Editor’s note: Thanks for stopping by our Pimsleur Japanese review! This review is up to date as of February 12th, 2023. This article contains affiliate links however please rest assured that we only recommend products that we actually use and believe in.
Japanese is considered one of the more difficult languages for native English speakers to learn, however it doesn’t have to be a chore. In actual fact, it’s quite simple – the Japanese language has no articles, no plurals, and has a relatively simple sentence order (you can even form sentences using only verbs!).
Many people study Japanese simply to have the ability to explore Japan’s world-famous media & culture; with anime, manga and all sorts of Japanese dramas recently rocketing their way into the limelight (let alone all the rich ancient traditions and beliefs to explore in Japan’s fascinating history).
With a large selection of Japanese language-learning programs out there, how do you know which one is best for you? When it comes down to paying for language learning software to help you learn how to speak Japanese, we know you want to find the very best.
So without further ado, let’s jump right into our unbiased review of Pimsleur Japanese (a popular option for many students of Japanese).
Pimsleur Japanese Review: Summary
Description: Pimsleur is the name of a company that’s well known for its range of effective language programs that teach the fundamentals of over 50 languages (perhaps second only to Rosetta Stone). Pimsleur focuses mainly on speaking and listening, with more emphasis on pronunciation than most other courses. The methodology, known as ‘the Pimsleur method’ is based upon research by Dr. Pimsleur, a well-acclaimed academic and linguist.
In A Nutshell: Pimsleur Japanese provides a solid foundation for those looking to boost their Japanese speaking and listening skills, and it allows you to study in your own time. The program is less effective for those looking to learn/improve their reading and writing skills, or who are already above an intermediate level in Japanese.
Overall Score: 3.8 / 5.0
Pimsleur Japanese Review: Overview
Pimsleur is almost entirely audio-based, meaning you simply have to listen and repeat the new phrases and vocabulary. There’s no books or computer screens to look at, which can be a bit strange at first but the benefits of this rather unconventional teaching method become evident quite quickly.
The course has been expanded over the years and now has 5 levels and a total of 150 lessons, however the overall teaching methodology has remained consistent.
The course is based upon a set of fundamental principles adopted by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, namely:
You will be limited in the amount of new words you learn at any given time. This gives you a chance to truly get the key words or phrases down before moving forward. This is based on the notion that most conversations consist of many of the same set of words. In order to get you speaking quickly, Pimsleur does not bother with having you learn ALL the words, but instead only the most important and commonly-used ones.
What are the lessons like?
As mentioned, each lesson introduces some kind of authentic dialogue and then proceeds to break down each phrase, grammar point any cultural nuances. The lessons are participatory, meaning you are expected to actually speak when prompted to, which really helps hone in the new words and refine your pronunciation.
You are discouraged from taking notes so that you are fully engaged in the conversational-style audio lesson, and this also avoids making any errors from reading it incorrectly from your romanized notes.
The app has a convenient ‘drive mode’ option.
By the end of each 30 minute lesson you should be able to understand all of the dialogue and recall the new language on demand – in fact, the instructor does test you constantly throughout the lesson (graduated interval recall)
So does the method actually work? And can it help you learn Japanese? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the program to help you decide.
PROS of Pimsleur Japanese
Pro #1: Short, Convenient Lessons
Each lesson is 30 minutes or less and is completely audio-based, meaning that you can do other tasks while you study. Whether you are logged into your app or have downloaded the podcast, you can listen to the lesson when it best suits you.
Pro #2: Learn Through Speaking and Listening
Native Japanese speakers instruct all the lessons, and the program is based on how children first learn to speak (by imitation, repetition and context). Sounds simple, right? Many students like the fact that it’s very easy to follow and the program essentially spoon-feeds you new language at a comfortable pace. Since native speakers are your instructors, you’ll learn the most authentic dialects with accurate pronunciation.
Pro #3: Strong Emphasis on Pronunciation
Words are broken down syllable by syllable so that you can truly understand how to pronounce them. Unlike other language courses that expect you to pick up fast and unfamiliar sounds, Pimsleur starts from very simple phrases and meticulously demonstrates how to pronounce every individual sound. Pimsleur really excels in this regard, with many students commenting on how much their pronunciation has improved since taking the course.
Pro #4: Teaches Functional Language From the Very Start
Some language programs spend ages dragging out lessons on vocabulary and grammar before actually teaching you anything useful. Pimsleur is the opposite, it starts teaching you useful phrases from the very beginning. This makes it an excellent resource for those looking to quickly build up a functional knowledge of spoken Japanese for work or travel in Japan.
CONS of Pimsleur Japanese
Con #1: Very Expensive
Pimsleur is one of the more expensive language learning programs on the market – it’s convenience comes at a premium. However, you can often find discount codes and coupons to help with the costly investment.
The program used to be available on an affordable monthly subscription service but unfortunately they now only offer a one time purchase to each level, or the entire course, giving lifetime access to all lessons and future additions.
