Pimsleur is one of the most popular and longest-standing resources out there for learning a foreign language. Its courses place a strong emphasis on aural and verbal communication skills, paying less attention to grammar explanations and reading or writing skills. There are over 50 language courses available with Pimsleur, and the bulk of the material is taught with audio lessons.
The platform is extremely well designed and easy to use. The content seems to be of high quality at all levels.
Timely repetition and active practice work well, and lessons build on each other nicely, but the “intermediate fluency in 30 days” claim may be a stretch.
The subscription option provides good value for some, but there may be more efficient ways to learn some languages.
The lessons are structured well and are an appropriate length.
There are both male and female native speakers.
Lessons build on each other nicely.
The platform is easy to navigate and visually appealing.
I DON’T LIKE…
There’s very little visual content.
Lesson speed isn’t customizable.
There are courses in over 50 languages; you’ll find popular ones like German, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese alongside less common languages like Albanian, Finnish, and Haitian Creole.
Subscriptions of either $14.95/month or $19.95/month are available for courses with at least 60 lessons. Prices otherwise range from around $20 to over $500. All purchases come with a 7-day free trial.
You won’t find any information about this new subscription price on their website. The link below will take you to a page with more information on their subscription plans.
Frankly, it’s an institution. The name comes from linguist Paul Pimsleur, author of many books on language acquisition and applied linguistics, and developer of what is now known as the Pimsleur Method.
Dr. Pimsleur wrote the first Pimsleur Language Program in 1963, and the courses were first available on cassette tapes and books before becoming available digitally.
Given that the lessons are largely audio-based, the Pimsleur courses are often advertised as a convenient way to study a language while completing chores, cooking, driving, or doing anything that doesn’t require all of your attention.
The courses consist of core 30-minute audio lessons as well as some extra practice activities that touch on a variety of skills, but there’s a heavy emphasis on speaking and listening skills.
There are four main pillars in The Pimsleur Method. The first, Graduated Interval Recall, works just like a type of spaced repetition system (SRS). It’s an effective method for committing new terms to long-term memory in an efficient manner.
Where it differs from other SRS platforms like Anki or Memrise is that the intervals in which you review words are time based rather than performance based. The method seems to work well in conjunction with the active role listeners take in the audio courses.
The second is what they call the Principle of Anticipation, which means that there are frequent pauses in the audio lessons that allow you to work through scenarios on your own before hearing the correct response. This makes active participation an integral part of the Pimsleur Method.
The final two mainstays of the method are Core Vocabulary and Organic Learning. These concepts essentially mean that learners are only exposed to the most necessary vocabulary words and that learning happens in the context of relatable, usable conversations.
With the aim of achieving a more comprehensive perspective for this review, I teamed up with All Language Resource’s very own web manager, Hunter.
“I’ve always considered myself an aural learner so I was really looking forward to trying Pimsleur. It seemed like something I would really benefit from. I tried the beginning levels of Spanish to see what I could learn and the advanced levels of French to see how far the course could take someone.”
“I was excited to try out the Pimsleur course to see if the audio lessons worked for me. I don’t consider myself to be much of an aural learner and typically gravitate toward resources with an interactive or visual bent. I tried the beginning levels of the German and Japanese courses as well as the advanced Spanish lessons to see what I could learn.”
I think it’s safe to say that, overall, Hunter and I are both fans of Pimsleur. We both agree that it’s something we would recommend to beginners that are interested in an aurally focused course. Generally, we found it to have high-quality audio, well-structured lessons, and a nice design.
My biggest gripe with the platform was the lack of visual content, which is hard for me to deal with. Meanwhile, Hunter found himself wishing that lessons would progress at a faster pace, especially at the lower levels.
Here are our individual overall ratings of the platform:
Hunter: 3.8/5 Stars
Brian: 4.2/5 Stars
Overall combined rating: 4/5 Stars
It’s hard to deny the slick, premium feel that permeates the Pimsleur platform. Both Hunter and I came away with similar things to say about our initial impressions of the resource.
We agree that the design quality inspires confidence in the efficacy of the resource and that it made us excited to use it. The audio quality is also immediately recognizable as excellent.
I found myself wishing very early on that there was a transcript to follow along with, as I’m prone to spacing out when there’s only audio to focus on. Hunter seconded this wish, even though he identifies as an aural learner.
These 30-minute lessons are where most of the learning happens in a Pimsleur course, and we think they’re done really well.
This is what you’ll spend most of your time doing with Pimsleur: listening to audio lessons. The Pimsleur Method strongly suggests doing one per day, and this method works nicely if it fits into your schedule. Anyone with a commute that’s longer than 30 minutes, for example, could find that these lessons are easy to add to the routine.
