Pimsleur Spanish Review: A Classic Audio Program That’s Hit or Miss
If you’re a language learner, you’ve probably heard of the Pimsleur learning programs.
Even since 1963, these programs have been teaching languages to millions of students around the world.
But do they actually work? Can you really learn Spanish with Pimsleur?
I’m a Spanish native speaker who teaches and writes about languages for a living.
I know a thing or two about language learning resources.
So, to write the most informative and honest Pimsleur Spanish review that I possibly can, I tried the method myself to “learn” Spanish.
This post is the result of my week of learning my native language with this method.
- Pimsleur in a Nutshell: Pros & Cons
- What Is the Pimsleur Method?
- What Does Pimsleur Spanish Have to Offer?
- How Much Does Pimsleur Spanish Cost?
- What Do Pimsleur Spanish Lessons Look Like?
- Who Is Pimsleur Best For?
- The Verdict: Is Pimsleur a Good Method to Learn Spanish?
Pimsleur in a Nutshell: Pros & Cons
Overall, I discovered that plenty of people shared the same sentiments as I did for Pimsleur. Though there are lots of commendable features, even those that had sponsored reviews said that this is a very expensive program.
Pros of Learning Spanish with Pimsleur
- No grammar learning. Concepts are acquired naturally through conversation
- Excellent method to practice listening and speaking
- Dialogues in native Spanish
- Easy-to-follow short lessons
- Features core vocabulary that’s actually used in real life
- Perfect for absolute beginners with no prior knowledge of Spanish
Cons of Learning Spanish with Pimsleur
- Writing is completely overlooked, and reading is practically non-existent
- Very expensive courses
- Too much English and very little Spanish
- Repeating syllables and single words time and time again can get boring
- No content for upper-intermediate and advanced learners
What Is the Pimsleur Method?
The Pimsleur method is an audio-based program that focuses on listening and speaking.
There are other skills present here and there, but the core of the program revolves around your listening skills.
By having you listen to and repeat what’s being said, Pimsleur sets out to teach you a language in a natural, seamless way. And through this context of conversations and listening exercises, you’re also introduced to Spanish grammar and vocabulary.
The Pimsleur approach was created by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, an influential scholar of applied linguistics. After extensive research, he realized the importance of auditory learning in encouraging adults to achieve similar target language acquisition as children. This prompted him to develop the Pimsleur Method for language learning.
Though Dr. Pimsleur died unexpectedly at the young age of 48, his work has long outlived him and is still benefiting students of a new language today.
The first Pimsleur courses were written by Dr. Pimsleur himself, but after his death, several more were developed based on the teaching principles he championed.
4 Principles of the Pimsleur Method
The Pimsleur method is based on four principles:
- Anticipation: You have to think before you answer, which is similar to what happens in a real conversation.
- Graduated Interval Recall: This is basically a fancy term to call spaced repetition. You study concepts/words/rules and revisit them at different time intervals.
- Organic Learning: You learn like a child would do, through listening. Grammar, vocabulary, accent and pronunciation are all taught together in the form of listening input.
- Core Vocabulary: You learn the vocabulary that’s actually used often by native speakers.
Dr. Pimsleur’s Three Golden Rules
Apart from these four principles, the Pimsleur method is based on three golden rules:
- No paper, no notes, just listen
- Complete one 30-minute lesson a day
- Respond aloud, not in your head
As you can see, this truly is a method focused on listening and speaking, so if that’s the kind of resource you’re looking for, keep on reading.
What Does Pimsleur Spanish Have to Offer?
Computer Software and App
Even though Pimsleur is almost 60 years old, it’s learned to adapt to the current methods to learn languages.
Originally sold in the form of cassettes (do you remember those?), the Pimsleur method is now available both as an app and as an online language-learning program. And for the more, shall we say, classically oriented people among us, you can sometimes find older editions of Pimsleur on CDs as well.
You can get it for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, and you can even use it with Alexa!
Castilian vs. Latin American Spanish
What I like about Pimsleur is that it has two separate Spanish courses, one for Castilian Spanish and one for Latin American Spanish.
Apart from including different accents, both courses differ in the content of some conversations and the vocabulary used.
As a language teacher, this is probably the feature I appreciate the most.
Free Welcome Lesson
Every language offered on the Pimsleur website includes a present: The very first lesson is completely free.
This is awesome because of three main reasons:
- You get to see how Pimsleur really looks like once inside
- You can decide whether the method is for you before spending your money
- You can figure out whether your attention span can handle the half-hour time block
The free lesson has all the features the rest of the lessons include, so you’re able to actually feel what it’s like to learn Spanish with an audio-based method.
While the Pimsleur courses are very audio-focused, they do touch on the written aspect of language.
This means that you can improve your ability to read a book in a new language, both by comprehending the text itself and allowing you to read aloud from it if desired.
