How to use an Assimil course

I’m quite fond of Assimil courses, and I use them for French, Spanish, Russian and Dutch. But in one area, they’re very often lacking: instructions. In many of the courses, the instructions amount to: “during the passive wave, just listen to the audio and read the text, and you’ll slowly start to understand; during the active wave, go back and translate from the base language to the target language.” Considering Assimil uses a methodology that is different from most textbooks, the instructions are rather vague, especially for a person who might be studying their first foreign language. There are also “exercise” sentences at the end of each lesson, but it’s never really clearly stated what you’re supposed to do with them; do you not look at the translation, and translate them on your own after doing the lesson? Do you just treat the exercise sentences exactly like the lesson itself, listening, reading, and understanding?

The Dutch with Ease course, unlike the other courses, actually has very detailed instructions:

1. 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.

2. Listen to the recording a second time while looking at the English translation.

3. 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.

4. Now read the Dutch text again, but this time without looking at the translation.

5. Listen to the recording twice, once while looking at the English translation, and once while looking at the Dutch text.

6. Listen to the recording again with the book closed. At this point you should understand what is being said.

7. Listen to the recording once more. Stop the machine after each sentence, and try to repeat it aloud.

8. Carefully read the comments several times. Examine the Dutch sentences being explained. These notes are very important.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Of course, the Assimil courses can be used in many ways – adding the sentences and translations to a flashcard program, shadowing, writing out the lessons, etc. – but it’s nice to see detailed instructions as to how Assimil thinks their courses should be used.

61 thoughts on “How to use an Assimil course

  1. Catherine

    Thank you SO much for sharing the Assimil instructions. I have Assimil for Thai. But instead of struggling through the instructions in French, I study using polyglot Luca’s method.

    Note: I love Assimil, but I detest their use of phonetic transcription. I really do believe that a choice should be given, if only to assist in looking up iffy words in the dictionary, creating flashcards, etc.

    Reply
  2. Josh Post author

    No problem, Catherine. I’m not familiar with Luca’s method; could you describe it?

    As for the phonetic transcriptions, I agree – they’re not particularly helpful. I’ve basically given up on any system that gives me things like “this letter is pronounced like ch in German, but blended with an Arabic glottal stop and a Russian R.” With the internet and modern language courses, it’s far easier to just use something that has a transcript and audio, and learn the pronunciation that way.

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi. I’m Shawn. I’m 14 years old and I’m in the process of learning Spanish then after about a year, french. I’m using Luca’s method combined with an Assimil book from 1957. It’s called Spanish without toil. I’ve also have the audio for the book. Using Luca’s method, combined with the Assimil method you listed in the post above, I listen to the text at least twice. Sometimes I understand it (due to 3 years of Spanish, although due to the other students not really wanting to learn Spanish, has been going really slow), sometimes I don’t. Then after I listen to the text, I follow the rest of the instructions you list in your post. I then use Luca’s method and write down the English translation. The following day, I write down the Spanish re-translation of the English text I wrote along with doing the next lesson (or 3). I think that this method will really improve my Spanish greatly. Since I live in South Carolina, I have to take Spanish 3 next, but hopefully within the year, my Spanish will advance past the Spanish 3 stage and I’ll pass with flying colors ( or even get skipped up to Spanish 4 AP). The only problem is that we go over useless stuff that I will probably never use in the textbook. It’s killing me how slow it is. Once I finish the Assimil book, I will create a “Language Bubble” around myself. So far, I’m on lesson 2– I just started yesterday, but the lessons are really easy (finally school Spanish has helped). I can read and write Spanish pretty well but listening, nope. Everything is too fast for me and I have to translate in my brain what their saying. Any help with this? Thanks in advance.

      Reply
      1. Josh Post author

        Hey Shawn,

        The only way I’ve found to improve your listening skills is to just listen, a lot. There will be a pretty long period of time where most of it will indeed be too fast, and you’ll miss most of it. As you continue to listen, though, you’ll become more accustomed to the speed, and start to pick out words here and there. The number of words you “pick out” over time will go up, and eventually – a very far away eventually, admittedly, but still – you’ll get the gist of most audio. I’ve found that my ability to parse out the words excels faster than my rate of vocabulary acquisition, so if you’re like me, you’ll eventually find that while you can “hear” all of the words that are being said, you don’t actually know all of them. So basically, it will sort of be like when you’re listening or reading your native language – you hear or read what the speaker is saying, but you don’t 100% know every single word.

