Pimsleur Review

Course Overview

  • Audio-only program with some text for short reading lessons
  • 5 Levels for the main languages
  • Audio CD or Digital Download
  • Each level has thirty 30-minute lessons
  • Available for almost every language

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Editor Rating

Rated 3.5 out of 5
8th Place

User Ratings

Rated 3.5 out of 5
3.5 out of 5 stars (based on 33 reviews)
Very good24%



Pimsleur is almost entirely an audio-based learning experience, with a handful of short reading lessons to accompany the main part of the course. Developed by Paul Pimsleur, this language learning course is based on four central ideas: anticipation, graduated interval recall, organic learning and core vocabulary. It might be primarily an audio course, but there is a lot of fascinating language science here to get engaged with.


There are three Levels to the main language courses, with each Level containing thirty 30-minute lessons.

These lessons are presented in a way that you may not have ever come across, with some solid scientific backing behind the core principles of learning. You are advised, for the optimum absorption of the information, to take one of these 30-minute lessons a day.

This is certainly something to be aware of if you have a family, work, or other commitments, as this might not seem like too long to give to something every day, but the actual practicality of setting this time aside just might not be possible for you. Still, if you do find yourself struggling a little bit, don’t give up on this course. It is one of the best courses to take for foreign languages, and even if you find that you don’t have as much time to give to it as you would like, it is still worth taking your time and not getting disheartened.

This is primarily an audio-aided method of study, though there is also a textbook for short reading lessons. It seems as though this is included so that the designers of this course to be able to say that this course has a focus on writing as well, which not many do. Still, regardless of the reason for its inclusion, it is quite nice to feel as though you are attempting to use the full set of skills within learning a language, and it is true that not many foreign language courses even attempt to work on the ability of writing a language as well as understanding it.


On account of the quite different way that this course is run compared to other courses, I am going to run through each of the four core principles of this course and explain exactly what they are and how they are used.

1) The Principle of Anticipation
This is what I found to be the most interesting aspect of the course, and it’s certainly the one that you will hear the most about. Instead of using the method of listen, repeat, repeat, repeat, Pimsleur developed a method where the student is challenged to say a phrase, and then is corrected on it. This might sound similar to other methods that you have used in the past, but this is considerably more encouraging of independent thought. It requires you to be much more active in your responses than merely mimicking a tutor.

2) Graduated-interval recall
Pimsleur also developed what is called a “memory schedule”, which is basically the idea that there are points at which, if something is not thought of again, it will disappear from your memory and be dismissed as not useful. He hypothesized that these intervals come at: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years. This means, in terms of this language course, that anything that you learn is tested frequently at first, with longer and longer intervals between tests. It helps you to remind yourself of the words and sentences before you might forget them, so as to make sure that they are considered important enough to retain in your memory.

3) Organic learning
This is essentially just a way to say comprehensive learning by listening. Grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are all given an equal balance of focus, through the medium of audio, in order to provide an all-encompassing learning experience. Children learn primarily through listening to adults when they are younger, so it is argued why not learn in this manner instead of the way that we have just decided to teach foreign language. With that in mind, this course is not something that you simply take up to learn for a holiday; this program is a great start to becoming fluent in a language.

4) Core vocabulary
Every language has a core vocabulary or, in other words, a set of words that we use most frequently in our daily lives.

We may know plenty of words and have an incredibly far-reaching lexicon, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that when talking to people, we will still all use very similar sets of sentences and words if we are speaking to someone in our own language.

Instead of filling up the learners mind with words and phrases that they just wouldn’t use if they were a native speaker, these lessons focus on learning around 600 of the core vocabulary words of a language in a much more useful manner than certain other programs of this kind that just throw words at you and hope they stick.

An interesting point to make is that from the very first lesson, you yourself have to engage with what is happening in the lessons. You can’t sit back and let the lesson happen; you really need to focus on what is going on. This is why I have out-lined the exact methodology here; because it is quite different from other methods of teaching, you do need to think about whether this is exactly the right package for you.

However, I have been using Pimsleur for years, and have known many others to take up courses with them (one of my old students is on their fourth language with them!) and the up-side of all this impressive science is that they really do seem to work. With 45 hours of this kind of tuition, and in such a neat package, it would be surprising if it didn’t.


This program is in the lower-middle price bracket, but then that’s pretty much what you would expect for what is, after all, an audio-based course. And yes, it would be easy to argue that because this is just an audio-based course that it isn’t worth this amount, but that is certainly not the case.

What you are paying for here are some clever, scientifically sound ways of helping your mind to learn something new. It isn’t necessarily the content that you’re paying for; it’s the way that this content is being delivered to you. Of course, you could risk buying a less well-known brand, or sticking with however it was that you learned in school, with language labs and the phrase-repetition method of learning, but if these methods haven’t worked for you so far, then they probably won’t work for you now.

It’s easy to stagnate when it comes to languages, and if you think you might need a fresh approach to the way you have been learning, then this is certainly a good bargain for what you get.

Another point to reconsider is that of how much of the language you feel you’ve come away with. The value of a language learning course surely has to include some mention of how much language you will actually learn, and here unfortunately is where the program lets itself down a little bit.