It is this kind of well-rounded learning that makes Pimsleur so valuable, so make the most of it!
30-day Money-back Guarantee
Audio courses like Pimsleur can help you speak Spanish (or any foreign language) with greater fluency. They can even enable you to learn Spanish via virtual assistant or during your commute.
But what if you find that they just don’t work for you?
There’s nothing to worry about since Pimsleur gives you a whole month to try it out to see if you like it or not. If you don’t, you can get a full refund within 30 days of your initial purchase.
How Much Does Pimsleur Spanish Cost?
Pimsleur isn’t the cheapest language learning program out there.
In fact, if you ask me, it’s expensive for an audio course. To make sure it’s a good fit for you, be sure to take advantage of Pimsleur’s 7-day free trial.
There are thousands upon thousands of free Spanish learning resources available, but learning Spanish with Pimsleur is definitely not one of them. Here are all the pricing details you need to know, as of June 2022:
Pimsleur Spanish Only Audio
The program offers five Spanish levels with 30 lessons each. That’s a total of 150 complete lessons.
If you go for the Pimsleur Spanish Only Audio version of the course, your monthly subscription will cost $14.95.
The Only Audio course includes the lessons in MP3 or CD format (only in the US), and the entirety of the content is completely audio-based.
Pimsleur Spanish Premium
You can also opt for the Premium course. Pimsleur Spanish Premium costs $19.95 per month.
Pimsleur Spanish Premium includes the Pimsleur Spanish audio lessons plus a ton of additional interactive tools (see the “Practice” subsection below).
Honestly, if you decide this is the method for you, throw in a few more bucks and go for the Premium version.
It includes a bit of reading and a series of exercises that will make your learning process much more fun.
Pimsleur All Access
For aspiring polyglots that want to learn two or more languages at once, there’s the All Access subscription.
For $20.95 a month, you get access to the Pimsleur Premium version of all 51 language courses.
If this is something you’re interested in, the value is really quite good, considering that you get all the Pimsleur courses for just a dollar more per month.
Pimsleur Spanish vs. Other Language Programs
If you want to compare the cost of Pimsleur with other Spanish programs, here are the pricing plans of some of the most popular language programs out there, including Busuu and Rosetta Stone:
Busuu: Various monthly and yearly plans available
- Premium (monthly): $12.95/month
- Premium (yearly): $5.95/month
- Premium Plus (monthly): $13.95/month (all languages)
- Premium Plus (yearly): $6.95/month
- 14-day money-back guarantee
Rocket Languages: One-time purchases and installment plans available
- Individual level (1, 2 or 3): $149.95
- Levels 1 and 2: $299.90
- Levels 1-3: $449.85
- 6-month installment plan (for all three courses): $75.00/month
- 60-day money-back guarantee
Rosetta Stone: Quarterly and yearly plans available, plus option for lifetime access
- 3-month subscription: $11.99/month
- 12-month subscription: $7.99/month
- Lifetime access: $179.00
- 30-day money-back guarantee
What Do Pimsleur Spanish Lessons Look Like?
30-Minute Audio Lesson
The core of every Pimsleur Spanish lesson is the 30 minutes of audio each of them includes.
Lessons start with a dialogue in native Spanish.
The dialogue is then analyzed and translated, and it’s used as the basis upon which the lesson is built.
The vocabulary of each lesson is repeated, dissected and revisited several times during these 30 minutes, and by the end of the session, you’re supposed to remember the new words and be able to easily recall them when prompted.
- High-quality audio… mainly in English The downside of these lessons is that, apart from the dialogue at the beginning, all you’ll hear is English and Spanish vocabulary uttered by a non-native person. The quality of the audio is superb despite the longevity of the course, but the amount of native Spanish included in each lesson is very little.
- Audio-only lessons won’t let you work on other language skills
The Pimsleur method is fantastic for working on your listening, speaking and conversational skills.
However, especially if you purchase the audio-only courses, that’s almost everything you’ll do.
I found skills such as writing and reading to be completely ignored in the audio-only version of the course, and the Premium version only covers reading superficially.
One of my favorite Pimsleur features is the “Skills” section, which, unfortunately, is only available for Premium learners.
In this section, you’ll be able to see the skills you’ll be working on during a lesson, and you can easily click on or tap each skill to see the words and expressions included in that category.
For instance, lesson 1 of the Castilian Spanish course includes four skills: Listen + Understand, Survival Skills, Meet + Greet and Polite Phrases.
The coolest thing about Pimsleur skills is that you’ll be learning more of them as you go, and previous skills will be getting “filled” with new words and phrases as you complete the lessons.
The last section of the Premium course is the one where you can finally practice what you’ve learned. Better late than never!
This section is divided into five subsections:
I was a bit lost when I first accessed the Reading subsection.
The words aren’t related to the audio lessons, and they aren’t even translated. What kind of reading is that?
