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Pimsleur Review

In this review:

I. Overview

II. How does pimsleur work?

III. How far can we go with pimsleur?

IV. The good

V. The bad – the limitations

VI. Conclusion

VII. Additional information

VIII. Tips

- Get 5 lessons for free


Pimsleur CDs on Amazon        Go to Pimsleur.com

Languages taught:

  • For English speaker: Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Irish, Indonesian, Turkish, Thai, Swedish, Korean, Russian and 34 more.
  • English as a second language (ESL), taught in 14 languages including Arabic, Cantonese, Farsi Persian, Haitian, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, etc.


  • Audio-only

The lesson units are grouped in phases. Each phase has 30 units. Each unit’s length is around 30 minutes.

Some languages have 4 phases, while others have only 1 phase.


  • $21.95 if you buy 5 units at a time
  • $119.95 for a phase
  • $450 for all phases (1,2,3,4)


Developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur more than 50 years ago, Pimsleur language program is still the best program to learn speaking, especially for beginners.


1. Pimsleur teaching method is based on four principles:


  • Pimsleur encourages learners to join actively in the learning process. Learners are prompted to answer questions throughout the lesson.
  • There are questions which ask learners to recall phases.
  • There are also questions which ask learners to create new sentences based on what is being taught.

Graduated-interval recall

  • The questions in Pimsleur are prompted in a reasonable frequency, which is comfortable for a learner to answer. The frequency originates from the psychological study of “Graduated-interval recall”.
  • Graduated-interval recall is a method to help humans remember better. The method reflects the way our brain works. In details, it is based on the “Spaced repetition” theory which says that our brain can remember something effectively when we meet that thing in graduated-intervals.
  • In Pimsleur, those intervals are 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months and 2 years. Pimsleur prompts us to recall a phrase after 5 seconds, then 25 seconds, then 2 minutes, etc.

Core vocabulary

  • In everyday language, native speakers use a relatively small amount of phrases. And yet, that is enough for them to communicate effectively. The first step to communicate effectively is not to acquire a lot of vocabulary and grammar structures but to remember a decent amount of vocabulary and to be able to use them when needed. This is what Pimsleur teaches us.
  • Just think a little bit about how long it has been since you used words like “elephant” or “monkey” or “ball”? These words are called content words. Pimsleur will not teach us those words in the first level. Rather than that, it teaches function words (examples are “he”, “she”, “the”, “are”, “when”, “rather than”, “whatever”, “be able to”, “then”, “at”, “lots”, “little”) which are the most common words in a language.

Organic learning

  • Pimsleur teaches through conversations. This is the natural way that we learn to communicate in a language.

2. Lesson format

Above is about the Pimsleur method. Now, you may wonder what is lesson like. I suggest you to spend 30 minutes to try one free lesson. Please follow all the instructions in the audio. I am sure it will be worth the time.

If you have tried a lesson, you can see that the lesson begins with a dialogue; then the program explains phrases used in the dialogue. You are frequently prompted to answer the question “How do you say…..?”, which you have to answer within the pause given.

After the pause the instructor provides the key to help you confirm your answer.

Beginning from the second lesson, you are also asked to recall phrases that you’ve been taught in previous lessons.

At the end of a lesson, you can understand and furthermore speak the language used in the beginning dialogue, which is meaningless to you just 30 minutes before.

3. Pimsleur’s recommendation on using an the program

Reading the recommendation may help you understand more about the way you will learn a language with Pimsleur.

  • Respond aloud to the questions.
  • Do all required activities according to the instructions, without reference to any outside persons, book, dictionary or course. Do not have a paper and pen nearby during the lessons.
  • If you are responding correctly about eighty percent of the time, then you’re ready to proceed to the next lesson.
  • Complete the lesson units in strict consecutive order (don’t skip around), doing no more than one lesson per day, although the lesson unit for the day may be repeated. It is best to contact with the language daily.

(Summarized from Pimsleur’s user guide)


  • Finishing the first phase, we can acquire a vocabulary of around 500 words. These words are the most common and thus, most useful to learn. 15 hours of audio lesson in phase 1 will help us to communicate quite comfortably in common daily situations.
  • Finishing all four phases, we can acquire a vocabulary of around 2000 words and be able to communicate effectively in most daily situations.


1. Fastest way to learn to speak

  • We can remember most things taught. What we have learned is what we will be able to use.
  • Compared to all other self-study programs, Pimsleur is the best to teach conversational language.

