I didn’t expect to ever be writing a positive review of Pimsleur.
To me, Pimsleur was always sort of like Rosetta Stone – an old, outdated, and absurdly expensive course that just didn’t seem worth it.
In the past, I’ve included it on a list of courses that aren’t worth paying for. Can you blame me though, the prices they were asking were insane – $550?!?
Not to mention the fact that the course materials felt incredibly outdated. I think this review sums up their old app perfectly.
So, when I heard that they released a new app that improved upon most of the issues I had with Pimsleur and also significantly lowered their prices, I became very intrigued but still a bit skeptical.
After spending several hours re-trying their lessons and app to study Chinese, I’m pretty excited about what they’ve done.
Getting started with the new Pimsleur app
If you search on Pimsleur’s website, you’ll find no mention of their new prices. This is because the subscription offer isn’t yet available to the general public through their site.
It’s easy enough to get signed up for a free 7-day trial. In the trial, you can access all of the lessons in the language you’ve chosen.
After that, it’ll either cost $14.95 per month for the basic plan or $19.95 per month for the premium plan.
Later on, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly these plans include.
After subscribing, you’ll want to go find the app in the app store. There are a few different Pimsleur apps there, so it may be a bit confusing which one you should actually download.
The one that’s still in beta is what I used and it worked great.
Pimsleur’s course structure
Pimsleur has courses in tons of different languages.
The more popular languages have five levels but some less common languages have fewer.
Each level contains 30 lessons that last roughly 30-minutes each. They’re meant to be completed once per day.
So, if you complete them at their recommended pace, without skipping any days, you’ll be able to complete the entire course within five months. You’re also able to download the lessons.
At this rate, you’d only be spending $100, or less if you choose the basic plan, for the entire course.
Compared to the $550 that their courses go for on their site, the subscription is a massive improvement – especially when the lessons are exactly the same but the app has more features.
Like most language learning resources, Pimsleur may exaggerate a bit about the speed with which you’ll learn the language. They say that in one month, you’ll reach the intermediate level.
I don’t really think that’ll be the case, but without a doubt, you’ll pick up quite a bit of the language and begin speaking more quickly than you would with most other resources.
Pimsleur’s lessons focus on oral language
Much more so than most language courses, Pimsleur focuses on listening and speaking while grammar is ignored.
For students at the beginner and even the lower-intermediate level, I agree that instruction should be focused on communication skills and not so much on grammar.
But, at some point, you’re going to want to put a more focused effort into learning grammar.
Personally, while studying Mandarin, I didn’t focus much on grammar initially. But, later on, when I began approaching grammar more seriously, it led to lots of aha moments.
I understand why Pimsleur chose to not spend too much time on grammar, and this certainly gets people speaking the language sooner, but eventually, you’re going to need to work on the grammar in whichever language you’re learning.
Reading also isn’t the focus of Pimsleur’s lessons but their new app has included a few reading components.
In their old courses, the reading component basically just consisted of a pdf booklet that wasn’t particularly well done.
The basic plan of the app is still the same with a complete focus on the oral language. But, with the premium plan, there are some exercises that put more emphasis on the written language. I’ll talk a bit about these later on.
The lessons are conversational in nature, with a narrator setting the scene.
He’ll often say things like, “You’re meeting with a tour guide outside of the hotel.”
This makes it easy to imagine yourself in that situation which I imagine could help make it easier to remember the content you’re learning.
Unlike most courses that require a lot of speaking, it’s not just repetition. Pimsleur makes you actually produce the language.
You’re constantly prompted by being asked things like, “How do you say ___?” In addition to this, you’ll hear someone else saying the equivalent of “How do you say?” but in the language you’re learning.
After this, there will be a pause where you’re supposed to speak out using the language you’re learning. Following this, a native speaker will come in and say the sentence, phrase, or word.
One cool aspect I noticed is that in any individual lesson, there’s not only the English speaking narrator but also both a native speaking man and a woman interjecting throughout.
This not only helps you to understand different speakers but makes it easier to model your speech off someone of the same gender as yourself.
Often times, the instructor will break down the words into their individual components – emphasizing a part of the word.
For Chinese, this sounds quite natural as one character is one syllable, so it doesn’t sound weird at all hearing one syllable in isolation.
For other languages, like French, it might be a bit strange hearing pardon broken up into par and don. Often, the instructor will say the second part of the word first, followed by the first part, before finally combining it together.
The lessons build upon each other exceptionally well.
