FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

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Speakeasy
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FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Jul 27, 2017 2:55 pm

New Audio-Lingual (Guided Imitation) Language Course
In the mid-to-late 1970’s, the audio-lingual method was gradually abandoned in favour of other methods of language instruction. Since that time, the publication of new works in the genre has become an increasingly rare event. This review discusses the revival and adaptation of the original method and the publication of just such a new language course.

As it is highly unlikely that the supporters of the audio-lingual method will convince the detractors of its merits and of its continued “usefulness”, or that the detractors will have any success in convincing its supporters of the method’s weaknesses, thereby allowing either side to “win the latest debate”, I would respectfully call upon both parties to resist the temptation of turning this discussion thread into yet an opportunity of “having a go at it, just one more time.”

The usual disclaimers apply here. That is, I have no association whatsoever with the publisher of these courses and, beyond the satisfaction of performing what-I-believe-to-be a public service, I derive absolutely no benefit from publishing this review.

Never Leave Any Stone Unturned
Recently, while conducting an internet search for language-learning materials, I happened upon what-I-initially-suspected-were yet two more well-intentioned, but ultimately doomed, entries into the crowded marketplace for low-priced German and French courses; I hope that I was wrong! Intrigued by the description on Amazon – “Dr. Brians Languages is based on the highly acclaimed language learning program developed by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) for U.S. Government personnel in the 1940's … The FSI inspired Guided Imitation drills facilitate staged conversations.” -- I visited the publisher’s website, downloaded the audio samples and the transcripts, and took them for a test drive. Shortly thereafter, I exchanged a couple of Emails with the creator of this series, Scott Brians. Here is my report:

FSI Basic Courses “Updated”
I suggest that interested readers visit the company’s website, paying particular attention to the sections dealing with the French and German language courses; here is the LINK (http://www.drbrianslanguages.com/index.html). It might be worthwhile downloading one of the transcripts along with the corresponding audio samples. For those of us who are already familiar with the FSI Basic and DLI Basic language courses, or similar courses from the era when the latter were published, it is fairly clear from reading the description on the website that this publisher has chosen to adopt the audio-lingual method of language instruction. Scott Brains, the creator of these courses, confirmed as much in an Email to me: “From a historical standpoint, when I started studying German in college two decades ago, a friend introduced me to the FSI program. I loved the approach, but the execution was very poor (sound quality made understanding very difficult, speaking was much too fast for beginners, pauses for answers were too short, vocabulary was not up-to-date). It was then that I had the idea: rewrite, modernize, re-record. It has only been recent that the average Joe had relatively affordable access to the equipment required to pull this off, and an easy way to deliver the product. And so … here we are.” While I will not respond to Mr. Brians’ (to my mind) disparaging (sniff, sniff)remarks of my cherished, untarnishable, and unassailable FSI Basic German course, I think that even supporters of the audio-lingual method would agree with at least a few of his observations, while many others would admit to having wished for just such an update.

Languages, State of Advancement, Number of Modules
To date, two courses have been published: “Mastering German Conversation” and “Mastering French Conversation”, both of which are available for sale via Amazon (Audible) or via iTunes (please note very carefully the publisher’s cautions with respect to the performance of their products via iTunes downloads). In response to my questions concerning the state of advancement of these courses, which I would estimate to be approximately CEFR A1, and concerning the prospects of additional language courses being published, Mr. Brians advised me that the German and French courses are presently works-in-progress and that the plan is to complete these before considering any new projects: “As far as our development plans, both German and French are under development. We will cover all the grammar - what you have listed below and more - required to converse at an educated level in the target languages. I envision about 15 more modules for each language.” These additional modules would bring the total to about 20 per course. If one can use the information available on the website as a guide (e.g., the number of hours per module), this suggests that a remarkable amount of material will be available once these two courses have been fully deployed.

