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Review of Pimsleur method

| 157 comments | Category: tools

In the recent survey about the “best” courses, Pimsleur came out on top, both among the best and the worst.

Despite almost a decade of learning languages, I have to admit that I had never tried the Pimsleur approach. I was under the impression that audio based learning wouldn’t work for me, as I considered myself a “visual” learner. But this was nothing more than a lazy excuse based on preferences – there is little evidence of it being true for most people.

Another reason I wouldn’t use this course is because it’s very expensive (just part I of any given language is coming up as US$230 on Amazon for example), but the previous tenant of my flat in Budapest left quite a lot of Hungarian learning material, including Pimsleur’s Hungarian, so it was time to try it out! (You can also get it in some libraries, and of course many people tell me they have used the pirated versions).

This post is an honest and frank look at the course I completed. This isn’t a sales pitch, as I will be very critical of it. I am presuming that it would have content similar to the Hungarian course in other languages like Pimsleur Spanish etc. too.

Overview

The Pimsleur language learning system is an audio based course that presents phrases in the target language first, and then in your mother tongue for you to translate into that language.

It was developed based on research carried out by linguist Paul Pimsleur several decades ago. The course being sold by Simon & Schuster comes in 30 half an hour sessions, or in smaller units of 10 half an hour sessions. I went through the 30-lesson course over a month and feel I have a pretty good understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the system.

Hungarian only has a 15 hour course, but other languages go up to 45 hours. Obviously I can only base what I’ve gotten out of this course for the purposes of this post based on the 15 hour course.

The audio presents words and phrases to you, with their translation, either said in isolation or in a suggested context (the audio tells you to “imagine you are at a restaurant in central Budapest” for example). There is then a pause for you to repeat the phrase, or to recall a previously learned one from memory. The audio then gives you the answer so you can confirm you were right or learn it better for next time.

The system is almost entirely audio based. There may be some reading material for particular units, but even those are to be read while listening to the audio that gives instructions on how to proceed. The vast majority of what is said to you will never be written down in any form, so this is really forcing you to get used to the spoken language and not being able to read it at any time.

This system has the following advantages and disadvantages, in my opinion:

Some advantages to this system

As I said above, I am not used to using a system like this so I actually found several advantages here that I was not expecting and that I will attempt to integrate into my own language learning method in some ways. There were other advantages of this course overall which included:

Pressure to recall, even from audio. Having not used audio courses before, I had this simplified idea that they were just mindless listening and repeating (which unfortunately this mostly was), but this course also gave me a short time-frame to produce the phrase/word that actually sparked pressure to recall that I wasn’t expecting. You genuinely feel disappointed if you don’t come up with the phrase correctly and this encourages you to focus and try harder later.

Of course, this “interactive” aspect makes focused listening way more useful than worthless passive listening. I did genuinely learn the phrases that were given to me (although only as a parrot would – see below), and any I didn’t learn were my fault rather than the course’s.

Repetition of previously learned material. What you learn in one unit does indeed come back in later ones, thus reinforcing it in your memory. This is effective, but I prefer a well structured spaced repetition system myself.

Learning long words back to front. This may sound weird, but I actually do think this is a clever way to learn long words now that I’ve tried it. Some languages do have words that are quite a mouthful, and saying the last syllable, then the second-last followed by the last and continuing to add another one on, always before, was actually an effective way to be able to say the word. I’ll be doing this more often in future.

Hearing native-spoken pronunciations and intonations. A language like Hungarian has a different rhythm in the language, so I used the opportunity to learn to improve my pronunciation and sentence rhythm by hearing the answer to how I should have said something. In a purely reading course you will never have this advantage. Although I tend to combine reading courses with listening to podcasts or simply speaking with people.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of this system is how it focuses on trying to make a language natural. The contexts seem a little fake, but at least it provides them and creates a mini-story each time. This is way superior to other courses that just present the information as vocabulary and grammar.

At the start of each lesson a full conversation between two speakers is given, and by the end of the lesson you do actually understand all components of the conversation. This is quite an achievement and makes the system all the more impressive. Explanations are useful and non-technical so you get the basic gist of some grammatical concepts, as well as the vocabulary itself.

Where this system fails: Irrelevant context

Despite its advantages, I don’t think I will be using Pimsleur in future language missions (even if I come across it as free again). After fifteen hours of focused learning I feel like I would have progressed way more in my Hungarian if I had spent that time on other tasks. It’s a clever idea, but hardly revolutionary compared to the competition.

For example, the context of use was completely irrelevant to me. If you are a married businessman with children, planning to do some shopping and eating out in restaurants, then Pimsleur (at least the Hungarian version) is perfect for you. If you are anyone else then you will learn things that simply should not be prioritised in the early stages. For talking about my family, I would personally need to say brother and sister way more than wife/husband/son/daughter. I never learned the words I wanted to use in the early stages.

This prioritisation seems like a clever marketing strategy for several decades ago when most people travelling for short periods would indeed be businessmen. In this day and age anyone can travel, so why focus on just one demographic? I feel like it should be called Pimsleur-for-married-businessmen. If it was tailored to other types of people, it would be way more interesting, with different versions for different purposes of travel, but this would be asking a lot of any course.

The context I would tend to use the language in was totally off. For example, since I tend to socialise with my age group in all of my languages, I have little need for the formal “you” (usted in Spanish, vous in French, Sie in German, ön in Hungarian) beyond pleasantries in shops and with the elderly.

The entire course (even pleasant conversations) used this formal you (apart from a quick mention in one unit) and that would create unnecessary distance between me and those I meet in social events if I were to use it. I imagine in popular language courses with three times as much audio they cover informal usage, but I didn’t get what I personally needed from my fifteen hours, so I’m not confident about the following thirty hours.

Tiny amount of words learned in large amount of time

While I have learned to appreciate audio-based courses somewhat thanks to this experience, the fact that I can’t “flick through it” to get past irrelevant vocabulary (for my current level) means that I am even more likely to waste time. With a book or software course at least you can skip through the current lesson after glancing to see that the words covered in this one should be low on your priorities.

If you skip an audio lesson you may indeed miss words that you immediately need to learn, and no written or preview summaries means you don’t know what is going to get covered. The sample conversation at the start of the lesson is a good scope to get a vague idea, but other things are covered.

I am of course more of an independent learner, and use courses as I see fit. An audio course like this takes away some of that freedom as you must go through it in the right sequence. This is actually an advantage for learners who prefer for the course to do all the work for them, but I encourage people to analyse what they are learning and adapt the course to their needs rather than vice-versa.

The criticism of not having the right vocabulary “for me” could work for any course, but Pimsleur deserves it more than any other because of the extremely restricted amount of vocabulary it teaches. This one-size-fits-all insinuation that the particular words it’s teaching you are the most helpful ones is very misleading. The entire contents of my Pimsleur course could have been covered in just two or three chapters of most good book-courses.

After fifteen hours I feel like I’ve learned nothing more than basic pleasantries and personally-irrelevant phrases from this course and I’m glad I was applying my own learning strategies simultaneously or my Hungarian would be next to worthless. While the repetition does drill it into you sufficiently, working on efficient learning strategies to better use your memory would give you the same content much quicker. A system based on repetition as the main learning strategy is immediately inefficient in my opinion.

Even if I had stuck to just Pimsleur, there is no indication of where to go when you complete the course. You’d have to simply buy some book-based course and start over again. I don’t see any potential to continue learning once you finish the course unless you start with a different one.

Way too fake

The “context” is way too fake to be practical. Being told to “imagine” that I want to ask my husband if he is hungry before saying the phrase just doesn’t cut it.

Then there is the huge amount of English in the course. Most of the audio is actually English! I feel like that imbalance would suit English learners more.

Later in the course “listen and repeat” is changed to the target language, but apart from that you are mostly just following orders to translate material from English to the target language. This mentality will always slow you down. It is turning the listeners into walking dictionaries – I couldn’t say any of the phrases unless I phrased it in English first. I didn’t learn how to ask where the bathroom is in Hungarian from this course, I learned how to react correctly if someone said “Say Where is the bathroom in Hungarian”. The course produces parrots rather than potential conversationalists.

It was somewhat nice to listen to, but all this English, and cleverly asking questions that (of course) I know the answer to gave an enormous false sense of security. This trick is something so many courses do to make you feel like you are making a lot of progress and this is why they are so highly praised among progressing learners, even if they don’t actually bring you far at all.

There is no way you can get beyond the absolute basics in a language following this course. Perhaps there are longer versions than the 15 hour ones, but I can just see that teaching a tiny bit more at the same rate. Twice barely nothing is still barely nothing.

Personal preference for reading / seeing words

As I said near the start, the visual vs audible learners argument tends to just be an excuse for people not wanting to try out a new method, and I do genuinely want to improve my learning techniques. My experience so far has mostly been visual – that’s how I learn vocabulary. I even try to visualise how a word is spelled in the middle of a conversation, as this ultimately helps me improve my reading too (albeit obliquely). This is easier than it sounds because all languages I have learned so far are entirely or pretty phonetic (unlike English).

Because of this I felt a lot was missing from a course that didn’t tell me how to spell words. I found it quite hard to remember words suggested to me when I couldn’t see how they would be spelled, and several times I simply had to pause the audio and find the word in a dictionary to see what it looks like. When you hear an unfamiliar language, it can help to put it in a familiar context, and since Hungarian (luckily) happens to use the same writing system as other European languages, I would like to take advantage of that.

Although this technically isn’t a criticism of the Pimsleur method, since it openly embraces focusing on the sounds of a language for the purposes of prioritising the basics of conversation, I have to admit that I do depend on being able to read a language, even if my focus is clearly to speak it ultimately. In any language mission, reading is a crucial aspect for me – I’d be as good as illiterate in the target language otherwise.

So I would personally have to adapt myself more to a purely listening course, and that’s just a frustrating extra step for me. I heard words several times in this course that I had no way to make any mental association with. They were just noise to me – but this just shows my own reliance on non-audible-repetition to learn words.

Since so many successful learners use Pimsleur, perhaps it isn’t an issue for them. Or perhaps they combine it with other courses in such a way as to progress in a useful way. But I still can’t see this content getting you anywhere beyond the absolute basics.

It is perhaps an excellent way to help you get by (albeit in very restricted situations) for a weekend trip, but if you have long-term plans with your target language you will absolutely have to combine it with another course to make any real progress. That sounds fair enough, as many people do use several courses at once. But for the steep price, you would expect it to be more encompassing.

Conclusion

Like any course, no matter how flawed, this can teach you something. It helped me with my sentence intonation for example, and did teach me a couple of basic words. So I could technically say that Pimsleur “helped” me on my path to attempt to be conversational in Hungarian.

This exaggeration of its contribution is one reason I feel a lot of successful learners mention it as useful. It gave them “something”, although I can’t see how it could possibly get you up to intermediate level.

It is indeed a nice way to start a language, and the comfort involved and the feeling of achievement can be important to many learners, so this emotional boost could actually be a big contributor to success and even make it a very useful way to begin learning a language. But in terms of actual content, it falls short.

So, taking the advantages from this, I do think I should integrate audio learning more into my approach, but using phrases that I am likely to need. To do this, we can all create our own personal “Pimsleur” courses for free. This is how I would do it:

  1. Write out some words and phrases that you are most likely to want to say in the early stages of getting by in a language. Many of these will already be present in some cheap phrasebooks, or listed on some websites, but some will be specific to you. Translate these new ones yourself if you feel ready, or using Google Translate and then run them by a native. If you don’t know any then use lang-8 to have natives correct it for free so you know there are no mistakes.
  2. If it’s a single word, check it out on Forvo. If it’s a phrase, type it into Rhinospike. In either case you will have a native say the phrase to you. Download this result.
  3. Use the free tool Audacity to create an MP3 of the audio, with the phrases you downloaded repeated and with your own voice recorded between these segments as explanations as you see fit.
  4. Copy to your MP3 player and enjoy, referring to the written form of all words you aren’t sure of to help you to learn them quicker.

There you have it – your own personal Pimsleur without spending a penny.

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I still think actual exposure to natives would get you way further (meet up with them, or talk with them online), and I have yet to find a single advantage to course materials that you listen to or read alone, which another human being can’t provide.

Due to how little this particular course helped me progress beyond the basics, I can’t recommend Pimsleur to serious language learners. If you are a businessman on a weekend holiday however, it was made for you!

Don’t agree with my frank review? Did you use Pimsleur and come to similar conclusions? Let me know in the comments below :)

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  • daikiryoku

    1) The Pimsleur courses are designed for people who have never studied a language before.
    2) The Pimsleur method is based on a repetition formula for long term memory, even if you don’t like what you learn in Pimsleur, the idea is that what you learn in the future can be more easily learned and used.
    3) You only tried the first part of the course (there are 3 parts).

    I used Pimsleur to learn my first language other than English and found it perfect for my needs. Some of the vocabulary I dont use, but it made it easier to pick up new vocabulary in the future. But most important, it was a enjoyable and effective way to beign learning a new language when you have no experience. A self proclaimed polygot, who only intends to try the first part (of 3) is not the target audience and you should make this clear to your readers.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Yes, that’s why I said it’s a good way to start. But for the price and advertising you’d expect more than just the basics.
      Please read the post carefully. I went through THIRTY lessons totalling fifteen hours. That is the full course.
      Your comment just confirms my suspicions that people promote this course because it is enjoyable. I don’t see how it could possibly be effective. It’s a course for weekend tourists and an interesting introduction to sounds of a language, but not useful for long time learners.

      • Ryan Nagy

        I am a little late to comment here, but just want to mention that Pimsleur Spanish has 4 levels and a Spanish Plus which is 10 sessions. I love Pimsleur and continue to use it even though much of what you (Benny) writes is spot on. I will point out that Level 4 of Pimsleur Spanish was created, I believe, after Pimsleur died and it is not nearly as complex as it could have been.

        Compared to most of my expat friends here in Mexico my Spanish is way above theirs and I attribute it to maniacal use of Pimsleur for six months and tons of readings in fields that I love (Psychology) and ahem…maniacal watching of some less than lofty spanish TV shows such as “Niñas Mal” and the much better, “Soy Tu Fan.” cheers!!!

        • http://www.facebook.com/sandicervantes Sandy Badillo Cervantes

          Hi Ryan! I’m from Mexico, so you like mexican tv programs?, ha. I wanna try to learn french with Pimsleur (all levels with the multimedia new version) but I have read comments about its cons and pros and one cons is the lack of reading and writing skills. I see you’re reading things that are interesting to you and also watching “Novelas” ;-) How did you proceed to splice Pimsleur method with writing/reading skills? By the way, I’m an addict of psychology stuff, good for you! Cheers!

          • Ryan Nagy

            Sandy – I tried reading the paper, but gave up. Then I bought some books that I had already read in English…but that was too difficult as well. Finally, I hit upon the idea of reading books that I really LOVED in English and had read many times. I found copies of those books in Spanish and as the content was already familiar to me, I found that they made sense. Getting comfortable not understanding everything the first time through was helpful as well. Good luck and have fun! I want to learn French as well. Ryan

          • http://www.facebook.com/sandicervantes Sandy Badillo Cervantes

            Thanks for your ideas, Ryan. I have to apply for the DALF A2, so I need to develop all skills. I will see how I feel with Pimsleur and combine it with readings like you did. Have a great day! Sandy.

