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Assimil Review — A Fresh Look at a Longstanding Resource

Quick Review

Summary

Assimil is a French company that has been selling language-learning resources since 1929. Assimil materials are available as books, CDs, and downloadable e-courses; there are a variety of available course types, and instruction is based on interacting with phrases in the target language. The popular Sans Peine or, With Ease, courses are for absolute or false beginners that would like to reach the B2 level, but we think you’ll need to incorporate some other study materials to make this happen.

Quality

The language materials are reliable, the audio is high quality, and the program is fairly easy to use after a bit of practice.

Thoroughness

Assimil is chock-full of explanations and thorough translations for all material, but you might need more to reach the advertised B2 level.

Value

There are cheaper resources out there, but Assimil provides super solid instruction for the price.

Languages

The majority of courses are for speakers of French, but instruction is available in 13 different source languages.

English speakers can find the popular With Ease courses in Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. There are also phrasebooks and writing courses for a variety of other languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Russian.

Price

Prices vary by course. The Spanish e-course is €47.30, the Spanish With Ease book (no audio) is €25.50, and the Spanish With Ease Superpack is €71

Pop quiz: what’s almost a hundred years old, was born in France, and speaks a ton of languages?

No, I don’t have a French polyglot for a grandfather, I’m thinking about the uber-popular language-learning platform, Assimil.

An Honest Review of Assimil With Image of Woman Reading Book

What is Assimil?

Assimil is a French company that has helped self-directed learners with language acquisition since its founding in 1929 by Alphonse Chérel (you may have to translate this page if your French is rusty — there’s surprisingly little information on the man in English).

The company has primarily produced learning materials in the form of language books and accompanying CDs with audio recordings, but has branched out to offer an e-course as well.

The Assimil resources are highly popular and are available with instruction in 13 different languages. The most popular Assimil product is the Sans Peine or With Ease course, which ideally takes learners at the A1 or A2 (beginner) levels up to a B2 CEFR level.

How We Did this Review

Before testing Assimil for this review, I knew next to nothing about it. Hunter (a multi-talented web manager for All Language Resources), on the other hand, had already used the product several times.

He and I gave the Spanish e-course a whirl and compared our findings, hoping for a more comprehensive review.

Hunter:

As a long-time learner of French, I’m very familiar with Assimil and have used it several times in the past for various languages. I’ve had only a little bit of experience learning Spanish and am looking forward to seeing how Assimil handles the language. I’ve also yet to try Assimil in a digital format as it’s historically only been available in physical media (books, CDs, etc.).

Brian:

I was only vaguely aware of Assimil before testing this course, but it didn’t take long to realize just how popular it is (and for how long it’s been popular). I’ve previously studied Spanish in a wide variety of contexts — high school and university classes, gamified apps, online tutors, and an immersion experience — and am excited to see how The Assimil Method measures up.

Quick Opinions

Hunter and I came away with very similar opinions of the Assimil e-course. Basically, we like it.

We both agree that reaching the B2 level as advertised might be a slight stretch, especially if you’re using the resource exclusively. With the course’s solid structure and quality instruction, however, it could potentially make up a very strong piece of your study plan.

We each ended up giving Assimil the same overall rating individually:

Hunter: 4/5 Stars

Brian: 4/5 Stars

Our combined overall rating: 4/5 Stars

First Impressions

The course begins with a lot of explanation and set-up. There are a few pages on the method and how to use the course, and then the overview of Spanish is fairly long and detailed as well. Both Hunter and I thought it was too much to take in at once without resorting to skimming, but we recognize that you can always refer back to it as you progress through the course.

The program design is slick and feels professional, and it’s easy enough to use after a little bit of practice. Hunter thought that the material in the first few lessons was just right: challenging enough to be exciting without being overwhelming.

Course Layout and The Assimil Method

The Assimil e-course, as with the Sans Peine courses, is based on The Assimil Method. The method divides the course into two distinct phases: the “impregnation phase” and the “activation phase,” each of which we’ll look at closely.

The e-course summarises the method by stating, “the keystones to this method are regular effort in small doses, gradual progress and enjoying yourself while learning…”

The Impregnation Phase

This is also referred to as the passive phase, and it focuses on the “comprehension and assimilation of the language.” Practice in these lessons happens through reading, listening to, and repeating phrases before completing some comprehension-checking exercises. Let’s take a look.

