Hey, fellow linguistic adventurer, allow me today to talk about one of the most popular methods for learning languages, the Pimsleur Method! I don’t think it’s as known as it should be. 😖
For a long time, it was difficult to find it outside the USA, but with the rise of eCommerce, it’s not the case anymore: it’s still woefully unavailable on brick-and-mortar bookshops, but at least on online shops we can now get it. 📡
Like any other, the Pimsleur Method comes with its pros and cons: it’s apt for a wide range of learners and situations, but not for everyone. I’ll try to shed some light on it, with my personal opinion.
Now, considering that behind any valuable language learning tool there is a story, we’re going to start from a story. I hope you will enjoy it. 😉
Pimsleur Method: Introduction
Let’s begin right from the words of its creator:
With Pimsleur, you don’t just study a new language, you learn to speak it. You learn to communicate in the language. You don’t learn rules, vocabulary lists or grammar out of context.
You acquire your new language by listening, imitating and answering questions, just as you came to master your mother tongue as a child.
Learning a new language is not about how many words you know, how many grammar rules you have learned or how many slogans you can memorise.
It’s about understanding what you hear and responding with agility and naturalness.
Dr Paul Pimsleur was an American expert in applied linguistics. He launched his first method in 1963: those first magnetic tapes are now collectables. 🖭
|How to Learn a Foreign Language, by Paul Pimsleur
Dr Pimsleur’s seminal book: a truly fascinating reading for anyone.
Simon & Schuster, the current owner of the Pimsleur brand, now offers a whopping fifty languages on an English basis: Albanian, Swiss German 🇨🇭, German, Levantine Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Croatian, Czech 🇨🇿, Danish, Dari, Dutch, Persian, Finnish, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi 🇮🇳, Hungarian, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Ojibwe, Pashto 🇦🇫, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, European Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Ukrainian 🇺🇦, Urdu, Vietnamese.
In addition, there are also ESL (English as a Second Language) methods for native speakers of: Hindi 🇮🇳, German, Haitian Creole, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean 🇰🇷, Farsi, Vietnamese, French, Arabic, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish.
The Pimsleur Method is used by executives, students at language schools, independent learners from all paths of life as well as by the American diplomatic corps and the military.
|Pimsleur Japanese Basic Course – Level 1
Why is it so popular? Let’s see.
Pimsleur Method: Its tenets
The opinion you’re reading in this review is based on the amount of Pimsleur Methods I have personally handled. Some I’ve done 100%, some partially.
My first was Mandarin Chinese, then came:
- South American Spanish,
- European Spanish,
- Western Armenian.
These I’ve done too, though without making it to the last track:
- Eastern Armenian,
- European Portuguese,
- Brasilian Portuguese,
- Modern Standard Arabic,
OK, now to the point. A Pimsleur Method consists of a few lessons, thirty minutes each, which you ideally should do daily. They’re exclusively audio: you relax, press play and the journey begins.
At the beginning of each method, the instructions are laid down to you:
- listen carefully, 🎧
- don’t take notes,
- answer out loud when prompted, 🗣️
- move on to the next lesson the day after, once you have understood at least 80% of it.
Easy, isn’t it?
|Pimsleur German Conversational Course – Level 1
Lessons here are based on a principle that is as simple as revolutionary: that of Spaced Repetition.
As I mentioned in my Memrise review (coming soon), our memory is a sieve and if we want a concept to stick we must first learn it then reinforce it. How? By bringing it up again just before we forget it.
In a Pimsleur Method, a lesson is an interaction between people, mediated by an external narrator, who says something like:
Now you’re going to listen to how you say What’s your name? in Persian: نام شما چيست؟
The native speaker repeats it slow, then fast, several times. Then it’s your turn to pronounce it:
naam e shomá shist, naam e shomá shist…
This way, you acquire correct pronunciation. Then, it proposes another exercise:
Imagine that the man wants to say I like chocolate to the woman, how would he do that?
And here, my friend, your turn to answer. 🗣️
Previously, you’ve been taught how to say “I like” and “chocolate” separately, and now you have to make an effort to combine the two pieces of information. Afterwards, you’ll check whether you got it right or not, as the speaker will eventually provide the correct answer.
And here’s where Spaced Repetition comes into play.
Ten minutes or two lessons later, the Pimsleur Method get back to you asking again:
Do you remember how to ask: What’s your name? Can you tell me: I like chocolate?
And so on, for the ten, sixteen or more lessons the method is made of. Not all methods are of the same length. 💿
Considering that passivity is the worst enemy of learning, with Pimsleur, even dumbasses like myself end up learning languages.
|Pimsleur Russian Conversational Course – Level 1
Pimsleur Method: Pros
#1 Wide variety of languages
Some methods have been discontinued, but the languages covered by Pimsleur have already exceeded fifty, most of them with English as a base language. But even if you’re not a native English speaker, but because of their basic-intermediate level, anyone with a B1 level of English can benefit from them.
Besides, the quality of the courses is consistent: in my view, Pimsleur Western Armenian 🇦🇲 is as good as Pimsleur German or Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese.
