As an ESL teacher and avid language learner, I had heard of Pimsleur in the past and never really thought too much of it. I always wondered ‘Does Pimsleur really work?’. That’s the big question I had in my mind.
That all changed when my girlfriend and I decided to pick up some Spanish for our 5 months in South America. We decided to give the Pimsleur Spanish course a go. Below is my unbiased Pimsleur review, check it out:
First off, what is this “Pimsleur”?
Pimsleur is an audio based language learning system. You pop the c.d in, then listen and speak when prompted. It sounds simple, but actually works remarkably well for the following reasons:
1. New, relevant vocab is introduced to you at a good pace. You feel like you are being pushed, but not at a pace so much that you actually forget stuff straight after a lesson.
2. Pimsleur uses a SRS (spaced repetition system) which means you will hear the word learned in a previous lesson repeated to you at strategically placed spaces between the lessons, so you will never really forget anything that you have learned previously. The program does this all for you, so you never have to go back and actively study an older lesson. For more info on SRS and how it works, check out our good friend wikipedia on spaced repetition.
3. 30 minutes a day. The program (possibly Dr. Pimsleur himself) suggests you only take one lesson a day, but every day. This is so you do not get overwhelmed and also for the program to introduce older material to you in a timely order. If you do too much in a day, then you will forget vocab etc.
4. The lessons are just really well done. You get plenty of talk time and it’s solid talk time. Not just ‘repeat after me’ styles, but they will say something like, “How do you say, one more drink please? in Spanish?” which is exactly what you would be thinking in a real life scenario.
What package did I go for?
The Pimsleur conversational Spanish course that we picked up had 3 levels, each with 30 lessons. These also had some supplementary listening and reading (basically going over the words while seeing them). I skipped out on the later and just did the audio course.
This course is aimed at the beginner, so would not really suit intermediate or advanced learners at all. For that I would probably recommend just finding some interesting content elsewhere for free (check out LingQ for their massive free library of audio and scripts). I say this, because the pace starts off slow, so even if you are an intermediate learner and wanted to brush up on the basics, you may have to skip some of the earlier lessons as they do start at a nice slower speed.
Remember that this is my honest review for the Spanish Pimsleur course only, so I can’t really comment on other languages. I do however imagine that the Dr. Pimsleur approach is probably the same across the board in terms of how the actual program is used.
So, How do I actually use the Pimsleur language learning course?
It’s simple really. You do one lesson a day, which is about 30 minutes. You are recommended this to make sure you get the right spaced repetition (incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously listened to material).
The biggest advantage to the program
During the lesson, you are somewhat forced to speak back, as you will be asked questions about how to say different things, as well as repeating certain words to make sure you get the pronunciation right.
So you are getting a lot of speaking practice in, just not with a native speaker. I did notice that because you get this sort of practice, you definitely feel confident in trying out the phrases you have learnt with a native speaker, knowing that you aren’t butchering a word or phrase. This is a HUGE ADVANTAGE.
I was able to do a 30 minute session in the hostel, then go out and bust out the actual phrase or understand someone when they said it. That’s what I loved most about this program.
The other way would be to ‘shadow’ some audio (trying to say the audio as you hear it over and over again, until you actually end up saying it at the same time), or talk with a native speaker a lot and make sure they correct you when you are saying things wrong. The later is time consuming and is a bit of a mission when you are on the road and don’t necessarily have some one to practice with on your time line.
Other wicked advantages
1. Do it whenever you want and where ever you want. Audio courses are portable and are flexible in time. You can bust out a session during the day or night at your own convenience.
This may also be a down fall, because you are accountable, which means if you get lazy, you could easily just pass on a lesson for that day.
2. Lots of time speaking phrases and forming your own sentences aloud. Other audio courses can be boring and not very interactive. Pimsleur seems to be VERY interactive, prompting you the entire time to be speaking and forming sentences in the target language.
3. No planning necessary. You don’t need to plan your lessons out or organize anything. Just follow the course in sequence and it will automatically introduce new vocab and phrases to you at the right stages. This is also huge, as it takes away that “what should I do next” barrier.
4. The lessons actually have a good sense of humor. The scenarios they choose are pretty funny. It always seems that for these courses, you are meeting up with a potential ‘date’ and need to ask them a bunch of questions.
Tell me about the down side
No program is perfect, and although Pimsleur seems fantastic, I’m going to do my best to tell you about the disadvantages:
1. Cost. I just checked out the site and for one Spanish package which has 30 lessons, it costs $345 U.S. dollars. That works out to be $11.50 per 30 minute lesson. That is costly. Here in Toronto, you can get one on one Spanish lessons for $10 an hour. Elsewhere online you can get $10 per hour lessons through Skype.
On LingQ.com, it would cost you $10 for 30 minutes with a native speaker, 1 on 1 and you get a report afterwards of how you did. For what it is, you could get the equivalent of talking to a native speaker 1 on 1 for cheaper.
2. Might not be 100% useful. If you are the type of learner that knows exactly what you want to study and want to keep everything relevant, then you may run into a few issues with the Pimsleur language learning course.
You are going to probably learn some words that you don’t need to, but overall for a beginner, I find what you learn to be really useful. I’d say less than 5% of words that you hear will not be useful. There is definitely a lot of useful content that can be used right away while traveling.
Even after the first few lessons, I felt I had the confidence to start speaking. You only had the basic stuff like greetings, but it was kind of fun to try out these new phrases, especially while traveling.
After about 20 lessons, I really felt like I could string together basic sentences and start using plural words. I feel like the program definitely gave me a lot of confidence to speak, which is huge. It also gave me lots of vocab and sentences that I could use on an every day basis.
I wasn’t fluent by the end of it, but definitely had a really good knowledge base that I felt confident in speaking and had my ear tuned to being able to pick up different parts of conversation.
The program gives you a ton of essential words that you will definitely be able to use right away which I really, really liked.
The final word + FREE 1 lesson download
So the answer to the quesion, does Pimsleur really work? My answer is Yes. I definitely think Pimsleur is a great program, but only for the beginner. It’s a shame it’s a little on the pricey side, but if you are serious about building your confidence in a new language and getting a good audio based course, then definitely check it out.
Otherwise, I’d definitely go for something a little cheaper or hunt around online for similar priced 1 on 1 lessons depending on the target language, if you are strapped for cash or are an intermediate or advanced learner.
Hmm decisions, decisions..
Pimsleur language learning programs and a free 1 lesson download can be found here.
## I would love to hear your comments below if you have tried out Pimsleur or any other audio products for studying languages ##