Listening to Pimsleur Audio language learning products

When To Use The Pimsleur® Language Learning Method – And When Not To (Product Review)

You may have read in a forum about using Pimsleur® audios for language learning. When is it a good idea to use the Pimsleur Method, and does it work?

Use Pimsleur if you are an absolute beginner in a language, if you want to give your ear exposure to the sounds of the language, and if you want to take your language learning slowly. The Pimsleur Method™ was originally designed for American business men travelling for professional purposes. This product is almost 100% auditory, and will not teach you to read and write in the language. It IS a very gentle introduction into the basic courtesies and typical introductory conversations you might have when travelling.

Why would you choose Pimsleur to learn a language? When is it not overly helpful? How can you use Pimsleur to round out your language learning activities?

Pimsleur Method™ Of Language Learning

The Pimsleur Method was developed in the 1960s by Paul Pimsleur, after he identified “an urgent national need for self-instructional materials in many of the world’s languages“. After making materials for Modern Greek, French, Spanish and German, Paul Pimsleur died at quite a young age. A while later, Schuster & Schuster Publishing picked up the products, and developed them out to the current inventory of over 50 languages.

The Pimsleur Method is based on

  • Graduated Interval Recall (commonly known as the Spaced Repetition System (SRS))
  • Principle of Anticipation – setting up the dialogues so that you can predict what answer is appropriate
  • Deliberately limiting materials to core vocabulary
  • Organic learning, introducing new words slowly, and relating them to existing knowledge, and building conversations slowly.

When Should I Use Pimsleur?

Every language product has a slightly different aim or approach. Pimsleur is a good product to choose when:

  • you want a gentle introduction to a language
  • pronunciation is important to you
  • you learn grammar, phrases and pronunciation best by hearing the language used in context
  • you want to learn simple, introductory parts of language – how to introduce yourself, excuse yourself, ask directions, engage in basic exchanges
  • you are an auditory learner
  • you want to learn a fairly formal style of language (at least at first)
  • you want an audio complement to other language learning tools.

How Can I Use Pimsleur Most Effectively?

Pimsleur is most effective as part of an overall language learning strategy.

Some people go to Pimsleur thinking that it would be enough to teach them everything about the language. That would be a mistake. Pimsleur is designed to help you become conversational, but it is not going to teach you to read and write.

Personally, I use Pimsleur as an introduction to the sound of the language, and as a gentle introduction to some basic vocabulary and introduction phrases. I use it when driving or walking, leveraging my time to increase my exposure to the language. At the same time, I usually use a vocab app like Memrise, and a more holistic language kit such as Rocket Languages, Linguaphone, Assimil or Teach Yourself.

When You Should NOT Choose Pimsleur?

There will be legitimate reasons you do NOT want to choose Pimsleur. This is not the product for you:

  • to quickly learn a lot of vocabulary
  • for a quick overview of a language
  • if you like to learn complete verb conjugation patterns
  • to quickly understand sentence structure
  • if you aren’t interested in speaking the language
  • when you don’t particularly care about your pronunciation
  • when you aren’t fussed about learning formal language, but simply want to chat with the guys at the bar!
  • if you have a hearing loss sufficient that you need to read a transcript at the same time as listening to an audio (MAYBE – some people with hearing losses may still benefit from using Pimsleur in order to learn intonation patterns, and other parts of the sound of the language. I would advise listening to a trial before purchasing.)

What Languages Are Available With Pimsleur?

At present, the Pimsleur Audio Packages are available in the following languages:

AlbanianArabic (Eastern)Arabic (Egyptian)Arabic
(Modern Standard)
Armenian
(Eastern)
Armenian
(Western)
Chinese
(Cantonese)
Chinese
(Mandarin)
CroatianCzech
DanishDari PersianDutchFarsi PersianFinnish
FrenchGermanGreekHaitian CreoleHebrew
HindiHungarianIcelandicIndonesianIrish
ItalianJapaneseKoreanLithuanianNorwegian
OjibwePashtoPolishPortuguese
(Brazilian)
Portuguese
(European)
PunjabiRomanianRussianSpanish
(Latin American)
Spanish
(Spain-Castilian)
SwahiliSwedishSwiss GermanTagalogThai
TurkishTwiUkrainianUrduVietnamese
Languages Available with Pimsleur Audio Packages

What Is Included In The Product?

