrade it, it is definitely an excellent one.
    I am using Assimil- German with Ease (2013), with English translation from the start; The grammar explanation, not in the order one would learn it at school, but still, one that make sense. The audio files are with native speakers- so far, my speech- pronunciation and fluency has improved greatly-I don’t see any shortcomings for now.
    I don’t think the method is outdated, I would definitely recommend it.

  32. Hi Donovan, Great article! I completed several of the Assimil courses and here are the results after studying 45minutes daily for 6 months (I completed some Pimsleur prior to Assimil) :
    French – B1
    German – A2
    Russian – A2
    Italian – B2
    I mainly liked the amazing audio quality & the opportunity for output via translation. If you can translate, you can use it in conversation. Once I completed the courses, I started massive reading/listening and talking with tutors.
    P.S. I’m still working Egyptian Arabic Dialect (Glossika is awesome). Thanks for the advice to stick with a dialect!

  33. I wonder if to learn English through Assimil the explanations come in English or in French.

  34. Well, it depends of language combination. There is many language pairs, and no, there isn’t english-english combo.

  35. Re: “research”

    I don’t see why it matters if a language program is “supported” by academic research. I’m not convinced that academic theories of adult language acquisition are of much practical benefit, at least until they’ve been developed in real life. The test of a method is whether it works on real people, not undergrads learning a few words in a lab and that kind of thing. Within this particular domain, determining what works and what doesn’t will necessarily be somewhat anecdotal and imprecise because of the very nature of the endeavor. To measure it precisely you’d need a large sample of people randomly assigned to different “treatment” groups and then track them for months. And you have to make sure they stick with a single method, which nobody does in practice. You’d have a massive attrition rate with most people quitting the language within a couple of weeks. It presents some of the same difficulties as trying to figure out the “perfect” diet or exercise routine. This sort of research is very expensive and frankly I’m glad companies like Assimil aren’t sinking a fortune into expensive studies to “prove” the value of their method as this would do nothing but inflate the cost of their products.

    I care about practical results. I choose my methods based on 1) my own experience, 2) opinions and experience of other language learners. I suspect all successful language learners adapt and develop their own personal methods over time. It’s similar to how athletes and coaches all have their own methods and strategies with only broad similarities.

  36. ME GUSTO MUCHO TU ARTICULO Y ESTOY DE ACUERDO CONTIGO. HACE VARIOS AÑOS MI HIJO ME COMPRO ESTE CURSO PARA MEJORAR MI CONVERSACION, PUES EN ESCRITURA Y LECTURA SOY BUENA PERO NO ASI MI CONVERSACION Y, HONESTAMENTE, NO PUDE NISIQUIERA COMENZARLO, PUES, ENCONTRE LAS PRIMERAS LECCIONES SUPER ABURRIDAS. TODAVIA ME SIENTO CULPABLE DE NO HABER USADO ALGO QUE CON TANTO AMOR ME REGALO MI HIJO, PERO, CADA VEZ QUE QUISE HACERLO ME GANABA “EL NO LO HAGA”. QUIZAS EN EL FUTURO ME DECIDA A COMENZARLO DE NUEVO, PERO EMPEZARIA CON EL SEGUNDO CD A VER SI RESULTA MENOS TEDIOSO.

  37. Hello,
    What follows is my anecdotal experience of Assimil.

    I’ve been using it for languages I wanted to refurbish (those learnt at school: English and German) or after using Pimsleur as the primary method.

    And I can tell I was stunned at its results.

    Contrary to what you state, I did not feel I was translating (except in the second phase/wave, maybe but my impression is I was trying to “think” the text based on the French text, OK that is what translation is, nut my impression is that it increases linguistic reflexes).
    I was essentially thinking in the language with a French translation as the support. Then I have v-been essentially working with the CDs (that MacOS based iTune had turned into MP3 playlists).
    Listening and repeating aloud (what others have tagged “shadowing”).
    A lot of shadowing. And freely filling the blanks in the exercise section with stories of my own in line with the previous text.
    For Spanish for instance, I used two different editions : a bit more vocabulary and idioms.

    What I can tell is I can have decent conversations in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (Brasilian), admittedly the easiest languages for a Frenchman .

    I have found Assimil Arabic terrible , way too slow and not in the Assimil teaching line. Dumped it. I eventually used he told Linguaphone instead.

    I got some priming to Turkish and Russian (a few lessons though, since i started too late before travelling.

    I can tell than Italians , Spaniards / Latinos (I adpapt the pronunciation according to the person I’m conversing with, since Pimsleur gave me a Mexican Castillan like pronunciation, and Assimil a pure university Burgos like accent) , and Brazilians, well they don’t identify me as French, nor do Germans and Britz / Umerikunz. And they all think I’ve been living in their country for months or years, and it happens I’m not identified as a foreigner (as long as the conversation isn’t too long).

    Just my experience. But I think the Pimsleur phase before Assimil is very useful and maximlises the benefits from Assimil: no written material => better pronunciation and an introduction to how the language works. Plus a useful tool for survival but very poor in vocabulary (they claim 1000 words) .

    My 2 Euro cents

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