A Well-Known Approach: Drill-Drill-Drill
As noted above, the author of these courses has chosen to re-introduce the audio-lingual method of language instruction (the author prefers the term “Guided Imitation”) and, in doing so, to correct the deficiencies of the original FSI Basic French and FSI Basic German courses. I would note that the German course is not a derivation or a modification of the original courses as was the case for the “Platequemos” course and the corresponding “FSI Basic Spanish” course; that is, the materials are new. Nevertheless, in the case of the French course, a good portion of the original materials has been retained. Again, I would suggest that interested parties download one of the transcripts along with the accompanying sample audio files. Vocabulary has been updated and expanded; however, that is not the only change. These new courses begin with the introduction of individual words as opposed to phrases or complete sentences. The build-up from words, to sentences, to dialogues is much slower than in the FSI courses. The accompanying audio recordings are presented two speeds (“slow speed” and a “native speed”) and include more generous pauses for the student’s participation/response than did the originals. In the initial modules, the cadence of speech has been deliberately reduced for the benefit of the absolute beginner. The publisher expects that, in the more advanced modules, the cadence will achieve that of the normal speech. As was the case for the original audio-lingual method, the authors of these new versions stress that repetition of the model sentences (guided imitation) is important to assimilation of the structural patterns and other aspects of the target language. While I would not ask the creator of these courses to predict exactly, or even approximately, how many hours of audio recordings will eventually be incorporated into these courses, based on the modules presently available, along with the projection of a total of some 20 modules per course, I suspect that they will exceed those of the original FSI Basic courses.

Objectives: Current and Future
This is somewhat of a repetition of a point that I introduced above. In my second Email to Mr. Brians, I suggested that the modules presently available seemed to fall ever-so-slightly below the CEFR A1 Level, I asked him if he agreed with my assessment, and I asked him if there were plans to expand the courses. In the sincere hope of doing justice to his replies, I have copied/collated/pasted his comments as follows: “Our modules are ‘practical' oriented, and therefore we speak of 'level of conversation' in that context. At the end of the first French Set (units 1-6), the student should be able to get through travel encounters pretty well without resorting to English. For German: if someone works through Set 1 (gender, case, adjective), Set 2 (prepositions), Set 3 (modal verbs) and Set 4 (present perfect tense), that student will be able to navigate travel encounters (airport, hotel, restaurant, train, etc.). Once all the modules are done (20 or so), the student will be able to work in a professional environment, assuming the student knows the vocabulary for that environment.” I interpret this to mean that the present modules would take the student within the CEFR A1 range whereas that the full courses, once available, will aim for the CEFR B1-B2 range.

Conclusion and Prognosis
I am a strong supporter of the audio-lingual method of language instruction, particularly at the Beginner-to-Intermediate stages. I respond well to sentence-pattern exercises and, assuming that these are well-designed, I do not experience boredom. However, not everyone reacts this way. In support of the detractors of this method, I would add that I have a small collection of these types of courses, published for use in American High Schools in the 1960’s and, in stark contrast to the FSI Basic courses of the period, I would describe the sentence-pattern exercises of these civilian versions as crushingly mind-numbing, so much so that even I would not have reacted well to the learning experience.

I welcome the present offerings by “Dr. Brians Languages” and their revitalisation of the audio-lingual (guided imitation) method and I eagerly look forward to the successful completion of these projects. While few people have the patience to “slug it out” with these types of materials, from the “testimonials” that are available on the publisher’s website, I am not alone in being drawn to these new courses. As to the prognosis, I predict that the success of these courses, once completed, will hinge on the author’s ability to craft genuinely interesting dialogues and sentence-pattern exercises; you know, the little works of prose that populate the original FSI Basic German course.

Comments/Opinions?
I invite all members to visit the website of this publisher, to download a transcript of one of the modules along with the samples of the accompanying audio, to try these materials on for size, and to submit their own comments/opinions. Je vous remercie de votre attention.

