So you want or perhaps even need to learn a new language, but just how exactly should you go about it? You’re busy with work, or raising a family or going to college and your time is limited so you’re looking for that magic solution to get you speaking like a native with no effort. Well, unfortunately that isn’t quite possible yet, however the next best thing might just be the Pimsleur Method so read on for my in-depth Pimsleur review..
“The Pimsleur® Method is scientifically proven to be your fastest route to near-native fluency.”
Rating: out of 5
Reviewed by: BadatLanguage
Doc Pimsleur Does it Better
The Pimsleur language learning system (or Pimsleur method) was developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, an expert in the field of applied linguistics, while a professor at the University of California. The good doctor created courses for Spanish, German, French and Greek way back in the 60’s and his system has gone on to become one of the leading home study language courses around today and not without good reason.
These days Pimsleur offers courses in many more languages from Tagalog to Chinese with everything in between – Spanish, French, Italian, German, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Irish and many many more – in fact around 50 foreign languages plus a load of ‘english as a second language’ courses. More than enough to satisfy even the most demanding polyglot!
- Audio-based system
- Gets you actually talking from day one
- Available on CD or instant digital download
- 90 Days to complete
Fundamental Principles of the Pimsleur Method
Pimsleur pioneered the use of language acquisition techniques such as graduated interval recall which is the Pimsleur specific variant of spaced repetition. Graduated Interval Recall is basically when the student is continually reminded of previously learned words, at specific intervals designed to ensure words and language are firmly stored in permanent memory. The interval schedule Pimsleur developed was like this: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years.
The Principle of Anticipation is another key component of the Pimsleur approach and it involves understanding and anticipating the correct response to whatever is said to you in a conversation. The activities encouraged while taking this course work to train your brain to be able to act like this naturally, building the neural connections or pathways to facilitate accelerated learning and long term functional fluency.
Core Vocabulary is a well known concept in linguistics – the fact that a relatively small subset of words make up a very large percentage of the functional and most frequently used words in any language. Word frequency tables enable linguists to pinpoint which words are the most common and most useful and thereby make the learning process much more efficient. For example in English you only need to know about 2000 words to have an 80% comprehension. Pimsleur uses this to great effect by focusing your training on only the most useful and commonly used words so that you will reach a useful level of fluency much faster than otherwise. In fact these courses don’t even teach grammar explicitly. It is inferred through repetition of common patterns and phrases which they say is the way native speakers learn grammar as children.
The final piece of the puzzle is what Pimsleur calls Organic Learning which is apparently how we almost effortlessly learn vocabulary, grammar and proper pronunciation with native accents all at the same time and get a real feel for the language and ultimately master it while working through this entirely audio course that gets us actually speaking it right from the very start on day one.
The Gritty Details
Each language usually comes with 3 levels or phases (but some go to 4) and each phase has 30 units which lasts about 15 or 16 hours in total. It takes 30 days to do each phase so 90 days for the full 3 levels.
Don’t be fooled by the 5 or 10 or even 1 unit tasters you might come across – you need the full 30 units in each level to actually learn enough to be useful. You wont learn to speak any language in 10 days no matter what some might say.. you could learn a few words for sure, maybe be able to order a coffee but not much more.
Each full 30 unit level has about 500 words – or at least 500 word variations which may mean not actually 500 completely different words, the precise count is open to debate.
Phase 1 is the really basic stuff for absolute beginners and so should not be skipped unless you know the basics already. It has all those little ‘joining words’ that you need to know to be able to construct a coherent sentence, and with a few hundred words under your belt after completing phase one, you could actually go out and have some very basic conversations which is a great confidence booster.
Phases 2 & 3 expand on this solid foundation, adding much more vocabularly and more complex grammar and language structures. After completing phase 3, assuming you stuck to the recommended plan, you will have a respectable level of fluency. While you will not have native level fluency of course, you will however have a very decent foundation which will be actually usable on the street in real life situations and you will find yourself understanding and responding easily and naturally.
Phase 4 (if there is one for your chosen language) builds on that, pushing you further towards mastery of the language with more rapid conversation and complex vocabulary to give you the ability to have deeper level discussions on an increasing variety of topics.
It is of vital importance that you do not rush it – one lesson a day is what Pimsleur recommend based on their graduated interval method – try to force too much in there and you will forget it, same if you do it too slow or skip days – systematic, daily progress is what is required. You could of course listen to the same lesson more than once in a day to make sure it sinks in. Another useful feature with the spaced repetition is that even if you don’t completely master every word by the end of one level, you can still move on to the next level because it will keep reminding you throughout the entire course to ensure you fully get it in the end.
