The Pimsleur language-learning program has been around for decades in the form of audio tapes, then CDs, and now MP3 downloads and streaming. The content is rock-solid, and Pimsleur is especially helpful for people who need to focus on pronunciation. Pimsleur Premium is the version of the Pimsleur program that includes app-based exercises to help you practice what you've learned. It's now available for 14 languages (plus a course for learning English, with instruction in Spanish). The exercises aren't as fun or sticky as those you'll find in some other language-learning apps, but they get the job done. This version of Pimsleur is available for Android, iPhone, iPad, and the web, as well as Amazon Alexa. It's also now sold for a subscription price rather than a high one-time fee, making it more accessible. If you like the Pimsleur method and want to be able to study on the go, Pimsleur Premium delivers.
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Even with the interactive components, Pimsleur remains quite focused on audio. That makes it exceptionally useful if you get tripped up by looking at words and reading them with an English pronunciation. For some, hearing words without seeing them makes a huge difference in being able to say them properly. If audio-focused lessons aren't for you, however, try instead Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, our Editors' Choice winners for free and paid language-learning apps. Fluenz is another very strong candidate, teaching through video lessons followed by interactive exercises.
Pimsleur Premium Languages
Pimsleur Premium is available for 14 languages when the instruction is in English: Modern Standard Arabic, Eastern Arabic, Mandarin, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Latin American Spanish. Courses for Greek and European/Castilian Spanish are in the works. There's also a program for learning English with instruction in Spanish.
If you're looking for another language, you might try plain old Pimsleur, which is the version of the program that has the audio portion but no interactive exercises. It does include booklets or PDFs if you want visual materials. With that version, you can find programs for 50 languages. It's also now available for a subscription rate of $14.95 per month.
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How Much Does Pimsleur Premium Cost?
After decades of selling its program for a flat rate, Pimsleur has now embraced subscription pricing. The Premium version costs $19.95 per month, and you can get a seven-day free trial. Other language learning apps typically cost a little less than what Pimsleur charges, usually on the order of $10-$15 per month. For some language apps, you have to pay for a year upfront to get the best rate, however. Although Pimsleur's pricing is a little on the high end, it's not outrageous.
The benefit of the subscription pricing is that if you follow the instructions and complete one lesson per day, you'll work through an entire level (30 lessons) in one to two months. Each lesson is around 30 minutes, and the instructions say you should repeat a lesson if you couldn't answer correctly about 80 percent of the time. When Pimsleur Premium was sold for a flat rate, it cost $150 per level, making the subscription price a better value for most people. That said, if you want to repeat the lessons a year later, you'd have to pay to subscribe again, whereas with the one-time fee, you own the content for life.
You can still buy a physical software package on disc through Pimsleur's website if you prefer to own the program. Some libraries also still carry the physical CDs of Pimsleur's programs.
What Is the Pimsleur Method?
Pimsleur is named for Dr. Paul Pimsleur, an applied linguist who spent years researching how long students remember new information and how often they need to be reminded of it to get it to stick in their longer term memory. He died in 1976, but managed to create a unique language-learning program that lives on to this day.
The program itself has extremely clear instructions. Each day, you're supposed to complete exactly one lesson. The next day, you do the next lesson in consecutive order. If you feel like you didn't master at least 80 percent of the lesson, you should repeat it the following day instead of moving forward.
No matter what language you choose, the program consists of an English-speaking instructor, plus one or more native speakers of the language you're learning. Only the native speakers use the foreign language. The English-speaking instructor never uses foreign words, but he prompts you and guides you throughout.
The secret sauce is in the intervals. In between learning a new word for the first time and being asked to recall it again , you learn other words and phrases. You're constantly recalling words and phrases that you learned earlier in the current lesson, as well as in past lessons. As you progress, a few days might go by when seemingly out of the blue the narrator will ask, "How do you say, 'I would like?'" and you have to pull it from memory, even if you haven't said it in a while. This method is also known as spaced repetition.
It takes maybe five or six lessons to truly get into the swing of Pimsleur. Once you learn how it works, you trust that vocabulary and concepts will repeat a few times, so it's okay if you don't nail it on the first go-around.
What Makes the Premium Edition Different?
So far, the program I've described applies to all the Pimsleur products. Pimsleur Premium adds interactive exercises that aren't available in other versions.
You get the lessons and exercises through the Pimsleur mobile app for Android(Opens in a new window) or iOS(Opens in a new window), or a web app through Pimsleur's website. There's also an Amazon Alexa skill for Pimsleur(Opens in a new window).