        • IndyInAsiaPacific

          Mahalo, Ryan. I am a Pimsleur Junkie, too, and had been seeking a way to purchase Spanish IV on the cheap. I am going to leave that for now based on your evaluation above.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’ve already dabbled in a language with a different writing system and learned to read in that system very quickly: http://www.fluentin3months.com/phonetic-script-can-be-learned-quickly/

  • http://languageblogbygina.wordpress.com/ Gina

    Thanks for this; I was considering buying Pimsleur, but now I won’t, it doesn’t sound very useful for me. I am also a visual learner, and I’ve tried audio courses before and I didn’t learn very much at all. My mum’s friend gave me some Linguaphone Spanish CDs she got free from the Daily Mail, so I gave them a try, and I could only remember the words I already knew, because of the fact that I have to know what they look like written down for them to stick in my mind. And if I’m only remembering what I already knew, what is the point? It helped a little bit with listening comprehension, but I can get that from native materials without all the annoying English bits getting in the way.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Yes, I’d definitely recommend native material. All this English made me feel like I was a Hungarian getting an English lesson…

    • Joseph Bradfield

      That’s too bad, that this review killed your interest in Pimsleur. In a couple languages my knowledge of the language is above that of the average native speaker — yet I am told I have the pronunciation of a baby. And that’s difficult to undo. If you are only going to read a language, yes, forego Pimsleur.

  • http://www.budobeyondtechnique.com/ Bob

    I am on French III. Free from the library. It gives me an extra hour of exposure per day during my commute. When I complete the three series, it will be about 45 hours of lessons. I am using Assimil for written material.

    I agree with the pros and cons. The biggest pro for me is more time with the language while sitting in Philadelphia traffic.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I didn’t realise it goes all the way up to 45 hours in other versions! Even so, three times what I have learned in my 15 hours wouldn’t be that much. I’d highly recommend you fill those hours sitting in traffic with native podcasts as soon as you finish the course: http://www.fluentin3months.com/free-podcasts/

  • WC

    Having done all of Pimsleur Japanese before trying other methods to learn Japanese, I can see what some advantages to it.

    First off, my language partner says my pronunciation is ‘perfect’. I’m sure she exaggerates, but it’s obviously good enough that she’s surprised. I attribute this to Pimsleur. It got me speaking the language out loud before I had any contact with native speakers. It also let me badly mispronounce words without any fear someone would laugh at me. After ~90 hours, I got pretty good at it.

    It got a few basic words under my belt so I felt I could at least get myself into trouble, if not back out. Being able to say things like ‘I don’t understand Japanese’ in Japanese seems pretty useful to you while you’re at that stage. And ‘Can you understand English?’ is pretty useful, too. ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are always useful.

    But I agree that my vocabulary was pitifully small and largely unsuited to anything I wanted to do.

    The main thing I got from Pimsleur was this: I was comfortable with the language. I had listened to it long enough that it didn’t sound 100% foreign, and I could actually understand a few words. I could also say a few words without embarrassing myself. These are great confidence boosts.

    It is, as you say, expensive. I could have gotten there without the expense, and probably in less time… If I was willing to really work at it. You pay for some convenience.

    And finally: I never would have completed the course if I didn’t have a 45 minute drive to work each day. That let me listen to 1 (or 2, if I listen on the way home) session each day without losing anything else from my day. Now, I have a 5 minute trip… I’d have to give up something else to study from audio courses.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Good summary there! I agree that Pimsleur has a lot of potential for improving pronunciation, but repeating ANY native material would do that.
      It does definitely inspire comfort. I was impressed that I could indeed understand the initial conversation after the session. Although, I had to warn that this comfort can be misleading. The language spoken in a recording studio is not the same as how it sounds in the real world under pressure…
      I’m glad it helped you with your Japanese though! Even if it was minor – every little contribution makes a huge difference ;)

    • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com lyzazel – Linas

      Numbers and pronunciation. That’s what Pimsleur’s good definitely for.

      If you think about it:
      Pimlseur (P) = Numbers (N) + Pronunciation (P)
      P = NP

      Aha!

      • Jim Borkowski

        I like the clever reference to the millennium math problem. I guess you can claim your million dollar prize now! lol

        • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com/ Linas

          I guess it’s also quite interesting you replied to a comment I made three years ago and I am replying back in one hour.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.merriwether Paul Merriwether

      Being embarrassed??? What for, trying to speak a “foreign” language! NA! Being an American, why isn’t the whole speaking “American” English? When we went to Mexico to meet the wife’s  family I took a trip with my 8 year old and her 8 yr old cousin to downtown Guadalajara. She could speak English nor us Spanish. It all went find with the local’s. A few hand gestures a little English and of course dollars, all went well. 

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I absolutely agree with you where you say that people need to adapt the courses they use to fit their needs: I’ve been using Pimsleur for years and will likely continue to, and I also agree with all of your criticisms of it. I love it because it’s fantastic for getting your pronunciation straight right off the bat in a new language–I attribute my currently excellent (although slow for lack of recent practice) pronunciation in Spanish to the Pimsleur courses I did when I first started learning it years ago.

    It’s also fantastic because everything is already planned out and set up for you–it will require precisely 30 minutes of your time per day and no more, you just plug in the headphones and hit play. I’m using Pimsleur with Japanese right now for precisely this reason, I just don’t have time to mess around with it every day, so I take half an hour out every day after lunch to do a quick Pimsleur session and that’s it. Once I move on from Spanish as my primary language that I’m learning to Japanese in 6 months or so, I’ll spend more time on it, but right now I’m just sort of learning Japanese on the side in my spare time and trying to build up a foundation in it for future use when I really start to dig in to it, with emphasis on pronunciation and learning basic grammar (which you do via Pimsleur even though they don’t formally teach it at all, you can’t help but pick up the patterns and rules you really need to know as you go along).

    It’s not perfect, and you absolutely do have to supplement it with other stuff, but it can be quite useful depending on what you want to do. Frankly, I value it more for the pronunciation aspect that I mentioned that anything–you spend that much time slowly and oh-so-carefully and repeatedly reproducing what a native speaker says and you’re bound to be able to pronounce the language well.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Yes, I agree that it is fantastic for helping with pronunciation. But I still don’t see what the major advantage would be over listening to natural content and pausing it to repeat what they said.

      The 30 minute devotion per day may work for a lot of people, but I have learned how to get more out of my 30 minutes. If you wrote down all the vocabulary in a typical lesson then I could memorise it in much less time. But of course, my pronunciation may not be good. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. After hearing all the praise about Pimsleur, I felt someone needed to be frank about it, while also pointing out the advantages ;)

      At the end of the day it isn’t doing any harm to spend 30 minutes listening to these courses, so if that’s working for you keep it up!

  • Numa.Arg

    Advantages I found (went through the entire 3 levels of English 2 years ago):
    - When you finish each lesson, you indeed understand everything of it.
    - It forces you to speak.
    - It forces you to be actively listening (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to say what it is requested).
    - It gives you some sense of achievement when you are completing more and more lessons.
    - It’s entirely audio, so you can carry it along and listen to it everywhere (I went through the entire course in the bus while going to college or getting back home from it/work).
    - If it is the first thing you do when starting from scratch it gives you HUGE motivation to keep studying it.

    Disadvantages I found almost 2 years later comparing with the Assimil course:
    - Too much English in the audio.
    - Extremely little amount of vocabulary.
    - Too expensive (Although I got it pirated for free).
    - Little amount of relevant vocabulary (Personal preference).
    - The recordings are way too perfect regarding pronunciation (Unreal).
    - No text of what’s been said (Personal preference)

    PS: You may want to add that in further lessons (volume 2 and 3) it gets harder, faster and more targeted-language spoken.

    PS2: I edited the audio and making a big file putting the first conversation you hear in each lessons of ALL 90 lessons together, just to get some native audio to listen to. It ended up being a 17 minutes file.

    PS3: I’ve never used “a cup of coffee please” since never been out of my country. =(

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Thanks for the comment. I agree with your advantages & disadvantages. Great to hear that it gets more intensive in later versions at least, but my non-context comments still apply.
      17 minutes!!!! That’s incredible – that emphasises the little amount actually taught. You are paying to listen to English and repetition.

      • Brian David K. Lake

        Actually no, he stated he only put the first conversation of each lesson. Thus you misrepresented.

  • Anonymous

    For reference, Pimsleur Spanish does drop into the “tu” form, but not within the first 30 lessons. On the other hand, Pimsleur Korean doesn’t drop below the “~yo” speech level during its 60 lessons (they only have Comp I and II for Korean), so it seems to vary per language. (That said, converting from “~yo” form to casual form in Korean is much simpler than the “usted to tu” transition in Spanish, so it’s easier to pick up later.)

    I do agree that after a while I found myself looking up words that I learned in Pimsleur because seeing them made them stick *much* better in my mind than just hearing them.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Yes – I see their reasoning, but a course with no writing at all that forces us to look things up isn’t so clever.

      • Darknlovely

        Kids learn without having to read or right. I think this method is also trying to tap into that part of our brain which allows us to learn naturally without having to see the actually written words; same way people who do not read or write move to countries and learn the local language. I know people who have moved to the U.S. and within few years are speaking English but they can’t read or write to save their lives: however, I’m not sure if the audio is as effective as communicating with people on a daily basis.

        • Jah See

          I would think that as being the natural way for any language. Speak it first. The reading & writing usually comes to every single being in some form of formal/disciplined instruction.

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    I’m impressed by your ability to find any positive advantages at all. If I were to write a review of Pimsleur, I would have nothing but negative things to say… mostly as a result of what you’re talking about when you made the “walking dictionaries” comment.

    Learning to translate phrases by repetition is not only NOT learning to speak the language, but worse, it’s actually causing damage to any future ability you wish to have in that language. And no amount of improved pronunciation is worth that trade-off in my opinion.

    • http://twitter.com/chrissarda Chris Sarda

      I’m with you on this one Randy. Pimsleur is such a waste if you know anything about language, if you can define ‘noun’, Pimsleur is giant waste of time. If you’re a business man that travels, I’d imagine you have some semblance of intelligence and Pimsleur panders to the dumb. 15, 30, 45 hours could be used in 50 better ways. For the people who drive to work, you’re better off buying assimil spending ten minutes with the book before work and then listening and repeating those recordings. You would quadruple the vocab you learn in whole 3 part Pimsleur series within a week in Assimil…

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

        Read all of the comments coming to Pimsleur’s defence and you’ll see that if I didn’t “soften the article up” with some praise, I’d have been crucified :P
        I agree with both of you though – it seems Pimsleur is being used more as a means of passing the time stuck in traffic jams rather than genuinely learning a language. Several people have confirmed it…
        I’ve only used Assimil’s small books, not the audio courses, but I agree that that method is very good! I’ll have to give it a more extensive try!

        • http://twitter.com/chrissarda Chris Sarda

          Yeah I could see you were trying to be nice about it, but you didn’t know there were others of us that would fight along side you lol…

          I don’t know how the assimil pdfs would work on our kindles though, haven’t tried to put upload one yet.

          • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

            Not quite – voicy people tend to only be disagreers :P I usually have to fend for myself in comments while all those who are on my side just nod when they read the article and then move on :P

        • Joseph Bradfield

          Ah. So it was a fake review. That makes sense now. Wasn’t an effort at being fair, but hiding the true intent. Nevermind, then.

  • http://www.language-learning-advisor.com Ron

    I happen to love Pimsleur. I think it’s a great workout to get into the sound of a language and gives a really good intuitive sense of word order and how its supposed to sound as you continue studying beyond Pimsleur. I think you’ve overstated the ‘parroting phrases’ thing just a bit. At a certain point in the course, you are prompted to say a phrase that you’ve never actually heard before, that is, you start constructing phrases intuitively and creatively. You may not have even realized it.

    I mostly agree with your assessment of Pimsleur, however. If it’s not for you then it’s not for you. Given some of your techniques, and your already extensive experience with learning languages, I can see that Pimsleur would feel like it’s limiting you or slowing you down. There’s no doubt that the vocabulary (and therefore usefulness for some people) would be limited. And it is definitely overpriced.

    By the way, it continues in much the same vein as the first 15 hours, so I think your feelings on the rest of the course (if there was more for Hungarian) would be the same, so your review is valid even though you used a shorter course.

    I spend a lot of time in the car going to work and school, so Pimsleur has always been a good fit for me as a precursor to podcasts and more native material. Pimsleur isn’t right for everyone but for some people it’s a great start.

    I appreciate your opinion, Benny, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re helping a lot of people to learn languages and you come up with some great ideas.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Thanks for the comment, good to know my review can be extrapolated to the rest of the course!
      As long as Pimsleur is a precursor, I have no argument. I’m just worried that people will think that it would be their main source of information about a language. Nothing is perfect, and getting a start *somewhere* is definitely a step in the right direction :)

  • Brianna

    You mentioned that you would prefer a spaced repetition system, but Pimsleur is such a system (they employ ‘graduated memory recall’, supposedly forcing you to recall the phrases at the optimal time in decreasing intervals). In order to replicate this effect, you could choose some words/phrases from a phrasebook, have a native speaker record them, and put the recorded files on the front of each card in an SRS deck. This might be even better than Pimsleur, because the contents will be relevant to your own needs and interests,
    and because you can decide by yourself which words you’ve mastered and which ones need more repetition.

    Another thing that should be mentioned about Pimsleur is that it’s available in most libraries. Otherwise, you can try to get it cheap on eBay. I wouldn’t recommend buying it new – even if you think the program is the best thing to ever happen to language learning, the price they’re asking for so little content is nothing short of criminal.

    As Benny mentioned, there are better ways to use your time (native TV, podcasts, socializing, etc.), and I find that experienced language learners are usually frustrated by how little real progress in the language you make vs. the time invested. However, I’d recommend Pimsleur in the following cases:

    - As a confidence-builder for people who have never learned a language before, are baffled as to where to start, and cannot imagine themselves speaking a foreign language.

    - For people studying a somewhat ‘exotic’ language they might never have heard before and who are concerned about pronunciation, as a way to acquaint themselves so that it doesn’t feel so intimidating and ‘foreign’. (Pimsleur offers courses in a surprisingly wide range of languages. The more unusual ones might only have a 10-lesson course or something like that, but that’s all you’ll need for this purpose.)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      The problem with Pimsleur’s graduated memory recall is that it’s based on spacing set by THEM. In SRS the USER decides how the spacing would work – there is no feedback in Pimsleur.

      For example, I got asked several times to say “you’re welcome” and I already knew it very well. There was no need to keep repeating it – whereas some words I WAS having trouble with didn’t come back as often as I would have hoped. This problem doesn’t exist in SRS.

      Good points on specifically when Pimsleur would be useful – I agree. ;)

  • TJ

    Benny,

    When are you going to start learning a language like Mandarin?

