Our Review of Pimsleur
Pimsleur is by far the best language app on the market for anyone who’s interested in learning a few phrases before traveling overseas. After completing the very first lesson you’ll be able to have a short conversation.
Ease of Use10
Engagement and Motivation10
Pimsleur is an audio-based language program that teaches languages through bite-size, 30-minute lessons.
It’s different from the majority of other language learning tools in that it’s designed to teach you useful travel phrases you can use in a variety of situations. After completing the very first lesson you’ll be able to have a short conversation, asking someone if they understand English and letting them know you do not understand your target language.
Pimsleur is by far the best language app on the market for anyone who’s interested in learning a few phrases before traveling overseas.
Table of Contents
- How does Pimsleur work?
- What languages are available on Pimsleur?
- How much does Pimsleur cost?
- Our experience using Pimsleur
- Pimsleur lessons work
- Pimsleur is for the short-term learner
- Pimsleur’s Premium languages
- The best app for beginners and travelers
- The bottom line – is Pimsleur worth your time?
How does Pimsleur work?
You won’t be filling out conjugation charts or drilling grammar rules on Pimsleur; Pimsleur’s lesson content is based entirely on audio lessons. Each lesson is around 30 minutes long and learners are encouraged to complete a new lesson every day.
The Pimsleur approach, designed by the linguist Paul Pimsleur in the 1960s, is based on organic learning, or learning to speak a language without studying its formal structure. As such, Pimsleur lessons teach language through interactive conversations.
Each lesson focuses on a new conversation and introduces new words and phrases bit by bit. Pimsleur lessons are really interesting because you’re learning things you can actually use rather than random phrases like “the bicycle is red.”
For example, in your first lesson you will learn how to tell someone you do not understand the language and ask if they understand English.
Pimsleur lessons are also very engaging. The narrator will walk you through each part of the conversations slowly – asking you to repeat aloud after the native speaker and occasionally asking questions (“Now, do you remember how to say _____?”) to help you form stronger memories. It’s recommended that you try to speak aloud as much as possible.
What languages are available on Pimsleur?
Pimsleur offers courses for 51 different languages, including some less commonly studied languages such as Twi and Icelandic.
The amount of course content offered per language depends largely on the popularity of the language. Commonly studied languages like Spanish or Italian offer five Units (one Unit contains 30 Lessons, meaning 30 days’ worth of material). Generally the less commonly studied languages like Croatian or Swiss German only have one or two Units.
How much does Pimsleur cost?
Pimsleur offers a few different subscription options ranging from $14.95 to $20.95.
Audio-only: $14.95 per month and includes access to one language, audio lessons only.
Premium: $19.95 per month and includes access to one language plus Premium content (study tools, transcripts, flashcards, etc.)
All Access: $20.95 per month and includes access to all 51 languages as well as the Premium content.
We decided to opt for the All Access subscription since we planned to study several languages. Also, the Premium content is well worth the extra few dollars (see Pimsleur’s Premium languages below for more information about the Premium content).
Our experience using Pimsleur
Out of all of the language apps we’ve tried, Pimsleur courses do the best job of quickly teaching you phrases you can use in everyday situations. It’s the perfect crash course if you’re planning to spend a few days overseas or if you want to make a connection with foreign friends or clients.
We’ve been aware of Pimsleur as a language learning resource for quite some time. We used Pimsleur for Croatian (Unit 1) as well as Japanese and French (Units 1-3) and have always found it to be an incredibly valuable resource.
A few years ago we traveled to Japan and had about 6 months to pick up some Japanese before the trip. We tried a few other language apps but there was too much of an emphasis on learning the writing systems – we made the decision fairly early on to be illiterate in Japanese and just focus on Pimsleur lessons first to see how far we could get.
We were commuting to work every day at the time and the commute took just around 30 minutes, which happens to be the length of many Pimsleur lessons. Being alone in the car, we could speak aloud without anyone else overhearing. Within several months we were able to get through all three Units (90 Lessons total) but would have continued if there was more content available (Pimsleur has since expanded their course to include five total Units).
We got by well in Japan; we could easily get around, ask people for directions, ask the price of things and hold simple conversations. We certainly weren’t anywhere near fluent, but we found Japanese people to be friendly and helpful when trying to converse in their own language. Pimsleur is the ideal language tool for anyone looking to learn “conversational fluency” without spending years working through grammar books.
Pimsleur lessons work
Pimsleur lessons help you learn vocabulary over time and learn to infer the correct grammar. By constructing sentences in your head and changing words, you really do learn how to think and speak in the language. We found the vocabulary stuck quite well and we were able to communicate effectively when in Japan.