#2 Speakers are awesome
In every language that I have enough knowledge to judge, speakers are the cream of the crop: they speak the standard variety of the language, which is easy to determine in French or German, but not in Armenian or Dari. Kudos to them.
They pronounce very cleanly and at the required pace, which is what any beginner needs.
#3 Their SRS is great
Their Spaced Review System (SRS) is well thought out.
As the creators of the method themselves point out, with 80% of the lesson assimilated you can make progress: it will reiterate you to words and phrases you have already seen to consolidate them.
|Pimsleur English for Spanish Speakers – Level 1
#4 Your contribution is needed
You have to speak up! Gone are the days of taking notes while yawning, without ever uttering a word. A Pimsleur Method is the closest thing there is to a human tutor. 👩🏫
The day will come when we will all have robots able to talk and write in any language so that the Pimsleur Method will be forced into retirement: but that will take several decades, nothing we should be concerned about.
#5 Pronunciation, pronunciation, pronunciation
Pronunciation is something that few take care of.
Those who work to improve it, they either train with a private tutor or they start practising when living in the country because they want to reduce the perplexity on native speakers’ face. 🤨
I shall not forget the expression of the Welsh woman to whom I said I was going to visit Worcester (/ˈwʊstər/)(listen): a victim of my thick-as-concrete Italian accent and pronouncing precisely the way it’s written. Nor the Englishman from Leicester will forget my reaction when he told me he was going to Fiudoriu… and he meant Ciudad Real. 🤦♀️
There are several techniques to improve pronunciation, varying in effectiveness and complexity, but for a starter, the Pimsleur way may be enough. 👍
Pimsleur puts you on the ropes: first, the speaker pronounces, then it’s your turn. Once, twice, three times: you have to utter things aloud, as it’s not enough to do it mentally. 🧠
Bonus points if you record and re-listen what you pronounce: self-observation is beneficial.
|Pimsleur Polish Basic Course – Level 1
#6 You can use it in parallel with other methods
That’s right: some methods are better to be used one at a time because otherwise, it gets counterproductive. 🤯
The Pimsleur method adapts well to any type of learning strategy, online or offline, with or without workbooks and audio tracks. It can be used by both self-taught students and those attending schools: in fact, a lot of teachers recommend Pimsleur as a complement to their classes. ➕
I’d only advise using it in alignment with your level. If, say, you’re learning French with Assimil’s Perfectionnement du Français, which is for B2 students who want to achieve C1: you’re going to find it too elemental.
#7 Superb progression
They have taken great care to give us a quality product and it shows: everything is introduced gradually, from the easy to the difficult words, from basic greetings to structured sentences, from the simplest grammar to the most complex. 👌
The whole method is designed to give you a core of words and expressions to lay the foundations: from there, it’s easy to add more and more.
#8 Relevant topics
At last, a language learning tool focusing on real life and not highly conceptual matters. First, learn how to order a fruit juice in a restaurant: you’ll have time to talk about Maimonides’ role in medieval Andalusian Jewish thought. 📚
Besides, the register used is formal, which it’s where you should start. I’m obsessed with this: when beginning learning a language, it’s better to go overboard with formality than informality.
#8 Excellent for the vision-impaired
The linguophile friends who are visually impaired can rely on this method: any Pimsleur Method comes with a booklet, but the method is completely usable without it.
We’d need more comprehensive, audio-only self-teaching tools like Pimsleur.
#9 It pushes you to focus
Let’s be honest: when handling textbooks, workbooks and similar, we take notes often in a mindless way. It’s pseudo-work.
When you listen to a Pimsleur Method, you have to be there: the support where you’re putting your notes is your brain. Deep focus is required.
|Pimsleur Hindi Basic Course – Level 1
Pimsleur Method: Cons
#1 Unlikely circumstances
Typically, a Pimsleur Method starts with the familiar phrase: Imagine an American man sitting next to a [insert nationality] woman…
If you’re studying Hebrew or Portuguese, it’s a likely occurrence; however, if Pimsleur Pashto is what you have in your earbuds, that scenario is far-fetched.
#2 Lowering ambitions
Pimsleur falls into the same mistake as all the others in this business: that of marketing. They promise gold and silver. 🥈
However, he does not go so far as to proclaim profanities such as: Become a native speaker in three days or Learn German in 7 days.
When they talk about advanced levels, they are more intermediate; if they guarantee an intermediate, be confident it’s basic. 🤨
There are no learning languages in a few days/weeks/months unless it’s Toki Pona. I tried to argue with textbook publishers several times: in the end, we never agree to what to speak a language means.
#3 Very limited offer in base languages other than English
I find it surprising that the Pimsleur Method hasn’t been extended to the most target language – base language combinations, at least for the biggest hits of the language learning markets, such as English, French, German and Spanish methods in any major world’s language (Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, Italian, Turkish, etc).
And these, dear friends, are the drawbacks I have found; some folks find in the Pimsleur Methods flaws I don’t consider flaws at all.