        Hope that helps a bit. Good luck! Oh, and one final bit of advice: granted, don’t fail your classes, but focus more on your self-study. By and large, I’ve found most language classes to be a joke and a waste of time.

        Reply
  3. Catherine

    Luca’s method is very simple. You listen to the audio files, repeat the phrases out loud, read the text with and without the audio. After you do this for awhile, you translate the phrases into your own language. Then you translate your translations back into the original language.

    It’s a bit more difficult for Thai as I’m having to translate back into Thai script. But it does help with my spelling (which is awful in any language).

    And since I won’t read transliteration, I took the time to write out the phrases/conversations in Thai script. So my actual reading abilities are also improving. It’s a slow process as I’m not a very good student. But for me, it’s a good way to study.

    Reply
    1. chinhchinh

      Hi ,Catherine.
      I’m learning english.( I’m from Vietnam)
      Can you offer more details about luca’s method.and which types of audio files are used, how many times do you listen to for one lession. when listening , do you look at this text?. and which tool do you use to translate? can I use google to translate? and so on.
      why do not you only translate the phrases without translating one text? and
      I do not understand why you must translate the phrases into your own language.and then you must translate your translations back into the original language. as so what is your purpose in this thing for? Can you suggest me some advices about how to learn one language effectively.
      I am very happy to receive your instructions .
      Thanhks in advance

      Reply
  4. Josh Post author

    That sounds somewhat like my modified method of approaching Assimil courses. I’ll read the text and translation, listen to the audio repeatedly, repeat (following the standard Assimil instructions, basically), but then I’ll usually go back and 1) copy the target language stuff by hand and 2) look up all of the new words and make a list with the base forms. I really dislike being shown a word once or twice, and only in a declined / conjugated form.

    I may actually start translating back and forth, as that sounds quite helpful. With Assimil, I suffer greatly from the problem of being able to read and listen to a lesson and understand it, but not being able to produce similar language myself.

    And finally, why do you say you’re not a very good student?

    Reply
  5. Catherine

    Luca says that by translating back and forth, you solidify the conversations into your brain. And it’s true. He also stresses translating into your own language first, then back. As Thai oftentimes cannot be directly translated, I find myself taking notes to jogg my memory.

    I’m not a good student for several reasons. 1) long stretches of insomnia get in the way. When that happens, it takes awhile to get back to proper studies. And while I can continue to study throughout, my retention level goes to mush. 2) As I’m always playing catchup, I have a lot going on and get easily distracted.

    Reply
  6. Josh Post author

    Hmm.. I’m definitely going to try the translating exercise.

    Sorry to hear about the insomnia – I don’t suffer from it regularly, but it has struck me a few times, for a number of weeks each time, and it really did me in. As for always playing catchup, having a lot going on, and getting easily distracted… well, I can’t relate with that at all. ;)

    Reply
  7. Catherine

    Hah! Hey, if you ever feel like sharing workable tips for keeping distractions at bay, please do (you are doing something right, so you are bound to have a trick or two :-)

    I’ve tried locking myself in the back room, but my cats just sit outside and howl.

    Btw – Luca’s method is on YouTube here >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6SH2U_rO6c

    Part one of two on my site is here >> http://womenlearnthai.com/index.php/part-one-an-easy-way-to-learn-foreign-languages/

    Lucan’s method may not be for everyone as it sometimes feels like it’s going slow, but for me, it’s slow but sure…

    Reply
  8. Dave

    I use Luca’s method with my Assimil French, but I also use it with my Linguaphone courses and it’s very effective. It takes a bit more effort with Linguaphone because the lessons in Linguaphone are much longer – but it’s well worth the effort.

    Reply
  9. Josh Post author

    Gabo: The Assimil company generally recommends one new lesson per day, along with reviewing a week’s worth of lessons every 7 days (in other words, when you’re doing every 7th lesson which is a review lesson, you go back and review the 6 before it).

    As f0r how long you spend on a lesson, I’ve found that there’s no hard and fast rule for that. With Dutch, I can feel like I have a decent grasp of a lesson in 20-30 minutes – but I’m fairly confident in both English and German. With Russian, it can take me an hour to feel like I have a decent grasp of a lesson, and even then, it will need a lot of reviewing until I feel that I’ve mastered it.