Note, though, that these lessons can require quite a bit of concentration. Passive, distracted listening isn’t going to work very well.
The audio lessons are very interactive, meaning you’ll get to participate in the conversation. The narrator offers some explanations and guides the lesson, and you’ll get plenty of opportunities to practice your pronunciation with male and female native speakers.
The lessons also build on each other exceptionally well, especially at the beginner level. Each lesson provides sufficient review for the previous lesson, and you’re constantly building upon what you’ve already learned.
Hunter mentioned that he thought the explanations in the audio lessons were exceptionally well done, and I have to agree — the location of explanations within lessons feels very intuitive. In our experience, you aren’t kept in the dark for very long at any point — an explanation seems to appear just as you start wishing for one.
It could be nice, we both agree, if there was something more in the way of grammar explanations. This isn’t to suggest lengthy explanations or taking away from the practical focus of the lessons, just that a little bit of grammar support for those that prefer to think things through would be helpful.
These activities certainly aren’t the main show in a Pimsleur course. They’re simple, quick, and not required.
I found myself enjoying the opportunity to actually see the language I was learning and thought that, though basic, the exercises were engaging enough to keep me interested.
I also appreciate the fact that you can get some comprehensive review this way. You can select from as many of your completed lessons as you like when choosing what material to practice.
It’s nice to be able to review material that you might not have seen for a while instead of only one lesson at a time.
It might be nice if the platform kept track of which words you repeatedly had trouble with, but the intervall recall works well at providing timely review in the audio lessons.
Hunter wasn’t a fan of these activities. As someone that prefers audio lessons, he says he found himself wanting to skip them altogether.
Maybe it’s good that activities using the written form are available for people like me who prefer visual material, but they won’t really get in the way of a learner that’s happy sticking to the audio.
This is the first practice activity you’ll likely engage with, and it’s also the most basic.
Practice is really simple with these flashcards — you can choose whether you’d like to translate from your target or source language, and then you’ll be shown the audio and written form of some material from the current lesson. Don’t expect any extra information like noun gender, verb tense, or word type!
After viewing and listening to the word or phase and then clicking to reveal the translation, you’ll either select “Skip” or “Got it.”
Selecting “Skip,” presumably because you weren’t able to come up with the correct translation, means you’ll see the flashcard repeated at the end of the set.
Despite what the name and description seem to insinuate, there isn’t a timed element to this activity.
Instead, it’s pretty much a straightforward multiple-choice quiz: choose the correct translation from a list of four.
This activity is actually the closest thing to a transcript of the audio lesson. You’ll get to listen to and see the phrases in a conversation, listening and repeating as you wish.
You can listen to each phrase individually or let the entire conversation play through.
Unlike Quick Match, this activity is aptly named. Words and phrases make their way down the screen in Space Invaders fashion (for the uninitiated), and you’re tasked with selecting the correct translation before they reach the bottom.
There are some satisfying sounds that accompany correct answers, and you can watch the points bar fill up to try and set a new record, but it’s mildly fun at best in my opinion.
The reading lessons in Pimsleur seem to mostly be focused on teaching learners how to pronounce written words rather than read for understanding. There are no reading comprehension exercises, for example.
The image above shows the first reading lesson in the Spanish Level 1 course. Your job is to read the word aloud and then listen to a native speaker to check your pronunciation.
As you progress, the utterances become longer and more complex. You can view translations at any time by selecting the icon in the upper-right corner.
This system works fine for Latin alphabets, but it requires some tweaking for Asian languages like Japanese.
For non-Latin alphabets, you’ll have to spend more time learning the individual characters that make up the writing system. In the Japanese course, you’ll cover hiragana in Level 1, katakana in Level 2, and begin with kanji in Level 3.
I think I would’ve liked to see some SRS-style practice for learning Japanese kana, though it’s easy enough to get this kind of practice for free with user-created materials on either Anki or Memrise.
It would probably be best to incorporate some kind of complementary study resource if you want to learn to read Japanese relatively quickly.
You will allegedly be able to read at the same level you can speak after 30 lessons, but the aural and reading lessons are delivered at different speeds.
I see the value in teaching pronunciation separately from reading — especially for languages without highly phonetic writing systems. However, I think I prefer a more traditional method that presents words and their written form in tandem as you’re exposed to them.
I think the big takeaway here is that Pimsleur courses, historically audio-exclusive, still aren’t designed to provide comprehensive reading and writing practice. It’s nice that they provide some practice and exposure that’s certainly helpful in some way, but Pimsleur is best at teaching listening and speaking skills.