Con #2: No In-depth Grammar Lessons
There is very little structure to the lessons in the way of grammar. Though this is not generally a problem in the beginning, you may eventually start wondering why something is said a certain way or why words are ordered the way they are. The more advanced you become at speaking Japanese, the more you may want in-depth grammatical explanations.
Con #3: Audio Learning Only, Not Enough Reading
You will find some written work to help you learn to read Japanese, but the majority of Pimsleur Japanese is by podcast audio. Visual or tactile learners may find this method lacking, as you mostly must imagine the scenarios.
Furthermore, given that Japanese has a very complicated writing system, it’s important to get acquainted with the hiragana, katakana and Kanji from the very beginning. Whilst we do like that they have started to incorporate this into the new app, it should really be a central focus for serious language learners. Sticking it in as an additional extra is just not going to cut it.
Con #4: Limited Vocabulary
The core vocabulary principle is great at giving you a solid foundation to work with, however when you start moving beyond simple phrases you’ll quickly find that your memory bank of vocabulary will be quite limited. Generally, we felt that the course was a lacking in terms of vocabulary, not exposing students to enough variety of language. We reccomend supplementing the lessons with additional authentic material.
Pimsleur Japanese Review: Key Features
Dr. Pimsleur’s Golden Rules
Upon signing up, you are immediately introduced to the Golden Rules. These feel like fair warning to respond when the instructor tells you to, not to expect to only listen and repeat your way through the course, and focus your attention on the audio and responses in your head. It also advises you to not go too fast and complete just one 30-minute audio lesson per day.
You are automatically taken to your lessons upon logging in. The set-up is very user-friendly. Lessons you have completed or are ready to complete have a “play” button on them. Lessons must be completed in order, and they are locked until you complete the prior lesson. From here, you can also access your “skills” and “practice” activities to enhance your studies.
Learning Games and Tools
You will find a variety of skills, assessments and games to help make learning to speak Japanese fun. There are flashcards, quizzes and timed challenges. You can even find transcripts of lessons to look over and refine your pronunciation.
Who Would Benefit From Pimsleur Japanese?
We think Pimsleur Japanese would be a great asset for those who:
Who Should Stay Away From Pimsleur Japanese?
However the Pimsleur Method is not for everyone. We feel that those who might NOT benefit from Pimleur Japanese are those who:
Pimsleur Japanese Alternatives
Pimsleur Japanese vs. JapanesePod101
JapanesePod101 offers a ton of video and audio lessons to help you learn to speak Japanese. You can choose between a variety of pathways depending on what you want to learn. You can also choose the guided pathway that is structured similarly to how you would learn Japanese in the classroom.
Unlike Pimsleur, you will pay a monthly subscription fee, but you will get a discount the longer your financial commitment. JapanesePod101 offers a free lifetime account, but if you really want to use all its features, you will be paying a similar price as with Pimsleur.
Pimsleur Japanese vs. Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone is probably the most well-known brand name out there, having been heavily marketed for decades. They offer a similar course to Pimselur Japanese, however their teaching methodology is quite different, relying on immersive through images, voice clips and multiple-choice questions.
Similarly, we felt there was often a lack of explanation as to why certain grammar or vocabulary was used. There’s a lot of repetitive activities that can become mundane. Like Pimsleur, this program is probably best for beginners to low-intermediate speakers.
Pimsleur Japanese vs. Rocket Japanese
Rocket Japanese offers three different levels from beginner to advanced speaker. You have the option of purchasing one, two or all three levels for a one-time payment. There is no ongoing monthly subscription cost to worry about.
Rocket Japanese is an in-depth course teaching grammar, writing and cultural norms. It is thought to be one of the most comprehensive programs on the market. As such, it is not recommended as a supplemental course, but instead as a main tool for learning to speak Japanese.
How much does Pimsleur Japanese cost?
Pimsleur Japanese only offers the monthly subscription from within the app ($14.95/month), on desktop you can only sign up for a one-time purchase to individual lessons or the entire course. They offer the first lesson for free.
Individual level -> $150
All levels (1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) -> $575
A membership to Pimsleur gives you full access to all the features, including:
- Offline learning – access anywhere
- Driving mode for the car
- Learning games and flashcards
- Tools for visualizing
- Cultural lessons
- Ability to save new vocabulary
- Access to the mobile app
- Introduction to Katakana, Hiragana & Kanji
- Progress to an intermediate level in Japanese
Pimsleur Japanese Review: Conclusion
Though it’s one of the more expensive programs out there, we do feel Pimsleur Japanese has a lot to offer beginners in Japanese. By following the program, you will certainly learn to communicate in simple Japanese quickly, but you might not know why you are saying what you are, or get a proper grasp of the written characters. Therefore, we recommend Pimsleur Japanese as a supplementary course to a more in-depth Japanese program or textbook (though the price might still be a turn off for many people).
Our Editorial Team is a group of language learning enthusiasts who are passionate about testing new apps and finding the best ways to learn a language.