This is one of the reviews I was eager to do. Pimsleur is a very famous course, loved by some, hated by others. And, I finally tested it to see how Pimsleur works.
The linguist Paul Pimsleur (1927-1976), based on his research on language learning, developed a method of organic learning that brings together three factors, these factors are: verbal intelligence, auditory ability and motivation. The result was the Pimsleur method.
The course is audio-based. There are 30 units per level, each of which lasts about 30 minutes. In addition to the regular lessons, they offer a booklet, the only written material of the course (accompanied, of course, by audio). Each of these small lessons lasts between 2 and 5 minutes, they help to improve pronunciation. In total, there are more than 53 hours of audio.
The method is based on graduated-interval recall. The ranges used in the course are based on the Professor Pimsleur researches. Repetitions cannot happen too early or too late. The method intervals are: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months and 2 years.
In my experience, the course does not work exactly like that, some words are repeated fewer times and I had the impression that some are not repeated in more than two different audios.
The lessons always start with a dialogue between two characters. You should pay attention to these dialogues that mixes new and old words. At the beginning of the course, the narrator explains word by word, clearly explaining the pronunciation of these words. Longer words are explained from the end to the beginning, e.g.: the word “entschuldigen“
Narrator: repeat “gen“
Narrator: repeat “digen“
Narrator: repeat “schuldigen“
Narrator: repeat “entschuldigen“
It seems something strange, but works very well. This way of teaching a word makes easier to pronounce and to memorize.
Pimsleur is not a simply “listen and repeat” course. It requires you to actively remember the words as a participant in the dialogues. In this part, something is said in the audio and the tutor instructs you what to say. Example:
Character: “Was möchten Sie trinken?”
Narrator: Say that you’d like to drink wine.
PAUSE – You: “Ich möchte Wein trinken”.
Narrator: Tell you would like to drink some wine.
PAUSE – You: “Ich möchte etwas Wein trinken”.
In short, the lessons start with a dialogue, then you get to be an active participant in the dialogue; during these dialogues you are taught new words and phrases. Pronunciation and grammar explanations are virtually nonexistent. At first the instructions are given in English, slowly they begin to instruct in German. But during the whole course, English is always present.
The course uses the standard German (Hochdeutsch), in the last lesson, they present some typical greetings from Austria and Switzerland, but honestly, I did not took the time to learn.
Instructions for use
- Choose a quiet place to study and a time when you are alert and ready.
- Follow the tutor instructions, answer out loud during the short pause.
- Fast and accurate answers are the signs that you are mastering the language.
- If you answered at least 80% of the questions correctly, you are ready to move to the next lesson. If that number is smaller, you should repeat the lesson until you reach it.
- Answering perfectly all questions is neither necessary nor advisable.
- The lessons must be made in consecutive order. Do not skip lessons.
- Do not use paper, pen, dictionaries or books during lessons.
I made the course almost regularly during the first three months, but of course there were several days that I ended up not using the course. I made each lesson twice, whether I’ had done well the first time or not. If I didn’t do well the second time, I repeated a third time. If I recall well, I never repeated a lesson a fourth time.
As I said before, I did not study Pimsleur every day. In several days I made more than one lesson. I.e. there were days I heard Pimsleur for 2 hours, this happened predominantly in the last 15 days, as I had the goal of finishing the course. In fact, I completed the third level in just 18 days.
I do not recommend that, as that was a very fast pace and it ended up harming the graduated-interval recall.
I enjoyed the method of teaching pronunciation of words beginning with the last syllable. If I had heard someone talking about this method, I would have found it inefficient; but after trying with Pimsleur, I realize that this works.
Regarding the “booklet”, I did not follow the audio instructions, out of sheer laziness. But, I listened to all the audios, most of them at the end of the level.
That was my biggest difficulty with the course, stay focused. I like methods that have texts. Obviously, the first reason is because it is easier to understand. The second reason is that it is easier to stay focused. I used Pimsleur in front of the computer and it was very hard to keep focused on the course with the temptation of the internet in front of me.
The course is, sometimes, a bit boring and with nothing to keep my hands and eyes busy, I ended up getting distracted easily. To avoid these distractions I started to keep the audio player in full screen mode, yet sometimes I got distracted. The second solution I found and more efficient one was to write what I was hearing or what I should say. That is, I disobey one of Pimsleur instructions. But, I believe that this helped me a lot, in addition to improving the focus I created a kind of mental reinforcement that helped me retain new vocabulary. Another thing I did, although rarely was to consult the dictionary when I didn’t get the words right.
