Pimsleur’s customer service speaks my language

This fall, my wife and I will be spending a week in Hungary, so a few months ago I went online and ordered the Pimsleur level 1 Hungarian course. Learning a new language can be fun; it keeps the brain engaged. And it’s also really useful before heading to a foreign country. I began working through the 30 half-hour lessons a couple of weeks ago.

Then disaster struck. Will a CD malfunction with very little time left on the clock present me with a brick wall?

Full confession: I’m a language geek; have been since I was about 6 years old. I started with French in junior high school, added Russian and Croatian in college, and went on to study German in Germany (and more Croatian, in Croatia) after graduation.

I did all of that in a formal classroom setting, but now that I’m older, I’ve changed my tactics. In my quest to keep from being the stereotypical American tourist (“Excuse me, do you speak English?”), I’m moving from the “Must. Be. Perfect.” mindset when I was getting college credit (and grades!) to “Can I learn enough to make myself understood?”

To that end, I’ve found that the CD-based language courses from Pimsleur have been highly useful. They’re not for everyone — for example, my son much preferred Rosetta Stone, but that method did not work for me. It’s a question of learning style: Pimsleur involves listening and repeating; there is little or no reading.

Over the last eight years or so, I’ve used the Pimsleur courses to acquire basic facility in Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Greek, and (to a lesser extent) Turkish. (Yes, I know you can get the courses as .mp3 files, but what can I say? I’m a dinosaur.) I can’t discuss subatomic particle physics in those languages, but then again, I can’t do that in English either!

But back to my predicament. As I was attempting to remove the next CD from its case, it cracked from center to rim. Of course, it wouldn’t play. So there I was, stranded on the mean streets of Hungarian vocabulary, being stalked by strange sentence structure, multisyllabic words, alien vowel sounds and outlandish declensions, with 14 lessons to go — and departure only 10 days away.

I figured my goose was cooked. Now, in Spanish or even Portuguese, I probably could have skipped the two lessons and been OK. But in Hungarian? As they say in Budapest and Hódmezővásárhely, nem. I’m barely hanging onto my sanity, dodging the arrows, spears and hand grenades hurled by that crazy Magyar language every second. (Apologies to my fellow consumer advocacy volunteer, Andrew Der, the Good News Guy, whose first language is Hungarian.)

With many companies, a consumer with a problem faces the potential for long hold times and multiple transfers to the wrong department, with frustration building all the while. But this case turned out to be different, much to Pimsleur’s credit.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I went to the Pimsleur website. Many companies’ websites make the consumer go on a hide-and-seek mission to find contact information; not Pimsleur. A quick click on the customer service link brought up a toll-free phone number, open 24/7. I called — after normal business hours on a Wednesday — and explained the problem. A very pleasant representative named Robert quickly said he would get a replacement CD put in the mail to me.

But I pointed out that it wouldn’t get here before I leave. Although the product I purchased doesn’t include online access, Robert instantly pivoted to plan B: He arranged to send me the two missing lessons via email as .mp3 attachments. They arrived that same evening.

Those files are now safely ensconced on my computer, and I’ve continued to forge ahead.

That’s customer service the way it should be.

Köszönöm szépen, Pimsleur és Robert! (That’s “Thank you very much, Pimsleur and Robert!” At least I hope it is.)

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