While you probably won’t have much difficulty in getting to grips with the methodology employed in this program, you might be disappointed at how much you actually have learned. Make no mistake, the things that you do learn will be learned very well, but the range is not particularly wide for the topics discussed, and at the end of the course you will feel as if you’ve barely scratched the surface of the language.

Still, if you’re looking for a course that isn’t phenomenally expensive but still gives you the taste of a language, excellently presented in a way that you can really get to grips with, then this is still the course for you.


This course is a great way to begin learning a language, with extra emphasis on the word “begin.” The methods used are probably going to help you learn in ways that you have never learned before.

The real focus here is on how to begin immersing yourself in the language and doesn’t necessarily take you deeper into the culture or the language. Unfortunately, this means that you will probably still be at beginner level by the end of the course. Due to the primarily audio nature of this course, it is also not particularly suitable for children.

While this course doesn’t just target the tourist, and there is clearly a lot more to be discovered here, it is not for someone looking to become fluent in a language by the end of the course. On the other hand, this is not something that is ever advertised by the makers, and if you’re looking for a program to inspire you with language and be learning-effective, then this is definitely a good one to go for.

Pro & Contra

very good for beginners can be too slow for some beginners
can be used without computeryou won’t leave beginner level at the end
can be used in the car, train, etc.you will only learn phrases
each lesson only takes 30minaudio-only



User Reviews

Rated 3.0 out of 5
February 16

I am really glad to tell that I do not need to pay a very expensive cost for this language program. My uncle recently started a language learning product shop and I’m trying some of the courses for Spanish beginners to assist him in which ones to suggest.

Pimsleur absolutely has a ground-breaking approach. It will surely assist a beginner to progress eventually.

But, one would be better off using the Michael Thomas beginners course which I see better than this language program and the price is much affordable.

Most of the lessons have a moment wherein the speaker begins to instruct you in Spanish on whether what to say or ask. I find these exercises a total waste of time and it would be much better if they have been carried out in English.

I would suggest that you purchase Pimsleur if it costs $50. Until it has not reached that price I would not say that you buy it.

Rated 4.0 out of 5
January 14

I am learning Dari with Pimsleur. Since Dari is a slightly obscure language, there are few other options, and I am extremely happy that Pimsleur offers 60 lessons in it. But I have also decided that Pimsleur is simply the ideal language method for me for two other reasons: 1) My bias is towards auditory rather than visual learning, and 2) I have relatively little time. To be able to study a language while taking the dogs out, washing the dishes or going to the gym is perfect for me. So I will be getting Pimsleur for other languages as well. I do also use dictionaries, websites and so on when I have time to check additional vocabulary, grammar etc., since I agree that Pimsleur provides only a fairly limited range of both.

Bev Jackson
Rated 4.0 out of 5
January 10

For beginners it’s excellent. It gets you to speak simple phrases quite quickly plus it is not only phrase memorization you actually learn to use in reaction to a question or a situation.

However, this course only teaches you in speaking and listening (there is some reading but you don’t really get much out of it as it’s a tiny part of the course) and in the end of it you will not acquire a very high level as you don’t learn any general structure and apart from what you learn and you can figure out there is little more you can do. Also it is EXPENSIVE.

Nonetheless, I do recommend it for complete beginners, especially if you’re approaching a very different language from your region (as Pimsleur dozens of languages) or if you’re not particularly interested in reading and writing (what I find essential though).

Chuck Middendorf
Rated 5.0 out of 5
December 1

I began with Italian, a language which I had absolutely no grounding in, and found Pimsleur to be tremendously effective. I did all 90 lessons (Levels I, II, and III), spent a few months practicing Italian conversation with a tutor, and then went to Florence and spoke with as much joy and confidence as any foreigner could reasonably hope for.

I went on next to French and German, both of which I had studied before without much luck, and did even better. Suddenly, I was able to apply all of the grammar and vocabulary that I had accumulated in high school and college.

Since then, I’ve done all three levels in Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. (Yeah, I know, it’s a problem, but I can quit anytime I want, really…)

OK, Russian is a hard language – really hard. Nevertheless, when I was immersed in it through Pimsleur, I found myself in a situation in which I had to speak only in Russian with the grandfather of a student. I was able to discern that my student had gone to the hospital with her mother and grandmother, but that she was fine, and I should go home and call back in a few hours. I was astounded at how much I comprehended and was able to convey.

By the way, the reading lessons really do work. Once you can pronounce the 100 or so Italian tongue-twisters they throw at you, “Forse un po’ del vino, per favore,” is a piece of cake.

To anybody who sadly laments that he or she “just can’t learn another language” – and I used to be that guy – I would recommend Pimsleur, Pimsleur, and more Pimsleur.

Buona fortuna!

Rated 1.0 out of 5
November 17

I loved the course because it got me to speak Arabic. It is very expensive but as they sell the downloads in blocs of 5 I could occasionally afford to treat myself. I just ordered 5 and after I’d given my card details I realised that I had to open an account, which I don’t want or need. I searched for a way to download my purchases and couldn’t so I was forced to open the account. I then found I had to download a course manager in order to open the downloads. Of course the thing doesn’t work so I have no tapes, which is disappointing as I won’t be able to continue the course. They also charged me an extra £3 for the privilege of being cheated. I’ve emailed them and I’m really angry so have requested a refund and that they close my so called account. The download manager takes up disc space as well so they have cheated me in many ways. What was once an amazing resource has changed to putty.


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