Learn Italian with Paul Noble

4 Italian, Audio Lessons

October 31, 2013

Series  Paul Noble
Publisher  Collins
Publication Date  2011
Price  $109.75
Skill Level  Beginner

Paul Noble is an actual person, an English person, and quite young. He has a language school in England, and this Italian offering of his—via the UK publishing company Collins—seeks to replicate the experience of studying at his school. Collins has published three similar Paul Noble courses for German, French, and Spanish.

Learn Italian with Paul Noble offers 13 hours of interactive audio language instruction, along with a reference book and introductory video. It’s not a lot of material, but this is a good start.

I think some people would really like Paul Noble’s products, because they are low on grammar and high on interactivity. To get a sense of the flavor and philosophy, you might want to listen to Mr. Noble discuss his approach in this video on the Collins website.

But in case you don’t care to watch a video, here is the gist of it, straight from the marketing copy on the Collins site: “At school, Paul Noble supposedly failed at languages because he was baffled by grammar. By 30, he had devised a language-learning method that enables learners to achieve conversational competence by relaxing, listening to the course and trying not to remember.”

They add: “No books, no memorisation. The natural way to learn a language.” 

Now I personally believe in books and believe in memorization—I love them, in fact—but some people really can’t deal with certain approaches. Despite my predilection for hardcore grammar, I found Mr. Noble’s audio lessons pleasant enough and completed them in their entirety in a single weekend (which I suspect would not have been possible and certainly would not have been recommended had I not already known the material). 

To illustrate pronunciation in the target language, Mr. Noble uses native speakers. So you get his calm, clear explanations punctuated with a real Italian pronouncing things, and then you get a chance to try the words and sentences yourselves. Native speakers: always wise. I approve.

Mr. Noble is responsible for providing the framework, the instruction, the handholding.

In the way you are frequently prompted to say things, it is Pimsleurish. But I think Pimsleur does it better. With Pimsleur, you get more repetition and reinforcement, the timing and arrangement of the audio are better, and there is just more content. 

Now let’s talk grammar for a moment. To avoid grammar rules, Mr. Noble does what I have seen numerous other grammar teachers do: offer grammar but pretend it is something else. It is like Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook that helps you deceive kids into eating vegetables by hiding them in other foods. I am a fan of making kids eat vegetables—and grammar, too. (Sorry, children; I’m a meanie.)

The surreptitious grammar irritated me. Mr. Noble alludes repeatedly to something called the “Mario/Maria rule,” which is supposed to help you remember that words ending in tend to be masculine and words ending in tend to be feminine. There were other rules like that: a paparazzi rule, and I think an A&E rule, and then the use of “tomato” as a way to remind me that the past participle for parlare is parlato and references to “mosquito” to remind me that the past participle of capire is capito. 

I find this unnecessary layering on of additional images and ideas annoying. Surely people can remember that feminine nouns in Italian often end in a!

While I am complaining: he also advised me to think of “have” in Italian as a thief that steals lots of little words and puts them in front of it, possibly resulting in contractions. Just tell me to put my object pronouns in front of the form of “to have.” Isn’t that faster—and more grown up?

If you are reading this and saying to yourself, what the hell is an object pronoun, and if you are hating me about now for bringing up past participles, then maybe you would like Paul Noble. And after all, the experience was pleasant enough for me to stay with it hour after hour for a healthy chunk of my weekend.

I also liked a lot of the vocabulary. Most of it I had learned previously, but I enjoyed practicing new words such as “sunstroke” (insolazione) and “tent” (tenda). I also very much appreciated being taught how to say, “i have a fever and I vomited.” Ho la febbre e ho vomitato. Gross stuff is always a huge plus.

Here is a thought I had after I had finished the lessons: I spend a lot of time redoing Pimsleur lessons when my skills in a language start to fade. It occurred to me that the Paul Noble approach makes his lessons hard to repeat. Even though there are many opportunities in the lessons for speaking practice, there is still a lot of language explanation in English that I wouldn’t be interested in repeating.

Pimsleur is 100 percent practice. In my mind, that is a huge advantage, but if you are Pimsleur-averse, Paul Noble could be an enjoyable and user-friendly option to consider before your next trip to Europe or South America.

A pricing observation: you can currently buy Learn Italian with Paul Noble for just over $61 via Amazon’s website, so don’t let the much higher list price shown here throw you. You don’t need to pay it!

Learn Italian with Paul Noble, from Collins
Learn Italian with Paul Noble, from Collins

HarperCollins Publishers
Language Division
Westerhill Road Bishopbriggs
Glasgow G64 2QT, UK

Comments (3)

Nigel • Posted on Sat, June 06, 2015 - 11:51 am EST

Interestingly, I am writing this comment while listening to the last CD of Paul Noble’s Italian course. This is my first run of the Italian course. I have tried Pimsleur and Michel Thomas. I’ve seen a couple of your posts and you seem to be a very big fan of Pimsleur. Personally, I’ve never been able to make it past the first couple of tracks (I usually give up at around the 6th or 7th). I simply find the method too repetitive for my liking. As for Michel Thomas, I found his voice a bit grating and overpowering. Plus, having other students on the course made things a little slow.

But to each their own. Personally, I prefer Paul Noble because he has a soft, clear voice and his courses aren’t overlong. Although they contain the occasional odd sentence like “Your father prepared the coffee for me” and “The mother would like to kidnap the man”, I think they’re perfect for attracting complete beginners. However, I agree with you that you still need books and need to understand how the grammar of a language works, not to mention rote memorisation (which Paul Noble’s courses use) and knowing how to write in it. Paul Noble doesn’t claim that his courses can get you to fluency but they are a great starting point because there are a lot of people who may know some stuff in a language but simply cannot speak it.

Interestingly, I found listening to Pimsleur’s French level III courses more tolerable. Perhaps because I have a level slightly above B2, therefore I understand it well enough when it’s spoken. What I’m getting at is that maybe Pimsleur is better for practice rather than learning a language from scratch?

Barbara Bradley • Posted on Fri, May 27, 2016 - 4:13 pm EST

I am hooked on Paul Noble. Now ready for Book 3. Is there no Book 4? Oh nooooo!

Bernadette RJ • Posted on Tue, June 20, 2017 - 8:24 am EST

I love Paul Noble’s method. Its very clever and sophisticated. He deliberately becomes repetitive and obvious after having introduced something new or complex. This technique lets your mind take it in while you sail along for a while with the easy stuff. Then he reintroduces it again and you find you have remembered it. Learning by association really works for me too.

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