Allow me to address the most common, here below, with my rebuttal to them.
|Pimsleur Swedish Conversational Course – Level 1
Pimsleur Method: Unfair criticism
#1 The written language is ignored
What kind of flaw is this? It’s precisely what Paul Pimsleur wanted. Do we blame fishmongers for not selling cucumbers? 🥒
Through the Pimsleur Method, many linguophiles realized how much they can learn when they focus on one channel (auditory, in this case) thoroughly. Hats off to Dr Pimsleur.
#2 It’s too limited
Well, when we like something, we’d always love to get more. I’d love to see more advanced methods, as most pimsleurians: in some languages, they don’t exist.
I’d also adore seeing monographic courses, the like of Assimil, centred on business or science. 🔬
But then, let’s be honest: how many language methods are sooo all-inclusive as you desire? From A to Z, covering the whole language spectrum? No one! It’s more a lifelong activity, involving a couple of dozen approaches. Pimsleur is just one of them.
|Pimsleur Swahili Conversational Course – Level 1
#3 There is no grammar
Again, there’s no grammar because one of the Pimsleur Method’s precepts is PRECISELY teaching languages WITHOUT grammar, which I truly like.
To many people, too much emphasis on grammar right at the beginning does more harm than good. I agree: we need exposure and context, before grammar rules.
I love it, for several reasons:
- it’s well done, you really learn, 👍
- I can rest my eyes, 👍
- I can keep learning while walking the dog, buying groceries, driving somewhere (with a little caveat – more on this below). 👍
If then you are a person with a good auditory memory, boom! Results guaranteed. I can’t but recommend the Pimsleur Method wholeheartedly.
|Pimsleur Turkish Conversational Course – Level 1
#1 Flank it with other methods
To learn a language well, you can’t keep the writing apart: that’s why you will need to combine the Pimsleur Method with other tools, even more so with languages with little phonetic correspondence: French, English itself… or alien languages like Chinese, Japanese… 🗒️
#2 Taking notes is purposeless
With my second pack, Pimsleur Hebrew, I was jotting down what I was hearing. 🖊️ I hadn’t done that with my first Pimsleur course, I thought I had learned that reasonably well, but wanted to see how it would go.
In reality, my Hebrew didn’t improve at all by writing what I listened to. If possible, it even was counterproductive.
The Spaced Review is so well laid out that you can dismiss paper and pen entirely. I haven’t done that with the methods that followed and to this day I remember almost all of those sentences accurately.
#3 Active listening is essential
Pimsleurians love the method also because it allows them to do other things in the meantime: cooking, cleaning 🧹, walking the dog, commuting, etc. Of course you can. I do it too.
Nevertheless, don’t fool yourself: active listening is THE way to get the most out of the Pimsleur method. And what’s active listening? It’s paying exclusive attention to what you’re listening to: it requires peace of mind, willpower and possibly an environment distraction-free. 👂
|Pimsleur Romanian Conversational Course – Level 1
While ironing or eating, your focus bounces back and forth between ON and OFF. Multitasking is as much a myth as Nessie. 🦕
#4 Speak loud!
Last but not least: answering questions in your head? Nononono. Be loud! 🗣️
Do you happen to be between other people, walking the dog in the park? Who cares: as long as you’re not in a morgue, nowadays everybody seems to talk to themselves, either because they’re on the phone with their mother or they’re cucu. 🤪
To have one more mad on the street makes little difference in the grand scheme of things, trust me.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Dr Paul Pimsleur was a philanthropist: he wanted his language methods to encourage cooperation between peoples, to help the less fortunate of the earth. Today, the company continues his legacy.
For example, in the occasion of the 2011’s tsunami in Japan, copies of its Pimsleur Japanese were donated to volunteers and emergency technicians flocking there to help from afar. The same was done in 2010’s earthquake in Haiti: the firm donated plenty of Pimsleur Haitian Creole 🇭🇹.
Examples like this, luckily, abound: these are little gestures, but small action after small action, the world becomes a better place.
|Pimsleur Chinese (Mandarin) Basic Course – Level 1
Pimsleur Method: Conclusions
In summary, I’d recommend you the Pimsleur Method if:
- You have a decent auditory memory and you want to put it to good use to learn languages;
- you feel like resting the eyes from time to time, but still, you want to enhance your language abilities 👀;
- you are a busy person 💨 looking for a way to exploit your walks with the Golden Retriever;
- acquiring good pronunciation and prosody doesn’t come naturally to you. 😶
On the other hand, Pimsleur might not be for you if:
- You’re a learner with a strictly analytical approach, who can’t finish a lesson without detailed theoretical explanations;
- you love the intricacies of languages more than the ability to use it in real-life situations 🔧;
- learning to read and write to you matter more than oral comprehension and speaking.
Well, that’s all from my side.
Did you already know the Pimsleur method? Is there any other audio-only language methods you deem worthwhile our time and money?
I have now a wee favour to ask. 🙏🏻
It took me a lot of effort to put this info together. 😓 If you found it interesting, would you please share it? With just two clicks, you will help me to reach more people thus making this project more sustainable. I truly appreciate it. 🙏🏻
Thank you for the time taken to read this. I hope to see you here again and, by all means: eat well, smile as wide as you can, learn languages and enjoy the journey. 🛣️
Your personal language consultant,