If you can stay awake, the Pimsleur approach to language learning does work. That’s important to know, because most language learning products don’t work at all.
Summary of this Pimsleur review: “Pimsleur is often a tad boring, but you’ll always learn something. There are faster programs available for the most popular languages.”
I had my first language-learning success with Pimsleur. I liked Pimsleur back then, and I still like it now, even though we are now competitors.
The most important reason Pimsleur language programs work is that Pimsleur uses something called “spaced repetition.” I’ll explain spaced repetition in the detailed review below.
Pimsleur often makes marketing claims that are wildly unrealistic. For example, the company often advertises, “Learn Spanish in Ten Days.” Yes, you can learn a lot of Spanish in ten days, but nobody would seriously say you spoke Spanish after ten days of study with Pimsleur.
Pimsleur language programs definitely work, but they haven’t kept up with technology changes. There are much faster language learning programs available for all the popular languages.
Pick Your Language — Then Click “Try It”
Spanish – Italian – German – French
Canadian French – Russian – Japanese
If your language is not on the list above, please continue reading the Pimsleur review below. There is a link to the list of languages Pimsleur offers at the bottom of this review.
The detailed review starts here:
Why Pimsleur Language Programs Work: “Spaced Repetition”
Here’s what spaced repetition means. First you listen to a foreign-language phrase, then you are asked to repeat it. Next, you’re asked to remember it and say the words out loud at time intervals that start out very short and then increase.
For example, first you hear a word and then you will be asked to say it 15 seconds later, then you will be asked to say it 45 seconds later, then 1.5 minutes after that, and so on. The time intervals grow quickly until they are measured in days and then weeks.
This method works for everyone. You will learn a lot (and remember a lot) for every hour you spend studying with any spaced-repetition method.
Spaced repetition was invented back in 1932 by Professor C. A. Mace, so it’s a very old concept. Pimsleur language courses were developed after cassette-tape technology became widespread in the 1970s.
Bogus Marketing Claims
Pimsleur Approach, which seems to be a major dealer for Pimsleur, runs a lot of ads like this one: “Learn Spanish in Ten Days.” Yes, it’s true that you can learn a lot with Pimsleur language programs. However, there is absolutely no way that any reasonable person would say that you spoke Spanish after only ten days of using Pimsleur language programs.
Each new Pimsleur lesson introduces four or five new phrases, and it also reviews the old material. When I was studying with Pimsleur, it took me two or three days to advance to the next lesson. Let’s assume you are much faster than I was and you do one new Pimsleur lesson every day.
At the end of ten days you will have learned 50 new phrases. Since they are well-chosen phrases, you will be able to have a really, really simple conversation in Spanish, French, German, or the language you are learning. But no reasonable person would say that you know how to speak the language after ten days of study.
A more reasonable claim would be something like, “Learn a Little Bit of Spanish in Ten Days.” But that doesn’t make an exciting headline.
$9.95 Nonsense — Pimsleur Is Expensive!
It’s hard to find prices on the main Pimsleur.com web page (one lesson is free if you sign up for their email list), but if you poke around in the fine print you can find the Simon and Schuster catalog and learn that Spanish I (on 16 CDs) is $345. Spanish II and III are $345 each, so if you get all three of these you will pay $1,035.
Now a program that costs $1,035 and works is a much better value than one that costs $20 and doesn’t work. When I was learning my first language with Pimsleur, I paid these prices and I thought it was a great deal since it worked. The cheaper stuff I tried didn’t work.
Pimsleur Approach Is $9.95 Now Plus Much Bigger Automatic Payments Later
Do you remember when your father told you to always read the fine print? Well, if you buy the $9.95 four-CD deal from Pimsleur Approach, you are actually signing up for entry in what they call the “Pimsleur Rapid Fluency Purchase Program.”
Doesn’t a “Rapid Fluency Purchase Program” sound just absolutely wonderful? But before you buy, let me translate this Pimsleur Approach “marketing speak” into clear, simple English.
What this actually means is that every 60 days Pimsleur will send you a new course and charge you $64 x four monthly payments ($256 total per course). But you get a new course (plus more of those payments) every 60 days!
Read the fine print.
Ethical Progress at Pimsleur Approach?
Pimsluer Approach seems to be a major but independent reseller for Simon and Schuster’s Pimsleur brand of language learning products. In the recent past, Pimsleur Approach used to advertise on their home page — and all over the web — that you could, “Learn A Language in Ten Days”. This was basically a lie. Fortunately they are no longer advertising this way on their home page.
Unfortunately they still are running similar ads on the web. Now they say on their home page (and in some of their ads) “Start Speaking a New Language in Ten Days”. This is ethical progress on their part and is strictly speaking “honest”. Yes, you should and will start speaking a new language in ten days. In fact you will start on the first day. You won’t be very far by ten days, but you will know something and that’s better than nothing.
