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Pimsleur Approach Review: How to Learn any Language Fast

Updated on August 26, 2011

Pimsleur Approach Review

Learning a foreign language could be a discouraging task. You can spend a large amount of time attending classes, working with language softwares or watching videos to discover that you are unable to keep a decent conversation in a face to face encounter with a foreign person. Or, in other possible scenario, you really can speak the language, but it took you years of hard work to achieve that. Do you feel that way? These situations reflect your experiences learning a language? If the answer is yes, probably, it is because you haven't tried to learn a language with Pimsleur yet.

Why does the Pimsleur Approach Work?

Despite the fact that many people start to learn foreign languages, very few of them achieve to speak a second language fluently. In my opinion, the causes are the lack of motivation and the little exposure to real dialogues in real life situations that most courses have. The repetitive tasks of most methods turn the learning process in something quite boring. You will feel discouraged real fast by this. An with respect to real life situations, I remember reading the complaints of Mark Twain in the Awful German Language about the hours he lost learning a very silly phrase in German. Something like "the bird is waiting in the blacksmith shop on account of the rain." and he wondered when he would be using it in real life. Many courses have this problem. For example, it is one of the major flaws of Rosetta Stone Version 2. In it so many phrases you learn sound like the sentence Mark Twain was complaining about!

In contrast, with Pinsleur, you learn the way children learn their first language, by feeling what sounds right in a sentence. Each lesson is the foundation of the next so you keep building on what you have learned before. The lessons are not difficult enough to make you quit, but not so easy to get boring. In addition, the immersion in the foreign language is right at the beginning. You will learn things you can use right away. Pimsleur will bring a feeling of progress since the very beginning of the course. And this great feeling will help you to keep motivate enough throughout the entire length of the program.

How does Pimsleur Work?

The Pimsleur approach works mimicking the process you used to learn your first language. There are three levels and each of them has thirty lessons of thirty minutes of duration. The lessons invariably start with a short dialogue that you have to listen and repeat. After that, a foreign speaker asks you questions, sometimes introducing new terms and phrases and sometimes reinforcing what you have learned before. There is always an English speaker to guide you and clarify things too, but without exaggerating. I think that the balance between the English and the foreign language is quite good in the program. And all these things mix together in a great way to keep your attention and not to become boring. Pimsleur recommends listening to each lesson until you understand about 80% of the material and then move on. Supposedly, you should listen to each lesson once to achieve this percentage. But, in spite of Pimsleur claiming, I found that I had to listen to the most problematic lessons twice and even three times before understanding them enough to go to the next. In addition, starting in lesson ten there are very basic reading lessons. Each lesson has about twenty words that you have to identify when the foreign speaker read them aloud.

Will I Become Fluent with Pimsleur?

Unfortunately the answer to this question is no, you will not achieve fluency solely with the Pimsleur approach. Pimsleur major flaw is that it teaches you only about five hundreds words. However, there are no useless words among them. Pimsleur called this "theory of a core vocabulary." To put it simple: you need only a limited number of words to be able to communicate effectively in any language. And those are the words that the Pimsleur method focuses in teaching.

Another way to see this it is thinking that a language can be divided in two categories. Grammatical structures (function words) and specific vocabulary (content words) Pimsleur put the accent in teaching the grammatical structure of the language. That is the reason why with Pimsleur you start thinking in a foreign language really quick, instead of thinking in English and translate from it to the foreign language before speaking. So with Pimsleur the foreign language will become a second nature to you, the same way that the English is a second nature to you now.

For Who is Right the Pimsleur Language Approach?

Let face reality here, the Pimsleur courses are good. However, they aren't right for everyone.

  • Are you a listener person? Do you remember the lyrics of songs or the dialogue of your favorite sitcom? Then you are the person who will probably benefit the most with the Pimsleur system. On the other hand, if you are a visual learner Pimsleur in all likelihood will not be the best for you.
  • Of all the self study language courses out there, the Pimsleur approach is the easiest to follow. However, it requires a minimal of self discipline to work. How much? Not too much really. But you have to do the commitment to listen the CDs everyday. So, people who lack self discipline to follow the CDs and study on their own will be better served attending a classroom course, instead.
  • You don't have time to attend a classroom course but have to learn a language quickly. Then Pimsleur is the best method for you.
  • You have tried other methods, like attending classroom courses, language learning softwares, drills exercises and you still continue to think in English and translating before speaking. You really need Pimsleur then.
  • You want to learn a language to speak it during a vacation trip. Pimleur is the best.

Pros & Cons of Pimleur Approach


  • Easy to use, you only have to put the CD, turn on play, and start speaking and listening for the next half hour.
  • It is the method that will teach you to speak in the least amount of time.
  • Requires less self discipline than other self study methods.
  • Other programs teach you words, grammar rules, phrases. Pimsleur teaches you to speak.
  • The way that the course functions, learning aurally and practicing orally will help you to achieve a good pronunciation.
  • You will retain the skills longer with the Pimsleur method.
  • Portability: you can learn a foreign language while commuting, jogging, driving, etc.
  • Learning a language could be quite boring, but the Pimsleur system does a good work to keep your interest through the entire course.


  • It is expensive.
  • The course doesn't teach you any grammar explicitly. This is not at all bad. How much English grammar do you know anyway?
  • The reading exercises are very basic. If your intention is to read a language, instead of speaking it, look elsewhere.
  • Many reviews complain about the fact that with Pimsleur you will learn only about 500 words of the chosen language. This is true, but learning a lot of words is not the point of the Pimsleur approach, learning to speak is!
  • The focus of the program is in formal language for business situations. You will sound 20 years older speaking with the Pimsleur method guaranteed!