EDITED:
Tinkering, typos, formatting.
Additional tinkering.
Last edited by Speakeasy on Thu Jul 27, 2017 6:49 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Speakeasy
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Jul 27, 2017 3:02 pm

With a view to "closing the loop" I have posted an advisory and a LINK on the "Audio Lingual Language Programs" discussion thread. https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1387&p=80992#p80992
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Random Review » Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:05 pm

Damn, I meant to post about this. I tried this last summer and quite liked it. Very affordable if you have an Audible account too.
Thanks for the post, Speakeasy.
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German input 100 hours by 30-06: 4 / 100
Spanish input 200 hours by 30-06: 0 / 200
German study 50 hours by 30-06: 3 / 100
Spanish study 200 hours by 30-06: 0 / 200
Spanish conversation 100 hours by 30-06: 0 / 100

Speakeasy
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Aug 21, 2017 3:21 am

"Original" FSI Basic French course
Given the revived interest in the discussion thread "FSI French - Has anyone actually completed the whole thing?" (https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1628&p=83068#p83068), I thought that it might be worthwhile including a few additional comments that Scott Brians had made during our Email exchange. The comments below have been added to both discussion threads.

Expansion of the Description of the "Updated" FSI Basic French course
Although I did not published the entire Email exchange that I had with Scott Brians, the creator of this project, given the present discussion of the "original" FSI Basic French course, I thought that it might be worthwhile adding some of Scott's comments on the "updated" version ...

Scott Brians to Speakeasy, 2017-07-26
"• The original FSI French Course manuscript was almost prefect as it was - no teacher needed. We’ve kept a lot of it. A comparison between the original and our version will bear witness to that. We have modernized some of the phrases as the spoken language has changed some. To be thorough, we have kept some of the old, for it still exists, if not used much. We have added “in-between” drills to avoid a massive jump from easy to difficult drills. The student would be cruising at level 2 and suddenly was faced with difficulty 8. We added a level 4 and 6 in-between to ease the student into the more difficult material.

•Differences in German and French:
o We’ve deleted translation drills to keep the student completely immersed in the target language. May add this in the future, but for “purity” reasons, may not.
o We’ve incorporated lots of travel related vocabulary so our students can visit the country and use their new skills right off the bat. Oddly enough, the original FSI was very weak in this aspect: they were geared for bureaucrats working at the embassy, not college students, travelers or professional sales people.
o As you noted, in the beginning modules, we have added slow and (near) native speed of the same text to get the true beginner started.
o Annette speaks a little slower in the earlier modules than in the latter, again, to help the true beginner.
o As stated before, the CD quality recording and longer pauses make the learning process much easier, again, to help the true beginner."
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Stefan » Thu Apr 12, 2018 8:14 am

Discovered this thread thanks to the other thread about FSI German. It seems really interesting since my main problem with FSI is the poor audio quality but they are making slow progress. Based on Audible, they've released four German modules in almost four years. The last one was 2017-08-01. Their French course seems to be in a similar situation with the latest release being 2017-04-07.

Just a heads up for newcomers hoping for a new in-depth course.
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Speakeasy
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Thu May 03, 2018 10:33 pm

Status: May, 2018
Earlier today, I sent an Email to Scott Brians, one of the two owners/developers of the updated versions of the FSI French and FSI German courses, requesting information on the future of these materials. He replied as follows:

"We at Dr. Brians Languages (DBL) are involved in multiple businesses. One of which is also educational in nature, namely teaching and tutoring: http://www.drbrianseducation.com. This past school year has been our best by far, keeping us very busy, diverting our attention away from DBL. Summer is approaching, which will allow us to focus on DBL.

Currently, the next German module, Perfect (past) Tense III, will achieve finished recording status today. Between audio engineering and Audible’s authorization process, the module should be on-line by the first half of June. The next French module editing is finished. We will start recording with that soon, and that should be available by the second half of June. For German, the Passive Voice module needs to be edited. Multiple German modules are in draft status. For French, I have about 5 modules at draft status, 5 or so at strong draft status, and 3 or so that only need editing (last step before recording).

This is all to say that our project is still active.

The more DBL students provide strong reviews at Audible (a written summary of how the program increased/promoted spoken proficiency, not just “stars”), the more others will be encouraged to buy. As more people buy our products, the more time we can invest, and the faster the modules come out of production. With that said, I’d ask you to encourage the reviewers at the website to put their reviews on Audible.

We had our best sales month ever so far in April 2018; we are excited about the trajectory of the sales and the emails we get from people like yourself."