We ended up making some Japanese friends and they were very complimentary about our accent, likely since Pimsleur focuses so much on listening to native speakers and repeating to match the accent.
It’s the perfect method to learn if you have a solo commute and can multi-task a little bit (personally we had no problem driving and doing it). It’s a good way to put your commute towards doing something useful.
Pimsleur is for the short-term learner
Most language apps and methods approach language learning with the assumption that the learner is working towards traditional proficiency – learning the language well enough to read and write and understand mostly everything in a movie or on TV. Traditional proficiency emphasizes the detailed study of grammatical concepts and memorization of expansive vocabulary lists. It’s assumed that learners will spend several years studying before they actually use the language. As a result, it may take months before you learn how to order at a restaurant or buy a train ticket.
Not everyone is a proficiency-oriented learner however. Most language learning apps and programs fail to consider the short-term learner: someone who would be content with learning just a few dozen words and phrases. The short-term learner is more interested in conversational fluency – they want to be able to ask for a table, order dinner and wine, then pay the check.
Pimsleur is the ideal app for the short-term learner. After the first (30 minute) lesson, you’ll be able to participate in a short conversation including basic phrases like “Excuse me, do you understand English? I don’t understand [language].” If we learned nothing else before our trip to Tokyo, the first lesson on Pimsleur would have been a pretty good start. In comparison, Duolingo’s Japanese course forced us to work through four units of the hiragana writing system before beginning any of the lessons on “Greetings”.
Pimsleur’s Premium languages
Some of Pimsleur’s language courses have “Premium” content available for users with a Premium subscription.
Premium content includes extra vocabulary lists and practice activities, as well as audio-enabled conversation transcripts. Non-Premium languages (and users without a Premium subscription) are limited to audio-only.
At the time of this article’s publication, Pimsleur’s Premium content is available for 20 languages:
Arabic (Modern Standard)
Premium unlocks two new areas within the course content, each of which contain a handful of extra study activities:
Premium Skills practice
Lists of all the phrases you have learned within the audio lessons, organized by topic. Within each topic you can view your vocabulary items and click on the audio button to hear the native speaker audio. There’s also a “Review” feature to quiz you on all of the items.
Premium Bonus Packs
Includes activities such as flashcards and quizzes. There’s a new feature available called “Bonus Packs” which shows you extra vocabulary not included in the audio lessons. The Bonus Packs are pretty cool since they include useful conversational phrases you might find useful in everyday conversation, such as the Croatian phrase “I, što je novo? (Well, what’s new?)”
The most helpful Premium tool: Speak Easy
We found the “Speak Easy” activity under Practice to be the most helpful for learners – it lets you view the conversation transcripts of your previous lessons so you can practice entire conversations. It’s a great way to go back and review previous lessons without having to repeat the entire audio lesson.
The best app for beginners and travelers
Pimsleur is a great way to get started with a new language but it does not offer much intermediate or advanced level material. Completing all three Units of French and Japanese gave us a solid foundation of travel phrases and some basic grammar, but we were very much still at an elementary level. Pimsleur now offers five Units for both French and Japanese, however we would really like to see the course content expanded even further.
We would compare learning five Units of Pimsleur to roughly what you’d learn if you studied with a private tutor for a few months or completed an entry-level language course (though Pimsleur content is more conversationally relevant).
While Pimsleur does not offer an entirely complete course, we highly recommend their study material for beginners or travelers. Pimsleur is by far the best resource available for learning useful travel phrases before a trip abroad.
The bottom line – is Pimsleur worth your time?
Does Pimsleur work? Can you learn a foreign language with Pimsleur? The short answer is: yes – but it’s best for beginners who want to learn travel phrases. We recommend Pimsleur for beginners who are interested in learning some conversational words and phrases. If you’re planning to visit Paris for a week and just need to learn a handful of French travel phrases, Pimsleur is the perfect tool for you.
Pimsleur doesn’t offer intermediate or advanced courses, so it’s really best as a tool for beginners. If you want to continue studying your target language after completing the Pimsleur course we’d recommend using an app like Rosetta Stone or Babbel. We’d also recommend putting together an organized study plan and booking some tutoring lessons via video call (we’ve had a lot of luck with tutors on Preply and iTalki).
Whatever your language learning goals, Pimsleur is the perfect tool to get you started. The first lesson of any language is free to try – you can access it on the Pimsleur website or by downloading the Pimsleur mobile app.
– written by Drew Grubba for Smarter Language. Drew has ACTFL-certified proficiency in Swedish, German, Portuguese, French and Spanish. He’s also studied Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian and Dutch, and is currently learning Russian.