Pimsleur is one of the most established names in language learning with 5+ decades of experience behind it. The scientifically backed Pimsleur Method helps you absorb new vocabulary and phrases and commit them to memory efficiently and fast. There’s a big emphasis on learning by listening and repeating. Games, quizzes and speech recognition technology add variety to what is a very systematic approach to learning a new language.
Best for: Beginners and those with limited knowledge of a language who want to get talking straight away. Especially suited to those who learn by listening who enjoy a structured approach to their learning. Also great for people who want to brush up on basic “survival skills” -- those key phrases you’ll need on vacation or travelling.
Cost: Subscriptions are available from $14.99 - $20.95 per month or you can make a one time purchase of an entire course for around $500
Overall: A structured and efficient way to learn a new language that gets you speaking more intuitively and understanding quickly in a way that really sticks.
Pimsleur offers an impressive 50+ languages to choose from.
Albanian, Arabic (Eastern, Egyptian, Modern Standard), Armenian (Eastern and Western), Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dari Persian, Dutch, Farsi Persian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean Lithuanian, Norwegian, Ojibwe, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese (Brazillian and European), Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Spanish (Latin American and Spain-Castilan), Swahili, Swedish, Swiss German, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, English (ESL)
Pimsleur is named after American linguist, Dr Paul Pimsleur. After years of researching the most effective way to commit a new language to memory, Dr Pimsleur developed the Pimsleur method.
This method was first used by the Pimsleur company to produce reel to reel taped language courses which was then transferred to CD.
In the mid 2000s, Pimsleur began to offer digital learning courses before developing their app in 2018. You can also use Pimsleur on your lap or desktop.
There are now millions of users of Pimsleur products.
Pimsleur is a subscription service with a number of options to fit your budget and needs.
Each language contains a variety of levels ranging from 1 (beginner) to 5 (expert). Some languages only have 3 or 4. Each level contains 30 half hour lessons which should be taken daily.
Whatever language or level you’re on, Pimsleur teaches you using “The Pimsleur Method.” What is this? Well, Dr Paul Pimsleur’s years of research in the field of applied linguistics led him to conclude that effective language teaching course needed to combine the following key elements:
Dr Pimsleur discovered that when words and phrases are presented at gradually increasing intervals, students’ memories improve each time. He then figured out the best spacing sequence to move new learning from short to long-term memory. This spaced repetition method is at the heart of all Pimsleur’s programs.
Our brains are hard-wired to predict, or anticipate, correct responses. So, if you’re given a chance to predict an answer, it enters your memory even before the lesson presents it. If it’s correct and then reinforced, new connections are made in the brain.
Learning a little at a time with a chance to internalize it speeds up the learning process. So, since you can communicate in any language with relatively few words and structures, Pimsleur focuses on this core. This, in turn, provides a framework to keep adding new words and phrases to.
To help your brain pick up tone, rhythm and pronunciation, all new vocabulary and phrasing is introduced in a conversational context.
With all this in mind, Pimsleur lessons and review activities:
Require you to participate by giving you time to recall and respond in a meaningful exchange
So though there is a strong focus on aural learning, you’re not listening passively. You are actively involved in what you’re listening to and required to respond, just as you would in real life situations.
Level 1 lessons all begin with listening to a conversation. Pimsleur then deconstructs this conversation and teaches you to say the elements out loud.
To help make it easier for you to fully grasp new words, Pimsleur breaks them down syllable by syllable. Interestingly, it starts with the last syllable and works backwards when teaching a new word.
Words and phrases are spoken frequently and slowly. This means you’ll be able to fully grasp what to say and how to say it.
However, as the course progresses, the repetition speeds up; you’ll be surprised at how quickly you won't need the time or repetitions you did at first!
In Pimsleur German 1, I learned and increased my German vocabulary and conversation skills by:
Listening to dialogues
Repeating words and phrases aloud
Using the Voice coach voice recognition software to correct my pronunciation
Using flashcards to revise new vocabulary
Completing quick match quizzes and speed rounds
Reviewing learnt words or expressions until I was confident using them
During my week completing the course, I noticed a considerable improvement in both my pronunciation and understanding of German. In fact, I could sometimes predict the meanings of conversations even before Pimsleur began to break them down.
Pimsleur has two main purchase options:
|Subscription||# of languages||Cost|
|Audio only||1||$14.99 / month|
|Premium - audio + visual and interactive tools||1||$19.95 / month|
|All access - Premium + all languages||51||$20.95 / month|
It’s worth noting that there’s only a $1 difference between the Premium and All Access subscription cost - and All Access allows you to explore all 51 languages so you can switch between them whenever you choose.
The Lifetime Purchase option allows you to own a Pimsleur Premium course for one language.
So, for example, you can buy all 5 levels of French for $575 or one level at a time for $150.
