Average cost of the method: Around $35 for sixteen 30 minutes-long audio lessons. $119.95 per 30 lesson level for the “Digital Audio” format (instant MP3 download). Around $200 for the “comprehensive series”, which includes thirty 30 minute-long audio lessons and one hour of reading instruction.
Available in: Over 50 languages
Type of method: Focused on audio (in 30 minute-long lessons) with a separate Reading Component which uses a phonetic approach to learning how to read. Listen to words and dialogues in the target language and repeat after the speaker.
Pimsleur is an audio focused method, offered in over 50 languages (including English for native speakers of various other languages), and the method was developed by Paul Pimsleur (1927–1976), who was a scholar in the field of applied linguistics. The company is now a world leader in audio-based language acquisition with over 25 million satisfied customers and a track record spanning 50 years. Pimsleur is also #2 to the industry leader—Rosetta Stone—which did $268 million in sales in 2011.
Pimsleur comes in a variety of programs, which you can have a quick glance at here. The programs are as follow: Quick & Simple, go Pimsleur, Basic, Compact, Conversational, and Comprehensive. The 4 first programs are really quite short, and do not cover more than a handful of lessons (10 at most, or 5 hours of audio). The comprehensive program, depending on the language, can be offered in as many as 4 levels, each level comprising 16 hours (16 CDs) of spoken language instruction. Pimsleur’s top languages (Spanish, Italian, French & German) are available in Software format (which contains the MP3 files plus various software tools to enhance your learning) for $150 per 30-lesson.
How Does It Work?
The way Pimsleur works is rather simple. At the beginning of each lesson, you get to hear a short dialogue (~2mn) in the foreign language you’re studying. At first, you understand next to nothing of that short conversation. However, after having listened to the excerpt, the next 25 or so minutes are spent covering the words and phrases that you heard in that conversation, plus some more. You are strongly encouraged to listen to the speakers and repeat after them.
Here’s a short audio sample taken from Pimsleur’s Beginner Japanese (Disc 1), Unit 8:
All of Pimsleur’s courses have a separate Reading Component, which uses a phonetic approach to learning how to read. You start by learning the new sound system and how letters combine to make new sounds in the target language. Therefore, although Pimsleur is primarily an audio method, they teach how to read new alphabets such as Russian, Arabic, Korean, etc. The only courses that do not have a reading component are the non-phonetic languages (Chinese and Japanese). All other courses have several hours of reading practice that follow a very structured method, unlike Michel Thomas which is audio-only.
1. Highly professional voice actors with a very pleasant voice and clear pronunciation. This makes it easier to acquire a good pronunciation right from the start.
2. Similarly with Michel Thomas, Pimsleur is mainly an audio method, but they do provide some reading component which is great. While you will not develop extensively your reading and writing skills through listening to the tapes, you will get to read some vocabulary and assimilate some spelling rules. For this reason, however, I would encourage language learners to use Pimsleur in combination with another textbook method. Look for my other reviews to pick one that will suit your needs!
3. Extremely easy and convenient way to start learning a language. If you have never learned a foreign language before, you will find Pimsleur very easy of access. Beginner language learners are often kind of afraid of books and grammar and boring/complicated concepts. Pimsleur says adios to all that. Really, all you have to do is listen comfortably to the speakers and try your best to repeat after them. New words are also repeated many times, so chances are they will end up sticking in your long-term memory without too much effort on your part.
4. Great method to work on while commuting to school or work. For example, if you drive every day to work, and it takes you 30 minutes to commute, you’ll be able to go through one lesson each time you get to work. As you go through the lessons every day, you will really feel like you progress quickly which is a great motivation booster.
5. The lessons progress at a reasonable pace, not too fast, and not too slow either (although I’ve heard some complaints from people who feel the lessons progress too slowly, but I’ve found the pace to be good enough, since new words and phrases really stick in your memory). If you are an experienced language learner and you find the lessons to progress too slowly for your taste, you can always use a simple media player and accelerate the speed at which the audio is played.
1. Pimsleur is an expensive method. For most of us, this is a strong influencing factor when it comes to making the decision to purchase a language method. If money is not an issue, I’d say sure, give it a try.
2. The speakers are extremely professional and have a very clear voice. While this is generally a good thing, “normal” people who are not professional voice actors do not speak as well and as clearly as that. So you might find it hard to understand native content (such as the radio or movies) after going through the Pimsleur method given this discrepancy. Most language learning methods, however, are pretty similar. So you’ll just have to keep in mind the need to also listen to native content as you progress through your studies of the language.
For additional audio samples of Pimsleur, click on any of the links below to listen to an excerpt:
Pimsleur French Disc 1 Unit 20:
Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese Unit 1:
Pimsleur Portuguese Disc II Unit 1: