Pimsleur Review: Is Pimsleur a Useful Method to Learn Languages?

Pimsleur Review: I take a look at the highly acclaimed and popular language learning method, that involves a series of audio lessons. They offer a wide range of languages ranging from 30 to 90 lessons.

pimsleur-reviewLast updated: October 2018

Pimsleur often receives a lot of negative criticism for being an expensive and inefficient way to learn languages.

I consider audio courses quite valuable, as they introduce basic concepts in a timely manner and they also introduce (or teach) pronunciation.

But is Pimsleur good enough to live up to this?

Let's find out.

As you remember I already went through Michel Thomas Russian and reviewed it quite extensively, so any comments or opinions will be compared to that experience.

What is the Pimsleur Approach?

Okay, let's back this ship up a bit. You might not even have heard of Pimsleur, and that is totally fine. Pimsleur is the second most popular language learning course in the world following Rosetta Stone. It uses spaced out repetition methods developed by Paul Pimsleur way back when. The format is you are told words and sentences and are then asked to strategically repeat them. Most of Pimsleur contains 3 units of 30 lessons each, but they do vary from language to language.

You are supposed to do 1 lesson a day and if you fail to answer at least 80% correctly then you are advised to repeat the lesson. Throughout the lessons you take part in conversations, so it warms you up to realistic (in most cases) real-life situations.

What do you learn with Pimsleur?

This is a key point to any course. Where do I actually stand after having completed the course. With Pimsleur you will be comfortable understanding basic meaning in most tourist situations, and in fact that is probably one of my biggest criticisms. It's obviously designed for tourists who are en-route to Russia any time soon (maybe even on the plane?) and want to know how to survive in Russian. This isn't as bad as it sounds, as the phrases and vocabulary are quite useful even if you are not a potential tourist. The frustration about this comes when they harp on about “I have this many boys and this many girls” – referring to kids of course.

Being 26 years old and single I'm sure I will be able to learn Russian and a half dozen other languages before I'm in a situation where I need to know how to say “I have x kids.”

So to summarise exactly what you learn in Pimsleur Russian 1:

  • 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

Overall I'm pretty happy with what the course introduces and teaches. It also focuses a lot on pronunciation, learning the longer words syllable by syllable so you don't get disheartened by having to say full words you don't know how to pronounce.

What I was missing from Pimsleur

Here are a few things that are not touched on in the first level of Pimsleur Russian:

  • Informal Russian: the course is almost entirely in formal (вы) – it makes a passing reference to the informal in lesson 29.
  • Present tense: the course is almost entirely in the present tense – only in the very last lesson is the past tense introduced.
  • Most grammatical concepts
  • Fluency!

These shortcomings don't actually bother me, but it does make it harder for me to speak with my Russian friend that Pimsleur only teaches me the formal. Admittedly so does the Michel Thomas course, and that is probably due to the fact that the courses are sold for tourists who need to be taught the formal forms to communicate with strangers.

The lack of  tenses was actually a bit surprising. Michel Thomas went into how to form the past tense very quickly, which to me isn't really that hard in Russian.

Pimsleur is also pretty light on grammar, although not completely devoid of it. My last point in this paragraph is that you are nowhere near fluency after completing this course, in case anybody might have thought that. It's an introduction with a heavy emphasis on tourist usage.

A few drawbacks to the Pimsleur method

There are a few drawbacks, or cons as it is often put in reviews, to Pimsleur that does not really fit any of the previous paragraphs. So I'll mention them here.

The biggest problem I have with the course is the format. Although they attempt to set up realistic scenarios you always sit there bored, and having the same feeling like when you were reciting multiplication tables in school.

By the way, I don't recommend sitting while listening to Pimsleur – you might just fall asleep.

Yes, there is interactivity: The speaker constantly asks you: “How to say?” so it's not totally mind numbing, but still it never really feels natural – again comparing to Michel Thomas where you actually feel like you are part of a group doing the recording.

Pimsleur also makes akward sentences that you would never use. For instance in one lesson I was told that I needed to ask my wife something and that I had to use the вы form, aka the polite. When you are not a big fan of these “scenarios” in the first place, this just seals the deal and you can't take it seriously. Not to mention that I'm not even married, but of course some are. I just think they could have been better at making the content more applicable to a wider range of learners.

Overall though, Pimsleur follows the formula so if you enjoy lesson 1 or 2 then you are fine all the way through.

Pimsleur review conclusion

The course retails for several hundred dollars and with this in mind I would not recommend buying it.

If you think about it, a lot of the hours of the course are spent on dead air waiting for you to repeat and giving out instructions like “how to say?” – if you break it down into the actual learning you receive, there's simply no way to justify the price tag.

I was fortunate enough to find it at my local library, so I was able to borrow it without paying for it. If you can find it for free, or cheaply then I would recommend Pimsleur speak and read essential Russian 1, as it is a fairly well designed and organised course.

I rate Pimsleur 3/5 stars.

Where to get Pimsleur

Find your language on Pimsleur.com

Thank you for reading my Pimsleur review.

Have you tried Pimsleur before? If so, what did you think of it?

Pimsleur Alternatives

  • My recommendation: LanguagePod101 – podcasts with an intuitive app that you can start with for only a few dollars per month. Infinitely more content than Pimsleur in a similar format. Also offers way more tools and ways to interact with the core materials.
  • Michel Thomas: Much more engaging and fun materials, however not all languages are covered and the price tag can be intimidating as well.