    Reply
  10. Sean

    Thanks for sharing your great idea. I am currently using your method along with shadowing, and translating back and force at the end. Doing all these takes me about 50 mins to an hour, and I review previous lesson after I learn a new one. I think I am addicted in studying. I am currently studying about 5 to 8 hours a day depends what my work/social life schedule is like. I threw away my music playlist, it’s all pimsleur, assimil audio, podcast, radio, and more audio program. I need a language rehab LOL

    Reply
  11. Carol

    Hi
    I have just got Dutch with Ease (Assimil) delivered. I copied the mp3 for lesson one from the CD on to my iPod (via iTunes). I followed the instructions – listening to the lesson twice but then when I looked at the book, the lesson one is different text. It is not the same as what I had just been listening to. I then checked lesson two, and the recording is not the same as the book.
    My first thought was that I had got the wrong book for the recordings on the CD, but then I thought Assimil are a long established company and they are hardly going to send out the wrong book with the CD.
    So what am I doing wrong or have I misunderstood how the whole thing works.
    Any advice would be much appreciated.
    I am dying to start learning Dutch and this has set me back.
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Hi,

      Where did you buy the course from? What’s the ISBN on the packaging? Was it all in one case or were the CDs separate from the book?

      Reply
    2. Marc Sill

      I know this post is old … but I just received Spanish with Ease and it is messed up as well. I’ll try contacting Assimil and see what they can do. I was so excited to try it … and when I started working on it … nothing matched up. :(

      Reply
      1. Josh Post author

        Marc: Same questions to you. Directly from Assimil, or somewhere else? One case, or different packaging?

        Reply
  12. Carol

    Hi Josh
    I ordered on the Assimil site and I got a box today containing the book and CD. The ISBN on the book is 978-90-70077-04-4. The CD bar code is 3 135414 904297.
    One thing I noticed is that the picture on the book is not the same as the picture on the CD cover – not sure if this makes a difference. I am wondering could there be two versions and I have the wrong book for the CD.

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Carol,

      If you purchased the MP3 CD / book pack directly from Assimil, I would definitely contact them and let them know that something is wrong. I just looked at their site about their Dutch course, and just out of curiosity: what exactly does the CD case say? When I look at the MP3 CD page (here), the cover shown says “Het nieuwe Nederlands zonder moeite.” The nieuwe means “new,” and many Assimil courses which have been updated have that in the title somehow. However, I don’t see a New Dutch with Ease book, just the same old Dutch with Ease. I’m not sure what that means, but if the audio doesn’t match the book, definitely contact them.

      Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Hopefully they can sort it out for you. By the way, can you tell if the language being spoken on the CDs is Dutch, or is it something else entirely?

      Reply
  13. Carol

    Yes, hopefully. I still haven’t heard from them. It is definitely Dutch on the CD and beginners level.

    Reply
  14. Carol

    Assimil apologised and said they would send me the correct CD. I got it today and did my first lesson!! All is good now.

    Reply
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  16. Adam

    Thank you so much for posting this. I found this page after doing a random google search about the best way to use the Assimil course. I’m on my 25th lesson of German with Ease and today was the first day I used the instructions you kindly posted, the difference is amazing! I was struggling to remember exact words before this. I could remember a few complete lines but not committing all of it totally to memory. Now however I can remember all the words and in the right context of the actual dialogue, just like you are supposed to do with the Assimil course. I have to say I am using this in conjunction with Teach Yourself Complete German in order to practice my reading and writing and some additional listening, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I’ll be ordering French with Ease in the next week or so, and I can’t wait to get started on that. Thanks again. Greetings from England!

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Adam,

      I’m glad you found the instructions helpful. I wish you the best of luck in your studies!

      Reply
  17. Andrew

    Thank you for posting this. I am currently working on the Assimil French, and had a question. The book comments that it is important to memorize the genders of words. Should I make a list of nouns from each lesson and memorize their gender(I am still in the passive phase if thet matters)?

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Hi Andrew,

      Whether you do it now or at a later time, I would make a point of learning the nouns coupled with their genders, yes. A lot of the time with French, you can tell quite clearly what gender a noun is by the article used, or the adjective form, but sometimes it’s harder. With plural nouns, you have less to work with, and sometimes, it simply can’t be seen what gender a noun is when it’s being shown in the plural.