Also included in each level is a booklet (in pdf format if you go for the digital version) of reading lessons.. these provide basic but good instruction so you will be able to actually read (and hopefully write) as well as talk.
Since it is an audio course only, you can listen (and respond) while you commute to work or while exercising at the gym or out for a walk or while lazing around the house, on the beach, in the garden, on the toilet.. you get the idea. It is an almost effortless learning process – you just listen and then respond appropriately, gradually building vocabulary and absorbing grammar and anticipating as mentioned above. The use of native speakers also helps you to develop an authentic native sounding accent as well as getting you used to listening and understanding natives speaking to you.
In the past you might have got some funny looks if you were out in public and talking to yourself in foreign languages but fortunately with the ubiquity of cellphones and bluetooth headsets nobody notices much anymore if you babble away on your own.. just don’t go waving your arms around at the same time!
Although an excellent course overall you will still need to supplement your vocabulary from other sources afterwards as well as actually go out and use what you learn to attain and maintain full fluency but the foundation and language structure Pimsleur implants in your mind will make everything else fall into place naturally.
- 15 or 16 hours of audio per phase
- 30 lessons
- 500 Words (approx)
- Reading guide
Pimsleur firmly believe in their product and so they offer a guarantee that after completing the first 30 lessons you will have spoken proficiency. They guarantee that you will pass a language test (taken within 60 days of purchase) at least at the Level I, Novice level. If you are unable to pass it at the Novice level, you can get a full refund of your purchase price for the course. Full details of the guarantee are included with the course.
As with all things, you can’t please everyone and so there will always be some complaints and criticisms however in many cases those can be quite unfair and a result of a number of misconceptions.
For example the Spanish course (Castilian Spanish as spoken in Spain) should not be confused with Latin American Spanish – sure they are fairly similar but the differences may lead to unnecessary confusion so make sure to get the one that you actually need otherwise you may be disappointed as were some of the reviewers on amazon who apparently got the wrong one and wonder why it doesn’t quite ‘work’.
Same with Chinese – there is Mandarin (also known as Putonghua) which is mainland Chinese (plus Taiwan) and then there is Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province. Arabic is yet another that will confuse the unwary (and probably even the wary!) – there are several very different dialects of Arabic, such as Egyptian, so make sure to get the right one for you.
Another issue is with often unrealistic expectations – learning any language takes time and effort. The Pimsleur approach does an amazing job of making the process efficient and painless but you have to stick to the plan to see good results. Decades of research have gone into developing the optimum intervals and methods so skipping days or trying to cram 30 days worth into one week is effectively breaking their carefully crafted system.
Cost is also a common complaint and indeed not unwarranted as Pimsleur CD based courses are not cheap, even if not the most expensive language course around. However if you are serious about learning they are a worthwhile investment and they do the job advertised. Good news though is that these days you can also buy them in Digital format, which means usually MP3 files (plus a pdf) for immediate download and these cost something close to half the price of the CD’s which makes them considerably better value, not to mention much more convenient.
Where To Buy
The best place to buy Pimsleur courses is of course Amazon. They have hundreds of variations from a single unit to multilevel bundles. The CD based versions they sell comes in a big plastic folder thing with 16 cd’s and a booklet and looks quite substantial. Click here to view on Amazon.
Alternatively you can buy the Digital download version from Audible for close to half price! Now you are probably thinking “who hell is this Audible and can I trust them?” Well the answer is they are an audiobook marketplace and actually belong to Amazon so yes you can certainly trust them and as you will see the digital versions on Amazon actually link to Audible but when you click the link on Amazon you get a nice discount over the advertised Audible price.
Digital downloads also come in a range of other formats besides the standard mp3 which can be smaller files (although lower quality) which may suit if you have limited bandwidth/slow internet connection (they download quicker) or storage (they take up much less space on your disk).
Here are some comments taken from reviews made by customers on Amazon and Audible, given by people who actually bought and used Pimsleur courses..
– “Brilliant method that I wish my school teachers had known”
– “Great Program for Busy Professionals. Drive & Learn”
– “Great system for learning a language”
– “Start Here Before Spending the Big $$$”
– “If you just listen and repeat lessons each day it is pretty amazing what sticks”
– “Made boring chores more interesting”
Pimsleur reviews are generally over 4 stars and very often 5 stars so you can be pretty sure it really is good stuff and a great investment in your future.
If you are still not convinced you can read lots more customer reviews here.