I am encouraging Pimsleur Approach to either drop all their ads that say you can learn a language in ten days, or develop a product that really delivers. If they ever do that I will buy it!
Technology From the 1970s Plus Downloadable MP3 files and Software
The Pimsleur language learning programs were developed back in the 1970s when the best available foreign-language learning technology was a cassette tape player. Ever since then, Pimsleur has mostly been copying the cassette tape courses onto CDs and then more recently into digital .MP3 downloads. They recently added a software version for both PCs and Macs.
The downloadable MP3 files are exactly the same thing you would get if you bought the CDs, and it definitely can be preferable to purchase and download a language learning product if you are traveling in some remote part of South America and can’t order the CDs by mail.
The MP3s won’t speed up your learning at all, but they might make it more convenient. The software includes all the audio lessons plus flashcards.
Basically, Pimsleur’s current lessons are a repackaging of their old lessons for cassette tape. Yes, they will all still work.
Pimsleur Is Better for the Blind
Pimsleur is probably the best program on the market for blind and visually impaired language learners because, except for the software version, it’s 100-percent audio.
Don’t Use Pimsleur While Driving
Learning a foreign language is supposed to enhance your life, not make you have a car wreck. Studying any foreign language while you are driving is a bad idea.
In order to learn well, your attention needs to be on the language, and in order to drive safely, your attention needs to be on your driving. You can’t do both. Get someone else to drive while you study.
Do Use Pimsleur While Walking or Jogging
It’s always great if you can figure out how to do two useful things at the same time, like learning a foreign language and exercising. This is an area where the audio nature of Pimsleur is great. Just remember to take your headphones off when you are crossing busy streets and you should be able to exercise and study a language at the same time.
I usually listened to a Pimsleur lesson three to four times before I was ready to go to the next lesson. You should plan on listening to each lesson several times.
If you like to study while walking or jogging, you may be interested to know that Language101.com runs on iPhones, iPads, and Androids. I found that I could get a lot of valuable exercise and language study at the same time while walking back and forth in my house with an iPad. Don’t use Language101.com to study while walking outdoors because you are more likely to trip and fall.
With Pimsleur You’ll Spend a Lot of Time Waiting
When you are using Pimsleur, you spend a lot of time waiting as the instructor asks questions. With the Language101.com program you can review much faster because you don’t have to wait for the audio to play if you already know the answer. You can just click to give yourself a grade and then go to the next question.
I spent a lot of time rewinding the Pimsleur CD to listen to a phrase again. With Language101.com software you can simply click “Play Slowly” or “Play Normal Speed” to hear the phrase as many times as you need to.
Most people learn a lot faster with Language101.com software than they do with Pimsleur. Both programs will teach you the basics of your language well, but Language101.com can keep you more interested, with our movie clip lessons, song lessons, and any new lesson that you want!
Having said that, Pimsleur definitely works, and I always recommend it if Language101.com doesn’t have your language.
The Pimsleur Reading Program Is an Afterthought
Pimsleur does have a reading program, but it was obviously made by different people than those who made the main lessons.
Their reading lessons have absolutely no relation to the content of their audio lessons. In other words, you are never learning to read the material you have just learned to speak.
Language101.com reading lessons are a central part of our speaking lessons, so you will always learn to read the same words you are learning to speak.
Pimsleur Is Often Boring
Studying with Pimsleur lessons is fairly boring when the lessons are brand new to you and really boring after you have listened to them several times.
With Language101.com software, you can keep adding new lessons to keep you interested.
What to Study After Pimsleur?
If you have finished all the lessons that the Pimsleur approach offers, you may want to try Language101.com. We offer a much faster method of review for long-term memory retention. We also cover more material in different ways than Pimsleur does.
What’s Better Than Pimsleur?
If your next language is listed below then please . . .
If your language appears above, try it now. If not, Language101.com can still help. You will want to read our free articles on
Rosetta Stone Reviews – Why It Doesn’t Work
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Please tell us what language you want to learn and why. Writing it down will make it more real -- more likely to happen!
Who Wrote This Review?
by Brent Van Arsdell
I wrote this review because I am a wild enthusiast for language learning. While the Language101.com program is a lot better than Pimsleur for most learners, Pimsleur approach offers a lot more languages than we currently do.
Also their audio-only products may be an advantage for some users some of the time. Remember, don’t try to drive and study a language with any method.
At Language101.com we always want to you spend your time with methods that work, and the Pimsleur programs really work. If we don’t have your language, we highly recommend Pimsleur.
Languages Pimsleur Offers
No, we don’t get a penny from them for saying all of this.
This Pimsleur review is based on using Pimsleur Spanish 1, 2, and 3 in 2013, and their programs are the same today. Since the Pimsleur Program is very similar from language to language, this is also a review of Pimsleur French, German, Russian, Danish, and Irish.
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