      Unless the version you have is different from mine (I have New French with Ease), all of the words used are listed alphabetically in the back of the book, including genders. Using that might be a bit quicker than copying out the words and then looking them up in a standalone dictionary.

      Reply
  18. Paulina

    Hi.
    I’ve heard about Luca’s method before but I have never used it. I am learning Italian using Assimil but I am not sure if the method described in book is effective for me. I would like to use Luca’s method but I don’t know if I should use this 2 phases (passive and active). I mean do I have to use the book with the method described and add Luca’s method element or change it completely into Luca’s method?

    Reply
  19. Josh Post author

    Paulina: Sorry for the very late reply; I was out of town for a while. As I understand it, Luca’s method is a stand-alone method, meaning you wouldn’t be doing Assimil’s passive and active waves – you would just be following Luca’s method.

    Reply
  20. Jeff

    I’m not so sure about Luca’s method. To me it seems like you’re bringing the active wave into the passive wave, and one of the great things about the Assimil method is the division between the waves. The idea is that you work on understanding fully first, and after a decent gap of time return to easier lessons and work on production. I think returning after that gap of time is what makes the course material really stick.

    I’ve posted this on How to learn any language as well, but it seems relevant here.

    Reply
  21. Giampaolo

    Hello,
    I’m planning to buy the Assimil Dutch with Ease; but i’ve a question.
    Since I am italian I should buy it Italian -> Dutch or English -> Dutch ? I am pretty comfortable to speak/read english and I would really like buying it in English…
    Hoping this Q/A is still active,
    best regards
    Giampaolo

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Giampolo: That’s really your call. Personally, while I have used the Assimil Russian course with a German base (my second language), I prefer having the base language in English. In particular, I sometimes found it difficult to work out the grammar explanations when using the German base course, especially in the latter part of the book. You may find a similar issue if you use the Dutch-English Assimil course. If you’re comfortable with it though, you might as well give it a shot; at worst, you end up buying the Italian based one later.

      Best of luck!

      Reply
  22. Giampaolo

    I’ve bought it already in English tho. It should arrive on Monday morning. I hope I won’t find any issue, even if probably it would be a little bit harder..
    Language challenges are fun!

    Reply
  23. Giampaolo

    Hello again,
    As I expected it arrived this morning. I was surprised how small this book is. So I found this small book and 5 CDs.
    I am so excited for it.

    Reply
  24. Keith

    I am using asimil and pimsluer for Spanish and Japanese. I really don’t know the best way to use asimil, but I know I don’t want to spend 2 hours learning both Japanese and Spanish. I saw a video on youtube where someone recommended the asimil. They said they listened to the tapes 15 times with the book closed then opened it and read the text 15 times. When I tried it his way. (I went over everything 10 times) it takes me 2 to 3 hours and I am up to lesson 32 for both. I really like studying, but his method is really time consuming. Will I lose out if I just modify the lesson to match what you have suggested?

    Reply
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  26. Eric Groser

    I find that 3 new lessons a day is a good pace. If I do less, I bet bored. Dr. Arguelles recommends reviewing the previous 6 lessons, by listening over and over, and writing down and later typing out the lesson. Not all of the lessons are the same language for the various languages. The Turkish lessons seems to run 3 minutes, while German lessons are generally 2 minutes in length, including the exercise (5 sentences at the end of each unit). But I agree that Assimil is much better at teaching a passive knowledge than active. In order to progress in terms of the active knowledge, it’s very important to write the lessons out.

    Reply
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    1. Josh Post author

      Antonio: I haven’t used it a great deal yet, but when I have sat down and followed his methodology, it seems fairly effective. It just tends to be a lot slower than the more standard Assimil technique, but also far more in-depth. I think if you followed Luca’s method over Assimil’s, you’ll end up with a better grasp of the course contents by the time you’re done.

      Reply
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  29. Kubala

    Hey, which version of Assimil Dutch do you have? My friend showed me one, that was old. Some words was old, not used in the language anymore.
    I want to buy one but, I’m not sure about phrases inside, are these updated?

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Sorry for the extremely late reply. My copy is the one from the 80s, so I’m sure there are some outdated words in it. I don’t think Assimil has updated Dutch as of yet.

      Reply
      1. Kubala

        They do, but only for the French version. I listened to that and it’s different.