Pimsleur does not have a free version. However, after selecting the language you want to learn you can get one 30 minute lesson for free.
Pimsleur offers a free 7-day trial of its subscription options. You do need to provide payment details to access the trial but if you cancel anytime within the 7 days you will not be charged.
Refunds depend on the type of course you purchase. If you make a lifetime purchase of an entire course, you’re entitled to a refund (minus any shipping fees) through their 30 day satisfaction guarantee.
With any of the subscriptions you’ll be billed monthly, but you may cancel at any time -- you just won’t be entitled to your money back.
I took the 7 day free trial on Pimsleur and spent it on German Level 1, a total of 3.5 hours of German. Although I have some basic German from my early schooldays, I know the grammar is tough and wanted to see how Pimsleur dealt with this aspect.
From this experience I’ve gained basic conversational skills such as how to formally greet someone and ask how they are. I’ve also acquired practical skills such as asking for directions and, even more importantly, being able to order drinks in a restaurant!
As luck would have it, I’ve been watching a German TV show and decided to try it without the subtitles. I was happily surprised that I could understand much of the basic conversation between characters.
One of the core principles of Pimsleur is the Pimsleur Method. In short, hearing and repeating things often, and at gradually decreasing intervals, to move new knowledge from short to long-term memory.
As a result, you’ll find yourself able to recall words and phrases easily and more fluently. Also you’ll likely manage to remember words or phrases from several lessons prior even if they weren't in the interim lessons.
Pimsleur Voice Coach (with premium membership) allows you to listen to a phrase or word being correctly pronounced. You can slow down the pronunciation if you’re finding it tricky.
It then prompts you to record yourself reading vocabulary and phrases, analyses your response and gives you a score.
If your score is less than excellent, you can try again. And if you don’t the word or phrase will crop up again later in the sequence.
I loved the immediate feedback as it enabled me to correct myself and develop a more authentic accent. This in turn gave me more confidence about speaking German. And I can see it being particularly valuable for beginners who feel shy about speaking aloud in front of others.
Pimsleur’s 30 minute lessons can readily fit into your daily schedule, allowing you to learn at your own pace.
Being available on any device means you can learn anywhere with an internet connection and driving mode makes it ideal for taking lessons during your daily commute, whether it be by car, foot or public transport.
This is great for those with busy lives who don’t always feel that they can fit a process as time consuming and demanding as language-learning into their routines.
Though the Pimsleur interface is less snazzy than some, it is simple to navigate and use.
You can dip and out of fun review activities as you wish and the speed rounds introduce an element of gamification into your learning. Keeping you motivated and encouraging you to up your score each time.
One of the key aspects of the Pimsleur Method is a recognition that you only need to know about 1,500 words to hold a basic conversation and sound like a native speaker – and only about 5,000 to speak fluently.
These “core vocabulary” words are what Pimsleur focusses on and it places them in the context of real-life meaningful conversations. This helps you build a strong foundation upon which to extend your vocabulary as you progress.
The basic subscription is audio only so obviously only focuses on speaking and listening activities.
While there is some additional reading material available to you, to get the most value out of Pimsleur you really need to upgrade to premium.
Pimsleur is very systematic and predictable in as much as the lessons always follow the same format, whatever the language or level. This can make it feel repetitive.
Whilst repetition is necessary to learn anything this consistent approach may seem rather tedious for some. That said, there are supporting activities and games in the premium version that help to address this.
If you already have some knowledge of your target language it can be hard to know where to start with Pimsleur as there is no placement test.
That said, unlike Duolingo, you do have the freedom to jump ahead and try more advanced lessons until you feel challenged.
Grammar is not explicitly taught in Pimsleur. It assumes you will learn intuitively by continuously hearing and seeing the correct grammar in context. This is fine for simple rules but not for complex grammar or nuance.
In my Level 1 lessons I was not prompted to write anything and whilst I understand there are some written activities, it’s not a strong focus in Pimsleur.
The Pimsleur method would suit anyone who’s:
Compared to most of its competitors, Pimsleur offers a generous range of language courses. Only italki offers more.
Pimsleur allows you to learn completely hands free as the core lessons are audio only. It also has Amazon Alexa compatibility and Auto drive mode.
So you can learn while you cook dinner, walk the dog, workout or during your daily commute.
Pimsleur Voice Coach (with premium membership) lets you hear words and phrases being correctly pronounced. It then prompts you to record yourself repeating those words and phrases, analyses your response and gives you a score.
If your score is less than excellent, you can try again. And if you don't, the word or phrase will recur later in the sequence so you can really perfect your accent and speak confidently.
Whilst the core lessons are audio only, with premium membership you gain access to lots of interactive review activities. These introduce an element of fun and help to keep you motivated and on track with your learning.