    I started learning Mandarin a while ago, but I am just like you, when I speak Spanish, I actually will “picture” the word in my head when I say it or to try and remember it.

    It is more difficult in Mandarin, and I find I forget words very fast and easy.

    And learning to speak Mandarin and read and write, is almost learning two different languages.

    I’d love to see you learn Mandarin so you can offer tips and “hacks” to learn it!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I should put a disclaimer up somewhere about asking me when I’m getting to [Language X] :P You’ll find out when the time is right ;) I always hold suspense until just before the mission begins. I’ll reveal the next mission in October for example.
      Then of course, I’ll discuss particular ways to learn particular languages as I get to them! :) Hopefully you’ll enjoy my tips for Mandarin whenever I reach it!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Yes, I think I’ll stay clear of reviewing University courses :P They are time consuming AND expensive… AND many don’t produce good results! So the alternatives are definitely an improvement when affordable. If you get Pimsleur for free, then it isn’t really doing any harm – especially when combined with other tools.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    That’s precisely what I said in the article – it’s “fun” for some people, but doesn’t seem to get you anywhere useful.
    Please use your name in your comment in future – I am going to start deleting comments whose links sound like advertisements.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Yeah, it’s a pity that I can’t ever really investigate MT on the best languages it would have been made for. However, someone said that the “carbon copy” from the German one to the Dutch version is actually quite useful, so if when I get to Dutch I may try it out then!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks, glad you agree :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks, glad you agree :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I agree with the advantages/disadvantages on slow pronunciation. Pimsleur helped me recognise particular words, especially when speakers would intentionally say them slowly to me (Hungarians are not so good at this either it turns out!! But those who have travelled seem to know how to do it) – but real people don’t usually speak like that. This is why I think Pimsleur is so popular with people who aren’t actually planning to travel for a long time. They feel great progress without realising that it’s harder than they think…

  • Anonymous

    I’ll just point out that Pimsleur can be bought legally in MP3 format from their resellers. The list price is considerably cheaper than the CD list price. It hovers around $100 for 30 lessons. It’s a little more expensive on the iTunes Store, but that’s how I buy mine so I can just dump them directly onto my iPhone.

    In your review, in some ways, I feel like you missed the point of Pimsleur. Vocabulary is merely the point of doing Pimsleur. What Pimsleur gives me is a very good structural understanding of the language without ever going into overt grammar. It’s the only method I’ve found that forces me to manipulate the language. You learn one structure and then they force you to turn it around to answer a different question. If you understand the structural foundation of any language, adding your own vocabulary is a piece of cake.

  • cozy

    I am eagerly awaiting your opinion on the best software. I am using Assimil French, then FSI, along with learn to read French book and skype with a native speaker (quid pro quo english for French)

  • cozy

    I am eagerly awaiting your opinion on the best software. I am using Assimil French, then FSI, along with learn to read French book and skype with a native speaker (quid pro quo english for French)

  • cozy

    I am eagerly awaiting your opinion on the best software. I am using Assimil French, then FSI, along with learn to read French book and skype with a native speaker (quid pro quo english for French)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m not sure when I’ll get around to using software in depth. I prefer book based courses to be honest, since they tend to be information based, and that’s the one thing missing from my conversations (study, grammar, vocab lists etc.). Software tries to simulate conversations at times and I find it does this quite inadequately.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m not sure when I’ll get around to using software in depth. I prefer book based courses to be honest, since they tend to be information based, and that’s the one thing missing from my conversations (study, grammar, vocab lists etc.). Software tries to simulate conversations at times and I find it does this quite inadequately.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m not sure when I’ll get around to using software in depth. I prefer book based courses to be honest, since they tend to be information based, and that’s the one thing missing from my conversations (study, grammar, vocab lists etc.). Software tries to simulate conversations at times and I find it does this quite inadequately.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m not sure when I’ll get around to using software in depth. I prefer book based courses to be honest, since they tend to be information based, and that’s the one thing missing from my conversations (study, grammar, vocab lists etc.). Software tries to simulate conversations at times and I find it does this quite inadequately.

  • cozy

    I am eagerly awaiting your opinion on the best software. I am using Assimil French, then FSI, along with learn to read French book and skype with a native speaker (quid pro quo english for French)

  • Hillari

    I appreciate your review, Benny. I brought the beginning Spanish program a few months ago. Not much progress was made. When I missed a day, it felt like I had to start all over again from scratch. Even when I was not missing lessons, it was hard to visualize the words and phrases and keep them in memory. I think I would do better with a combination of hearing the languages as well as having a book to see the words, so I can learn to write them as well.

  • Hillari

    I appreciate your review, Benny. I brought the beginning Spanish program a few months ago. Not much progress was made. When I missed a day, it felt like I had to start all over again from scratch. Even when I was not missing lessons, it was hard to visualize the words and phrases and keep them in memory. I think I would do better with a combination of hearing the languages as well as having a book to see the words, so I can learn to write them as well.

  • Hillari

    I appreciate your review, Benny. I brought the beginning Spanish program a few months ago. Not much progress was made. When I missed a day, it felt like I had to start all over again from scratch. Even when I was not missing lessons, it was hard to visualize the words and phrases and keep them in memory. I think I would do better with a combination of hearing the languages as well as having a book to see the words, so I can learn to write them as well.

  • Hillari

    I appreciate your review, Benny. I brought the beginning Spanish program a few months ago. Not much progress was made. When I missed a day, it felt like I had to start all over again from scratch. Even when I was not missing lessons, it was hard to visualize the words and phrases and keep them in memory. I think I would do better with a combination of hearing the languages as well as having a book to see the words, so I can learn to write them as well.

  • Jen

    Agreed! The Russian Pimsleur is only helpful if you’re a single guy interested in spending almost an hour trying to convince a woman that you just met to go first, to a restaurant on Pushkin St for dinner and then, come to your apartment on Tverskaya street for drinks. About a quarter of that time is spent being very persistant in trying to con this poor, unsuspecting woman to come to your place at 1:00. No? Well, maybe 2:00? Still no? Hmm…perhaps 3:00 would be better? Ach! Does 4 work for you? So you’ll meet me at 5:00 then! Then, after all of that, you still get shot down because your Russian is so awful.

    I’m a lady. I learned nothing other than how to reject over-eager single guys with poor Russian skills, in Russian. Wow Pimsleur…so…you basically taught me (over several hours) something that I already knew how to say…nyet, spacibo.

    • Whatever

      I’m doing Russian Pimsleur right now (on unit 3) and I did laugh at that one lesson where the guy was trying to ask the girl out on a date. But it was only that once out of the 75 I have done so far so my guess is you’re trying to be cheeky.

      • Michel

        I tried the Pimsleur set for Brazilian Portuguese to work on my accent before a long trip to Brazil. My friend was jealous of all the compliments I got, so I let him try it out. But he stopped halfway through because it seemed like it was set up for sex tourism. Listening back with that in mind it’s all about haggling in the hotel lobby (what do you want to drink, how much money do you have, etc).

        But, needing a quick French primer for a trip to Paris, I just picked up the Basic French set. By lesson 10, I’m trying hard to get the lady to agree to meet for dinner, but she’s playing hard to get (honestly, the man’s persistence gets a little creepy). I really think the method is effective in training my brain, ears, and tongue to process the phrasing. Shame it’s all built around Mssr. Pimsleur’s lady chasing. 

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’ll try to get to Assimil, but I only have experience using their pocket books (which I have enjoyed). That might have to wait until I start another language from scratch though.
    Practising with non-natives is fine – it’s an easy stepping stone to native conversations since it allows you to get into the rhythm. I got over the worst of my Spanish by hanging out with Italians, Germans, French etc. in Spain speaking Spanish with them ;)

  • http://twitter.com/daniel_hers Daniel Hershcovich

    I’ve been studying several languages using the Pimsleur method for a while, and while it hasn’t taken me to more than a context-specific conversational level, I really enjoy it and I think it does indeed make me more familiar with the language, which is good grounds for actually starting to learn the language by speaking with native speakers.

    I’ve studied Italian, Russian, German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean using the full 45-hour courses available for these languages. Each language was one I had taken interest in before studying it, and had learned to read its writing system (or its basics for Japanese and Chinese), so I could have a pretty good idea about how a word is written when I learned it (and I checked in a dictionary when it was unclear), because that aspect helps my learning too.

    I do the lessons on my half-hour drive to work, and it could be said that it’s more of a fun way to spend those 30 minutes than a way to achieve a high level in those languages, but it’s also a way for me to be exposed to as many different languages as I can, so I have a good idea about what I’m heading towards when I actually start getting into a specific language in the future. I know I won’t be making progress without actually working hard and spending time being surrounded by the language I learn, but I think this is progress of a different kind that I’m making.

    For most of the languages mentioned above, I had nothing but a basic idea of the writing system and phonetics of them beforehand, and after the course I felt I was much more comfortable listening to the language and making out words – it didn’t sound like mere noise anymore.

  • http://tomfrompoland.com Tom from Poland

    Hi Benny,

    Your Pimsleur is very useful :-) but take a lot of time, do you learn by this way? Can you describe an example day of your learning? I’m curious how much time you spend prepared “course”. I agree that any course isn’t ideal, I’d like known how you organize your learning in details, from start to achieve fluency. Maybe it is a good addition to LHG, “A day learning example with Benny”.

    All the best
    Tom

  • http://rhinospike.com Peter (rhinospike.com)

    I know I’m late reading this one, and I know I’m biased, but the bit at the end of using Lang-8 and Rhinospike to create your own personal Pimsleur course is pure genius. I had never thought of it those terms before. Thanks Benny!

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/104261620297586913676 yankl

    Hey Benny,

    Enjoyed your review of Pimsleur. I agree with your points in general, but I see Pimsleur much more positively. I have a good amount of Pimsleur experience: I’ve gone through all the lessons in Pimsleur Portuguese, Spanish, German, Russian, Polish, French, and Italian. (I would’ve done Pimsleur Hungarian if it were around when I was starting that language!) I also have a decent amount of language-learning experience, having learned about 10 languages to at least basic conversational/literacy level. Besides that I’m finishing a masters in linguistics, so I’m no newbie to grammatical concepts. After all this I still find Pimsleur to be my hands down favorite way to start out a new language. (Meaning, so I don’t think it’s only for people who are lost otherwise or need to have their hand held.) Of course, it’s ridiculous to think you could use Pimsleur as your sole method for learning a language — but who’s claiming that?

    I love Pimsleur because, as someone else mentioned, it’s predictable, you can do it for half-an-hour a day while doing other (brainless) tasks, and you come out in the end with — in my opinion — a quite good knowledge of a very small subset of the language, but still, something to get you started in a conversation. My biggest complaint is the married-businessman focus of the vocabulary, but still, there’s enough general stuff in there to make it worthwhile (for the time, not the money — I wouldn’t be able to support my Pimsleur habit if I couldn’t get it at libraries or otherwise for free). I wouldn’t underestimate the extra confidence it gives you when first encountering other speakers of the language and you KNOW that you can actually SAY something, and with a good accent to boot. I personally don’t find it pleasant to start from scratch with other speakers, finding it a waste of both our time if I can’t even say the most basic things in the language. So, yes, I prefer to get to a medium beginner level before beginning conversation with others, and a low/medium-intermediate level before switching to conversation and reading texts meant for natives as my primary mode of learning.

    I disagree that you can just “make your own” Pimsleur — the method you described seems like it would be much too time-consuming, especially when you have a minimum knowledge of the language and don’t really know what’s important yet. After finishing Pimsleur, I use Anki flashcards to help increase my vocabulary, using a frequency dictionary if available to prioritize words. Sure, I know actually speaking the language in natural settings is crucial and (one of) the main reasons I’m learning the language in the first place, but I find these nice low-intensity and -pressure ways of continuing my learning when I don’t have time to go and find new people to talk to. Besides, I’m the kind of guy that ENJOYS reading grammar books and in fact I derived great pleasure from doing the Pimsleur series, not finding them boring at all. But maybe I’m weird.

  • Seeahill

    I am a travel writer so it is ironic that I struggle with languages. One always learns the essentials: bathrooms, how much, call the police, don’t call the police, I’m sorry.

    But in over 20 trips to Spanish speaking countries (none more than three weeks), I simply failed to become conversational simply by osmosis.

    Pimsleur was the key. After 90 lessons, I was, oh, intermediate. Even so, my accent was good. People said, “you speak like an educated person.” I was able to figure things out. How do you say that (pointing) in Spanish. And after 90 lessons, I had a sense of what sounded right. Can ‘t say my grammar is perfect, but even I know when it doesn’t sound right.

    I recall covering a riot in a Spanish speaking country. I don’t want to sound to hairy chested about this, but there were real bullets flying and my translator disappeared. I interviewed one rioter and he said, “if corruption was a sport, our politicians would be world champions.” I understood that. That wasn’t on the Pimsleur audio. I just understood it.

    Finally, after all the lessons,I am only intermediate in Spanish. Probably low intermediate. But Pimsleur got me there quickly and with confidence.

    Benny is a linguist and has his own methods. As for me, I can’t recommend Pimsleur more highly, especially for people like myself who struggle with language.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m not a linguist
      Pimsleur wouldn’t have helped you understand anything out of its system other than getting familiar with the language in some way. Your own sense of extrapolation based on similarity to English or separate studies would have done that.
      Pimsleur, like anything gets people to work on their language. Its content is irrelevant if you are indeed doing the work elsewhere.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m not a linguist
      Pimsleur wouldn’t have helped you understand anything out of its system other than getting familiar with the language in some way. Your own sense of extrapolation based on similarity to English or separate studies would have done that.
      Pimsleur, like anything gets people to work on their language. Its content is irrelevant if you are indeed doing the work elsewhere.

  • http://twitter.com/languagebubble Andee Pollard

    If I had to choose an audio course… Michel Thomas over Pimsleur any day. The dryness of Pimsleur is a killer IMO, whereas MT at least has some personality.

    Both teach you a limited amount and focus on translation though.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I’m afraid it only forced me to reply to “say X in Hungarian” rather than to naturally use the language. It’s too translation based, but of course better than nothing.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    You’ll absolutely need to supplement it! Listening in the car is fine, and the most useful pitch for Pimsleur in my view, although you could get more use out of native podcasts in that situation, especially since Pimsleur presents a terribly tiny amount of actual foreign content to you in the immense amount of time the audio goes on.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Definitely definitely not. Please read some blog posts – the only way to get “fully” proficient in any language is to use it fully. Audio courses followed by passively sitting and watching others use the language will never do that.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    If Pimsleur was useful I’d recommend it. Simple as that. This is an informative post. Read it and leave your narrow minded presumptions at the door. If you really think like that just stop reading the blog entirely since you won’t take anything I have to say as genuine.

