Pimsleur Review: Does this language learning method really work in 2022?

Updated: June 22, 2022
Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm

As one of the most well-known language learning methods, Pimsleur has a big reputation to live up to, but is it as effective as it claims to be? Is it worth the money? How is it better than its many rivals?

In this review, we’ll discuss the Pimsleur method, it’s features and what you can expect if you decide to invest your time and pennies in this much loved course.

Our Verdict

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PIMSLEUR METHOD

Language learners are divided over the Pimsleur method but we can get behind it. The short 30 minute lessons help with motivation and focus, and the rote memorisation technique drills the phrases into your brain effortlessly. 

While it’s not a great option for more advanced learners, it’s a very convenient and hands-off approach to improving your foreign language skills in 50+ languages.



TL;DR Pimsleur Review

If you haven't got enough time to read this Pimsleur review, here's a quick summary:

PROS

  • Start speaking from Day 1
  • Available in 50 languages
  • Short, manageable 30 minute lessons
  • Fantastic for beginners
  • Effective rote-memorisation technique
  • Risk-Free 7-day Trial

CONS

  • Not suitable for Advanced learners
  • The repetition can be boring
  • No writing/limited reading practice
  • Some languages don’t have many lessons


What is the Pimsleur method?

Whether you’re familiar with it or not, Pimsleur is actually the second most popular language learning course in the world after Rosetta Stone. 

The basis of the method – developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur in the mid-twentieth century – is rote-memorization. You learn speaking and listening skills through audio lessons that incorporate “graduated interval recall” and the principle of anticipation. 

pimsleur review 2022

The lessons present core vocabulary in ‘meaningful’ contexts through conversations which help linguistically prepare you for real life scenarios.
 

It’s rare that a language course comes with such strict rules of use, but perhaps that’s what makes the Pimsleur method so effective. Dr Pimsleur encourages you to follow his ‘golden rules’ from the offset:

  • Don’t try to remember anything
  • Respond aloud when the tutor says to 
  • Don’t try to write anything down or look it up – focus on the audio
  • Don’t attempt to do more than one lesson a day

Sounds simple enough right?

What you can expect from Pimsleur?

Pimsleur currently offers lessons in 50 languages for English speakers. For speakers of other languages, they have 10 + English courses.

pimsleur 2022

The more popular languages (French, for example) have over 100 audio lessons over 5 levels, with around about 30 lessons in each . So, provided you follow the one-a-day rule, you’ll complete one level per month. 

Level 1 is complete beginner and Level 5 has more intermediate content. If you’re a B2/C1 learner, this is not the best program for you. 

Level 1 is complete beginner and Level 5 has more intermediate content. If you’re a B2/C1 learner, this is not the best program for you. 

At level 1 you can expect the following topics: 

  • Formalities
  • Meeting and greeting
  • Eating and drinking
  • Inviting somebody for lunch/dinner
  • Buying things
  • LOTS of time devoted to numbers 1-100
  • Giving directions and stating intentions
  • Basic grammar

What are Pimsleur's main features?

Audio Lessons

The premise of Pimsleur lies in the audio lessons. During 30 minutes, you hear a dialogue repeated and gradually elaborated on, with frequent interjections from an English narrator.


You spend most of the lesson simply listening and repeating which, yes, can be slow but you improve with each reprisal.


In addition, the “anticipation principle” gets you to predict what the speakers will say next, using language you’ve previously learnt. This is a particularly neat feature as it forces you to play with the language independently and use your innate knowledge of its structures to come to the correct answer

The audio is clear and the speakers are native with different accents, so you can be sure you’re interacting with the “real” language.

Flash Cards & Speed Round

If you’re more of a visual learner, flash cards are an important tool. Each lesson has a set of flashcards related to the new vocabulary. Sometimes a lesson features more tricky vocabulary seeing it written down definitely helps.



In the speed rounds, you have to select the correct answer (related to the previous lesson) as quickly as possible before the time runs out. It’s an easy activity which helps further consolidate the lesson content.




Reading

As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, reading is fundamental when learning a language. Although not its main focus, Pimsleur has identified the importance of reading in developing listening skills. 

In all honesty, the reading section is a little disappointing. Instead of a text to scan or questions to answer, there are only short phrases to read while you listen to a native speaker repeat them. This is a great tool for learning pronunciation but we can’t see it vastly improving  comprehension.


What we love about Pimsleur

It can be frustrating meticulously learning grammar and cramming vocabulary into your head so the “don’t try” philosophy is a welcome change. The rote-memorization technique lets you sit down with a cup of whatever and practice your target language in a stress-free environment. It’s fantastic for getting beginners off the ground and perfect for giving intermediate learners the confidence they need to speak.

What we don't love about Pimsleur

Despite being the crux of the method, the repetition can become draining. Some 30 minute lessons fly by, and others you spend watching the stopwatch wondering how many times more you’ll have to repeat, “I’m sorry I’m late. The bus was late.”

It’s annoying that it doesn’t cater for higher levels because you feel like you’re cut short after 90 lessons, just as you were getting into the flow of the language.

Another disadvantage is the price tag. Pimsleur is quite expensive which might be enough to turn prospective learners away.

Who is Pimsleur best for?

Pimsleur is best for beginner and low intermediate learners. That being said, if you’re grammatically advanced in a language but lack confidence in speaking, Pimsleur could be the course to finally remove the brick wall you’ve been running into. 

If you’re planning on moving abroad or going on holiday soon, Pimsleur is our favourite crash course for the job.


How much does Pimsleur cost?

Pimsleur is not the cheapest option out there but if the method is right for you, you won’t mind spending that bit extra. For unlimited Premium access to all languages it’s £18.45/month or a set amount for access to one language.

If you’re learning a rarer language with less that 60 lessons on the platform, you’ll be able to access them for free. I guess now is a better time than ever to learn Hatian Creole.

Alternatives to Pimsleur

Pimsleur vs. Busuu

Compared to Pimsleur, Busuu is a relative baby in the language app world but has already gained a huge following. Their lessons feature a lot of repetition and dialogues in “real-life contexts”. If you prefer more variety and active participation in lessons, Busuu is probably better suited. Although, currently, Busuu doesn’t hold a candle to Pimsleur’s reputation.

Check out our full Busuu review here.

Pimsleur vs. Babbel

If price is a big concern when choosing which app to use, Babbel offers high quality at a far cheaper price than Pimsleur. There are only 14 languages available compared to Pimsleur’s 50, but there are more lessons available over a wider range of levels. 


Check out our full Babbel review here.

Pimsleur vs. Rosetta Stone

Pimsleurs biggest competition, Rosetta Stone has held the top spot in language learning for an impressive stint. There are 24 languages available and an array of activities to keep your studies interesting. Every Rosetta Stone subscription comes with a 25 minute tutoring lesson which is a nice bonus that not many language courses offer.

Check out our full Rosetta Stone review.

Final Thoughts on Pimsleur

For beginners, we’d recommend Pimsleur as the go-to course to get you from zero to comfortably interacting within a matter of weeks. It’s also a great option for busy learners struggling to establish a consistent study plan. Set aside just 30 minutes a day and let the audio lessons do the rest. 

Regrettably, the course isn’t as fun as some of its competitors. But hey, effective and fun can’t always go hand in hand.

All in all, Pimsleur absolutely does work for teaching the basics of a language and giving you the confidence to speak. If you’re looking for a trusty language companion to take you all the way to fluency, however, this course won’t make the cut..

Kris Broholm

Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.

Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.