While many language courses bill themselves as being “effortless”, I’ve personally observed that this is rarely the case. Pimsleur is one of the rare exceptions that makes language learning very easy.
I’ve personally used the Pimsleur method for Italian, Japanese and Chinese. In each case, the method gave me some great results and I came out with a useful (if limited) command of the language. Overall, Pimsleur is a handy weapon to have in your language learning arsenal. In the review that follows, I break down the major advantages of the Pimsleur approach, as well as the downsides, so that you can grasp what it’s all about.
A learning system that “just works”
I think that if Steve Jobs would have appreciated the Pimsleur Approach if he’d been an avid language learner. As silly as this may sound, it just works. Paul Pimsleur’s linguistic background helped to shape this unique learning system. In simple terms, the Pimsleur method is based on spaced repetition, a technique which facilitates greater recall in learners by scheduling reviews to optimise memorisation.
When Pimsleur teaches you a new word, it’s usually tricky to say it in the beginning. Then after a few tries, you manage to say it properly. Then you remember it with some effort. Then you remember it with ease. Then it comes out of your mouth automatically. Pimsleur is a seriously beautiful approach to teaching the basics of a language.
Does this all sound a bit complicated? It isn’t really. The beauty of Pimsleur is that you don’t need to know exactly how it works. The system does the heavy lifting for you. Try it out for yourself with an Audible free trial to get a feel for it. I’m confident that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results at day 5.
Slow-paced but steady progress
In comparison to Assimil and other courses, it’s fair to say that Pimsleur takes a somewhat slower pace. More time is spent on repetition and drilling. The approach focuses on what you already know and combines old terms with new ones, the end goal being to build a strong core of active vocabulary along with a basic, but practical knowledge of the language. Your really do remember what you learn with Pimsleur.
Great for learning the pronunciation of a foreign language
In my opinion, Pimsleur is the best self-study course on the market for teaching pronunciation and intonation (if you know of a better one then let me know!). New words are broken down syllable-by-syllable and unusual sounds are pointed out to the learner. Audio goes at native speed but you find yourself adjusting to it after a bit of time.
Your relative proficiency for imitation is partly an innate one (like the musical ear), so results will vary in terms of how native-like you sound. However, I still feel that, all things equal, Pimsleur will give you the best accent compared to any other major language course. At least that’s been my experience. Other courses have their strengths too but Pimsleur has them beat in this area.
Is it effortless or not?
Pimsleur does require some effort. Just not a lot. The only requirements are to invest a focused 30 minutes every day and speak out loud. Most Pimsleur courses last between 30-90 days. No notes. No reviews. No learning tasks.
The pace can be pretty fast, so you do need to concentrate or you won’t be able to follow what’s going on. Pimsleur definitely isn’t a course that you just leave on in the car. That would be a waste of 30 minutes. But if you follow the course each day then you will learn the basics of the language. So it’s not 100% effortless, but this is as close as it gets! The only method that can possibly compare in this way is the Michel Thomas Method (to be reviewed soon!). I like both approaches and have used both with solid results.
Do make sure that you stick to the schedule though. 30 minutes a day – no more, no less. The course is designed around this daily workload, so if you go too quickly (or slowly) your results will be suboptimal. If you have more time to invest in studying the language then I strongly recommend using different course materials for the rest of the day.
What I don’t like
While I highly rate Pimsleur as a learning tool, there are certainly some downsides to using this method.
1. The Price
Pimsleur carries a rather hefty price tag. That said, there are ways of acquiring a Pimsleur course for less. I plan to write a post on this very topic in the near future. Stay tuned.
2. Lack of depth
As I mentioned above, Pimsleur doesn’t teach you a huge amount of vocabulary. The material covered is fairly basic in comparison to Assimil or other audio courses. It does seem that Pimsleur is working on rectifying this. I took a look today on Amazon and noticed that the Chinese course now goes up to Level 5 (150 days) when it previously stopped at Level 3 (90 days).
3. Doesn’t distinguish enough by phrase difficulty
Sometimes, Pimsleur introduces a phrase that is markedly more difficult than the others, but barely stops to let you master it properly. The pace can sometimes be a bit too fast for my liking. In such cases, I simply rewind and listen again. I can usually work out my difficulty in the end so this isn’t the biggest deal in the world.
As must be pretty obvious from my review, I’m a big fan of Pimsleur. I’ve had family and friends try it out and most got solid results from it. That’s the beauty of the method – it works even for people with no experience with learning languages. Highly recommended.
Finally, it’s a shame that Pimsleur (or a similar method) is not made more available to the general public. If schools had access to the full Pimsleur library of programs, I believe that it would truly revolutionise language learning.
When you look at the woeful results produced by government language programs, it’s a mystery why proven methods such as Pimsleur or Michel Thomas aren’t ever used. You learn 1000% more in a 90 day Pimsleur course than 5 years of schooling. That is indisputable fact and I wonder why schools still insist on using methods of teaching that simply don’t work.
Have you ever used Pimsleur? Did you like it as much as I do? Please feel free to leave a comment!