2. Best method for our pronunciation

Pimsleur’s unique approach in teaching pronunciation (using only audio, separating different syllables in a word to make it easier for learners to hear and repeat) helps us to acquire the best possible pronunciation right at the beginning of our learning process.

3. Extremely convenient

  • Audio only, we do not have to work on the computer; no need for taking notes; no books or dictionary needed.
  • Just listen to the audio and follow the instructions, we do not have to worry about other things such as reviewing words, learning grammar, all the things needed for us to learn to speak are integrated well into each 30-minute lesson. Even a beginner with zero experience in learning any language can easily use and find success with the program.
  • If you have to commute to work for about 30 minutes every day, Pimsleur lessons will be your perfect companion.

4. A motivational and intuitive method

  • Less distraction: there are no images nor games nor fancy flash effects which can distract you. Therefore you can put 100% of your attention into learning things that are significant.
  • The simple and clear structure of instruction helps us to easily imagine what we will get after finishing the whole course. This creates a sense of flow in our mind, which is critical to help us to succeed with the course.

5. Confidence boosting

Pimsleur simulates real life conversations when we have to express our thoughts by carrying out appropriate sentences. Being able to carry out phrases to respond to questions in Pimsleur give us the confidence and ability needed to do the same thing in real life conversations.

Other good points

  • Reasonable teaching pace: for most learners Pimsleur is not slow, not fast (although for the first couple of lessons, it can be a little challenging – for you have not been familiar with the new language sounds yet).
  • Native speakers in the recordings have pleasant and warm voice.
  • In the audio, there is no noise or distracting background sound.


1. No writing teaching

2. No explicit grammar instruction

Pimsleur’s instruction is so clever that in most cases, you can create perfect sentences without receiving complex grammar rules.

However, some people prefer a more systematic way to learn grammar.


  • Relatively small size of vocabulary.
    • A phase of 30 lessons teaches about 500 words, when an Assimil book from “At ease” series will give you 100 lessons, which contain 2000-3000 words.
  • Pimsleur could be slow for a portion of highly experienced language learners.


Pimsleur is an effective and practical way to learn a language. It suits best for people who like the “Learning by doing” approach. It is also a perfect program for travelers.


1. A statistic: Pimsleur Vs. Rosetta Stone and other programs

On Sept 28, 2009 a thread on How-to-learn-any-language.com forum began with the question: “What are your favorite language programs?” Until now, the thread has received more than 340 reply messages from around 150 forum members. The number of votes for the 11 top programs are listed below:

Program Number of votes
1 Assimil 61
2 Pimsleur 52
3 Michel Thomas 35
4 Teach Yourself 26
5 FSI 25
6 Linguaphone 17
7 Living language 9
8 Rosetta Stone 8
9 Hugo 8
10 Colloquial 7
11 Fluenz 7

As you can see Pimsleur stands at the second place with 52 votes, while Rosetta Stone, a popular program, has only 8 votes. On the other hand, it is easy to understand while Assimil is at the top. That is because many people who join this forum and answer the question are veterans in language learning. In fact, many know 3, 4 or even more than 10 languages. They learn fast and, thus, Assimil is their number one choice (although just a little more favorite than Pimsleur) – for Assimil introduces more knowledge and teaches as a faster pace than Pimsleur.

For those of you who still wonder “Is Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone better?” read my review about Rosetta Stone.

2. The reading instruction

Each phase is combined by a reading instruction, which contains:

  • A booklet of about 20-30 reading lessons, which contain most of the words taught in the audio lessons and also extra words/ phrases.
  • 1-2 hours of audio recordings for these lessons (included at the end of unit 30).


  • The reading instruction is an optional supplementary part of the course. The content of each reading lesson does not necessarily match with the content in the 30-minute audio lessons of the main course.
  • The booklets for non-phonetic language courses such as Chinese or Japanese do not have lists of words/ phrases in these language’s characters. Instead, there are lessons on usage and the cultural aspect of the language.

The reading lessons are designed to accomplish two things:

  • Teach us to read in the new language.
  • The reading lessons break down the same sounds that we have learned by “ear” in the Audio Lessons. We are introduced to the sounds connected with each letter and the different sounds they make in combination.

Pimsleur reading booklets can be downloaded from this link (no account registration or buying needed). They can give you a view of words/ phrases that are taught in Pimsleur.

3. Pimsleur Unlimited (software) Vs. mp3 Vs. CDs

Pimsleur mp3 has the same content with the CDs, but it is much cheaper than the CDs.

Pimsleur Unlimited was released recently. It is available for French, Italian, German, and Spanish. The price is $150 for each phase.

