I managed to aquire the Pimsleur Mandarin courses to play with for a while, this is what I think of them.
I have been searching for other Mandarin learners locally (posting on company noticeboard etc.) and found none but turned up a number of interesting responses. Chats to people who have been to China, someone with a Taiwanease wife (he is not interested in learning though), references for a couple of local tutors (which I haven't followed up yet), a bunch of useless books and the Pimsleur Mandarin course (eventually they will want to sell it but I have plenty of time to play). What was surprising was the number of people who had started Mandarin but given up. I took the opportunity to plug Chinesepod and maybe a couple will restart?
First things first Pimsleur is expensive, there are various deals around but it looks like hundreds of pounds for the full whack. They also promise to have you speaking Mandarin in 10 days or your money back. I can have you speaking Mandarin in 10mins! repeat after me "ni3hao3". I think I see a catch 22 here
client: "can I have a refund my Mandarin sucks, I can't speak it"
pimsluer: "bu4 hui4"
client: "but you said I could have a refund"
pimsluer: "ahh you understood me then? click........"
Despite these reservations I have to say though that I am finding the Pimsleur quite useful, I have completed the first five lessons and the vocabuary is very basic so far but is starting to build up surprisingly fast, I am also getting benefit from their use of alternative words and Beijing pronounciation. Lucky for me one lesson just fits into one of my car journeys, I can shout out the Mandarin without feeling silly.
I think the Pimsleur will help with my speaking, you are encouraged to create new sentances so it is not all repetative. I really do need to excercise my Mandarin voice to let out all the vocabuary I am absorbing from Chinesepod. At the moment Pimsleur is fulfilling an important role but a I am still listening to plenty of podcasts too.
In the long run is Pimsluer worth the money? Hmmmm... probably depends on what type of learner you are and how much money you have. It can get a little boring and I would definitely recommend supplementing learning from other places. Bear in mind that there is already a lot of audio material at Chinesepod and it is growing all the time so I am sure that the lion's share of my words will come from there. Also consider that Pimsleur is speak and listen only and you get that bit free at Chinesepod. I do question the Pimsleur strategy here. Even if you don't want to learn Chinese characters, for me the pinyin input is vital. I wonder whether Chinesepod could release some podcasts in a slightly different style for speech drilling? there have already been some moves in this direction in my own remixes and the remixes of others.