Each lesson starts out reviewing the previous lesson’s materials. Stuff that was taught earlier keeps showing up in future lessons but within different contexts.
This is something that has really impressed me. The manner in which the lessons progress makes it so that you’ll be able to speak about a pretty broad range of topics if you make it all the way to the later levels in the course.
The conversational nature of the lessons will also help students become competent speakers quicker than most courses.
There’s quite a bit of cultural information unique to the language you’re studying throughout the lessons.
I noticed in the Chinese course that there were lots of references to famous locations and activities that are common in China.
Of course, the majority of the lessons focuses on useful language that you’ll need to learn – things like, “Where’s the hotel?”
Instead of simply answering, “It’s by the river” there would often be responses similar to, “It’s near the Huangpu river.”
The lessons do a good job of mixing common language within the cultural context of the language.
The app also includes a ton more cultural information. For nearly every lesson, there’s a unique cultural note that you can read.
For the Chinese course, you’ll find over 100 of these cultural notes. You could definitely learn a lot from them!
Features of the app – Basic Vs Premium
One thing that has impressed me is just how well designed the app is, especially when compared to the old app.
It’s smooth, easy to use, has lots of beautiful pictures, and the premium version includes a few extra features.
So far, everything I’ve talked about in this review is available in the basic app for $14.95. It also includes the following features.
For an extra $5 per month, the premium version includes some extra practice activities.
Let’s now take a look a bit closer at each of these extra features included in the premium plan.
With the flashcards, you’ll have two options to practice – English to your target language or your target language to English.
They’re pretty straightforward.
You’ll see a word, then need to remember it in the other language. When you flip the card, you’ll hear the audio and see the word and click either “Skip” or “Got it”.
One thing that I don’t like so much is that only words from the current lesson are reviewed. If you’ve recently gone through a lesson, you probably won’t have much trouble remembering these words.
But words that you’ve learned three weeks ago could be more challenging.
At the very least, you may want to occasionally go back to older lessons and use Pimsleur’s flashcards to review those words again.
In the quick match section, you’ll be given a sentence in English and have to choose the correct translation.
You can do so by either reading the options or playing the audio for each selection.
I doubt many people would find this particularly challenging since the answers are all very different.
I also don’t really understand why this is called the quick match.
There’s no timer or anything pushing you to answer quickly.
The next section of the activities is the Speak Easy.
Again, this is helpful but not terribly exciting. This is basically just a dialogue. If you click “Play & Repeat” the dialogue will play and include pauses for you to repeat the sentence.
Alternatively, you can play one line at a time.
I’m a little disappointed that there’s not anything more to this.
Nowadays, many resources use speech recognition to score the accuracy of your pronunciation.
Granted, the technology still isn’t good enough for those to be all that accurate, but it makes things a bit more fun.
At the very least, you should be able to record yourself so you can compare your speech to that of the audio.
This is just kind of boring and not very well done.
I’d also recommend people to check out Speechling where you can practice recording sentences and get feedback on your pronunciation.
The speed round is more fun, at least compared to the other features of the premium plan.
Here, you basically need to match the falling words to the translations before they hit the bottom of the screen.
The better you do, the more points you get.
One thing I disliked is that for Chinese, and I assume other languages that use a different writing system, the words are written using romanized writing and can’t be changed.
The design is also incredibly simple, or rather, ugly.
Which plan should you choose?
I was unimpressed by all of the extra features included in the premium plan. None of them are particularly well done.
However, I still might recommend people to choose the premium plan over the basic plan.
Because Pimsleur’s lessons are so focused on the oral language, without these extras, you could study a language for months before you have any exposure to the written language.
While there are plenty of other resources where you could practice reading or writing, the fact that these are aligned with the lessons you’ve been studying helps.
Although the basic plan supposedly includes reading lessons, I haven’t actually been able to find them anywhere in any level of the Chinese course.
So, these extra features may be the only place you can get any reading practice from Pimsleur’s lessons.
Despite being somewhat disappointed by the practice activities of the premium plan, I was quite impressed with Pimsleur.
Their lessons are very well designed and force you to start speaking right away.
That said, I would never advise anyone to purchase Pimsleur’s courses at their full price of $550. Charging that much is insane to me.
But, for a subscription costing between $15 and $20 per month, I’d happily recommend people to try Pimsleur.
You won’t find any information about this lower cost plan anywhere on their website, but clicking here will take you to the page with more information.
They also offer a free 7-day trial that you can use to see if the lesson style is a good fit for you.