According to the developer, one should not do these things because they interrupt the learning process and interfere with the pronunciation since seeing the words written, you’ll try to pronounce the words as in your language. The latter justification is partly correct. If you barely know the language, it really influences negatively, but if you already have some idea of how to pronounce the words, the interference is smaller. Also, you do you hear the correct pronunciation, which reduces the chances of mistakenly pronounce.
Regarding the first justification it may be true, but I believe it is best to distract myself while writing the words than distracting me from sheer boredom.
Note: It is a course that demands attention. So I do not think it would good to use it while driving.
Yes, Pimsleur works. I memorized most of the content without great difficulty. On the first CD, the first 10 lessons were extremely easy for me, the following 10 were easy and the others more or less easy.
The second and third CD another pattern was repeated: the first 10 lessons were relatively easy, the 10 following difficult and the last 10 so-so.
The biggest difficulty I had was with the numbers (for me one of the most difficult things to master in a language) and the order of the sentences; vocabulary memorization was quite simple. Another difficulty I had was with the use of “du”. Most of the course is design for business and travel situations, so almost all the time we learn the formal form “Sie”. Consequently, many of the times without foreseen I exchanged the “du” for “Sie”, something that happened automatically, without any reflection.
Another problem I had was with the instructions given in German. For example, sometimes I did not understand if the narrator said “fragen” or “sagen”. In the last two CDs, most of my mistakes were for not understanding the instructions in German.
The biggest flaw of the course is the limited vocabulary. It is a course with many hours of audio, but small vocabulary. Compared to other courses you don’t learn a lot. In addition, many basic words are learned only at the end of the course.
Regarding the grammar, it is basically non-existent. However, with time the grammatical structures are internalized. For example, I would answer without properly thinking the orders of sentences; I did not know the reason, I just had the feeling that a certain order was correct. I.e. I really learned organically.
In short, you learn the course content, but unfortunately is not a course that presents many different situations. Most situations deal with visits to restaurants, office situations and small talk between strangers. So at the end of the course you will be able to tell if you have children, if you are married, ask for a beer or bread in a restaurant, ask to make a phone call and say that you speak a little German. But, you will not say that someone is fat or thin, that you are a chemist, engineer or lawyer; or, discuss any subject. You will learn to get through do in ordinary and predictable situations.
Catalog of Languages available:
- Arabic – Eastern, Egyptian and modern standard
- Armenian – Standard and eastern
- Chinese – Cantonese and Mandarin
- German – standard and Swiss
- Haitian Creole
- Persian – Farsi and Dari
- Portuguese – Brazilian and European
- Spanish – Latin and Spanish
- Good for oral fluency (pronunciation and cadence)
- Good for tourists and businessman
- Organic learning
- Efficient retry intervals
- They have lots of languages
- Lack of written material
- Many hours = Small vocabulary
In my opinion Pimsleur is a good course, it gives almost an instant confidence to speak, even if only “Ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch” (I do not speak German well). It is a challenging course in the right measure that requires close attention. The language structures are gradually internalized, which makes it a perfect course for people who, like me, do not like grammar.
The course is also great for businessmen and tourists, as well as introductory course for more serious students. It does not demand much time daily and serves as a great base for beginners who wish to deepen their language later. However, if you are already at intermediate or advanced level, this course is not for you.
The best part for me is the memorization system (graduated-interval recall), very effective; as well, the method of teaching the words backwards (yes, I think that was what I liked the most, simple and innovative).
Unfortunately, the large number of repetitions of words and patterns results in small vocabulary gain. Also, I believe the ideal is to apply their knowledge immediately after learning them. As I did not talk to any German after finishing the course, I think I lost a bit of fluency that I gained. However, I’m sure that if I listen to the audio again, I will easily recall the structures and words.
Finally, the two factors that I dislike the most: first, the lack of written material, I love to learn listening and reading at the same time. When I learn just by listening or just reading, I learn a lot less. I still think that if the course was accompanied by a script, it would be even better. And finally, the second factor and more controversial one: the price.
The cheapest option are the Audiofy Cards Chip and Reader
Pimsleur is an expensive course, no doubt. It’s a good, rather efficient course, but does worth the price? Particularly, I like to vary resources, so if I have a limited budget I’d rather buy other materials with lower prices. But, if you have a high budget, you like the method and you’re looking to get by in the language, is a good choice. My best advice is: try the first lesson in the website and see if you like the course.