Start learning a new language the easy way with the Pimsleur Method.  Select from over 50 languages.

Everyone Can Learn a Foreign Language
by Dr. Paul Pimsleur

Dr. Paul Pimsleur said that with the right method, anyone who had the drive and the need to learn a foreign language could do it. Innate intelligence doesn’t matter, nor innate musical ability. What does matter is perseverance and a willingness to try. It takes a willingness to stretch your comfort zone and begin speaking to another human in your new language. It’s not easy – you may stumble at first, but practice is the key. Soon you’ll navigate your new language with ever-increasing skill and facility. Here’s what Dr. Pimsleur had to say about what it takes to learn a new language:

According to reliable studies, only about 16 percent of what it takes to learn a foreign language is attributable to intelligence—at least as defined by IQ tests. IQ tests are largely made up of English vocabulary and mathematical reasoning questions, presented in various forms. Perhaps this explains why IQ correlates better with success in school than with success in life. Doing well in languages, like doing well at business, politics, or love, calls for more than the type of intelligence that makes you successful in school. It demands qualities like persuasiveness, sensitivity, gaiety, and perseverance, which IQ tests make no attempt to measure.

Musical Ability
Study after study has shown that, contrary to popular belief, musical ability accounts for only about 10 percent of what it takes to learn a language. While we can all think of people we have known who play the piano brilliantly and also learn foreign languages easily, a few moments’ reflection will probably call to mind nearly as many opposite instances—people who are musical whizzes but know no foreign languages. The relationship between the two is far too slight to predict with any certainty that a musically apt person will do better at learning a language than someone with a poor ear for music.

Language Talent and You
One of the main reasons why people despair of studying a language is that it “makes them feel stupid.” To the world, one is a competent adult, but to a language teacher one may sound like a babbling baby, forced to stammer out even the simplest ideas. At least this is how a great number of adult students report having felt.

In contrast with daily life, where we can usually avoid situations that embarrass us, in the classroom we are helpless in front of a teacher who can, by an ill-timed question, expose our ignorance. A ludicrous accent or a blatant mistake in grammar might identify us as incompetent.

When they fail to recognize this, teachers may misuse their power. The classroom, as anyone who has taught will verify, is a loaded game. The teacher is more than merely one of the players: he lays down the rules and also acts as the sole referee. For instance, it is within his power to humiliate a student for forgetting vocabulary words, when actually he himself may be to blame for not providing sufficient practice. Too easily, when the teacher becomes unreasonable in his demands, the student feels incompetent. He decides that the fault is with his own ability and gives up.

Still, you may say, there must be some people with so little talent for foreign languages that they would be well advised not to waste time trying to learn one. Perhaps this is so, but I for one do not believe it, and in any event it is extremely hard to tell in individual cases.

A young man in a French class I was teaching at UCLA was doing poorly and in danger of failing the course. I sent him to a good tutor, with whose help he managed to scrape through. I guess that, if I had reflected, I would have considered him an example of someone with no talent for languages.

I happened to run into the young man again a year or so later on a street in Athens. He had been living there for two months with a Greek family, and had already learned enough Greek to hold down a job. When we sat down at a sidewalk café to chat, he had the satisfaction of ordering for both of us, in fluent Greek. He had learned Greek but not French. The talent was in him, though he himself might not have believed it.

I have seen other incorrigible cases, like the Army sergeant who was sent back to school at age fifty to learn Cambodian. He did miserably and soon decided to retire from the Army rather than stay in the language school. This was too bad. The sergeant, like many supposed “no language talent” people, was probably as capable as most of learning a language if the circumstances had been right. If he had parachuted into a Cambodian village, he might have learned the language very quickly.

Discouragement, frustration, and fatigue produce a tremendous impulse to give up before one gets far enough for competence to bring its own reward. The best defense against this is to know before starting exactly what you want to accomplish and why.

At Pimsleur Language Programs we happen to know a thing or two about perseverance. We’ve been working out this language-learning thing for over 50 years, and we’re just getting warmed up. If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, but failed, or given up because it took too long, or felt like you weren’t making progress, give our scientifically-proven method a try. Millions of satisfied customers have learned to speak and read using the Pimsleur Method, and you can too!


Start learning a new language the easy way with the Pimsleur Method.  Select from over 50 languages.


Back to How to Learn a Foreign Language.


I also own Rosetta Stone and I can tell you that I have learned more Spanish in 1 month with Pimsleur than I have learned in a year with Rosetta Stone.
Macky from Florida