Julia Pimsleur Levine, Little Pim, Woman Entrepreneur
Julia's father, Paul Pimsleur, developed the Pimsleur language learning system known as the Pimsleur method in the 60's. The concept is based on memory and language recall. Julia learned through his methods as a child while living in Paris yet he never lived to see his product come to market. I am sure that he would be incredible proud of what his daughter has created drawing from his original method. Julia is the entrepreneur behind Little Pim, an award-winning product that teaches children foreign languages at the time when their brain can easily take it in.
Julia grew up in NYC. At 6, the family moved to Paris for her father to teach at the Sorbonne. It was there that he began the Pimsleur method. Her parents put their children in the Parisian public school system though they very little French. In two months she was bilingual and that experience changed her life.
She returned to NYC to complete high school but never lost her attachment to France. Julia went on to Yale and spent a semester abroad in Paris. After graduating from Yale, she got on a plane and went back to Paris. At that time it was the perfect place to go when you had very little money.
To survive Julia began to freelance for film companies, vetting American scripts. She had heard about the French national film school that was free and applied. It was a six month application process but she got in. She graduated with a MFA. It was in school that she realized that she had a calling to make documentaries around social justice issues. She decided to start her own company. A woman having her own company in Paris was not exactly the right environment. So Julia called her best friend from Yale who had taken the same path as her and together they forged together to create Big Mouth Productions.
Julia produced 5 documentaries over the course of 5 years. Nuyorican Dream, a gripping portrait of an American family from Puerto Rico; Innocent until Proven Guilty; a personal documentary on her family and Journey to the West, Chinese Medicine Today including another film on female excision.
After 5 years Julia became frustrated with the process of raising money to make documentaries. She would get a foundation to fund her films but then there wasn't a seamless channel for distribution. Julia sat in a meeting at the Ford Foundation that brought together non-profits and film makers and there she brought up the idea to build a community web site so they could all work together. Ford put in the seed funding and Julia created Mediarights.org
After running Big Mouth and Mediarights.org for several years, Julia became a full time fundraiser for nonprofits, first at Witness, and ultimately at Echoing Green. When she had her first son, she knew she wanted him to speak French like she did growing up. She scoured the marketplace and couldn't find a good product that would help kids at that age when they are language sponges, before age six. She thought I am a mom and a filmmaker, my father created the Pimsleur Method and bang she did what any good entrepreneur would do, she created her own multimedia method, and called the company Little Pim.
She knew that she wanted something that had legs. Julia spent two years making the product right working with award winning film developers and renown scientists. She shot everything in HD as she knew the power of video and digital technology was creeping up right around the corner. She also wanted to lower the bar for parents, so that even parents who don't speak the language could help their kids learn Spanish, Mandarin or French. She reasoned, “you might not be good at math but you are your kid’s first tutor in math” and developed a system where parents could be their child’s language coach, using easy phonetics in the Little Pim method.
Little Pim went to market four years ago. Parents love the product and they have won 23 awards. The system is theme-based around playtime, eating and drinking, morning and evening routines, etc. The system teaches you 360 words and phrases and you need to know 500 to be conversational in a second language. They developed apps with PBS for ipad and two iphone apps as vocabulary boosters.
Little Pim makes total sense as more people who are third generation are returning to their countries and they want to make sure their kids still speak English or others coming here and want to make sure their kids speak another language. Many studies have shown the positive effects of studying two languages on the brain and many cognitive advantages for people who are bi-lingual (increased memory, better analytic skills, stves off dementia later in life, etc.).
Julia is an impressive entrepreneur. She has basically been one her entire life from the moment she started doing freelance reading scripts. Very impressive woman. She also writes a great blog about what she believes in. By the way, Julia's kids are 4 and 7. Do they speak French fluently? You better believe it.
I think this product is particularly timely as it seems like public school no longer routinely offers a second language. You can do a dual language program (although the quality of the overall education depends on the school and often, these are given to schools not doing so well to attract students who would otherwise go elsewhere). My child qualified for Gifted and Talented in NYC and going to see the programs, I was surprised to see how few offered a language. Forget about non-G&T programs.
Nice story. I can relate to the bilingual thing. I went to Julia’s blog and enjoyed reading: Why Bilinguals Are Smarter http://www.nytimes.com/2012…I was bilingual from early on because my parents were and that was the norm and part of the school system. I wonder how that changes when the child is learning a new language that their parents can’t speak. Is it more difficult to assimilate and does the Pimsleur method account for that factor?
I wonder too. We have a few friends where one of them grew up speaking a different language other than English. As their kids grew up, one of the parents always spoke that language to the kids. It is great that those kids can speak both languages but if they did not have that constant reinforcement through out their life, when would they stop caring about that language. Perhaps it is like driving a bike?
It would be great if Julia chimes in on it.
A friend of mine did immersion schooling (in French) when he was in elementary school. His parents are from Taiwan and they spoke mostly English at home. And it worked out alright – he’s still fairly fluent but doesn’t get a lot of use out of the language anymore. I remember in high school his speech was more natural than mine was. Immersion school is somewhat fashionable here at the moment and I’m watching closely the friends I have with young kids in school to see what we should do for ours when the time comes… As for me personally, re-learning French after a 10-year break was not that bad. Definitely easier to do the second time, as I’d retained a lot of random vocabulary, just completely lost the ability to speak/write.
impressive that the french stuck with your friend. kind of proves her business model.