  • Anonymous

    I’m using the inexpensive intro right now, in order to reinvigorate the French that I used to have. That it is audio-based is the biggest boon, because I don’t have extra time for language learning, so can listen while doing household chores. If I didn’t know some French, though, the all-audio might be a problem, as I like to know what the words look like that I’m speaking. I know enough that I can look up the words as I go along. On the other hand, the emphasis on pronunciation has been very important for me and I find the process so enjoyable I may pop for the expensive course. Learning French (which I originally did as an adult) has been a BIG incomplete for me, and anything that can get me there is worthwhile. I think the requirements for people who know a lot of languages vs. those like me who are struggling with just one, may be very different.

  • Anonymous

    I’m using the inexpensive intro right now, in order to reinvigorate the French that I used to have. That it is audio-based is the biggest boon, because I don’t have extra time for language learning, so can listen while doing household chores. If I didn’t know some French, though, the all-audio might be a problem, as I like to know what the words look like that I’m speaking. I know enough that I can look up the words as I go along. On the other hand, the emphasis on pronunciation has been very important for me and I find the process so enjoyable I may pop for the expensive course. Learning French (which I originally did as an adult) has been a BIG incomplete for me, and anything that can get me there is worthwhile. I think the requirements for people who know a lot of languages vs. those like me who are struggling with just one, may be very different.

  • Anonymous

    This was helpful. I knew Pimsleur didn’t focus on grammar which is something that I know I’m going to need in Italy. And since I intend to be writing and reading and I already HAVE Italian on my Ipod, I really don’t need this. Thank you for writing out a review on it~

  • Anonymous

    This was helpful. I knew Pimsleur didn’t focus on grammar which is something that I know I’m going to need in Italy. And since I intend to be writing and reading and I already HAVE Italian on my Ipod, I really don’t need this. Thank you for writing out a review on it~

  • Geoffrey Fox

    This has been terrifically helpful. I’m currently using Rosetta Stone to learn Turkish and like it very much, but it has 2 limitations (for my way of learning): 1, I need supplementary written practice, because seeing words and phrases helps me understand how they are constructed and also helps me remember them, and 2, while I am rapidly learning to recognize many phrases and words, I’m not yet able (after a month and a half) to come up with these phrases with proper endings as I need them. Because of problem 2, I looked at the Pimsleur Approach, but now — after reading your review and other comments, and listening to their sales pitch — I think it’s not the answer for me. I’m very grateful for your links to Forvo and RhinoSpike, which I hadn’t known about. BTW, I’m nearly perfectly bilingual in English and Spanish (I’m US born and bred, but Spanish-speakers generally take me for a native speaker) because Spanish is the language I’ve most focused on since my first exposure in Venezuela decades ago; also I still remember most of my French from high school and a little German that I learned later, and have been fairly successful in to learning basics of a new language before travel to other places (Japan, Brazil, Greece) — enough to ask directions and read street signs. Anyway, I loved your essay here and will mention it on my blog, Literature & Society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.merriwether Paul Merriwether

    I’m glad I found your critique! I’m 64, trying to learn Spanish from the Pims course. I’ve only started and have the 4 hour version at a cost of $10. I was wondering if I was the problem (partly at least) some words I have no clue of what they’re saying not being able to see the word or how the word is actually constructed. I’m not looking to be a great conversationalist, I just want to get by in Spanish speaking countries. The price of their full versions courses are pricy! Based on my own experience and what you’ve written I’ll try another course and learn what I can with this one. Fortunately the wife is from Mexico! Thanks much!

  • Jaskamiin

    i love your site and reviews man. I’m ridiculously addicted to learning languages, and visit your site often! Mind if I leave a review of my own about this program? I know I’m a bit late…

    In short, Pimsleur is good depending on the language! I used Pimsleur (actually finishing up the 89th lesson tomorrow…) to learn Russian. And I can agree with you- it is rather bland. But the point of the system in my opinion is this- do not focus on so much vocab- focus on grammar while speaking.

    I supplement Pimsleur with other programs and sources (as of recently- my university library has hundreds of language learning books… from Spanish to Albanian to Japanese to Hungarian to anything!) and I can read Russian rather well now. So I’ll use Russian as an example! What makes this language difficult is not vocab or pronunciation or even the finer points of grammar (as Russian lacks articles, typical sentence structure, the verbs are immediately identifiable, only 3 tenses, etc); but the NOUN endings. There are 6 cases, each with a different ending. 

    Being a bit stricken with ADD, I find it difficult to concentrate, sit down, and study grammar rules. Especially with the typical lexical words that most books contain. And luckily, Russian’s grammar difficulties are set at the end of the words. -ом, -е, -ые, ого, etc. Pimsleur uses  the system of recall to help you identify the endings and when to use them subconsciously. Just reading, or practicing vocab may be enough for a language like Spanish, but for a more complex one- Russian, or in your case Hungarian- it NEEDS to be thrown in your face the way it does. And to do that correctly, it cannot force feed you vocab after vocab word (you know, average humans only use 2-5 thousand words a day? English has over 1 million words!).

    Where this program would not work would be with aggluntative (sp?) languages like Finnish, Japanese, Estonian, and yes- Hungarian. These languages build off of one word by adding parts to it. For example, in Finnish, “auto” means car. “Autoissa” means “in the cars”. And further more “autoissasikin” means “In your cars as well”. I could not see how it could be harder! I’ve heard the same type of grammar is thrown into Hungarian sometimes!

    All in all, I think the program was not right for Magyar =). Especially with only 15 hours. Hungarian is ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn, and 15 hours of basic introduction (meant for someone with no concept of foreign grammar) would not work!

    That’s it! Thank you for reading, if you did read it! I will be back to your site!

    Вот и все! Спасибо, что прочитали, если вы прочитали это! Я еще вернусь на ваш сайт!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Hungarian being “ranked” as one of the hardest is ridiculous: fi3m.com/hungarian-is-easy/

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    If “everything in language builds upon speaking” then sitting in your car listening to a CD and “speaking” as a parrot would without thinking isn’t good enough. You need to speak more actively.

    • Sanya

      It is for beginners for God’s sake.
      You have to fill the vacuum first before you can move on to native material.

  • http://rivanathans.tumblr.com riva

    I tried Pimsleur’s Czech and dropped it after about 10 lessons. The vocabulary was extremely limited, the situations ridiculous (most of it seemed to be aimed at an American man asking out a Czech woman, but as far as I got he wouldn’t be able to order more than beer/wine, interpret directions beyond “the restaurant is over there,” or speak with her in the second person informal. Not to mention it was conditioning me to speak with male verbs.)

    I dropped it and got a language partner and a textbook. Now that I’ve been here a few months, I’ve had people guess that I’ve been here a year longer, or that I’m from another Slavic-speaking country.

    One question I have is, how do you keep language exchanges productive? I feel like mine were helpful at the beginning, but now sometimes we tend to say the same kinds of things every time, the routine/scripted kinds of conversations that one has when one checks in with acquaintances. I feel like I learn more new vocabulary from listening to podcasts or reading books, so I sometimes opt to do those things instead of a language exchange, but I feel like the interactive element is necessary as well. But how do you make sure everyone is getting the most out of it?

  • http://rivanathans.tumblr.com riva

    Even in my native language, English, I remember words better when I can see their written form. It’s like a mnemonic. Some people really are visual learners. I also tried Pimsleur, and found that when I didn’t know how to write what they were saying, it was impossible for me to remember. If I had seen a word in writing before, I had no problem recalling it.

    I’m not knocking the value of learning by conversation, but Pimsleur is a poor substitute even for that. There’s no one on the other end reacting to what you say, so you have no feedback loop for what “worked” or not.

    Also, the vocabulary is extremely limited. Living in a new country (and using SRS software to practice new words and phrases), I’ve found that my brain is capable of picking up dozens to hundreds of new constructs daily. I do that by having a big list and throwing a huge amount of stuff at the wall to see what sticks, so there are a large number of words I sort-of know or could guess at. However, I think this is more useful than drilling a few dozen words intensively.

  • http://rivanathans.tumblr.com riva

    With regard to the exchanges, I feel like part of the problem was that I just didn’t click with some people socially—we didn’t have a lot in common, and I felt like we wouldn’t have been friends normally if it weren’t for the fact that we were trying to learn each other’s languages. Even if it’s kind of transactional, I think a language exchange is a kind of friendship, and I’m thinking of breaking off the ones in which I don’t feel like there is any connection.

    I have iFlash, which is a similar program (spaced repetition), and I also put a lot of example sentences into it. Whenever I learn a new grammatical rule, I make a bunch of sentences that apply it, and then put them in the software. This is especially important as I still catch myself organizing my Czech sentences like English sentences sometimes—but for things I say quite often, the right word order is becoming automatic. Also, I tried to study the cases by making a huge (we’re talking 14 columns, 100+ rows) spreadsheet and studying it, and that strategy pretty much failed; the information just fell out of my brain as soon as I put it in. Plus, it didn’t even start on all the things that decline irregularly, like friends, body parts, old words, foreign words, latinate words, nouns with adjective-like endings, adjectives with noun-like endings…

    So now I’ve abandoned the table, and I’m just learning by trying to record (I carry a notebook everywhere) and absorb as many correct, in-context examples as possible.

    I had an unexpected test recently when I was in line at the Ministry of the Interior applying to renew my residence, and the wait was very long, and the person who was going to help interpret couldn’t stay with me. I’ve been here less than three months, but somehow I stumbled through it on my own, even when I had to write an apologetic letter in Czech about why I was bringing some of my papers late. The guy behind the desk was really nice and even helped correct my grammar.

    Good luck to you as well!

  • Michelle Donegan

    I have used Pimsleur in varying degrees for German, Italian, Spanish, French, and Polish (in that order).  For the first three, I had prior study in that language; not for the other two.  I found it most useful as a companion, certainly not as a sole resource; and I would have been bored silly if I listened to it while doing nothing else, but it works well for me on my commute.  Your assessment of its strengths and weaknesses is quite fair, so it really just depends on what you are trying to get out of it.

    The “visual learner” thing might be nonsense, and yet, I tend to picture words when I learn them.  I was a competitive speller as a kid and I guess the habit never went away.  ;)  So that is my #1 frustration with Pimsleur, but if I’m using other resources and have a sense of spelling and pronunciation, I get by.

    As others have mentioned, I find it helps a lot with correct pronunciation (though even that is sticky in, say, Spanish, since the “correct”will be different in different countries.)  But the thing Pimsleur does for me that native podcasts do not (and yes, I’ve tried them) is to immerse myself in the feel of a new language (or re-immerse if I’ve been away from it for too long) without feeling like I have no idea what’s going on.  Other audio courses I’ve tried have either failed to produce that feeling, have been too fast-paced, or bored me silly.  I see the point about all the English and yet, for me, the pace hits a “sweet spot” that helps make my other efforts more effective.

    Very interesting blog btw… glad to have found it, and just subscribed to the feed.  :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-R-Timm/1354880801 David R. Timm

    I bought the entire 4 Pimsleur Spanish packages, and while the first several lessons were useful—it  brought my long- dormant &  sub-useful espanol back to the surface—I had (past tense because I sent the programs back, but more on that, below) – I had problems with the format and layer-upon-layer of obtuse customer service personnel. 
    My problems were;
    1. I received the package with no instruction manual and no notification that “reading booklets” were available.
    2. When listening to the CD(s), if I miss a eord or phrase, there is no quick re-play.  One has to go all of the way back to the beginning of the lesson & start from scratch—for the want of one or two missed words that appear 20 minutes into the lesson. 
    3. There is no “ver batim” of the language that one can refer to if he/she misses a phrase due to . . . whatever: a phone ringing, thunder . . . life.  Tough!  Go back to square one. 
    4. In talking to customer service people all of the way back to the developers, I was told that there is no –  and will be no -verbatim. “We don’t think that you need it.” (Like I always ask for s*** that I don’t need!)  Even when I suggested my paying $1000 or $2000 for a stenographer to transcribe the words to text, I was refused. (Note: I made that offer to check just HOW obtuse the customer service people were and she (the boss) did not disappoint me! Final answer: NO!)
    (Another note: In our conversation it was like a conversation out of Khafka.  I was desperately trying to buy her product, and she was even more desperately throwing negatives in my path to keep me from buying it – it was as if she were paid per capita for the customers that she warded off.) 

    I’ve spent 50 years in professional sales of (alternately) educational products & big-ticket industrial equipment – on six continents- and i can truthfully say that I have NEVER – not ever – run across a more pathologically negative customer service organization. However good the product may turn out to be , I’ll never know because I refuse to support ANY product or corporation that abrogates its obligation to do whatever is moral, legal and financially feasible  to alleviate my problems with their product(s) . . . especially when I am willing to foot the bill! . 

    For further egregious examples – and they do exist! Believe me! – be in touch.      

  • Anonymous

    I speak four languages fluently-and I mean fluently- which have taken me about 45 years to accomplish. Not long ago, I decided to study German through the Pinsleur method. I did, unlike most of your commenters and yourself, complete the the entire serie of the course. What I discovered about this method is that this method is very limited for a purpose and that purpose is to implant a stucture in your brain which will act as a base from which you can continue to build your language skills in a specific language.The system is structured to make the learner think on his/her feet (anticipation).  The ‘graduated interval recall’ and ‘spaced repetetions’ of the method is a subtle process that is boring but it is there for a psychological impact on the learner. The core vocabulary is very limited so that it can form an  inductive system of learning similar to that of a child. The process of learning a language is first of all verbal and then and only then graphical. To test this out simply observe a two-year-old child or even a baby. There are so many language systems and so many claims out there that one has to choose carefully.

    My experience with learning a language has been similar to your stated requirements. That is, I learned a lot quickly but forgot a lot quickly. Anyone can find something to complain about in any methodology in any type of language course. I learned all my languages over the years from different language methods and cultural immersions and I can tell you that I never found a course that met my own personal expectations perfectly.

    It is true, this course is not for anyone that wants to learn a language quickly and completely or for anyone with the impatience to study the nuance of what is being implemented in a course such as the Pinsleur method. Here is an example of a system for picking up the very basic foundation and launching pad of a language which by today’s standard is pretty much obsolete, but guess what it does work. My long time experience in learning of languages taught me that I was not deceiving myself with this method. If you are an adult don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you are an empty vessel and that language is going to be poured into you. The fact that you are an adult requires some intellectual involvement from you.

  • Staley70

    You are advanced linguist.  This is a great way for someone that is new to learning a language. you make great points, maybe you can contact the program and fix what you don’t like about it and make an advanced version for someone like yourself. You sound like someone that is putting it down at the same time it is great. So just say it is an easier way to learn but if you are advanced you are to advanced for this and you just be taken off by how you have all ready have learned to speak another language. 

  • beth__perry

    what a great and comprehensive review. Thank you so much for all the detail. 

  • Anonymous

    To skeptics like Benny, Pimsleur would say:  ”Why should I learn to read a new language if I can’t even speak it?”

    • http://daedalus-institute.tumblr.com/ Riva

      And skeptics like me would say that Pimsleur won’t teach you to do either, so it’s a moot point.

      Maybe Pimsleur made sense before the internet and Skype and the possibility of getting live feedback from a native speaker of almost any language, but now that those things are available, it doesn’t make sense to pay more for an inferior experience.

      • fuzzlogue

        Your point will make sense only if you are assuming that someone learning through the Pimsleur method will do it while locked in a booth.