Listen

Each lesson begins with the presentation of a short dialogue.

Lesson 1 Listen

Users can listen to each phrase individually or to the conversation as a whole. The audio is of high quality and plays at a reasonably slow speed for beginners; the audio is a key element of the course. It’s hard for me to imagine that the course would be at all effective without the accompanying audio.

As you progress through the lessons, the audio speeds up as the material becomes more complex and you become more accustomed to hearing the language. The change in speed seemed natural to me, but I would have liked the option to adjust playback speed manually.

In the above example, you can see that the stressed syllables are shown in bold for each multi-syllable word. This feature can be toggled on and off, and it’s something I’m a big fan of.

The only other feature here is the ability to loop playback of the dialogue so that it plays over and over.

Study the Dialogue

This section of the course is where you’ll practice repeating phrases out loud. If you’re using the e-course, you’ll get to record yourself speaking and listen to the result.

Lesson 1 Study the Dialogue

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As you can see, there’s a phonetic transcription of the phrase that accompanies the sentence in the target language.

Frankly, I don’t like these transcriptions. They seem to take their cues from English, and I think they’re unreliable in communicating the sounds one needs to make in order to produce Spanish. Written Spanish is so rigidly phonetic that, to me, it doesn’t make sense to use anything other than Spanish to represent the spoken language — it’s a far better guide to pronunciation than transcriptions based on English and shouldn’t take too long to learn.

Then again, I could just be a jaded long-time Spanish learner, and some people might find this helpful. Fortunately for me, these transcriptions eventually disappeared as I progressed through the material.

In addition to the transcription, you’ll see a translation of the phrase in your source language. I appreciated that these often included a literal translation as well.

You can also listen to the native-speaker audio and view notes on pronunciation, grammar, and culture. A lot of these notes contain seriously valuable information, and it’s worth your time to read them all and take your own notes.

Pronunciation Note     Grammar Note

Culture Note

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The actual recording and playback of your pronunciation is quite simple and worked well for me. Unlike some other resources, this one doesn’t use any voice recognition technology to provide feedback on your pronunciation.

While it would be ideal to get some useful pronunciation feedback, the fact is that the technology for it isn’t super reliable yet. I’m kind of glad that Assimil avoids anything that feels like a gimmick, and I do find it somewhat helpful to hear recordings of myself producing the language.

New Words

After you’ve recorded yourself repeating all of the lesson’s phrases and have read the relevant language notes, you’ll come to a breakdown of all the new words you’ve been exposed to.

Lesson 1 New Words

Since you will have already had a chance to see the full phrases translated, this is your chance to see each individual word’s meaning. Translations only include the usage of the word as it appears in the dialogue.

I appreciate this quite a bit; I find it frustrating when resources don’t provide translations of individual words, as it can sometimes be extremely difficult to deduce meaning through the translation of a larger phrase.

Translation

This is the first comprehension-checking exercise you’ll come across in a lesson, a multiple-choice translation quiz.

Lesson 1 Translation

There are only five questions here, so it’s not an incredibly extensive test, but it is well done. The answers aren’t completely random, and you’ll have to pay close attention to get a perfect score.

Your scores aren’t recorded. Self-directed progress is the name of the game, and you can move on whether you’ve scored 100% or not.

Complete the Sentences

Here’s the second and final exercise in the first phase lessons. It’s another translation activity, but this time you’ll be asked to write the correct translation yourself.

Lesson 1 Complete the Sentences

Aside from dashes showing you how many letters make up the answer, you’re on your own here.

For an extra layer of challenge, not all of the phrases here are directly from the dialogue. You’ll have to use the language you’ve used in new constructions, which I think is a great exercise.

Extras

Finally, at the end of every lesson is an Extras section. This is where you’ll find a running dictionary of cardinal numbers, a cartoon drawing, and a cultural note.

Lesson 1 Extras

I’m not particularly fond of the way the course teaches cardinal numbers. They’re just presented at the end of each lesson without accompanying audio or a way to practice them — you’ll have to take responsibility for memorizing them on your own.

Lesson 1 Cartoon

The cartoon in the Extras section includes a piece of language paired with an illustration and a translation. There’s one per lesson, and there doesn’t seem to be a theme or larger storyline going on. Some of them are fun and may help phrases stick in your head, but they don’t make up a large part of the experience.