However, after listening to the presentation of the subsection, it kind of made sense.
Level 1 of the course doesn’t include real reading. Full sentences are included later on.
Instead, it’s an introduction to the sounds of Spanish.
You’ll have individual words and phrases read by a native speaker and you’ll have to repeat them, listening carefully to the English instructions each of them includes.
The goal is to teach you how to pronounce Spanish correctly, first by working on the sound of individual letters, then letter combinations and, finally, phrases and sentences.
The Flashcards subsection is basically that: flashcards.
You choose which language you want to see first (English or Spanish), and then you get flashcards with the core vocabulary of the lesson you’re doing.
Each flashcard includes the native pronunciation of the word.
For this one, I’d recommend comparing Pimsleur flashcards to other popular flashcard apps. For instance, the multimedia flashcards on the FluentU app include image and video, as well as text and audio, to get vocabulary to really stick.
This will give you a better idea of whether Pimsleur’s suit you or whether flashcards generally are a good learning technique for you or not.
3. Quick Match
This exercise consists of 10 English sentences for which you’ll have to choose the Spanish translation among four possible answers.
The sentences are taken from the lesson’s dialogue, and you can listen to each of them before choosing your answer.
4. Speak Easy
This subsection is supposed to improve your Spanish pronunciation, rhythm and accent, but I find it a bit underwhelming.
What you actually get is a fragment of the lesson’s dialogue divided into sentences.
You have to listen to each sentence and repeat it after the audio.
It’s a bit like Spanish shadowing, except it’ll only take you a couple of minutes to complete the task.
To make the most of it, be sure to pay very close attention to the audio and mimic as many of its nuances as possible.
5. Speed Round
I recommend you only access Speed Round after you’ve completely digested the whole content of the lesson because this exercise can be a bit stressful.
You’ll see words and phrases falling down your screen and you have to choose their translation among the choices you’re provided.
I don’t fancy playing against the clock, so this subsection is my least favorite.
However, I admit it’s a good way to really test yourself and see whether you’ve mastered the lesson or not.
You’ll need to be able to think on the fly when having actual conversations in Spanish, so this feature gives you a chance to improve your skills in that regard beforehand.
Every five lessons you complete grant you a free additional deck of 30 flashcards to improve your vocabulary even further.
There are a total of 180 additional words/phrases per level.
Who Is Pimsleur Best For?
I recommend Pimsleur for people who are just starting to learn Spanish or have a very rudimentary knowledge of it.
Additionally, levels 4 and 5 can be used by pre-intermediate and intermediate students as a refresher course.
People who learn best by listening to audio are the obvious target of this course.
However, bear in mind most of the language you’ll hear is English, with Spanish scattered along the way.
If you’re a commuter or spend long periods of time doing housework (or other tasks that don’t require your full attention), Pimsleur is also a good option for you.
You’ll be able to learn Spanish hands-free while doing something else.
That being said, if you’re a person who needs to prepare for an official exam, wants to practice writing and reading or enjoys textbooks, grammar and similar resources, this isn’t the method for you.
Pimsleur is focused on listening and speaking, and even though the new “Practice” section adds fun to the courses, Pimsleur is still a “survival skills” method and a way of becoming casually conversational without having to study too much Spanish.
If what you’re looking for is a comprehensive method to learn Spanish, you’ll have to look elsewhere for something more holistic like SpanishPod101.
FluentU is another program that challenges all four language skills, with the help of authentic Spanish media clips that have been made by and for native speakers.
The program’s based on a similar learning principle as Pimsleur—that the best way to learn Spanish is by exposure to native speakers. Videos come with interactive subtitles to help you simultaneously work on your listening and reading skills. They’re also connected to a video-based dictionary, so you can click on any word and discover other clips that feature the term.
After watching a video, you can take a quiz to test your newly acquired vocabulary, plus your writing (typing) and speaking skills.
FluentU is also available as iOS and Android apps so you can learn on the go.
You might also want to pair Pimsleur with some good old-fashioned learning materials like textbooks and grammar practice books to get that written, hands-on practice, or exercise your Pimsleur-acquired skills with a language exchange partner.
The Verdict: Is Pimsleur a Good Method to Learn Spanish?
The short answer to this question is: It depends on what you want to achieve.
If your goal is to learn a bit of Spanish before you travel to a Spanish-speaking country or you need a quick way to become conversational in Spanish, then Pimsleur is a good method. Expensive, but good.
If, on the other hand, you need to really learn Spanish and you’re looking for a comprehensive language-learning program that covers all four basic language skills, look somewhere else or complement this method with other resources.
The excessive amount of English, the lack of actual reading and writing practice and the high price of this method are things you should definitely bear in mind before buying Pimsleur.
However, I must take into consideration there are many types of learners, and I understand this method is so popular for a reason: It’s the perfect method for audio learners.
So, all things considered, I can confidently label this one “Franko Approved.”