Pimsleur integrates cultural tips into the lessons - such as when you are using formal or informal language. And each lesson includes snippets of information relating to key aspects of German culture and history.
This means language learning is accessible to you however you like to learn.
Pimsleur awards points for successfully completing challenges and uses streaks to keep you motivated and learning. You can also unlock bonus packs and earn badges and certificates.
Dr Pimluer’s extensive research into language learning has helped to shape the Pimsleur method. On top of that they have years of experience teaching languages with a proven track record.
Our evaluation system uses a range of criteria known to make language learning effective.
Pimsleur very effectively teaches you to be conversational in your target language - largely through speaking and listening activities. It does not teach grammar explicitly which is necessary for complex grammar structures and has a weak emphasis on writing activities.
Speed rounds and quizzes help to make learning fun and break up what would otherwise be quite a systematic and repetitive approach to learning. A dashboard showing points and streaks, badges and certificates earned help users to keep track of progress and stay motivated.
Pimsleur has a good range of good quality features. Of particular note is the voice coach, which provides instant feedback to help you hone pronunciation, and the ability to learn completely hands free.
Pimsleur’s subscriptions are competitively priced with only $1 between Premium and All Access membership. If you are a complete beginner, or only have a little knowledge of a language, and are hoping to build a good foundation in your target language for conversation. Pimsleur is good value.
Google Play 3.9 /5 based on 9.1k reviews
My aim here is to write the best and most balanced Pimsleur review, so here’s a flavor of what past users have to say about Pimsleur:
“I find the programs very boring because I am a visual learner, but I bought the lifetime access to Persian and Pashto because there are so few good programs available for those languages. I would only use it if there was no alternative for the language I wanted to learn. I think audio learners may enjoy it though.” Comment from Reddit
This user makes a good point and one you should bear in mind. We do all have preferred learning styles so if you find you learn more by seeing than hearing, Pimsleur may not be the app for you.
“The slow pace is excruciating at times, but I have to admit it’s quite effective.”
You do need to be prepared for core lessons to feel monotonous. That said, the pace soon picks up and the quizzes and speed rounds introduce some variety into your learning.
Plus, it’s the repetition - for all its faults - that makes the learning stick. As this user demonstrates:
“When it comes to speaking skills nothing beats the Pimsleur Method. There's something about the spaced repetition and the focus on developing listening skills and producing speech that gets your brain going a lot faster than other apps. Worth every penny.” - Trustpilot
“I’ve done the entire French course 1-5. It gave me a great base for the language. It won’t make you fluent but it made it way easier to speak with people and that’s really important. I now live in Lyon and I thank Pimsleur for my foundational skills.” Comment from Reddit
I think this user has summed Pimsleur up well. It is effective for making you feel confident to converse with people and does provide a very strong foundation on which to build. But you may need to go elsewhere to develop true fluency.
There are lots of options online when it comes to learning a new language. Each of them comes with their own pros and cons. So, I’ll keep this short with a brief comparison of Pimsleur against three other leading online language learning providers:
Yes, as long as you are clear about what Pimsleur is good for, and how it works.
You need to take on board that Pimsleur is highly structured and systematic, and that it’s this approach that makes it work. But it may not be to everyone’s taste.
Also, if you’re an analytical learner or a grammar nerd, Pimsleur is unlikely to suit your style.
But if you’re a beginner, or want to brush up your conversational skills for travel purposes, Pimsleur is definitely worth considering. Especially if you learn best by listening, don’t have time in your day to ‘sit and click’ and want to learn hands free and on the move.
The Pimsleur method cements new vocabulary and phrases into your memory in a way that helps you speak almost intuitively without thinking, and the Voice Coach (voice recognition and feedback system) develops great pronunciation.
Pimsluer’s emphasis on recall and repetition will have your conversational and listening skills up to a great standard in no time!
A seven day free trial will give you more than enough time to decide if the Pimsleur Method is right for you. If not, you just cancel within that time and no payment will be taken.
So what have you got to lose?
Yes. If you learn best by listening and are keen to become conversational for casual purposes like travel, Pimsleur is effective and good value for money.
A Pimsleur subscription costs from $14.99 per month for a single language course. The best value is the All Access subscription which is $20.95 per month and gives you access to all 50+ language courses on the platform.
Pimsleur uses the Pimsleur Method which uses the repetition of core vocabulary and structures at gradually decreasing intervals.
50+ languages including the popular ones such as Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean Portuguese (Brazillian and European), Russian, Spanish (Latin American and Spain-Castilan) and English (ESL)
If you make a lifetime purchase of an entire course, you’re entitled to a refund (minus any shipping fees) through their 30 day satisfaction guarantee. With any of the subscriptions you’ll be billed monthly, but you may cancel at any time -- you just won’t be entitled to your money back.
There isn’t a free version of Pimsleur but there is a 7 day free trial of each of the subscription options.