Follow-up:
Subsequent to our exchange of Emails, Scott commented: "We finished recording the GER module yesterday. Annette starts recording the FRE today... We have a facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Brians-Languages-1248434785254444/
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Speakeasy
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Fri Jun 08, 2018 1:45 am

Earlier this evening, I received the following encouraging update from Scott Brians:

'Mastering German Conversation Perfect Tense Unit 3' is available as of today on http://www.audible.com.

As a reminder to the readers of this discussion thread, the "Mastering German Conversation" course is a reworked/updated version of the "FSI German Basic" course.
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Lysander » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:18 am

Speakeasy wrote:Status: May, 2018
Earlier today, I sent an Email to Scott Brians, one of the two owners/developers of the updated versions of the FSI French and FSI German courses, requesting information on the future of these materials. He replied as follows:

"We at Dr. Brians Languages (DBL) are involved in multiple businesses. One of which is also educational in nature, namely teaching and tutoring: http://www.drbrianseducation.com. This past school year has been our best by far, keeping us very busy, diverting our attention away from DBL. Summer is approaching, which will allow us to focus on DBL.

Currently, the next German module, Perfect (past) Tense III, will achieve finished recording status today. Between audio engineering and Audible’s authorization process, the module should be on-line by the first half of June. The next French module editing is finished. We will start recording with that soon, and that should be available by the second half of June. For German, the Passive Voice module needs to be edited. Multiple German modules are in draft status. For French, I have about 5 modules at draft status, 5 or so at strong draft status, and 3 or so that only need editing (last step before recording).

This is all to say that our project is still active.

The more DBL students provide strong reviews at Audible (a written summary of how the program increased/promoted spoken proficiency, not just “stars”), the more others will be encouraged to buy. As more people buy our products, the more time we can invest, and the faster the modules come out of production. With that said, I’d ask you to encourage the reviewers at the website to put their reviews on Audible.

We had our best sales month ever so far in April 2018; we are excited about the trajectory of the sales and the emails we get from people like yourself."


Follow-up:
Subsequent to our exchange of Emails, Scott commented: "We finished recording the GER module yesterday. Annette starts recording the FRE today... We have a facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Brians-Languages-1248434785254444/

Depending on the actual cost and how true the bolded is, I wonder if this is something where a kickstarter campaign could be of use? As Stefan points out, they are averaging one module per year. If 20 is the goal, we have quite a wait ahead of us at the current pace.

I am still happily occupied with Brazilian Portuguese, but I always wish to see things like this succeed. And then maybe they can clean up the DLI Portuguese audio :lol:
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: 31 / 113 Nouveau Français Avec Facilité
: 1 / 40 Ultimate French: Beginner-Intermediate
: 1 / 50Journal en français facile

Speakeasy
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:35 pm

Lysander wrote: … Depending on the actual cost and how true the bolded is, I wonder if this is something where a kickstarter campaign could be of use? As Stefan points out, they are averaging one module per year. If 20 is the goal, we have quite a wait ahead of us at the current pace…
Thank you for your comments. During my recent exchange of Emails with Scott Brians, we shared a few thoughts concerning possible means of increasing the financial support of Dr. Brians Languages’ (DBL) project to deliver completely updated versions of the FSI French Basic and FSI German Basic courses. Now that “the door has been opened” for a more public discussion, I will ask Scott if he would like to provide a statement of his views on the matter for publication under this thread. As an aside, I am not the gatekeeper of DBL, I am merely someone who wishes them well; anyone can contact Dr. Brians Languages via their website.
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Re: FSI Basic Courses “Updated”: Dr. Brians Languages

Postby iguanamon » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:45 pm

Once again, Speakeasy, thanks for your service on behalf of the community bringing this to light. Soon, these courses will have over 50 years on them. An update is far overdue and will be very useful. Having used two DLI Basic courses, I found them to be superb and the most thorough courses I've ever done... despite their age and issues. The FSI courses are similar and could be useful for years to come with some updates. I wish these folks every success.
Lysander wrote:...maybe they can clean up the DLI Portuguese audio

The DLI Portuguese Basic Course audio is practically perfect in comparison to the DLI Haitian Creole Basic Course audio :lol:
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