Vintage language courses

Is anyone else into collecting vintage materials - like the older (now long discontinued) generation of Assimil, Linguaphone and the like? I must confess that I am a complete sucker for buying these - just as collectible items as much as anything.

I recently got an old (maybe 1940s vintage) Polish course on 78rpm shellacs. It’s a lovely item. Judging by the book it has - by modern standards - very rich and extensive content. But it turns out I would need some highly specialist equipment to transfer the audio to mp3.

There are people who would do this professionally, but they charge about 10 Pounds per record - and I have, like, a small dispatch case full of them. Oops! :slight_smile:

(Mind you, I guess that if someone actually used this kind of course to learn Polish he/she would end up sounding like a pre-WW2 Polish aristocrat rather than the friendly guy down at my local Polish store! :-P)

I don’t think the equipment is that expensive these days, even translated into pounds sterling. I have some old music, including rare Soviet recording. At some point I really do need to buy the appropriate usb equiped record player.

I live in Paris and I know a used book store that regularly gets old Assimil books. I buy almost every one I see, so far I’ve found Greek, Russian, Italian, Spanish. They’re really wonderful little books. I have a few of the old, blue and yellow Teach Yourself books, but I don’t love them half as much as the Assimils.


Thing is, I’m pretty sure any regular record player (i.e. one dating from about 1960 onwards) wouldn’t cut it, when it comes to playing 78rpm shellacs :frowning:

I understand that I would need a really high end player with a special stylus-adapter - so having 'em professionally transferred would probably be the cheapest option.

(Er…I mean…if I were actually going to USE this course…:-D)

Yeah, I guess in France it’s relatively easy to find older copies of Assimil?

(Here in the UK anything from Assimil that was published before about 1970 is super rare.)

Do you remember watching Alex Arguelles’s history of various language series? Do you remember which Teach Yourself and Assimil he said were “the best?” I wanted to keep an eye out for when I start a new language and I’d rather not watch his YouTube videos right now. No disrespect of course.

I love vintage material and I own several old-school Assimil books but I’m not really so much into collecting them, I just buy some when I come across them, I don’t make a point of finding them.
And I only care for the books, not the audio. I don’t even know what to do with the CDs that come with recent books. For example I bought this book a couple of weeks ago and the CDs are still attached to the book cover. Fortunately, the audio material can be downloaded from the internet:

In the case of Assimil, he considers that the older editions were generally better than what is being produced today (albeit that the newer ones are still very good in his opinion.)

In the case of Teach Yourself, well, it’s kind of obvious that the older books are very much superior - but the drawback is that most of these older editions never had any accompanying audio.

In the case of Linguaphone it’s kind of mixed. The advantage with the older series (dating from the 1950s through to the late 60s) is that they follow a kind of uniform format - so if you already used one to learn Spanish, say, then you can listen to the Norwegian version, and you already have a good idea of what is going on in any given lesson. From the viewpoint of someone who may be learning 5 or more languages simultaneously(!) the professor sees advantages to this set up. That being said, he also considers most of the later (1970s and 80s era) Linguphone courses to be (in his words) “just outstanding”.

In my humble opinion, for whatever it’s worth, the decade 1970-1980 was the absolute zenith of Linguaphone! The new stuff put out under the supervision of Keith Rawson-Jones and the late Professor Randolph Quirk during this time for languages like Polish, Serbo-Croat, Mandarin, Hebrew, Arabic, French and European Spanish still remain some of the best single autodidactic resources for these languages available to English speaking learners - in my estimation.

You don’t need any special equipment, many modern players can play 78s. There are many cheap players (less then $50 even) at eBay or Amazon. Not particularly good ones, most probably, but I suppose good enough to digitize some language courses.

Thanks!!! Great summary

Do you have any old Russian courses in your collection? I listened once to 1961 Linguaphone Russian course, it was quite old-fashioned at times. In one place they even mentioned the word ‘lackey’ (not even a ‘servant’, but exactly a ‘lackey’), absolutely impossible word in the 1960s.

You betcha! :slight_smile: I do indeed have a copy of Linguaphone’s early 1960s Russian Course (as well as the later one from the mid/late 1970s) The earlier one that I have is actually on reel-to-reel tape! Reel-to-reel audio tape recording - Wikipedia I was able to find the audio online though.

Yeah, using these old courses would be a double edged sword: they are teaching quite a rich vocabulary compared to your average 500-word modern offering from Teach Yourself, or whatever. But, oh yeah, there are likely to be some antiquated words in there! :-0

(I think it’s better to use up-to-date stuff initially. Later on, after getting a little advanced, one can probably spot the older constructions.)

Thanks, I’ll look into this. I’m pretty sure that you need some kind of adapter-stylus though??

(To be honest I’m not a big expert on records…this technology was just slightly before my time…)

Your last point is interesting, about not being exposed to natural Polish (or whichever language) when you use old courses. I wonder how big of an issue that is? I have used some of the latest Teach Yourself and Assimil courses and I doubt they are particularly natural-sounding either! All the more reason to listen to and read lots of actual native content.

The paradox is that it’s hard to have much idea about the potential pitfalls in these older courses before one is already somewhat advanced.

For example, I have an old German Lingaphone course (well, just the book actually) dating from the 1920s or 30s. Now I’m not a native speaker, but I have had some pretty extensive immersion in the German language when I was younger, so I think I have some idea. It’s actually surprising just how much of the 1920s German in this book would still (in my estimation) be perfectly good today - albeit in a rather ‘correct’ and formal register perhaps.

But there are some things in there that would possibly sound a bit antiquated today? For example they have someone asking directions by saying: “Guten Tag! Wollen Sie mir gefälligst sagen, wie ich zum Theater komme.” (I’m quoting from memory so that may not be 100% exact - but it’s something along those lines.)

Well, as I say, I’m not a native speaker. But I feel a little bit unhappy about this use of “gefälligst”. I do suspect (any native speakers, please comment!) that it would sound a rather abrupt way of asking a question nowadays? Maybe even bordering on rudeness?

I mean, if you tell someone: “machen Sie gefälligst Ihren Job!”, well, that would definitely have an aggressive edge to it, I think. So could you really still ask a question in this way!? What I would be inclined to say is something like: “Entschuldigung, können Sie mir sagen, wie ich zum Theater komme?” or something like that.

No doubt there are other things too - that’s one that sticks in my mind.

And yet, if one learned - really and truly learned - all of the content of this old German course, one would be still be streets ahead of someone who had instead learned everything in a modern Teach Yourself book! So, I dunno…

Having checked a dictionary…ehm…well…“gefälligst” may actually still be okay…!? :-()

Either way, there must certainly be some words in this course that will be out of date today…I guess…