The first and most significant difference is between languages that have a “Premium Package” and those that don’t.

Premium Languages

Pimsleur Premium is available for 14 languages (with English instruction):

Modern Standard ArabicHindiBrazilian Portuguese
Eastern ArabicItalianRussian
MandarinJapaneseTagalog
FrenchKoreanLatin American Spanish
GermanNorwegianCastillian Spanish
(only for Levels 1 & 2;
Levels 3-5 are being developed)
GreekPashto
HebrewFarsi Persian
Languages in Pimsleur Premium Packages

(As at April, 2021)

Pimsleur Premium includes not only the audio tracks, but also an online environment with reading lessons (after the first ten lessons), flashcard exercises, a phrase matching game, a short dialogue that has been extracted from the audio lessons so you can listen solely to the target language (and read the transcript), and a speed vocab matching test.

Whereas in the audio only packages, there are ten lessons per level, in the Premium Packages there are 30 lessons per level.

Audio Only Packages

Pimsleur has audio programs in a total of 50 languages. Each level includes 10 x 30 minute lessons. Some languages only have one level (like Albanian), other languages have up to five levels. Most have two or three levels.

Within a single level, you will focus on learning basic vocabulary and sentences that may be helpful to a new learner. The first level is typically greetings, interruptions, asking directions, speaking about your language skills.

However vocab is not the primary focus of Pimsleur. Instead, the method is about demonstrating how language sounds in phrases and sentences… how words sound when they are not in isolation. Pimsleur works on your pronunciation and prosody in the language. It helps you to use whatever vocabulary you have to communicate in a natural way. It introduces grammar differences, and points out things that might be tricky for an English speaker.

How Much Does Pimsleur Cost?

There are several different ways to access the Pimsleur Products.

The languages available in Premium Packages offer both the online course and the audios only in a subscription offering of around US$20/month (depending on your region). The online course is ONLY available in subscription, which is definitely a very affordable option, particularly if you are planning to study regularly.

It is also possible to purchase the audio tracks outright, 5 lessons at a time for around US$20, the whole level for around US$120, and bundles of the whole course (prices vary depending on number of levels).

For those languages not available in Premium, you can choose to buy the audios only outright, as with the Premium languages.

Some people have suggested that buying outright is an expensive way to go, but in comparison with attending classes, they are fairly cheap. And of course, you are able to progress much faster when learning independently.

When Should You Purchase The Premium Package?

If using Pimsleur is the only language learning activity you are doing, you might find it worth buying the premium package. For US$5/month extra, you will have access to the flashcards and other activities that support the audios precisely. That little bonus will introduce you to the dialogue in written language, and after ten lessons to the reading lessons.

What Are Some Alternatives To Pimsleur?

There are a few products that could be alternatives to Pimsleur.

LanguagePod101 offers podcasts in many similar languages to Pimsleur. They usually have podcasts of around 8 minutes. The quality seems to vary a little depending on the language. They can be good for a VERY slow introduction to a language – there is quite a lot of cultural information, and consequently a lot of English in the beginning. I found them a bit frustrating in languages that I have a bit of a base, but in completely new languages they might not be so annoying. The dialogues are very short to start. They have a monthly subscription, and a free trial.

Michel Thomas is another brand that some people like. Again, I find there is quite a lot of English chat around grammar and so on. Again, this frustrated me. There is English in Pimsleur, but it focusses on the dialogue of the lesson. Michel Thomas seemed to have a lot of discussion ABOUT the lesson… less ON the lesson. But, some people swear by it!

For a program with almost NO English discussion (or French, for the French based languages), Assimil is probably the MOST focussed on the target language. To the point of not providing any translation in the audio. For this reason, they aren’t a totally audio package – you will need to read the transcripts in English (ro French) to understand what the dialogues are about. But if you prefer to have no extra conversation, this is quite a good alternative.

Conclusion

Pimsleur is a great program for people who want to work on their pronunciation from the start, and who like lessons of about half an hour. It is a fantastic audio component of a well rounded language learning program, and used regularly, helps to develop natural sounding language skills. Match it with your preference of vocab app, and a more holistic language learning kit, and you will be well on your way to learning your target language.

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