        Today you can use the internet as a resource to augment language learning, but you will find very few people who will claim that they learned a language by using a computer program and while seating in front of a computer. PC language learning has being around since PC appeared and this method has not proven itself effective at all.

        In fact, there is no one way of learning a language, but as in the ancient times of learning a languages, I would prefer to have a tutor behind me drilling me with the language.

        Granted it is an outdated and not as glamorous a method as you would like it to be, but Pimsleur works for many people because it has a modest purpose and that purpose is to imprint the sound of a language not just the most words or the most phrases of a language as a “foundation.” compared to more up-to-date courses, it fits perfectly where language teaching has always been effective-the teaching of a language through simple sound repetition and recognition. It is concerned with getting it (the language) right not getting it all. More does not mean much if more gives you the opportunity to forget more. The method of delivery is not what is important. I’ve completed three Pimsleur complete-courses and have used them as a foundation to learn more of those languages and it has been effective for me. So, your outright dismissal is just political nonsense. The most that you can say is that you never really tried it or that it did not work for you. Do you have the answer to learning a language? Fine, put it in a framework that can be used by others.

  • Patrick

    Hi,  I agree with you on many points.  I’m learning Portuguese,  and I completed three levels of Portuguese using Rosetta Stone,  which drilled me in reading and spelling to such an extent that, starting on Pimsleur,  I can easily visualize everything that is going on.  Where Rosetta is weak ( actually making you talk in language ),  Pimsleur is strong, and where Pimsleur is weak ( the reading and printed word visualization and recognition )  Rosetta is strong.  So,  my view is, both together provide a complete well – rounded system,  but apart, but fall short. 
    I’m really glad I did the Rosetta Stone course first, and it took me 18 months ( and I still go back to it, reviewing lessons )  and given that I took it first,  I believe I will be able to finish all three levels of Pimsleur in four months time.   I also listen and watch the Brazilian Novellas ( soaps ), of which there are many,  and I’m understanding more and more as time goes on.  Learning a language  to fluency  is a monumental task and I don’t think there is any one course, that despite advertising, can actually take you there ( if there is,  let me know ).   One has to attack the task from many angles, over a period of time spending a lot of time at it.  I taught myself piano,  and it was a bigger task than learning a language, so I”m confident I will get there.    

  • SnowBunnyInfidel

    FYI on your back to front learning of difficult words.  That may be related to the part of the brain that is the same part that increases ability or intelligence by ‘crawling backwards’. This is actually a form of physiotherapy for some children with certain learning disabilities.  For some reason crawling (not walking) backwards does something to your brain that helps you learn.

    Also when children learn to speak for the first time, then they point (and say wassat?) look at something, then you say the word – they are showing that the very act of pointing, while seeing an image of an item & hearing the word at the same time increases the ability to retain the word.  I don’t know!

  • Jdrorer

    Thanks…just saved me $10 and the additional hassle of returning the $69 monthly auto-ship lessons I would be getting with their special offer! I will try it the way you suggested as Ido agree with your thinking and methodology! Right On …keep up with the good advise and I AM signing up for your emails!
    Davis

  • Whitman78

    this company is evil! i tried to download one of their lessons onto my mom’s computer and it did not work.  the company said they would refund me but instead charged me twice! then they refused to refund me at all, saying that since it was a download, i could not return it.  i am hoping my credit card company can help me

  • Teresa

    I  highly recommend the Pimsleur course. Success always depends on many things, including your preferred method of learning, your willingness to THINK about what you are learning and extrapolate from that into other situations and dialogue instead of just parroting the words and phrases. For example, one thing I really like about this method is the way verbs are not presented in the same order every time and that grammer is integral to the lessons, which encourages predictive learning – I have no patience for learning grammer for grammer’s sake. Predictive learning is active learning so (as with most methods) you get the full benefit from Pimsleur by being an active learner.

    I may have a different experience with this because I am not someone who has never studied a language before. I am an interpreter by profession ( not Spanish). I was partially raised in Panama, went to Spanish schools and was fluent as a child (with the limits of a child’s vocabulary). This is working out to be the perfect course for me to reclaim the Spanish I did have and I am confident that after going through the four Spanish courses offered I will be fluent as an adult. Then again, I am not a passive learner so I don’t just learn the parroted phrases, I am learning the vocabulary, the gender of words, the conjugation of the verbs and with each lesson I experiment and put them together to see what I can say and try to recognize the gaps between what I have learned so far and what I must learn to express what I really want to say. I too, listen to the lessons while driving BUT doing that doesn’t lend itself to very active learning. It is, however, the perfect time to listen to lessons again for review and repetition and to increase your ease of comprehension.

    I believe the best way to learn a language is through immersion – the way children learn all languages – but for most of us, that is not possible. If your goal is to converse in another language, pronunciation and the cultural rhythm of speech are critical. I know several adults who  can write and conjugate almost flawlessly in their second language but their speech is awkward and occasionally almost incomprehensible to native speakers.  As adults we are likely to derive the most benefit from multiple approaches to acquiring a new language. Pimsleur is working great for me and I appreciate that it starts with the basics. ( Where else should it start?) It lays a good foundation for exponentially faster learning as the course progresses.

    LOW COST PIMSLEUR: if you do want to try the Pimsleur courses go to: http://www.PimsleurMarketplace.com
    I would have never tried it at full price but here you can buy used and then they have a buy back program which gives you $100 back. They also have good sales so I recently purchased the Spanish  2 and 3 courses for $119 each (plus $9.95 shipping) I then load the courses onto my computer and send the CDs back and get my $100 back on each of them. – I got my courses for $39.00 each – THAT is an unbeatable price if you think you want to try Pimsleur.

    I speak barely passable Italian which I learned in a classroom setting (for me, books are a tedious and painful way to learn a language) and plan to get the Pimsleur Italian courses when I am done with Spanish 4.

    I can’t comment on the Hungarian course but if you want a course that can give you the ability to  communicate the basics and help you feel more comfortable when traveling to a Spanish speaking country, their Spanish 1 course has what you need.

    However you learn best – go for it! Learn as many languages as you can. 

  • Peggie

    I had just ordered the Spanish Pimsleur course for $9.99 – and then thought to research its efficacy.  I very much appreciate your review.  Thanks!  And, especially, how to create my own practice cds.

  • Issler

    i thought it was great
    most of us will one day end up as married businessmen anyway

  • HeliDmitry

    I’ve been using the Pimsleur method for Spanish for almost a month now and I find myself learning quite slow. So I mixed it up with book courses to help me understand the grammar and vocabulary, but I still feel like I’m “not learning anything”. It’s like when I try to speak my target language, it doesn’t come natural in my head. I still have to pause for a few seconds and try to phrase things out in English first before I could even speak a single word in Spanish. Is that normal? I mean, for beginners in a new language? I can already speak three languages but they were taught to me when I was a kid, and I don’t even remember how I learned those languages like they just came naturally. Got any suggestions on what I should do? :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GRH24DYLQNCDUPNGOBMDSQMXS4 Nursey

    I just finished the 8th and final lesson of my 9.95/free shipping Brazilian Portuguese Quick and Simple course, and was looking around online for places to borrow or buy the complete courses. 

    Yay.  Cost doesn’t have to be an issue:    A nearby city’s public library has it, and I can also get it from a wholesaler with a buyback program so that each 30 cd set only costs 30 (used) or 60 (new) with their buy-back program.   If I figure in the gasoline involved in going to get it and return it…..and the unpredictability of getting to keep renewing the darn thing so I can keep it for long enough to do one lesson per day…..might be worth it to buy it and then let them buy it back from me. 

    Since I spend a fair amount of time in the car, it is really easy to fit Pimsleur into my day.

    While the complaints about the material’s irrelevance has some validity, I am glad I will be able to get food and find a bathroom in Brazil, now, lol.   I’ve had good feedback from others about how “native” I sound, too. 

    While the vocab/grammar content could be covered quickly and easily in a text, the ability to get those words and sentences off the tongue neatly, cleanly and effectively can not.  I really appreciate how this program is helping me :  I’m loving how easily the words roll off my tongue.  I’m building kinesthetic memory into my body – the tongue, mouth, etc. -
    so that it is easy to express myself without stumbling when it comes to
    common grammatical constructions, contractions, and vocabulary.

    Pre-Pimsleur, I started trying to learn B.Portuguese at various online sites.  I quickly realized that this language was a LOT harder to pronounce correctly than Spanish and I’ve found the all-audio approach really useful for getting the pronunciation right.  I’m a visual learner, and was really distracted by the letters and diphthongs I didn’t have a handle on, yet.  At the same time, a knowledge of Spanish and SOME exposure to seeing the written B.P. words means that I already understand and even “see” a whole lot of the words I hear. 

    I think I would have achieved fluency if something like Pimsleur had been a big part of my various language courses (in 4 different languages).  As you say, it forces you to think and speak quickly.  I don’t mind the repetition, because I focus on imitating the pronunciation and intonation as exactly as I can.  When they run words together, I practice that, too, and I hope  it will help me understand people better when I’m in Brazil.  

    The pause button helps me make my Pimsleur time more effective and more creative. 
    I like being able to pause the cd and work on repeating anything that I can’t say as quickly and easily as the speakers do.   And I practice rearranging the words as my vocabulary grows.    Hopefully I’ll be able to practice with some real native speakers soon. 

    Because I’ve studied a few languages, I don’t expect Pimsleur to fulfill all my learning needs, but I can see how your warning could be useful to newbies. At the same time, I wouldn’t want them to be scared away from something so useful just because it isn’t “perfect.”  Even in  this quickie course, they have introduced “want” plus infinitives, for example, so it is very easy to communicate a lot without knowing how to conjugate a lot of verbs.  Just add some new nouns and verbs from whatever source, and voila, tons of new things to express. 

    I like the youtube videos from streetsmartbrazil, too.  They help with the sort of casual and colloquial conversations that are more likely to be happening, point out words that are spelled the same in English and BP (and how they are pronounced), clue you in on similar words that can create embarrassing situations, numbers, dates, soccer vocab, helpful cultural info, and much more. 

     Thanks for the article and the interesting links!

  • Stan Moon

    Hmm, I learned Brazilian Portuguese this way, or at least it gave me a huge boost.  I lived in Brazil for two years and had great difficulty even at 6 months in and gave this a shot and it helped a ton.  It is funny that you say the Hungarian version is for ‘married-businessmen’ because the Brazilian (and later I noted it on the Spanish versions) are for a ‘single-guy-that-wants-to-get-laid’.   Many of the early lessons had you buying beers for women in bars and asking them to visit you in the Hotel.

    I do think it gave me confidence though.  Although, had I gone through all three levels before moving to Brazil I wouldn’t have been able to speak fluent Portuguese the first day.  I think I could have had people understand me and been able to communicate basic things though.  Worth the money, I’d say no, I borrowed all three levels from someone who was living there though but only got through the basic before I started learning just from speaking it.

  • Hierophant

    Ah, that is how I handled Pimsleur’s courses. Writting down words, checking Forvo and Google Translate, and googling phrases to see if any native speakers actually used them. I don’t think I could use Pimsleur by itself. At the moment I have nice foreign friends to speak with.

    Also, I have to agree with who the courses seem targeted towards. Maybe it’s just the Japanese course, but sometimes I find them a little, …off putting; How many times does the woman have to rebuff my request to go somewhere?? The narrator is a cool dude – ask her for a drink! She said ‘no’?? Ask her to lunch! She said ‘no’? Let’s ask her to join you for dinner! She said ‘Yes, sure’?? Yeah, you wore her down, little buddy!

    Now imagine that you see a coworker, you want to badger him until he relents…

  • Tamara

    Thankyou so much for opening my eyes to research before I spend money. I had taken my targeted language in High School and college but unfortunately had taken by no choice of my own another language in Junior High, High school and college which was Spanish because of the book learned and then the capability to utilize Spanish I am very fluent in written and spoken Spanish; however my targeted language (French) only have written, and now want the spoken, and I am a visual learner. So now I need to decide what to do. I want to become as fluent if not more fluent in French. Once I have achieved this want to introduce another language. Thanks again.

  • John Broglio

    Excellent review. The comments are also helpful, especially the ones about how a good audio course helps you internalize rhythm and sentence structure. With this review, someone with the funding could do a much-improved, updated Pimsleur replacement. The sad thing is that of all the audio courses I have checked out in various languages, Pimsleur was the only competent, usable one.
    My approach is to start with Pimsleur so I get the sounds and rhythms in my brain, then go to reading — typically on my Kindle with the appropriate dictionary and some grammar books (I like the Practice Makes Perfect series). Then go to native speakers if I can.
    It is true that Pimsleur will help you acquire an accent and a rhythm that is understandable to natives. But you have to imitate the speakers as if you were impersonating pop song stylings–note for note. That will help shift your brain to the new sound context. (Actually learning songs is also a big help.)

  • Rick Henderson

    I just saw the ad today, and have read the reviews and the comments and I’m totally willing to pay $10 US for the first lesson (Mandarin) and cancel the future CDs that get sent to me, or at least listen to it within 30 days and send it back. I like the options you post for creating your own since I’ve never heard of some of those sites. I’m lucky that I do have a few Chinese people I could get to speak that I could record, but maybe others don’t. I’ll let you know what I think… I already know some conversational mandarin and can recognize some characters but pronounciation and accent I need help on.

  • Hooray

    Thanks for the comprehensive review! I also very much
    appreciate the detailed and helpful responses.

    First, about the price: They match any advertised price.

    I called them to cancel the automatic shipment of the real
    course and told the CS person that I had found the whole NEW set of 3 levels
    for $375 on eBay (Thanks to Phil for the tip!). Their regular rate is a few
    dollars less than $600 for the same (30 hour course, I believe). Boy, am I glad
    that I had read your review! Or I could have been ripped off big time.

    I am working on the “teaser” CDs for Hebrew now and LIKE IT
    very much! I am from Japan, and English is my second language. I speak like a
    native most of the time after many years of having lived here in the US; people
    think I’m from here. I did not have much trouble with picking up
    pronunciations. I have also tried some Spanish and French. So I have some
    experience with learning languages that are not my mother tongue. I agree with
    some of the commentators that this course gives the language center in your
    brain a good “training.” Languages like Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, etc. that
    sound and look totally different from English, and with very unfamiliar
    syllable combinations and new sounds, demand a serious training of your brain, sensory
    systems, and motor functions. That is what the Pimsleur Program seems to primarily
    do. I had tried another program with DVD and a book by Prologue (Israeli
    company) but without some knowledge of the basics of aleph-beit and vowel
    symbols, you are lost. I knew some already, but I quit because it was boring;
    not much interactions. Actually, the book confused me with too much information
    all at once.

    You can build up on what you learn from the Pimsleur. But,
    it may be an overstatement to say that listening is all you need, and it is
    also unrealistic to expect it. You will need to come up with your own way to
    add to it. I look up words for spelling and vowel symbols to be accurate and
    write down the sentences after a lesson. I am kind of “visual” too. This helps me to
    build up even more next day when I work on the next lesson. I was surprised how
    fluently I can say some sentences after a couple of lessons. I was also able to
    hear and comprehend conversations very quickly. I found myself uttering the words
    and sentences I had learned between the lessons, while I was doing dishes and
    walking around in the house. It gives you a very good core training to build up
    on, and helps you build up fast.