The app keeps track of which lessons you've played to completion and saves your place if you start a lesson and are unable to complete it. You can skip ahead if you have some prior experience with the language and find the first few lessons too easy. Not all language learning apps let you skip ahead. For example, with Duolingo, you have to test out of earlier levels or sequentially progress to unlock all the lessons.
While playing an audio lesson, you can leave the screen active to see the total time elapsed and have easy access to buttons for pausing/resuming, and backing up or moving forward in 10-second intervals. A Driving Mode in the mobile app makes these buttons bigger and removes other images from the screen so you can mash your hand on the phone to pause without taking your eyes off the road. If you prefer to lock your screen, the audio continues to play.
Pimsleur Premium Practice Exercises
For each lesson, you get some combination of these exercises: Reading, Flash Cards, Quick Match, Speak Easy, Speed Round. You're supposed to listen to the audio lesson first and then use the exercises to review what you've learned.
Reading contains a list of sounds, words, and expressions you learned in the lesson in a list. You play an audio file of each sound while simultaneously reading it. In Mandarin, you see the pinyin (Romanization of Mandarin) alongside the audio file and can toggle to a new screen that shows the Chinese characters, pinyin, and English translation for each entry, too.
Flash Cards let you review the same vocabulary you learned in the lesson. They're self-paced and self-scored. You mark whether you know a word without having to prove it.
Quick Match is a multiple choice exercise where you choose the correct translation from a list of options.
In Speak Easy, you listen to a short dialogue and then repeat it while playing the part of one of the speakers. Again, it's self-paced and self-scored. There's no system that records your speaking and decides whether you're right or wrong.
Speed Round is a game in which words or phrases fall from the top of the screen to the bottom, and you have to find their matching translations and select them before the falling words hit the bottom.
Overall, these exercises are really only meant for reinforcement. They aren't the primary method for learning. Considering the structure of the audio lessons—every lesson starts and ends with a dialogue between two people, and you spend the lesson breaking it down—I can imagine other ways to leverage the content into more challenging interactive exercises. For example, you might have a question at the top of an exercise with multiple choices below, and you have to choose the response that appropriately answers the question. So, the question might be, "Do you speak Mandarin?" and the options to answer it could be, "Yes, I speak a little," "Fine, thanks, and you?" or "Excuse me, can I ask…?" That way, you have to trigger your memory to recall both the prompt and the possible answers.
Two newer features in the app are My Saved Vocabulary and My Bonus Packs. My Saved Vocabulary contains study sets from words, phrases, and sentences that you marked as wanting to review when you were practicing them. That way, you can drill through flashcards to work on the phrases that are harder for you. My Bonus Packs contain more flashcards for practicing more phrases, questions, and other common sentences.
In addition to exercises listed above, each lesson also comes with a section called Skills. The Skills are locked until you've listened to the lesson that goes with them. The content of the Skills varies based on the lesson. They're themed to match whatever you've been learning, such as General Phrases, Time, Food, and Numbers.
Similar to the exercises, the Skills are really meant for reinforcement. You get a list of words, phrases, and sentences to review. You can see the phrases and listen to them being spoken. You can also mark whether you've learned each one. Then, you can take a quiz using the same list of phrases.
The quizzes are a little more intelligent. They keep track of what you get right and wrong. When you get to the end of a quiz, you can repeat the questions that you got wrong.
Should You Buy Pimsleur Premium?
If you like learning with Pimsleur and you want to be able to refresh your memory about what you learned, then Pimsleur Premium is worth buying. I often recommend Pimsleur to people who don't have prior experience learning languages because the focus on listening and speaking results in better pronunciation for many people than if they were primarily learning through reading. With support now for 12 languages, plus English for Spanish speakers, and a subscription price, Pimsleur Premium is more appealing than ever before. The price is still on the high end when you compare it to other programs, but the content is solid.
That said, there's no reason you can't buy Pimsleur's traditional lessons and use a different free app, such as Duolingo, to add an interactive component. What you learn in each app won't align exactly, but if you start from the beginning with both Pimsleur and Duolingo, you'll get an excellent beginner's experience in both places.
If piecing it all together sounds like too much work, give Rosetta Stone a try instead. It's interactive through and through, which is a big reason it earns an Editors' Choice award. And if you don't like Rosetta Stone's style, Fluenz is an excellent alternative.
Simon & Schuster Pimsleur Premium
(Opens in a new window)See ItAll Access Subscription Offer with 7 Day Free Trial at Pimsleur(Opens in a new window)
Exceptional audio-based learning
Well designed app and easy to use
Available as a web app and for Android, iOS, and Amazon Alexa
Exercises not very sticky
The Bottom Line
Pimsleur Premium is for anyone who enjoys the audio-focused Pimsleur method of learning a language and wants to reinforce what they've learned with app-based activities.
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