Some courses apparently offer Culture Notes instead of reading lessons, but Hunter and I didn’t come across any.
Pimsleur pricing is complicated; your location and the language you’re studying will both influence how much it will cost. There is a 7-day free trial with all purchases.
It isn’t clear which countries have access to the subscription option, but if you live outside of the US, Canada, Australia or the UK, you’ll have to access it through the Pimsleur app.
Subscriptions are available for all languages that have at least 60 lessons, and the recurring price depends on how much content is available. Here are two examples:
Castilian Spanish (2 levels, 60 lessons): $14.95/month
Latin American Spanish (5 levels, 150 lessons): $19.95/month or $149.95/year
There are also one-time purchase options that are available for all languages. They range from around $20 for five-lesson bundles to over $500 for all of the lessons in a popular language like French.
In addition to the above variations, what you’ll pay depends on where you live. For a Castilian Spanish subscription, for example, you’ll pay $14.95/month if you’re in the USA, $18.95/month in the UK, and $16.95/month in Australia. These prices are all in USD.
Pimsleur is one of the bigger players when it comes to language-learning resources, but it’s certainly not your only option.
This is a quality podcast with a similar price to Pimsleur, but there’s no subscription option. One of the major perks of the Coffee Break series is the amount of free content available for each language, though there are far fewer languages offered here than with Pimsleur.
Paid access to a Coffee Break course grants access to useful videos that accompany each audio lesson, something that I find particularly helpful. If your primary concern with Pimsleur is that there’s very little visual content, consider Coffee Break. Here’s our review of the Coffee Break courses.
Babbel is similar to Pimsleur in that it’s a major player in the language-learning sphere and that it caters to learners looking for a comprehensive resource.
It differs by providing more of an early emphasis on learning the written language, which some learners may prefer. This makes it potentially more appealing to visual learners or those that are interested in developing their reading and writing skills in tandem with their verbal and aural skills.
Babbel provides listening and speaking practice in conversation exercises that use speech recognition technology to give feedback on pronunciation. This is our full review of Babbel.
All of Language Transfer’s audio lessons are completely free, but they’re really only suitable as introductory courses. They take a unique approach in teaching learners how to “think” their way through learning a new language. Like with Pimsleur, you won’t be instructed to take notes or do anything other than listen along and speak when prompted.
The fact that the Language Transfer material is completely free is noteworthy, as a lot of time has clearly been put into these courses. The tradeoff is that there are much fewer languages available and that the courses cover much less material. Read our full review here.
This is one that could work well as a complementary resource to Pimsleur. While Pimsleur’s interval recall system works really well at getting learners to commit new words to long-term memory, it doesn’t offer the learner a lot of control over what they’re learning. Anki couldn’t be more different.
As powerful as it is customizable, Anki is an SRS program that lets users create their own decks for study. Add audio, example sentences, notes, cloze (fill-in-the-gap) activities, and more. For those that don’t want to take the time to create their own materials, there are plenty of community-made shared decks available as well. Perhaps the biggest draw for many is that Anki is free to download and use everywhere except the Apple App Store, where it costs $25.
Although Pimsleur has some exercises that provide reading practice, they seem to focus more on teaching learners how to pronounce written words and phrases rather than read for understanding.
If you want solid reading comprehension practice, you’ll have to look elsewhere. LingQ is a language-learning platform that provides focused reading practice by color coding text based on what words you know and which are new to you. It’s easy to click on words to get a quick definition and to save words for later study. Read our LingQ review here.
For users looking for a free reading-practice solution, Readlang is an exceptional alternative. It’s a free browser extension that enables quick-click translations in over 45 languages and automatically stores flashcards for later study.
Pimsleur has been around for decades, and that’s no fluke. It’s a quality resource, and it teaches languages well. The fact that it all started with a renowned linguist and author on language acquisition is no side-note, either.
Compliments aside, I don’t think Pimsleur is the right choice for every learner. I wouldn’t even feel comfortable saying it was the right choice for most learners.
Between Hunter and I, the platform seems better suited to his learning style. My preference for visual content means I probably wouldn’t purchase access to a Pimsleur course unless it was for a language without many alternatives.
Even though Hunter prefers audio lessons, he still probably wouldn’t become a subscriber to Pimsleur unless he was an absolute beginner of the language he was learning. He felt that the material sometimes progressed too slowly.
In any case, I do think Pimsleur is worth your consideration. Fortunately, the 7-day free trial makes it easy to try and find out for yourself.
We often find that the best resource for learning a language is one that was designed specifically for that language. Be sure to check out the table below to see our favorite tools for learning your target language.
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