    Lastly, here is something I have learned:

    The best language learning experience can be achieved by
    combining all visual, audio, phonetic, and kinetic (including writing,
    gesturing, role playing, walk-talk, etc.). Each of us has different preferences
    of styles, so do what you need to do to make it the best experience! However,
    it is imperative that you have some kind of “pressure” like exams and actual
    conversational interactions to make it stick.

    That is why “suddenly being left alone in a totally strange
    country with no money in your pocket” . . . works the best.

    Shalom!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.powers1989 Brian Powers

    I actually began using the Pimsleur method experimentally after reading this particular review. I’ve been seeing it for a while now any time I use the internet. “Genius linguist invents AMAZING system to make you fluent in ANY language in TEN MINUTES! just follow these easy steps…..”.

    As anyone should be, I was skeptical to the point of utter disgust, but over time I eventually began seeing that this system, albeit maybe not its advertising, seemed to be a legitimate language learning process used by a lot of people with varying degrees of success. I had had various years of formal Spanish classes and had the opportunity to use it extensively in the workplace, but I never felt as though it was “complete”. To test Pimsleur I decided to choose a language I knew virtually nothing of, but that had a full 90 lesson curriculum. I approached it from the linguistic POV of being interested more in language acquisition than actually learning myself a new language. I chose Russian for a few reasons. It was different, non-Romance, didn’t use the Latin alphabet, and has been considered by many people to be exceedingly difficult for a L1 English speaker to tackle.

    Ultimately, my findings were *mostly* in accordance with your own. The benefits are pretty obvious; it’s easy, somewhat rewarding, encouraging, and does in fact give a fairly strong framework upon which to build your 2nd, 3rd or whatevereth language!

    Where we differ in opinion/observation:

    It has been stated many times now in the comments that going beyond the first “level” does give you a more rigorous and intensive language workout. I found that level two was at least 100% more difficult than level 1. Stringing entire sentences together with a myriad of combinations that was barely reminiscent of the ease at which the first 30 lessons were endured. I think you acknowledge this though, and if I had been using this method for the pure intention of learning Russian, I would have been disillusioned after level 1 for sure.

    One of the biggest barriers I had to overcome when I began the program was that of the scare tactics employed by the company. The program comes with strict instructions NOT to use any outside material, notebooks, dictionaries or anything else. As you mention, and has been mentioned by other linguists and polyglots, the notion of “organic learning” or learning as a child would is incredibly inapplicable to an adult learner. Perhaps this falls under the category of “another excuse people wield to defend their laziness”.

    I did the entire first 30 lessons by the book. The way it wanted me to, and without employing any other methods, note taking, our other outside research. Frankly, I found this to be stupid. To me this sounds like a marketing tactic designed to reel the learner into a psychological dependence on the Pimsleur method where there is no need.

    The program instructs that you do only one lesson a day because for whatever reason humanity is incapable of retaining information beyond half an hour per day. (A theory that would seriously challenge the entire notion of formal schooling, besides being simply batshit crazy.) Thus, I will often do two or three lessons per day, repeating those in which I do not feel as confident, taking notes all the while.

    My advice for anyone attempting to use the Pimsleur method is that while the system is not ultimately bad; take its instructions with a grain of salt. Put forth additional effort to learn the words you want, and mix them into the sentences it asks of you.

    You mention the program’s tendency to repeat words you really *didn’t* need help with, an obnoxious redundancy that I will sometimes assuage with an alternative word or words that i did want to use. Sometimes I found myself constructing more elaborate conversations with myself over the audio, virtually ignoring its requests. As long as I continued to incorporate the new material it insisted upon, the spaced repetition and other attributes that DO make Pimsleur useful are still effective.

    I should note that I did use a pirated version. It did not come with a functioning written portion, and I have had to teach myself the alphabet and phonology of the Cyrillic alphabet myself. I consider my Russian literacy far weaker than my oral proficiency but it continues to improve.

    In conclusion: Don’t follow the rules. Do what feels right. Use every source you can and acknowledge that Pimsleur will not make anyone fluent on its own, but as you say it is a good place to start. I would actually say you could use it as a means to attain a satisfactory intermediate level so long as enough additional effort is applied!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kadiology Kadiology Udan

    I used pimsleur german and complete the first 30 lesson. Use it 5 times a week, twice a day, 30 minutes each session while driving to office and back home. It took me 3 month to reach lesson 20, mainly because I feel I am not ready to move to the next lesson, and I repeat many times. anyway, after 20 lesson, I test it during my recent visit to Munich. ya I impress the locals not due to my fluency, but at my attempt to SPEAK the language. it confirms to what other people have said that germans do appreciate it a lot when we try to converse in their language. otherwise I can only say ich versetehe, ich heise, Sie sprecher, ich mochte keine deutsche, wo is the toilete, dort druben, bitte, danke this and that (please excuse my wrong deutsch spelling because 95% of pimsleur is audio) but that was all. they do mentioned that the way I speak is with german accent, that if I have more vocab, they would never can tell if I am a foreigner. so i think it is a good sign.

    However,

  • Antonio Carballo

    I tried other programs (too many to list here) but my experience with Pimsleur (Italian Level I & II) was very rewarding. I do agree that the first 15hrs (each level has 15hrs) are mostly simple phrases and English is spoken for instructions. Level 2 gradually becomes much harder as the encounters, situations, and responses become more sophisticated; the instructions are gradually switched to the target language and by the end of Level 2 English is hardly heard. Level 3 is total submersion of the target language ( no English ).

    Once thing that I do recommend is to write down the verbs being used so that you can look them up for further study. Also, do not study the program while doing other tasks (driving, reading, cleaning, etc..) because it does require complete concentration in order to actively listen/speak the language. Otherwise, you’d waste 30 minutes of chatter.

    Shortly after I finished Level 2 I went to Italy and I was stunned (STUNNED) that I was able to carry on basic conversation with native speakers. Yes, Pimsleur is expensive but it works for those w/o prior experience at learning a new language.

    Love the site!

  • Ryan

    “This is effective, but I prefer a well structured spaced repetition system myself.”

    You prefer spaced repitition? What are you talking about? The entire Pimsleur system is based on spaced repitition! Paul Pimsleur even made his own form of it called graduated-interval recall!

  • dannyR

    I ploughed (‘plowed’, Yanks) through so many comments below before finding Numa.Arg’s priceless discovery: 17 minutes of English out of 90 lessons total for a Pimsleur English language course. I read no further (I’m not surprised now at the ubiquitous Pimsleur pop-up on half the sites I visit: “Language Professors Hate Him!”). After reading that, certainly your suggestion that people can roll their own Pimsleur course should be taken seriously by those willing to spend a few days getting used to procedure.

    I used to spend a lot of time as a library language-learning junkie, and strongly recommend taking 6-7 different courses from a large public library and examining each one for several hours and asking if you really want to study method X for several months, because something can seem good for a couple of weeks only to lead to the realization it’s going to a hopeless pedagogical or practical dead-end.

    I have no doubt that if someone actually commits to Pimsleur and sticks with it through the whole 3 levels and refuses to give up, quite a good level of the L2 will be achieved, but Pimleur (German) was one of those types that I abandoned after only a few minutes listening to on the library machines, although I did find the hitting on a woman scenario everyone mentions rather funny.

    Finally, the state of language-learning in commercial products has advanced well beyond the use of recordings alone, or with books. If the description of Pimsleur still fits its current products, it’s little more than re-packaging vinyl records into mp3′s. For that matter, I don’t think people would do much worse with the ancient Corsi book and recording method. The advances in software, apps, and voice-recognition, etc. make the most modern methods an important consideration.

    Benny: the method you mentioned of pronunciation-learning last to first:

    abcdef

    by:

    f
    ef
    def
    cdef
    etc.

    is called ‘back-chaining’. It’s not a Pimsleur innovation, nor are any other of his ideas. It’s commonly used in teaching ESL, which I used to do, and very effective. It’s also useful for a variety of other language learning tasks, as well as musical score memorization, teaching animal tricks, etc.

  • dannyR

    I think the guy (far below) who extracted the total amount of spoken English in a Pimsleur English course and found it amounted to grand total of 17 minutes did more to expose its claims than any number of paragraphs and posts that could be written here in review could manage.

    I will add that there was never anything new about any element Pimsleur used (for example, the starting from the end of a word and progressively moving toward the end in longer increments that Benny was referring to is not new. It’s called ‘back-chaining’ and it’s used in ESL instruction for pronunciation and has long use in animal training for teaching tricks), and many other courses implement better.

    When I was a language junkie years ago, the best thing to do was to filter a dozen courses for a given language and sit down with them and throw out the 5-6 worst after a few minutes looking, then take the rest for several hours to the library listening section and spend an 1/2 hour to an hour and see whether I could stand the full time needed to learn it, and take the best 2 or 3 home. That filtering method came after painfully discovering after several weeks that a course was hopeless. The Pimsleur German never got to the take-home stage, however. There were just too many better options with better ideas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.baird.79 Daniel Baird

    Hi Benny,

    I came across your review of Pimsleur when considering trying the program, and I was almost disuaded, but I’m glad I tried it after all. For the benefit of others who are reading this article for information on Pimsleur, I would like to add my input.

    I have almost finished the third level of Japanese and have found it very useful. I first got a different audio program from the library which really sucked because it was just listen and repeat and there was no retention. After trying the Pimsleur program, the challenge to recall (which is a part that necessarily has to be in English for you to understand what you are being asked to recall rather than mindlessly repeating the material) enabled me to retain all the material.

    I give a hearty recommendation to the Pimsleur program as a good start, but I will concede that it will not bring you to fluency and other sources will be needed for vocabulary expansion. After paying $9.99 for the Basic 8 lesson trial, I found that my library had the Pimsleur lessons and so I obtained the other lessons for free. Not a great deal for the Pimsleur publisher, but I don’t have the hundreds of dollars to buy the courses outright.

    I wanted to come back to this page and add my input Let me sum up the biggest pros of Pimsleur in my opinion:

    1) Good retention of the material

    2) Ability to learn to lessons while away from my computer and doing other activities like driving or exercising

    3) Free (from the library)

    4) Initial focus on a good understanding of grammar and sentence structure in which vocabulary can later be employed as acquired.

    Let me also add that another language program which I enjoy and is free is Mango Languages. It is an online language learning program which is free through many public libraries.

    Thanks,
    Dan

  • Erica_JS

    Personally I am a big fan of Pimsleur for two reasons: 1) it is ALL AUDIO, not like some audio systems that require you to constantly be consulting a text. This makes it easy to fit your language lesson in while driving, making breakfast, cleaning, etc. Some people might not do well multitasking, but personally I felt it kept me from getting bored on the (not that frequent) occasions that things got repetitive. 2) Native accent! I have gotten a surprising number of compliments on my accent given that I’ve never set foot in France, and the basis for that was starting with the Pimsleur course.

    Now, I did speak Spanish before starting French and I can see how Pimsleur might not be sufficient on its own for a language where you are starting from zero. But it would still be a fantastic supplement if you didn’t have access to other spoken conversation with native speakers.

    Also, a money-saving tip – many public libraries in large cities have the common languages available to check out absolutely free!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roberto-Ribas/528984077 Roberto Ribas

    I used Pimsleur (and online chatting) to learn brazilian Portuguese in 2 months. I already speak Spanish, so I had an advantage, but pimsleur provided the speaking/listening practice I was missing. The review missed an extremely important point: You can do pimsleur method while exercising.

    Unlike Benny, I didn’t have the time to dedicate to the language learning project. I am a full time college professor in a non language field (mathematics) and additionally, I have a side business. And, I like to keep in shape. I was able to use Pimsleur while bike commuting to work along a bike path. 2 hours of exercise a day, combined with language study. I think doing it while riding a bike made it less efficient, so I usually listened to each cd twice, once on the way to work, once on the way home.

    I arrived in Brazil, rented a car, drove around Brazil and hung out with a brazilian family without ever speaking a word of English or Spanish .. I wasn’t fluent, I couldn’t follow the evening news on TV like I can in Spanish, but it was enough, and I was learning very very fast after I got there.

    I later used Pimsleur to start learning conversational Thai. I’m not going to set any time records vis-a-vis Benny, but then again, I’m not really taking a single minute out of my day to devote to the language study.

    (It probably does make my bike ride less energetic though, as I ride more moderately when I’m listening to the language tracks.)

  • Greg Green

    I don’t agree with most of the criticisms leveled here against the Pimsleur method. After learning French in a rather formal manner in high school and German by immersion (a little over two years), I’ve become interested in learning Mandarin Chinese. I am now out of school, and I don’t have time at this point in my life to go off to China for two years, so I’ve acted on the recommendation of a number of friends and begun listening to Pimsleur’s Mandarin I.

    The heart of the Benny’s criticism is that Pimsleur’s vocabulary training is inadequate – that it lacks both quantity and relevancy – and that the course teaches the student to parrot phrases, but not to form novel phrases spontaneously.

    When learning a language, it is not important to amass a large vocabulary early on. However, it is essential that one learn correct pronunciation, as bad habits are very difficult to correct later on. It is also important to gain an intuition for the grammatical structure of the language. Most students of a foreign language first learn the grammar formally, and only later develop an intuitive feel for correct sentence structure. You’ll never get to speaking a language fluently if you have to recall formal grammar in real-time.

    From what I’ve experienced, Pimsleur teaches these two aspects of language effectively. Which words you learn in the first 15 hours is largely irrelevant, since they are simply tools to introduce you to the sound and structure of the language. If after 15 hours, you have a small vocabulary, but are able to pronounce all of the words correctly, and able to form them into novel sentences, then you have a very solid foundation on which to build.

    I simply do not understand Benny’s criticism about parroting phrases. I actually think that one of the strongest features of the Pimsleur method is that it does prepare the student to take part in real conversations. So far, every lesson in Mandarin I that I have listened to has asked me to take part in a short conversation, and challenged me to figure out how to say one or another new phrase with the vocabulary I’ve already learned. Moreover, almost all of the words are used in multiple phrases. Where Benny sees parroting, I see learning to use a word in multiple contexts and reinforcement through staged repetition.

    The bottom line: vocabulary is secondary in the early stages of learning a language. Correct pronunciation, an intuitive feel for grammar, and being able to recall under time pressure are much more important. If you don’t learn all of the vocabulary you’d like to know in 15 hours, don’t sweat it. Learning a language takes far longer than 15 hours, and if you can already recall and pronounce a few hundred words, and form them into grammatically correct sentences, then you can easily begin to branch out on your own.

  • http://twitter.com/WahJahReportson WahJah Report

    I have used Pimsleur to get the basics down in four languages (I am fluent in two of them), and I take issue with Pimsleur bashing.

