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.
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 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.
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.
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 two 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
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.
How Much Does Pimsleur Spanish Cost?
Pimsleur isn’t the cheapest language-learning method out there.
In fact, if you ask me, it’s expensive for an audio course.
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 September 2021:
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, each level will cost you $119.95. You can also buy all five levels in one package for $550.
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 $150 per level, or $575 if you buy all five levels at once.
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.
There’s also a third purchase option for those of you who don’t want to spend so much money at once: 5-lesson packages.
For $21.95, you can buy five lessons at a time. Simple!
This is also a good option if you don’t plan to do one lesson a day as the program suggests.
The bad news? Only the first three levels of Spanish are available with this option.
What Do Pimsleur Spanish Lessons Look Like?
30-minute audio lesson
The core of every Pimsleur Spanish lesson are 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 using books, grammars 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 you’re more of a visual learner, or you’re looking for something more modern and entertaining, a good alternative might be FluentU.
It’s based on a similar learning principle—that the best way to learn Spanish is by exposure to native speakers. We just take it a couple steps farther with our SRS flashcards, quizzes and a massive video dictionary.
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.
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.
Pimsleur in a Nutshell: Pros & Cons
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
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.”
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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