A video about Pimsleur Unlimited’s functions:


I did not try Pimsleur unlimited, but from what I see from that video and this Pimsleur Unlimited’s user guide, I can say that the difference between Pimsleur Unlimited and the mp3 or CDs is small.

All the audio lessons, which are the core of the program, are the same. You can copy the mp3 files from the Unlimited software to your mp3 player.

Pimsleur Unlimited adds some features into the program:

  • It gives lists of all words, phrases taught in the audio.
  • In the reading lessons, you can click on each word/ phrase to hear the pronunciation.
  • Electronic flashcards for words taught
  • Engage (chat) function

In some reliable language learning forum, I saw just a few comments about Pimsleur Unlimited. It seems to be not a big deal.

Update: On May 7, 2014 I asked the people at Pimsleur.com about the activities conducted in the Engage function in Pimsleur Unlimited and I received this answer:

… We have temporarily discontinued the Chat (Engage) function due to some unanticipated problems with the concept. We had envisioned a situation where students of similar abilities would come together to practice the language that they are learning with the aid of an Ambassador. However, most students were too shy to talk and so the Chat sessions ended up becoming more of a lecture conducted mostly in English. We are now working on a better way to facilitate a verbal chat experience and as soon as it is all sorted out we will let registered users know

4. Is Pimsleur expensive?

Some people may think that Pimsleur is expensive. However, I think Pimsleur has really good prices because it is effective and the cost per hour is lower when compared to language class instructions.

  • Pimsleur: you pay $120 for 15 hours of instruction. This means $8 for an hour.
  • Language school: an hour often costs $20 on average.

5. Pimsleur.com Vs. pimsleurapproach.com

Some of you may notice that most of the ads about the Pimsleur program on the internet are from Pimsleurapproach.com (some of it hypes about the program). However, Pimsleur Approach is not the official website.

The official publisher of Pimsleur language program is Simon & Schuster. The official website is pimsleur.com.

Recently, I emailed the customer service at Pimsleur.com to inquiry about the different between Pimsleur.com and Pimsleurapproach.com and received this response:

PimsleurApproach.com is not an official store. (Pimsleur is not affiliated with this independent retailer.)  PimsleurApproach.com sells a few of our courses on a subscription basis (monthly payments).  This option is more expensive than buying from the official store Pimsleur.com.  At Pimsleur.com, you can buy ALL languages in CD, MP3, and interactive software format (Spanish, French, Italian, and German only).  The MP3 format (with free mobile app) is now 65% cheaper than the CD format and by far our more popular format.

In the website PimsleurApproach.com, they offer 8 lessons for the price of only $9.95. Many people do not notice the fine print that when they click the submit order button they agree to join in the monthly subscription program which will charge directly to their bank account.

The actual payment for a language with has 4 phases bought from PimsleurApproach.com will be:

  • 8 lessons: $9.95
  • Phase 1: $256
  • Phase 2: $256
  • Phase 3: $256
  • Phase 4: $256
  • Total: $1033.95

The payment amount for each month will be $64 or $128, for 13 months.

(I have confirmed the information with the customer service at PimsleurApproach.com)

So the money that you have to pay for 4 phases is 2.5 times higher than the download option on Pimsleur.com.

Many customers, because they didn’t expect to be charged that much, become disappointed, they called it “Pimsleur Approach Scam”.

In short:

  • PimsleurApproach.com offers a limited number of languages/ levels.
  • PimsleurApproach.com is more expensive.

I recommend you to buy from Pimsleur.com instead.


1. Where to go after finishing Pimsleur

It is good to have a grammar book. Then if you want to develop further speaking skills, you can consider FSI course, it is free.

2. How to get the first 5 unit for free ($21.95 in value)

Answer: Register a trial membership at Audible (an Amazon company)

Get 5 pimsleur lessons for free


Get 5 lessons-FREE – on Amazon   Pimsleur CDs on Amazon

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About the Author

Posted by

A Vietnamese. An English Learner. A Language Lover. I enjoy learning languages. I believe that self-study can be a lot more effective than class study (if you learn in an effective way) My favorite quote: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” - Aristotle *To write the content for this website, besides my own experience in language learning, I collected and synthesized the experiences of other highly effective language learners.

1 Comment so far

  1. Shelly Dunn

    Is the content of the Pimsleur Approach products the same as that from Simon and Schuster? In looking at Italian and see CD sets for both in the secondary market, such as eBay.

Leave a Reply to Shelly Dunn Cancel reply