    As a single brick in a larger house of language fluency (Which includes reading practice, exposure to the language through TV programs, etc.), Pimsleur MORE than holds its own weight. Granted, it might be expensive, but many libraries have Pimsleur courses that can be checked out, so I don’t think criticisms shouldn’t be solely based on price of entry.

    With Pimsleur (Divorced from the price), you can take otherwise dead time spent driving, doing dishes, etc. and get FAMILIAR WITH A LANGUAGE. It’s converting dead time into language competence; how cool is that!? Yeah you might not like every aspect of what is taught, but to complain that Pimsleur isn’t efficient enough is like complaining about a machine that turns SOME of your garbage into gold. Sure, it’s not turning ALL of your garbage into gold, but it’s better than nothing! What else can easily turn your dead time into something so valuable?

  • http://www.facebook.com/chilvence Laurie Chilvers

    I agree with almost everything you said, and you are definitely spot on about the ridiculous context (I can almost feel myself wearing an invisible suit and umbrella every time I use a Pimsleur course), but I still don’t think you give them enough credit.

    For me, the best thing about discovering the Pimsleur courses was the fact that they actually work at all, because the rest of these types of things like Berlitz are near worthless! I may not be terribly well spoken in german, french, spanish, russian, and norwegian, but the fact that I can actually decipher any of it at all is exactly infinity times one hundred percent more understanding than I would have if I was trying to use books.

    The audio only factor is the godsend, because A: The latin alphabet and indeed any other is an extremely blunt instrument of language transmission in my opinion (and I can read most of them), and B: I can decide on a whim to learn a token amount of Danish while I am lifting weights, making an omelette, cutting my toenails, riding a bike, staring blankly at wall etc – it doesn’t intrude on my life obnoxiously and force me to sit at desk – that in itself is a priceless benefit. I think it is almost unique in that it teaches you without forcing you :)

    So yeah, it isn’t perfect. But well worthy of a successor in the same mould.

  • score1952

    Everyone learns differently. If you want to learn you have to start somewhere. I have never taken any language course; however, at different ages I have lived in foreign countries where it is obvious that the best way to learn a language is immersion as a very young kid as I lived in a foreign country for 2 1/2 years with few children my age, so my two older brothers became my playmate while our once a week maid for 2 1/2 years was my immersion into that foreign language. I later went on to take 3 years of the same language in high school and another 3 years of the same language at the college level. Yes, by the college level, I could read the most celebrated authors from that country; however, in all 6 years of taking the same foreign language, I could never approach conversational skills. As an adult when I meet someone from that country, I immediately start talking to them in their native tongue in the very low level conversational language which I learned as a child from our weekly maid when my mother took off to run her errands for the week which forced me to talk to the maid in her native language. Whether a foreign language is learned in school or through a course like this, real conversational teaching of a language cannot be taught. Reading some fairly complex things can be learned in school or through courses or self-study, but speaking these languages with the right pronunciation and at a conversational level is almost impossible to learn. One can learn how to ask where is the bathroom; however, living in a different foreign country with a different language, I have found that one can ask the same sentence inquiring about the location of the bathroom which is easy. The difficult thing is that if you ask this one simple question to a million different people who speak the same language that you may get up to one million answers with some being fairly short answers while other may be long complex answers as which direction to go, when and where to turn right or left (possibly using descriptions of the building such as which hallways to turn rather than using the words right or left) which making the question of where is the bathroom taught by any course or self-taught, but by far the most difficult part of learning conversational foreign languages is the ability to hear what is being said. Now, in my adult years and living in a foreign country where I have never had any formal training in the language, I pick up some of the basics, but I am a very visual person meaning that if I see a new word I do not know in writing that makes all of the difference to me in my learning. Again, as an adult, there is a maid that comes twice weekly to the house with whom I can speak only the very basics. I have paid her for language lessons. She is very intelligent with young school age kids, so I assume that she has in recent years taught them their own native language, how to read and write, and the meaning of more complex words as her children mature which would kind of make it a natural to teach someone like me who knows very little about her language. She is very intelligent with a very educated pronunciation and with very educated writing skills. She is a stern task master when it comes to pronunciation which I like; however, this teaches me only how to properly pronounce difficult words while it teaches me no conversational abilities. It is difficult for me who knows little to nothing about her language for her to teach me her native language as she knows little to nothing about my native English. We came to a crossroads that we cannot learn to better communicate on a conversational level. Resorting to computer translation programs on the Internet allows us to communicate at a intermediate conversational level using computer translations. The translation programs are not too accurate interpreters to allow for a very advanced
    conversational communications. I have chances for immersion two days a week with the maid but have learned very little while I can go throughout the neighborhood or travel in and out of the country using the primarily nouns and the wrong tense of a verb just to get an idea across. I am also one who is not good at the “imagine” concept; however, when I go to a bank for a banking transaction or to the grocery store while in the checkout line, I do “anticipate what the native language speaker is going to say or might ask in advance”, so I can respond with a simple yes, no, or that is all. I do this anticipating of what the other person might ask me in their native language because I know I will not be able to understand what is being said, only in some cases, because of my low listening comprehension when someone speaks to me at a normal or fast rate in their native language. Just like anywhere else, there will be the proper way to pronounce the word, and there is the actual way the locals slur the pronunciation or have their own regional pronunciations as it is rare to come across a totally neutral accented speaker of any language including my native English. One of the highly advertised and fairly expensive courses for foreign languages not only have I read but I have spoken to my fellow adult English speakers who say they just cannot learn the local language from that course. I have read that the course in question is aimed more at a low intermediate or intermediate speaker and that it would probably be better to take a basic course followed by an advanced basic course or a low intermediate course before taking this highly advertised and expensive foreign language program. It is not easy to learn a foreign language, and it is much more difficult to learn to understanding a foreign speaker. My view is that while no course is perfect with many courses concentrating on travel terms that there is no complete course which will teach you a conversational foreign language. As I am married to a native speaker, and often spouses are not the best teachers of their own native language unless they have tremendous patience and like to teach, while I live in a foreign country, I am only partially immersed. I may finally understand a word I have heard for 2 or 3 years, so there is some immersion. The only way to learn a foreign language is to start somewhere even if it is with a below average or average or slightly above average. Then, study hard, and pick and choose the next level course. Simply finding a native speaker on the Internet is not an easy way to learn a foreign language as to find someone on the Internet who is willing to teach is not common while finding someone on the Internet who has the time, teaching skills, patience, and knowledge of English is even more of a long shot. The key to learning a foreign language is whatever fits your ways of learning the best. There is not going to be one course which will teach you conversational foreign languages. Hard study over many years is the answer. So, yes, it is easy to criticize a basic course or an intermediate course, but courses are designed for the general public and not for a specific individual which is why each person will learn a language differently if they have the motivation, time, and ability to study, study, study which gets you only part of the way to competent conversational foreign language skills. Many people in other countries learn English by watching American TV programs where the English language spoken in the TV script is full of incorrect English, English idioms not commonly used, double entendres, word play for jokes, American news topics or names of Americans which are totally meaningless to someon who does not know English, captions do not interprete what is being said in English, etc… And, yes, many non-English speakers who try to learn English this way eventually gain an understanding because they study hard using a variety of sources as not one course or one source or one person is going to give you instant conversational foreign language skills particularly courses on foreign languages taught in schools which may give you grammar, vocabulary, and an ability to read with some degree of comprehension. Each person has to learn their own way based upon their resources and time and effort they are willing to put into learning a new language as there is and never will be a single course which will take you from the basics to complex conversational skills in any language.

  • http://www.facebook.com/philip.jones.12327 Philip Jones

    I’ve tried 15 of the Pimsleur courses (I can get them free from my library). I agree with all of your criticisms but still think it is a worthwhile course for BEGINNING language study – mostly for the accent practice. It is only 45 hours, which can be listened to while driving or working out and the review is all built in so it is a very lazy course to use.

  • ckott99

    I have done all 3 levels of Pimsleur’s Russian audio course. For me, it was the single best thing I’ve ever done in the way of language studies.

    I had 4 years of high school French and 2 years of college German using classic study methods (learning the grammar rules first, heavy text emphasis, 1 teacher for 20 or so students). It seemed to me that I put in an extraordinary amount of effort and got only a little bit language ability out. Yes, I could read somewhat, but my speaking and listening ability was pitiful.

    With respect to Russian, I have tried many independent study materials. Although almost everything I tried when I started was advertised as being for beginners, most were in fact ill suited for absolute beginners.

    Pimsleur was the breakthrough I needed. It got me through the steep initial learning curve so that I could effectively use other “beginner” material such as Learn In Your Car Russian, and Transparent Language’s excellent but discontinued Russian Now! multimedia software.

    For me, Pimsleur was the best fit into my life of all materials I’ve ever tried; I could get in typically 2 hours per day of study without having to put aside time exclusively for language study. I listened while driving to/from work, during lunch break, and while doing house work such as cutting the grass and cleaning chores.

    Big strengths of Pimsleur are learning to speak with correct pronunciation, understand the spoken word, and gain a solid foundation of how the core of the language functions. Text based learning inevitably leads to incorrect spoken pronunciation and an inability to understand native speakers. Although several reviewers have critiqued Pimsleur for turning out mindless “Parrots”, my experience is that people greatly appreciate being able to easily understand the words a person speaks.

    With respect to Pimsleur Russian, I really would have liked a 4th level to build a larger vocabulary. The only criticism made by others that resonated with me is that I also felt that there was too much in the way English explanations, which could have been more succinct.

    If you are thinking of making a purchase, be aware one can find new Pimsleur material on the internet and eBay at 1/3 list price.

    When evaluating what Pimsleur gives in the way of effectivenes for the price and the other available alternatives, I think it’s a good deal. The one caveat I have is that if your purpose is to read and post to internet blogs, Pimsleur gives you virtually nothing in the way of text skills.

    A person couldn’t become fluent in a second language using Pimsleur alone… and I am unaware of any single off-the-shelf study program that will. But if your goal is to have verbal communication, Pimsleur’s a hell of a good start for most people.

    Good luck to all in your language studies!

    Scott

  • Timmy

    You know Japanese?
    Do you have Skype maybe you can teach me. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/unpetitdejeuner Shannon Mackie

    Lovelovelove Pimsleur. No, the conversations themselves weren’t good for me since I am not a businessman in Brazil, but I then was able to assume how to construct my own sentences, and from that I learned certain patterns. Couldn’t be happier. Of course I chose to bulk up my own vocabulary using other methods, but I don’t think I could progress as much as I do in language without the help of Pimsleur.

  • Esther Nelson

    Sorry, JP, but it is possible to learn languages by reading. I had to learn Latin as a basis for a doctorate in Spanish, and no one really knows how classical Latin was pronounced, since it evolved into various languages that pronounce the same word differently. The Romans had no recorders. The “c” in Castilian Spanish sounds like a “th” before “e” or “i”; in French it sounds like “s” and in German the “c” evolved into “k” as in “Kaiser” (from “Caesar”).

    I taught Spanish at Gallaudet University and deaf students were able to learn Spanish, French and other languages through the grammatical method and even to speak a little after learning the sounds of letters that were the same or similar in English. At the time, an experimental method known as “cued speech” enjoyed a brief popularity. It was based on lip reading accompanied by hand signs at the side of the mouth to distinguish between similar sounds (“m, p and b” or “f and v”) or “t and d” etc.) Depending on how much they dedicated themselves to reading, the students were able to write quite good essays and stories in Spanish in my classes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xxnecraxx Peggy Kane

    What are you thoughts on michel thomas

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I tried it briefly for Chinese. I’d like to use it properly for another language before writing up my thoughts on it, but in Chinese I found that it felt like being in a classroom again, so I didn’t enjoy it. Then again, many versions now are read by others that aren’t Michel himself.

  • Eric Grosser

    As a passionate language enthusiast, I have found the ASSIMIL method to be the best by far. It combines shorts texts with audio that are entertaining. There’s always a “punch line” to the short dialogues that make it exciting. It incorporates grammatical explanations as they arise in the dialogues. After completing the 100 lessons contained in the course, you have a very strong foot hold in the language, to the point where it’s possible to read newspapers & even listen to news broadcasts. Although I have used Pimsleur and others in the past, I find that only the ASSIMIL method is effective

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25307711 Dan Blass

    Why would you rate Lonely Planet phrasebooks so highly and Pimsleur so lowly? You talk quite highly of the phrasebooks, but they are loaded with translations too. If you aren’t learning a romance language, there is a good chance you have no idea how the language is pronounced, and you can forget intonation. The transliterated phrases using English letters often leave you with saying something that may very well not be understood at all by the local if you’re learning something outside the romance languages. I like Pimsleur as most of my fellow countrymen that try to learn a new language, start off with an accent that can be quite distracting and unpleasant to listen to for more than 3 minutes. Pimsleur allows you to be a monkey, where a native wouldn’t have the patience or go crazy helping you repeat phrases and sounds. The drawbacks of Pimsleur are obvious, it does move slowly and is passive learning, but so are the phrasebooks. You have to put both into practice. I personally would probably use both. The biggest obvious drawback to Pimsleur is the price, so maybe I wouldn’t end up using it at all as it is OBVIOUSLY overpriced.

    I think a lot of your reviews tend to be… “these resources are total crap”. This review is a bit more balanced in my opinion, but nevertheless, I think keeping the emphasis on speaking and weighing the appropriate advantages vs disadvantages of a resource is the best way to go. Although the “this resource is crap” reviews are more entertaining and might work better for keeping an actively engaged and listening audience! That’s how I got here actually! lol

    I would also say the criticism of the usefulness of vocabulary in a situation in a restaurant is a bit on the harsh side. I think tourists or people just visiting Hungary are quite likely to come across this situation on even on the first day they arrive to Hungary. Perhaps they chose the situation as it shows interesting characteristics and features of the language. Which situation do you think would have been better?

    Anyway, I think combining resources is a great way to go. I listened to 3 hours of Pimsleur Hebrew and used a phrasebook and had a great time being in Israel for 5 days.

    Anyway, I’d like to not just write too much constructive criticism here, because your ideas of just speak, no fear, and positivity toward language learning are great. I hope you are able to generate enough funds to keep this site going and give language learners good advice outside of the business of all the publishers, etc that offer some truly overpriced products.

    Best of luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mavery76266 Mike Avery

    Without getting into the merits of their product, I have trouble doing business with any company that spams so much. I just don’t want to reward them with my money for their bad net behavior.

  • Joseph Bradfield

    I have formally taken German, Latin and Greek in college settings. I learned Spanish over the past 30 years from friends, acquaintances, and by auditing a Spanish course. I bought the Pimsleur Gold series (3 levels) for French, and I think you sold his research a little short in your critique. It is the *beginning* of fluency, not an end. It’s based on the fact that language *is* oral, and that writing it is symbolic representation to recall the oral language. I took the course STRONGLY tempted to look up the words in Google translate — and most of the time felt that I had cheated myself. Only a couple times did it help me understand if the speaker were saying “b” and not “p” for instance. The rest of the time, as soon as I had given in, I realized I damaged my “ear” for the language. …. The *next* stage is literary achievement. But it is based on a solid understanding of how the language should sound. And THIS is what was missing from all my scholastic settings in the other languages (except for Spanish, where in that audited course you needed to pair with local native-Spanish-speakers for the assignments). Pimsleur is a foundation for learning a language fluently. It is not “the way” to learn the language completely. As for relevance, the series starts out by telling you the phrases were carefully chosen models that would be most useful for “building upon,” making it easier to pick up content words as you progressed later. And the repetition *is* spaced out. A lot of Pimsleur’s work was based on *not* wasting time, but timing out the repetition for exactly when you need it. ——— I think these things need to be said for a fairer critique of the method.