My Experience Learning Languages

One of my passions is learning languages. I can speak English and Spanish fluently. And I also have a good understanding of Italian, but I use it almost entirely for reading (at the moment or writing this review I am reading the Twilight series in Italian!)

As you can guess, through my journey of learning languages, I have tried many methods with different results. Nowadays, I am learning German. I started to learn it two years ago. First, I went to a classroom course, but as time passed I felt that I wasn’t learning enough. Besides, it was difficult for me to attend classes due to time constraints. So, I decided to take the way of self study. I tried Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, and liked Pimleur the most. To say the truth, I don’t rank my ability to speak German as fluency yet. But I think in German now, I can speak German and I believe that thanks to the Pimsleur Method, I have a good foundation of the German language to build upon.

Which Pimsleur Courses are Available?

That depends in the language. For commercial reasons, less demanded languages like Turkish or Creole are less developed by Pimsleur. While Spanish or German have the largest range of programs available. The programs are:

  1. Express: Unit 1 of the Comprehensive Level I Program, plus 11- 13 travel scenes - 1.25 hours.
  2. Compact Stand-alone: 10 lesson programs (of the less-frequently-offered languages) - 5 hours. This will become the Basic Program, if the language is further developed.
  3. Quick & Simple: The first 8 lessons from the Comprehensive Level I Program - 4 hours.
  4. Basic: The first 10 lessons from the Comprehensive Level I Program - 5 hours
  5. Conversational: The first 16 lessons from the Comprehensive Level I Program - 8 hours
  6. Comprehensive: 30 lessons per level - plus Readings and / or Notes - 16 hours per level
  7. Plus: An additional 10 units (Spanish & German only)

As you can see, the truth is that there are only four courses available for the most popular languages: Comprehensive level I, II, III, and Plus. All the others courses: Express, Quick & Simple, Basic, and Conversational, actually, are part of the Comprehensive level I. So, don't buy them if you plan to buy the Comprehensive level I afterwards or you will buy the same course twice. For me, it makes a lot of sense to buy directly the level I. It will give you a quick grasp of the language for the most common situations in a foreign country, like greetings, asking directions, dinner in a restaurant, etc. If you like level I, then, buy the II and III. Or buy the three together if you can find a bargain or have a lot of cash :=)

I don't find the Plus program too useful. At the end of level III you will have a good understanding of the language, perhaps with a total vocabulary of around five hundreds words. After that, you should concentrate in incorporate more vocabulary to fill into the patterns that you have learned. And for this, the Plus Program is not the best.

Oh no! I Like Pimsleur, But It Is So Expensive. What Can I Do?

Yes, Pimsleur is expensive, the full retail price of the whole three comprehensive courses is over one thousand dollars, and that's a lot of money! However, you get what you pay for and with the Pimsleur approach this saying can't be truer. But don't despair, there are a lot of dealers selling Pimsleur on the web and the price can vary a lot. There are many bargains online, and searching carefully, you can reduce the price of each level perhaps up to 35%.

In Amazon, at the right of the product page, you will find a title that reads "More Buying Choices" clicking on it will bring you to a page with stores associated to Amazon that sell used and new copies of Pimsleur starting around $140. Think that they are not Amazon, but independent stores that sell Pimsleur through Amazon, so the polices can change. For example the Store that has the cheapest offer (second hand) doesn't have a return policy.

Another option is to try to buy it in eBay second hand. You don't lose anything doing this because the course is a collection of CDs. So, the quality remains the same.

Think that you always can resell it afterwards to lower the price a little more.

If the cost is really a problem, try to borrow them in your local library.

Which Language are You Learning/Planing to Learn

Which language are you learning or planning to learn in the future?

See results


Pimsleur language program is one of the most impressive self learning language courses nowadays. To put it simply it will teach you to speak. Will you become fluent with Pimsleur? Certainly not. However, in only three months you will be able to visit a foreign country and interact with real people there without problem. And that is much more than any other course can do in so short amount of time.


Yo could also read my Rosetta Stone Review

Pimsleur Approach Review. Leave a Comment and Share Your Opinion

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      The CDs themselves are good and easy to learn. But dont invest in this system unless your a millionaire. The first set of CDs is ten dollars, easy. But MAKE SURE to cancel any future shipments, and if you start getting them SEND IT BACK and cancel. I was told by a customer service rep that it was 64 dollars to keep the next level up that was sent to me which I did not return in time. I thought well thats alot but thats my own fault, I'll deal with it. Little did I know I would be charged 3 more payments of 64 dollars making it 256 dollars. When I called again to see why this was happening the rep was not helpful and did not even pretend to sound concerned or apologetic for the misunderstanding, but simply told me it's "way past the return date" and "there's nothing I can do" and "it's all written on the website" (which I certainly did not see even when I read the fine print)....basically by the time you pay for the CDs to learn the language you wont be able to afford the trip you were gonna take to use the language. Absolutely ridiculous, its a scam.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I started my German studies today, and so far, I like it. I was more than a bit apprehensive after reading the negative comments on a couple of other sites, but as long as I don't get charged some day for the Gold Pkg that I didn't order, I'm happy with the purchase.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      It's a great product! The publisher's website is pretty awesome too!

    • David-Ventura profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks for your comment!

    • allinfoisfree profile image


      9 years ago

      Pretty awesome! I'll have to keep this in mind when I need some language under my belt. Thanks! 5 *'s.


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