Frequency Dictionaries.

Pimsleur Audio Method Review

A well known audio method, Pimsleur is a language course developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, a well-known expert in the field of language study and one of the founding members of the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

The Pimsleur Method offers more than 50 languages. Pimsleur claims that “30 minutes a day” is all it takes to learn a new language.

The program is primarily audio-based. Students are advised to listen to these daily lessons, which make up a complete course. A level consists of 30 daily lessons, and there are up to 5 levels in a complete course.

The program is primarily audio based and comes with booklets and audio CDs. Nowadays it also comes as a digital download with an app. No special bells and whistles here. And if you are a visual learner, a visually enhanced version of Pimsleur with interactive components is available, and is called Pimsleur Unlimited.

This Unlimited version is currently available for their top languages only (namely Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Russian.)

The various Pimsleur formats:

  • MP3 (Levels 1 to 5 - 150 thirty-minute lessons with reading ~80 hours)
  • CD (Levels 1 to 5 - 150 thirty-minute lessons with reading ~80 hours)
  • Software (Levels 1 to 4 – 120 thirty-minute audio lessons, 1200 flash cards, 120 "Speak Easy" conversations, and 1200 quick matches.)

How does Pimsleur work?

Pimsleur is based on the four key principles as explained by Dr. Pimsleur.

  1. Graduated Interval Recall
  2. Principle of Anticipation
  3. Core Vocabulary
  4. Organic Learning

These four principles focus on "natural" language learning and how children learn their communication and language skills. Paul Pimsleur developed a method of organizing the various aspects of a language. This enables languages to be taught as a steady stream of speech to enter the student’s consciousness, and thusly be organically absorbed and internalized by the brain.

1. Graduated Interval Recall

One of the most important aspects of learning a new language is to build your vocabulary. This is done by constantly memorizing new words in order to create phrases or sentences, while simultaneously repeating previously learned material.

(Pimsleur wrote a paper on the importance of graduated interval in language learning back in 1967. This formed the basis for his Pimsleur language method.)

Other languages learning programs like Rocket Languages, Rosetta's Stone or Fluenz achieve this by correlating pictures with words. Pimsleur and Michel Thomas does this through a series of audio tracks.

(Personally, I prefer the audio method. It feels more natural to learn a language through listening than to do so by visual cues, but everyone is different.)

New words are introduced steadily with increasing “intervals” to help them remember words longer than the previous time. This is done through a pre-determined interval Dr. Pimsleur discovered through his studies on language learning. This little "memory hack" allows you to effortlessly propel new vocabulary from your short-term memory to your permanent memory.

2. Principle of Anticipation

Communication is made possible by way of automatic responses in the brain. The Pimsleur Method tries to develop these reactions, making the responses automatic. New brain connections are made and strengthened through (repeated) exercise.

Essentially, you learn by:

  1. understanding
  2. pausing for a response
  3. reinforcing the correct response(s)

These steps are done repeatedly until you automatically give the correct response.

This sounds really dry and scientific, but compare it to the way you might greet someone. "Hello, how are you? Hi, I'm great. - How are you?" It's pretty much on autopilot because you have done so over and over again.

3. Core Vocabulary

The Pimsleur Method increases your vocabulary by introducing a fixed amount of new words within a specific timeframe. This constant influx of words is stored and repeatedly reinforced to build a learners' core vocabulary.

The vocabulary that you will learn is carefully selected. The method teaches you the vocabulary that is determined to be most useful for communicating effectively.

This is simultaneously the drawback of the Pimsleur Audio Method: The amount of words you will learn is enough for basic communication, but you will eventually find yourself literally lost for words when trying to express yourself in more complex situations.

(As you will see, a lot of the vocabulary you will learn from Pimsleur you will encounter early on in our frequency dictionaries. Our frequency dictionaries serve as a handy tool to help you broaden your vocabulary after the Pimsleur audio method.)

Pimsleur does specifically not put any emphasis on the number of hours needed to learn a course. The courses run at a pace that a learner is most comfortable with. This, Pimsleur believes, gives your brain the time it needs to assimilate the information and form a working, speech-ready vocabulary.

4. Organic Learning

Pimsleur teaches you by presenting each lesson in a conversational manner. Kind of like you would when you were learning your native tongue. The course does not provide a fixed route for learning. Instead, it allows the learner to form their own personal approach based on their own interaction in the conversation. Conversations are designed in a way that helps you to learn the correct pronunciation of foreign words and to formulate responses automatically.

To recap, the four principles of the Pimsleur Method are:

  • Graduated Interval Recall - Develop your memory.
  • Principle of Anticipation - Automatic brain responses.
  • Core Vocabulary - Focused learning and limits on how much you learn at a given time.
  • Organic Learning - Language is learned in a personalized way rather than through a structured method.

What does the Pimsleur Method cost?

The original Pimsleur courses were based on lessons split into 150 30-minute tracks. It was audio based, instructing learners to take the 30-min audio lessons daily. By doing just 30 minutes a day, you would reach reasonable fluency in 5 months.

The Software comes with supplementary interactive media to enhance the learning process. The Software includes more visual tools, review means, access to Pimsleur Ambassador led live sessions, and several cultural pointers.

On the official Pimsleur website, the complete course (Levels 1 to 5) in digital format (MP3) goes for $550, CDs at $1,190 and software for $450.

Ultimately, if you think of the value that Pimsleur provides, I would say this method a good investment. A language course at uni or hiring a private tutor will set you back significantly more. So does traveling to a country for a full immersion experience.

Another tip: I would advise you to check out Amazon or eBay to pick up either a starting course or a used/clearance sale course, depending on your needs.


Pimsleur is an excellent way for you to start learning a new language. It is a great method for any learners to grab their first bite.

There is a bit of lack of vocabulary, but you can only fit in so much into an audio course. And this is easily remedied by using complimentary study material.

With over 50 years of experience and over 50 languages to choose from, Pimsleur is definitely one of the best language learning audio methods (and software) available on the market today.

(I personally prefer Michel Thomas, because I feel like Pimsleur is a bit more "boring" in their lessons.)

But again, it is a solid method that will get you speaking and understanding the language of your choice.