So which one is better?
If you would have asked me that question a few years ago, I would have emphatically said…
Perhaps because of how famous both companies are, they’ve also been some of the most absurdly expensive courses around.
Pimsleur still sells CD versions of its courses for hundreds of dollars – far more expensive than other more modern products.
And since I’m not a fan of lighting money on fire, I could never recommend them.
Luckily, they’ve finally entered the modern world. Both companies have added a subscription option which lowers the cost significantly. Plus, you won’t have to use CDs anymore – they’ve finally created decent apps.
So, now if I’m asked, “Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone?”, my answer is pretty clear…
Unfortunately, we haven’t looked at every language yet, but we’re slowly getting there. The truth is that there’s no single best course for every language. The best option is often dependent on the language you’re studying.
Before we begin: if you’d prefer, you can jump right into the individual reviews of Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone.
How are Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur similar?
Aside from being two of the most well-known names in language learning, there’s a lot that Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur have in common.
Lots of languages
Both companies offer courses in lots of different languages.
Rosetta Stone teaches 25 languages, and Pimsleur has over 50 languages to choose from.
There’s a good chance that Rosetta Stone teaches the language you’re learning, but if it doesn’t, Pimsleur’s even more likely to cover it.
Beginner to Intermediate(ish) levels
I can’t say exactly how far these programs will take you, but both courses finish somewhere around the intermediate level. They each have a different teaching approach, so you’ll end up with different strengths and weaknesses in your language skills, but we’ll get into that later.
In any case, if you’re already to the intermediate level, you probably won’t get much out of either course.
Lessons are structured well
Both companies have done a good job of designing the content in their courses — the structure of their lessons makes sense. Concepts build on each other logically, and there are lots of opportunities to review what you’ve learned.
In this way, they do better than most other resources in guiding your learning. But, they do both still have gaps that you’ll probably want to fill in with other resources.
Grammar is mostly ignored
Both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone don’t touch on grammar much. For Rosetta Stone, it’s pretty much impossible to explain grammar because everything is taught in the language you’re learning and with pictures.
The people at Pimsleur have simply decided that teaching other things is more important.
For a beginner, it’s probably fine to not spend much time worrying about grammar. But, as you reach higher levels, putting real effort into working on grammar can pay dividends.
Both companies teach languages in a repetitive manner. The lessons are very similar across all levels, and you’ll almost certainly find yourself bored at some point.
I think that’s especially true for Rosetta Stone. The constant dragging and dropping of pictures and captions would make it unbearable for me to study this way long-term.
Although Pimsleur would also get boring, I found that its lessons forced me to be very active and constantly speaking. Since I study a language so that I can speak it, the fact that the lessons have lots of speaking makes the repetition more bearable. Plus, you’re not simply repeating, you have to form your own sentences.
How do Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone differ?
Although there are quite a few similarities between the two products, the differences are what I find most interesting. Despite the fact that they’re both famous language learning companies, the manner in which they teach is quite different.
No English vs Having Translations
Perhaps the biggest difference in the lessons is how English is used. Rosetta Stone, unlike pretty much every language-learning course I’ve come across, completely removes English from the lessons. Instead, everything is taught with pictures and your target language.
Pimsleur, on the other hand, has lots of translations and uses English to prompt you to say different things throughout the lessons.
While I understand the appeal of a somewhat immersive learning environment without any English, I’m not necessarily sold on it. Using pictures work great for simple things (like ‘dog’) but it’s less clear for more abstract ideas (like ‘decision’ or ‘hope’).
Visual vs Auditory Lessons
Since Rosetta Stone doesn’t include any translations, it should be no surprise that they depend on visual cues to teach the language. A lot of the exercises involve matching pictures to words.
Because of the nature of the lessons, the written language is also more prominent with Rosetta Stone.
That doesn’t mean that Rosetta Stone won’t help you with your speaking or listening skills. They have plenty of exercises and speech recognition software (though it’s not that good). But, when compared with Pimsleur’s lesson style, the oral language isn’t emphasized as heavily.
With Pimsleur, lessons focus almost entirely on the aural and verbal components of language learning — speaking and listening. And while there are some exercises that require reading, they’re clearly more of an afterthought.
Pimsleur teaches using audio lessons. You’ll listen to the host, repeat, and be prompted to put together sentences with words you’ve already learned. The lesson style forces you to actively participate throughout, meaning you’ll have to use what you’ve learned and actually speak the language.
For someone that would like to study while commuting to work or while doing anything else where audio courses are ideal, Pimsleur would be a much better choice. But, even if I was planning to study at home and give it my full attention, I still prefer Pimsleur.
In my opinion, there’s no question that Pimsleur would provide a much more effective route to speaking competently.
Pimsleur is much better for learning about the culture
Most companies that offer courses for lots of different languages struggle to include the unique cultural aspects of each language.
Aside from a handful of videos for some languages, Rosetta Stone basically ignores culture completely. The lessons feel very formulaic. The words they teach and images they use seem like they’re probably the exact same for every language. While it may not always be necessary to learn about the culture of a language you’re learning, doing so will make things a lot more fun and help you stay motivated.
Pimsleur does much better with this. While most of the lessons could be very similar for every language, they also have some parts that are related to the culture of the language you’re learning.
When I tried their Mandarin course, they mentioned lots of different Chinese cities and landmarks throughout the lessons.
Additionally, in their app, most lessons also include a written description of some unique aspect of the culture. Since there were 150 lessons in the Mandarin course, this ended up being a ton of interesting cultural information.
Comparing the Costs
Rosetta Stone offers subscriptions of three or 12 months, as well as a lifetime option. The price per month is $14.92/mo for three months (one language) and $11.99/mo for one year (all languages). The lifetime subscription is $199 and grants access to all Rosetta Stone language courses.
Pimsleur offers two subscription prices, depending on the language — one is $14.95/mo and the other is $19.95/mo.
You can, of course, also buy their CDs, but those are terribly expensive and, if you’re under 60, you probably have no interest in using those.
If you had to choose between Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone, I’d say that for the vast majority of people, Pimsleur is easily the better option.
I could see Rosetta Stone being the reasonable option for learners with a strong preference for visual content and a distaste for learning aurally, but that’s about it.
Still, in the real world, the choice isn’t between Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone — there are plenty of other good courses that should be considered.
If you don’t want to go with Pimsleur and are leaning towards Rosetta Stone, there are several courses that I’d recommend ahead of them. It’s not really possible to list them all here because my recommendations vary a lot depending on which language you’re learning. Instead, find the language you’re learning in the table below to find our favorite resources.
If you were to go the old-school route and purchase CDs, I’d strongly advise against both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur as they’d cost hundreds of dollars.
Fortunately, their modern subscription options make them much more recommendable.
I think Pimsleur is a good option that will get you speaking much faster than almost any other course. It isn’t perfect by any means, but for $15-$20/mo, it’s a solid choice.
Rosetta Stone, while it has improved a lot, is just not that great. It’s still more expensive than most competitors without offering anything particularly unique. In fact, I think it’s quite a bit worse than other cheaper courses.
So, the winner in my mind is pretty clearly Pimsleur. If you’d like to read a bit more about exactly what it’s like to use either of these products, I’d recommend reading the in-depth reviews of each.
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