Some lessons also include additional cultural notes in the Extras tab. They’re usually just a paragraph or two and cover a broad range of cultural information. I found these particularly interesting and was glad to see them. I also think regular doses of cultural information can be good for motivation, especially if you aren’t immersed in the culture while you’re studying.

Review Lesson

Every seventh lesson, there will be a review lesson that covers all of the language that has been taught in the previous six lessons.

The first segment of the review lesson is a lengthy collection of grammar explanations.

Lesson 7 Revision: Explanations

You’ll find conjugation charts, explanations of verb tenses, information on sentence construction, and a whole lot more. It can be daunting at first glance, but the program recommends reading through the material here at your own pace and not stressing about having it all memorized.

The explanations are very thorough and full of valuable information for those that can absorb it. It’s so dense, though, that it may work best as a reference when you come across a confusing phrase or aren’t sure how to form a sentence.

The second and final segment of the review lesson is the translation exercise.

Lesson 7 Revision: Translation Exercise

I thought this portion of the review was actually quite challenging considering it’s the first review lesson in the course. You’ll have to stretch yourself, but that’s a good thing in my opinion.

Much like the translation exercises in the previous lessons, you’ll provide English translations for phrases in Spanish, and then grade yourself after seeing the answers. You can also listen to recordings of the Spanish phrases as you go, and the program recommends repeating them out loud.

The Activation Phase

Lesson 50 is the beginning of the Activation Phase, also known as the active phase. It’s where “learners begin to form their own sentences” while also reviewing material from the course’s first phase.

The primary change in this phase is that learners begin to translate from their source language into their target language. For the Spanish course, it means that you’re now reading English phrases and doing your best to speak the equivalent phrase in Spanish.

Let’s take a look at lesson 50.

The lesson starts out just like any other — you begin by reading and listening to a dialogue (one that is significantly more complex than the course’s first lessons!), and then perform the same activities that you’ll be quite used to at this point: read and repeat, see definitions, multiple-choice translation, and then written translation.

Speak

Before progressing to the Extras stage of the lesson, however, you’ll come to the Speak activity.

You might recognize the phrases from the very first lesson here. The goal is to record yourself speaking the phrase in Spanish after reading the English version. You then compare your recording to that of a native speaker and score your performance.

I think this is an imperfect solution to providing real speaking practice, but it isn’t without value. It’s still testing your ability to translate as opposed to your ability to come up with authentic and appropriate constructions in order to communicate, but maybe it’s as close as you can come without a human tutor.

Extra Features

The extra features in the Assimil e-course make it easier to sort through the course’s material, whether you’re looking for grammar examples, explanations, definitions, or that one lesson that talked about that thing with that word.

Grammar Appendix and Index

Grammar nerds, rejoice! Grammarphobes, take cover. The Assimil grammar appendix is all business, and it’s extremely thorough.

It’s more pleasing to look at and easier to navigate than other grammar guides I’ve seen, but I still imagine using it as anything other than a reference from time to time could inspire one to pull one’s hair out.

The grammar index is also powerfully thorough, though it’s harder for me to imagine using it as regularly as the appendix. It’s a tool that allows users to search through all of the grammar notes in the course and to see the related lesson.

Glossary

The Assimil glossary provides users with a way to search all of the terms in the course for an easy way to see translations, relevant language notes, and the lessons they appeared in.

Assimil Glossary

You can search for terms in either English or Spanish, and listen to the example sentences that contain the term. One thing to note here is that the definitions for each word cover only the meaning as it’s used in the example sentence, but I think that makes sense for this type of resource.

Glossary of Expressions

I think this extra feature is really cool and has some serious practical value.

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It’s an easily navigable collection of expressions that have appeared somewhere throughout the course with translations and any extra relevant information.

I like the idea of being able to locate the right language for a given situation in this way and could see it making a valuable reference in real-life scenarios.

Pricing

The prices of Assimil courses vary quite a bit by language and product, though the most popular courses fall within the €60 – €75 range for physical books with accompanying audio, while the e-course products cost €47.30.

There’s also an option to purchase the physical book without any accompanying audio, but I think the value of the course would drop too much for it to remain a quality purchase.

Alternatives

Assimil certainly isn’t alone when it comes to comprehensive language courses. Here are some other online resources that could make a good alternative to Assimil.