  • Joseph Bradfield

    Better maybe to get it from television with captions on in your own language. Television in America has gravitated to a “general” American English, except for certain characters. Maybe that’s true of other countries?

    There are many ways to learn language. And the mistake is thinking there should be “one” way. Pimsleur has never promoted itself as the “one” way to learn language. It promoted itself as the way in, to start. And it’s important to know that you don’t want to adulterate his method until you’ve gotten through it — then add the rest. Get the fundamentals of the oral language first, he’s saying. THEN build on it. Anything else will be English driven. His whole point was that language is first and foremost, fundamentally, oral. Written language is an encoded system for recalling the oral. So make sure your oral understanding is trained FIRST. Then inundate yourself with everything else.

  • Sarah Sim

    Just a quick comment. I would say I am a visual learner. That is I will read a book and then be able to tell you that something was about 1/2 through the book on the left hand page near the top. As I am an adult and read the Queen’s English very well, learning a language by seeing it has always been a block.

    I tried Reader’s Digest At Home with German, many years ago. I found it a real breakthrough. My pronunciation was very good and I was actually able to learn the words and understand the spoken language. I soon realised that there is no reason to see the language. I already read very well. What is important is that I know how the German’s pronounce their alphabet and marks such as umlaut. I was really surprised that I could a german newspaper and read bits of it. I found I was reading it in German, not with an English accent.

    So a few years later when I tried Italian with Rosetta Stone on my PC, I immediately turned off the text as it was throwing me.

  • Andy

    Hey Neil! Nice to see another person who decided to give the Pimsleur Turkish “version” a whirl. Not at all bad, I must say, but you’re right: this is only BASIC stuff. Very basic. And what Benny found out about the courses proved true here too: I can’t identify with *any* of the characters there. I have no car (I love to go by train, but how come the conversation to be used inside a train was ENTIRELY MISSING!?). And have no ‘spouse’, nor any children. But still, I have to (virtually) ask others about how many children they have. And how many of which are sons and daughters. (Maybe the course is mainly made for women, who are known to ask everyone these things every day? ;)) But for real: the ‘businessman on a weekend trip’ hits the nail on the head IMHO. This is not for thirtysomethings like me who’ve decided to stay a bit more ‘juvenile’ than your typical father-with-a-number-of-kids.— And again things hit the spot perfectly: the formal ‘you’ is a bit too formal for younger peeps. We hadn’t even a way to switch to another more informal ‘you’, because they refused to teach us this whatsoever! —

    Alright: some more impressions. Especially for Turkish, I was happy to not only have the audio as they had 30 years ago, but also the Internet! Though it’s not “meant” for learners to see how words/sentences are written, Google Translate did a perfect job here! THANKS! You listen, listen again, type in: xxxyyzz’ and you get: ‘Did you mean: xxxyyyyzzzz?’ Fantastic! That’s why I can even WRITE some Turkish now just by “guessing” the spelling and let GT correct me (note: I concede this will NOT work so easily in Portuguese or Danish, since the words may be VERY different from their written form, whilst in Turkish (or Finnish), things are pretty straight-forward). All in all, we’re in a much luckier situation than the learners were when Pimsleur was still alive!! Consider this, everyone. They were stuck to their then-audio *cassettes* and had not the slightest idea of how to write a word. (Poor folks they were – my deepest sympathy!)
    If I summarize, I have to say: NEVER use Pimsleur alone, but do use – at least – the Internet to help you! Combining this audio stuff with written texts is perfect, but the audio alone will leave you quasi-illiterate! (i. e. you won’t even be able to read a tabloid headline!!)
    P.S. That obnoxious phrase ‘Bir şey yemek ister misiniz?’ could really be a hot candidate to be carved on my gravestone sometime. They really repeated it a little TOO MUCH. I even think it was the most used sample question in the whole 30 lessons. OK, repetition is part of the show, but at THAT extent?!

  • andrewsami70

    Hey benny, i am doing pimsleur french now and first of all the company advertising ( learn a language in 10 days with pimsleur )

  • Nora Galvin

    We have Pimsleur free through our library, but I just hate it. When I was 13 and starting French, we had a new lesson every day, writing, homework, and plenty of talking in class, so that took well. I have no problem with learning by rote, in fact it works well for me, but Pimsleur is so dumbed down, slow and phoney that the irritation becomes the focus rather than the learning. Byki (which we also had free through our library) allows you to read while you listen and repeat. I bought the iPhone program for Irish, and am also doing a class, other other programs with their recordings and books, and a group where people meet to chat. I tried learning Greek through pop music while reading the lyrics. I didn’t get far, but what stuck with me stays. (Another anomaly was that though I studied Tibetan daily during 2 years of classes, I cannot speak it at all. It took so long to learn to read it that I suppose I’ll always be able to do so.)

  • bantau

    Thank You. Since I actually need to do business in Japan, your review was very helpful to me. I will go with a more comprehensive approach.

  • Semweni

    I had the exact same likes and dislikes with Pimsleur-I tried Croatian and Czech. It’s only very useful if you have a few hours to kill and you are on a trip. It would need to build on complexity a lot faster, and come with a written guide (figuring out which sound was ň, n, i, y, in Czech with no background was impossible!) to be worth half that price.

  • Jane Smith

    Hi Benny. Thanks for your review. I was afraid when I started reading it that I’d end up finding a sponsored link to the software to buy… but this was not your intent!

    I loved your “free do-it-yourself Pimsleur builder” breakdown. I think I’ll use that concept to watch my favorite movie dubbed in French. If I’m interactive with it and have “conversations” with the movie… it might work!

    It would help a lot too if you give an example of what you did (or what you would do) as a simulation of how Pimsleur teaches…. not just the step by step how,… but also a “here’s my script”.

  • Rod

    I got a Pimsluer course for 14 bucks at Aldi. It’s not expensive. I really like it. I understand the criticisms about context, but it’s still good stuff. It works for me. For 14 bucks I have not found anything better for getting a start with Chinese

  • Bonnfire

    Excuse me if this is not the correct place for this question, but have you any review on the Michel Thomas audio technique? I’m interested in Spanish… for travel yes, but also to be able to communicate with Spanish speaking patients in the medical field.

  • Alexandra3ll

    Great article, answered all my questions about the method and confirmed my doubts too. I think the actual method could work for me if the course was designed better. Thank you

  • Neil Gratton

    To an extent I agree with your criticisms of Pimsleur, but in my situation I find it great. I’m a strongly auditory learner, and have nearly 100 minutes in the car each day. I find Pimsleur great for working on my fluency and pronunciation, and it’s my favourite way to start a language. In fact, with beginning Italian I’m using Pimsleur for fluency and pronunciation, Michel Thomas for grammar and structure and Duolingo for vocabulary, and finding that three-way combination a great way to start.

    If I didn’t have so long in the car to do the audio, I’d probably have a different preference – but I find Pimsleur good for my fluency while putting a low enough strain on my brain that I can still drive safely (one or two audio courses I tried required too much concentration to focus fully on the road!) Otherwise, all that commuting time feels rather wasted. (I also keep my Spanish up to date by listening to Spanish music and podcasts in the car).

    I started German years back with Pimsleur and Michel Thomas (again, during long commutes) and found that a great start too – though obviously weak on vocabulary, but I had a few good conversations in German off the back of it.

    Incidentally, an increasing amount of the instructions are in the target language as you work through the three levels.

    While with Pimsleur you don’t necessarily learn that much (content), you do learn it extremely well.

  • deenibeeni

    I’ve just started Pimsleur Italian 3. The main reason I started with Pimsleur was that 1) it was available at my local library (free), and 2) I really like the audio approach, since I’m already at my computer 12 hours a day and couldn’t bear the thought of more. I took a little CD player along on my daily dog hikes & spent an hour or more daily, something I never would have done if I’d had to sit in front of my computer. I agree with almost everything you said, with a couple of qualifications. They have started to vary between formal & familiar pretty regularly in later lessons, so that’s good. I did appreciate the native speakers, the emphasis on pronunciation and the music of the language, the intonations. But I was really hoping the translation from English would stop, or at least be greatly reduced, by this point, but it looks like that isn’t going to happen. Maybe in Italian 4. I’m starting to get really irritated when I hear that English-speaking narrator saying “Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant…etc. etc.,” for a couple of reasons. For one thing, at this point, all that could be said in Italian, yet they continue to give these intros in English. You end up getting almost no experience *listening* and *understanding* the language. So I have indeed ended up feeling like a parrot. Although I have to say, some things have begun to feel automatic and have become so without any real explanation, which is good, mostly having to do with changing the endings of adjectives vs. adverbs, and using articles etc. The way that I have tried to deal with this is to give the introduction to myself in Italian and to try to “act out” the scene (good thing I’m alone when I do this, or I’d look like a nutjob): One of the last lessons was about locating something on a map (yes, the ubiquitous travel conversation). This would otherwise just be totally 2-dimensional, so I take out a little piece of paper and imagine it’s a map and imagine I’m talking to someone (my dogs totally know how to get to Piazza San Marco by now) and have the conversation about trying to find something in my own words. It’s the only way to bypass the English translation and to feel I am “inside” the words rather than just “staring” at them from the outside; figuratively, of course, since this is all audio. I have done immersion study in French and Dutch, where a French instructor stood in front of the class on the first day & said “This is the last thing I will say to you in English for the entire semester,” and actually pulled it off. She was remarkably talented at this, and I just inhaled French & after one semester felt more able to have a spontaneous conversation than after 3 years of translation learning in German. In Dutch, I was in Holland at the time and simply forced myself not to speak English (and tried to get people to stop translating things into English but to simply expain it in Dutch, which was challenging, since so many speak English pretty well and are just dying to try it out). In some ways I actually worry about the effect the PImsleur translation approach is going to have on my long-term ability to speak Italian fluently, but I remember that after studying German in all those translation-based classes and feeling unable to have a real conversation after all that time, when I went to Germany, the immersion approach really took over. I hope that’s the case with Italian, but I think I need to get into a conversation class pretty soon or I’ll end up being, as you say, a useless businessman with a wife and two kids traveling to Switzerland.

  • Benjamin Alexander Thornhill

    it does seem very specific in its targeting. as a 17 year old boy who doesn’t travel much i didn’t see the use of a lot of it. but it’s been a helpful tool in developing a basic understanding like you say.

  • Thanatos Towers

    Hello~ I just wanted to share my short experience with Pimsleur Mandarin. I found the first 5~8 lessons really, really helpful, making me comfortable with a foreign language, and making me feel/sense the progress. But after that, it started getting really repetitive. Many phrases would be repeated until my mind would go numb.

    Indeed, what helps with language learning is to be able to choose to learn what a person is interested in. This felt like an old-school class strictly following a textbook (even though this is just audio).

    Pimsleur Mandarin uses tone 1,2,3 or 4 where actually weak tone (tone 5) is used nowadays. I guess it’s old school pronunciation or something. Pimsleur also doesn’t point to tone sandhi, so it feels stupid when the narrator mentions it’s the 3rd tone, and yet it’s obviously the 2nd tone in the word currently being taught. It can be so confusing for those who are not aware of this. (prior knowledge is needed)

    And maybe the most important thing. I have compared the last lesson of Pimsleur Mandarin 3 (advanced) with a Newbie podcast from chinesepod. The podcast for newbies sounds so natural and “free”, while even this advanced Pimsleur conversation sounded “off”, or should I say, lacking a natural-tone quite much. I don’t mean the speed of conversation. It’s just that, easy lessons from a podcast sound more natural than Pimsleur. Seems like Pimsleur is after all, and old school “book” for teaching a language. It just lacks the freedom by sooo much.

    I would say that 10 or less lessons are great for anyone starting a language, but going past that point is really not worth of it. It will try to keep out the “life” of the language you are trying to learn away from you. Grab the life! Podcasts, tv shows and native speakers! Dump the books as soon as possible~ Only reference books when needed for some quick info or explanation.

    Good luck to everyone~!

  • Noni Joose

    What would you recommend for learning a new language? What , in your opinion, is the best program?

  • Daniel Brockert

    I think your hardcore self-directed approach is superior, but for someone that doesn’t want to have to make their own vocab lists or audio lessons (and wants a certain level of unpredictability) the Pimsleur lessons can be useful. Even taking all of your totally accurate criticisms into account I still quite enjoy the Pimsleur lessons- but never use them exclusively.

  • EricAnon

    Your article overlooks the most significant advantages of the Pimsleur method – ie: accent reduction, motor memory, and the fact that it can be done while on the go (walking, driving, etc – any mindless task).

    I advise anyone who is just getting started with a language to do Pimsleur first before ever looking at the written language. That can seriously screw up your accent.

    My learning strategy is: Complete Pimsleur course, then short short stories and pop music, then newspaper articles and finally a television series with closed captioning (NOT english captioning- captioning in the language being learned).

    I’ve done this with Portuguese, French, and Russian with great success.

    • Monica S

      Hey there I would like to thank you for sharing your learning strategy, I’ve always used the other way around ( which helped me a lot). While learning English I used to watch tv all the time with english subtitles, even movies in English with english subtitles so I could see actually how to write down phrases or sentences. Your way sounds great as well, I just tried with a movie (trying to learn French now) and it works! I am excited! :)

  • Charles Cornelius

    I’ve had a little go with Pimsleur Russian. It felt like the Michel Thomas Method in ultra slow motion. Painfully slow. After 30 minutes you get a couple of phrases.

    I think your advice about acquiring the language that you want, rather than taking what a course gives you, is spot on. You need to bend a language to your will.

  • Monica S

    I came acroos this post while searching reviews on Pimsleur. Very helpful as well as the comments. Now, I am a Spanish Native speaker living in the States for 5 years. I never “studied” English. Everything I know it’s from co-workers, watching tv ( I highly recommend to watch movies on their native language with english subtitles when learning ) or/and reading everything from flyers to newspapers. I know basic conversation, basic vocabulary and I am working on pronunciation everyday. What I am looking for it’s a way/course/method to go deep in English. I am going to college soon and I am afraid my English level will not be enough to survive in there. Even I passed all admission tests. Of course I could hire a tutor or something like that but I am actually looking for any self learning method. Any thoughts?
    Monica :)

  • Paco Batty

    I would agree with your review up to one point. From a cultural context I would disagree about your view that learning to speak formally isn’t as useful. In many countries it is extremely disrespectful to not speak formally with another adult that you do not know well, even if they are not significantly older (Germany for example). Unless someone is significantly younger than you in these countries it is not polite to use informal address.