Pimsleur Review #2 – Does the Pimsleur Approach Work? (For French and Other Lessons)

Pimsleur Review

Hey guys it’s been a long time since I’ve written on Language Diet. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess – but I have been using Pimsleur recently for French – I’m up to lesson # 22 for Pimsleur French. I have used Pimsleur in the past for Spanish while I was in South America which I wrote about here.

This time I am learning French in Canada here in Toronto – so no one to practice with on a daily basis out in public, but I do practice with someone else I know who knows French occasionally to practice what I’ve learnt in Pimsleur.

I aimed to find out the ultimate answer to mine and probably your question: Does the Pimsleur method really work? Well read on to find out as here is Pimsleur review #2 for 2013:

Ease of getting started

What I love about Pimsleur and the reason why I do recommend it to other people learning a second language (L2 acquisition) is because it is easy to get started. You literally only have to do 30 minutes a day by pressing play and going for 30 days in a row, or in my Pimsleur French case – 90 days in a row.

The tracks are all numerically ordered so you never have to repeat a track. There is nothing you have to do except listen and speak as the spaced repetition is already calculated and vocab is introduced to you gradually. This negates the need for a tutor or separate spaced repetition system (SRS).

In my Pimsleur tracks – there are options for separate speaking and reading sections for individual vocab – but I skipped out on these. So all in all – a very hassle-free system. Because it is all audio based, you can do this on the move (you’ll have to speak as well – so public transport is probably not the best place to study here) or anywhere really. I found myself doing Pimsleur lessons while sitting on the couch or while doing the dishes.

Difficulty in later stages

After starting off I had a lot of confidence. New vocab is introduced in a gradual way so you are not bombarded. Now that I am up to lesson 22, things start to get a lot harder. I found that the learning curve gets a lot steeper with retention lowering – probably from 90% down to 60% if that.

The spaced repetition used in Pimsleur does seem to help, but I found this doesn’t kick in until I have completely forgotten the term again – this will vary depending on how good you are at association, but in generally after about lesson 15, retention becomes a lot harder.

The biggest reason people fail language learning is that they don’t stick it out for long enough. The difficulty factor here in Pimsleur can definitely make things a lot more challenging. Because of this I found I wasn’t able to keep consistent. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really start Pimsleur with a big enough why.

Others may have more success – but (not to sound cocky) I feel as though I am a good language learner, so if I couldn’t stick with this after 3 weeks consistently, then I have to question whether others would as well. This is similar with Rosetta Stone. I found Rosetta to have an even harder learning curve after the first section – typically there are 3 difficulty sections in Rosetta.

What you can use in conjunction with Pimsleur?

Because Pimsleur does get hard rather quickly – I wouldn’t recommend doing this program only by itself. You will probably hit the wall easily, so I recommend supplementing on the side with something like LingQ – where you can choose material based on your own skill level or have someone to practice conversation with as well (I always recommend the later but do understand that it may be expensive or not a possibility).

Take away here – You’ll have a tough time learning a language using only Pimsleur as the learning curve and pace is not one size fits all. My criticism of Pimsleur comes down to the fact that some people may get each lesson better than others – but there doesn’t seem to be any resort for someone struggling except to replay the same track over and over again before moving onto the next track – something that can easily get someone to skip lessons or move onto something else.

Does the Pimsleur approach work in everyday conversation?

To be dead honest – Pimsleur is actually great  for learning a language for everyday conversation. The training you get prepares you for regular conversation.

Because the Pimsleur tracks don’t ‘baby’ the language – you get the full speed a lot of the time and you need to be quick on your feet when answerign during the tracks.

This kind of listening and quick speaking is perfect for the real world. If you want a system that will allow you to go out and have simple conversation then Pimsleur is definitely the way to go, but as I suggested probably in conjunction with a language parter, LingQ or Anki (or all of them).

Does Pimsleur really work for formal language testing like the C2 in French?

Unfortunately not. The C level exams are tough and require you to be good at both reading and writing too. Because Pimsleur doesn’t get you to do any reading or writing (or limited anyway) you will be inadequate to get a C1 or C2 grade in the official French tests.

Pimsleur is definitely a great start if you’ve never done it before, but to really expand out, you will need to supplement or switch to another system afterwards.

In conclusion Pimsleur is a solid start. I would recommend Pimsleur to anyone starting out in any language. It makes you into quick thinker and you actually get good practice speaking and getting into the habit of forming good pronunciation. But you are going to have to supplement it to become fluent in the target language you are going for.

Let me know in the comments below what your experiences have been like! Also you can read my previous Pimsleur review #1 for learning Spanish here.

river_styx like.author.displayName 1 Like

I have read a lot of people saying that Pimsleur doesn't make one fluent. From what I understand, fluency isn't about how many words you know but how FLUIDLY you are able to properly use the vocabulary one does know. Also, from what I understand, the core (about 80%) of any language is made up of about 1,500-2,000 words and Pimsleur's courses include about 500 words per level. So, if one completes all levels for Pimsleur courses that have 3-4 levels, then one should not only be fluent but should be highly conversant in the language, lacking mostly industry-specific terms (scientific, engineering, artistic, etc.). These can then be picked up, in my opinion, more readily due to the strong foundation provided by Pimsleur. This is why Dr. Pimsleur suggested after one finishes the Pimsleur courses, to find a way to immerse oneself in the language to get exposure to the industry-specific vocabulary. However, even without doing so, one is able to reach a high-intermediate proficiency level of language knowledge based on the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages proficiency scale.