So which one is better?
If you would have asked me that question a year or two 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.
Both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur still sell CD versions of their courses for several hundred 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…
And although I significantly prefer Pimsleur, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be your choice. There are lots of good courses from not only other big name companies, but also smaller content creators that you may have never heard of.
Check out the sidebar/menu to find our most recommended resources in the language you’re studying. 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 often changes for each language.
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?
Besides being two of the most well-known names in language learning, Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur really have a lot more in common.
Lots of languages
Both companies offer courses in lots of different languages.
Rosetta Stone teaches 30 languages and Pimsleur has over 50 languages to choose from.
Obviously, it’d be pretty rare for you to find that Rosetta Stone doesn’t offer the language you’re learning, but if they don’t, there’s a chance that Pimsleur has a course on it.
Beginner to Intermediate(ish) levels
I’m not sure which course will take you further. I wish I had made a close note of the last lesson on both platforms when writing the reviews.
So, I can’t say exactly how far they’ll take you but both courses finish somewhere around the intermediate level. They have a different teaching approach, so you’ll have different strengths and weaknesses in your language skills, but we’ll get into that later.
Regardless, if you’re already to the intermediate level, you probably wouldn’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 with one thing leading clearly to another and lots of opportunities to review what you learned.
In this way, they do better than most other resources in guiding your learning. But, they both do still have their gaps in which you’ll probably want to use other resources to fill in.
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.
For Pimsleur, they’ve 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 working on grammar will 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 pictures and captions would make it unbearable for me to study with long-term.
Although Pimsleur would also get boring, I found their lessons to force you to be very active and constantly speak. 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’s actually interesting. And 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 are 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 the lesson-style of Pimsleur, the oral language isn’t emphasized as heavily.
With Pimsleur, lessons focus almost entirely on the oral components of the language – 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 participate throughout. You’ll have to use what you’ve learned and speak the language.
For someone that would like to study while commuting to work, for example, Pimsleur would be a much better choice. But, even if you plan to study at home and give it your full attention, I still prefer Pimsleur.
In my opinion, there’s no question that Pimsleur would be 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 the language.
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 with durations ranging from 3 to 24 months. The price per month falls between $26.34/mo and $10.38/mo.
Pimsleur offers two subscription options – one for $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 for the vast majority of people, Pimsleur is easily the better option.
Perhaps there may be some people who are extremely visual learners, then perhaps Rosetta Stone would be an okay option.
Still, in a real world, the choice isn’t 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.
Babbel is somewhat similar, it also has lots of similar style exercises where you match pictures to words, but additionally includes grammar explanations and just feels like a more thorough course, plus it’s a lot cheaper.
I’d probably even prefer Duolingo, which has plenty of its own issues, over Rosetta Stone – and Duolingo is completely free.
There are lots of other options as well, its just they vary depending on which language you’re studying.
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.
But, now that they offer subscription options, they’re much more recommendable.
I think Pimsleur is a good option that will get you speaking much faster than almost any other course. There’s still quite a bit that could be improved, 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.