Babbel

Like Assimil, Babbel offers well-structured practice in a wide variety of language skills. While you’ll get a lot of grammar explanations and native-speaker audio on Babbel, the grammar explanations aren’t quite as thorough as you’ll find with Assimil. That said, they’re still probably more than enough for the average learner.

One area in which Babbel could be more appealing than Assimil is that it has a wider variety of interactive exercises. They aren’t as flashy as the ones you’ll see in other resources, but they’re more exciting than typing in translations with Assimil. The app also uses speech-recognition technology, which is far from perfect, to offer pronunciation feedback. Read our full Babbel review.

Busuu

Another comprehensive online course, Busuu is widely popular and offers interactive activities and a decently-structured course. One area in which Busuu could possibly pull ahead of Assimil is its social feature. Users can record themselves speaking and get feedback from other humans on their pronunciation and word choice. This feature is even partially free to use.

Here’s our full review of Busuu.

Pimsleur

What Pimsleur has in common with Assimil is that it’s a well-rounded course that uses practical dialogues to teach the language and that it’s been around for quite a long time. There’s a major difference with the Pimsleur course, though, and that’s that it’s taught almost exclusively via audio lessons. As such, you won’t get a lot of in-depth grammar explanations or learn how to write, but it could especially appeal to aural-verbal learners that like to listen and repeat a whole lot. You can read our full review of Pimsleur here.

Lingodeer

Looking for something a little bit more fun? We think Lingodeer makes a good option for many because it provides convenient gamified practice through interactivities while maintaining quality instruction. It won’t be quite as thorough as Assimil, but the Lingodeer course structure is solid and worth investigating for anyone looking for something that’s more convenient.

In addition to the resources above, which could make viable alternatives to an Assimil course, there are a number of resources that could be used in conjunction with Assimil to beef up your study plan and make it more efficient. Our full Lingodeer review.

Anki

Anki makes a good addition to just about any study plan. It’s a powerful, lightweight, fully customizable SRS (spaced repetition system) flashcard app. It’s also free to use everywhere except the Apple App Store, where it’ll cost you $25.

I think Anki would work quite well with Assimil if you were to create flashcards from the vocabulary and sentences found in the Assimil course. Regular practice using SRS should help to commit the language you’re learning in the course to long-term memory more quickly.

italki

italki could make an especially good complementary resource to use with Assimil as a place to get speaking practice with real humans. italki is an online tutor directory with an incredible number of tutors, teaching a huge number of languages, all setting their own prices and schedules. Using the material you’ve learned in the Assimil course and attempting to form your own constructions with the help of a tutor could make for great practice.

There are also free community features available in italki that users can use to give and receive writing feedback, something that Assimil doesn’t provide. We’ve written a full review of italki.

HelloTalk or Tandem

If you’re using an Assimil course, there’s a good chance you’ll want to practice actually using what you’ve learned before you finish the entire course. Language-exchange apps like HelloTalk and Tandem provide a fantastic (and mostly free) opportunity to connect with speakers of the language you’re learning, no matter where you are in the world.

Built-in language tools help to facilitate easy communication and productive language practice, and basic user profiles make it easy to browse for potential language partners. Both apps work really well, but each has its own aesthetic. Read our HelloTalk review and our Tandem review.

Speechling

One of the areas that Hunter and I agree could be better with Assimil is pronunciation practice and feedback. Speechling is an excellent tool for getting practice in this language skill. It teaches pronunciation by having users record themselves mimicking phrases in their target language and then offers the opportunity to have these recordings evaluated by a language teacher who will provide personalized feedback.

What’s more, this feature is free to use for a limited number of recordings each month. Unlimited recordings are available for a paid subscription. Here’s our Speechling review.

Final Thoughts

After spending time with the Assimil Spanish e-course, I’m not surprised that Assimil has remained a popular option for so many years. It’s an incredibly thorough course that has obviously had a lot of thought put into it.

In my opinion, the biggest drawbacks of the course are that practice is all translation-based and that there aren’t opportunities for authentic speaking practice, which I think are essential for reaching a B2 level.

With that in mind, the course has a lot going for it. Hunter is of the opinion that it would make a good resource for gaining a solid foundation in your target language, but that it should be used with complementary resources in order to get a more well-rounded education. I agree completely.

Not sure if Assimil is the right choice for you? We find that the best resources for learning a language are often those that have been designed specifically for that language. See the table below to find our favorites for the language you’re learning.

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