Duolingo and Pimsleur are two popular language learning platforms. They teach in completely different ways, having different strengths and weaknesses.
The main differences between Duolingo and Pimsleur are:
- Duolingo is free to use while Pimsleur requires a subscription or purchase of their courses.
- Duolingo more broadly focuses on the different aspects of a language, with no proper speaking practice, while Pimsleur’s courses primarily focus on oral language.
- Duolingo’s lessons are more fun with their game-like elements, while Pimsleur’s can get boring.
Comparing the two platforms, Pimsleur offers higher quality lessons that will improve your communication skills much more quickly, as such, I’d recommend it over Duolingo.
That said, Duolingo is free to use, so if you’re not quite ready to commit to a subscription fee, or dabble in a few languages, you might want to get started on there.
Remember that there are plenty of other language learning apps that might be better for you than Duolingo or Pimsleur. Make sure you know your options before you settle on a final choice.
To see all of our favorite programs, online subscriptions, apps, podcasts and YouTubes for the language you’re learning, look for your language in the table below.
MOST RECOMMENDED RESOURCES BY LANGUAGE
What I like about each platform:
- The competition element of comparing your scores to other community members is motivating.
- The lessons feel more like games, which make learning fun and engaging.
- If you don’t have much time to spare, lessons are short and convenient enough to fit in on a daily basis.
- The lessons focus on oral language, which effectively gets students speaking straight away.
- Lessons aren’t passive. They consistently prompt you to produce the language you’re learning.
- The new Pimsleur app is well-designed with a user-friendly interface and beautiful imagery.
- There’s a good natural build-up in difficulty from one lesson to the next.
What I don’t like about each platform:
- There’s virtually no opportunity for students to practice speaking a language.
- The lessons often don’t have much grammar instruction.
- Text-to-speech audio sometimes sounds pretty awkward.
- There’s not enough focus on the written aspect of language, and it’s often included in lessons as an afterthought.
- Grammar is completely ignored, so you’ll need other resources.
- Lessons can get boring after a while.
Pimsleur offers courses in 51 languages, while on Duolingo, you can choose a language from 35 courses with English instruction.
You can learn a standard language on Pimsleur, like French, German and Spanish, as well as a more unique language like Ojibwe, Pashto, Haitian Creole, Dari Persian and Twi.
On Duolingo, you can also learn the likes of Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese, as well as some made-up languages like High Valyrian and Klingon.
Duolingo’s main courses are totally free to access. If you want, you can pay for Duolingo Plus, which will give you some additional features like an ad-free experience, offline lesson downloading, unlimited hearts and monthly streak repair. As none of these features will really add to your language learning experience, Duolingo Plus isn’t essential.
A month-by-month subscription to Duolingo Plus costs $9.99 a month. Alternatively, you can pay $7.99 a month for a six-month subscription, or $6.99 a month for a 12-month subscription.
Pimsleur has introduced an updated subscription fee along with a brand new app. Subscription prices are massively improved from the old prices, which cost as much as $550 for five levels.
A subscription to Pimsleur’s basic plan costs $14.95 per month and a premium subscription costs $19.95 per month. Pimsleur also offers a free 7-day trial for users to try out a course on the platform.
How languages are taught with Duolingo
Duolingo’s lessons are bite-sized and short, offering a convenient, gamified approach to learning a language.
From first impressions, you know you’re going to have an engaging, less academic experience on Duolingo.
Once you’ve selected your preferred language, you can either take a placement test or opt to start as a beginner. When you get started on lessons, there are certain “skills” you’ll be able to boost by completing exercises.
You’ll progress in skills in a process that feels natural, although sometimes a little stilted. The quality of lessons can depend on the language you choose. Many Asian languages aren’t done particularly well, so for people interested in those languages, it may be worth considering Lingodeer.
The basic exercises featured in Duolingo are fun and simple to complete. Lessons focus on teaching vocabulary, reading, and listening, with the occasional opportunity for speaking practice.
Above is an example exercise on Duolingo. After selecting a color option, you’ll hear the word spoken out loud in the target language. Unfortunately, some of the audio quality isn’t the best.
As Duolingo uses some form of text-to-speech technology for most of its courses, it isn’t quite the same as listening to a native speaker.
Other features on Duolingo include Discuss, which links to the Duolingo forum, Shop, where you can spend your earned Duolingo currency on fun topics and timed activities, and More, which is where you’ll find events, a dictionary, and a list of the words you’ve learned so far.
Read our full review of Duolingo.
How languages are taught with Pimsleur
Pimsleur’s most popular courses have five levels, while some less common languages may have fewer. Each level consists of 30 lessons, each lasting roughly 30 minutes. You’re supposed to complete one lesson a day, which would enable you to complete an entire course within five months.
Compared to other language learning courses, Pimsleur’s lessons are much more focused on oral language. You’ll find that there’s not much of a focus on grammar, which you may want to learn once you understand a language past a basic level.
Lessons are conversational and use a narrator to set the scene, helping you to imagine yourself in a certain situation. You’ll actually have to produce the language, rather than just repeat what you hear.
The narrator will often ask things like, “How do you say ___?” There’ll then be a pause for you to dictate your answer. Following this, the narrator will supply the correct answer for you to hear.
In lessons, aside from the main narrator, you’ll benefit from hearing a native-speaking man and woman interjecting throughout. This helps you to understand different speakers, as well as hear how a language sounds from someone of your gender.
Occasionally, the narrator might break a word down into smaller components. This is useful for learning some phrases but might sound a little odd at times.
Lessons build on one another particularly well. Each lesson will begin with a review of content covered in past lessons and previously learned material shows up in future lessons in a variety of different contexts.
You’re provided with plenty of specific cultural information about the language you’re studying throughout lessons. To me, this is a sign that lessons have been created with a bit more thought behind them and certainly helps to motivate you to learn.
There are additional features included in their Premium plan which incorporates more of the written language into the lessons.
Read our full review of Pimsleur.
Overall, Duolingo and Pimsleur both have their uses, and I wouldn’t advise against either of them.
Duolingo is a good option if you’re looking to dip your toe into a language without much commitment. While I don’t think it’s best for a more serious learner, it does a good job as a starting point.
Pimsleur’s lessons are a lot more thorough, and at its new, lower subscription fee, I’d recommend giving it a try. You might want to include other resources when you pass the beginner level, though, as Pimsleur doesn’t offer much grammar instruction, which is pretty essential for becoming a language expert.
If neither of these resources is quite what you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty of more suited alternatives elsewhere.