        French version has also the second part of Dutch with ease (c1)

        Reply
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  32. Owain

    I’m currently using Assimil for German and I’m finding the grammar difficult to comprehend. As i’m on the first wave, would you use a grammar book to better understand the language or just try to get a general understanding of what is being said?

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Owain,

      I would recommend you pick up a grammar book to at least supplement the Assimil course; I love the courses, but grammar instruction / clarification isn’t really their strong suit, even though they do discuss grammar in the footnotes / review lessons. Once you get a grammar book, I’d recommend that you look up anything that is totally baffling, just so you at least understand what’s going on in a sentence, even if you can’t reproduce it yourself. Go for understanding, not memorization.

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
  33. Geoff

    Since I have just the other day taken the DELF B1 exam and Assimil was my primary method (and thank you for detailing the instructions in this page as they did help) I thought I would offer how I thought of this method, as I was always looking for someone’s review of someone who had finished Assimil and how and if it worked for them. So here goes:
    Firstly, if you are serious about language learning, Assimil is indispensable. I had learned first with Hugo French in 3 months and that established the grammar aspect of my French journey (Contrary to most, I actually really enjoy grammar!). Therefore, I do think as you said above Josh, that a grammar book should be a supplement to the course.
    Not sure how much you travel around the language learning community but with Assimil I (after a long process) combined methods of 3 polylglots. Luca and his full circle method; Professor Arguelles with shadowing; and Tim Doner with his comments on immersion, i.e constantly thinking in your target language as much as you can, creating conversations, etc. I’ve studied French for 7 months and I discovered the language community about 5 months in (3 months of Assimil) and eventually created this method for myself in the start of the 6th month. When I had this ‘lightbulb’ moment idea, the next few weeks were pretty painful! After realising I should use this strategy for French from now on I had to shadow 7+lessons a day in preparation for the DELF, rewrite them at times, and review them. And add to that, thinking in the language. The most difficult aspect I think of language learning, isn’t memorising vocabulary or shadowing lessons, it’s becoming creative with this new material. Despite being able to recite from memory 70+ lessons, it’s difficult to adapt that in a real-time conversation which is what happened during the DELF. I was nearly 5 minutes late, and stressed out from traffic but regardless I don’t believe (for me) Assimil really prepares you for interaction at a B1 level if you haven’t practiced before with natives. I had a French tutor who I seen now and then, but within a conversation it is difficult to make your brain ‘click’ and run smoothly if you haven’t used it ‘creatively’ in the past. Which is why I believe that if you use Assimil, then with talking to natives it is possible to reach within the boundaries of B1 oral production. I would love to talk to someone who got to B2 using Assimil solely as their only resource.
    However, I believe that by utilising Assimil with interaction with native speakers (I would say that’s the most important) quite regularly, reading articles and adding vocabulary from that then you will reach B1. I do believe B1 reading comprehension with Assimil is likely if you choose to add some vocabulary from news articles into an Anki deck or some other SRS. Oral comprehension, for me, Assimil doesn’t solely prepare you. Rhythms change, different speakers, different vocabulary, LingQ would probably be a good addition (which I have only just recently signed up for). As for written production, for the DELF at least, you could be faced with topics on the environment or some other slightly abstract topic, which in the 113 lessons of Assimil: New French with Ease, there is rarely any mention.
    So, in summary (after this very long post!) Assimil should be your best friend with languages. You should become overly familiar to the point where you can recite a high amount of the lessons or at least know their translations. Will it get you to B2? For me, no. Will it get you to B1? If used alongside a grammar book, Anki and (most importantly) interacting with native speakers. Yes, I really believe you’ll get there.

    Reply
    1. Josh Post author

      Geoff,

      Thank you very much for the detailed write-up of your experiences! I agree that while Assimil is excellent (and is by far my favorite series of courses), other things are really needed to activate what you’ve learned, and to make it your own. I found myself in a similar situation, in which I could recite many lessons from New French with Ease, but if a similar conversation had been going on around me, I wouldn’t have really understood it all that well, and I wouldn’t have been able to produce responses on par with what I “should” have been able to, according to the course.

      While I love the passive learning approaching, I don’t think the active wave is really enough for this activation to take place, especially where you’re only translating from their English phrases to their French, which you have, to some extent, simply memorized over time. I could easily rattle off the French for various English phrases in the course, which I know I wouldn’t have been able to produce on my own without the memorization aspect.

      Reply
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