A Comprehensive Review of the Pimsleur Method of Learning English

4 out of 5 stars

This article looks more closely at the Pimsleur Method of learning English. Maybe you have seen the ads about the Pimsleur Method of learning English. You know the ones featured on PBS, recommended by Forbes, advertised in the Boston Herald, and purchased by the FBI. They claim…

“Rapidly Start Learning Any Language in 10 Days”

“Strike up Basic Conversations, Amaze Yourself and Shock the Locals Using the Famous Pimsleur Method!”

“If you’re not absolutely thrilled with your new ability to learn your new language and speak comfortably, simply return your course within 30 days for a full refund.”

Dr. Paul Pimsleur claims…

Probably no aspect of learning a foreign language is more important than memory. Yet no aspect of language learning has been less well-examined. – Dr. Paul Pimsleur

What is the Pimsleur Method of learning English?

It is an audio-based language acquisition method developed by Paul Pimsleur. This method stresses active participation over rote memorization. The Pimsleur Method was created nearly 50 years ago by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, an international language expert. He felt there was a need for self-instructional materials to learn many of the world’s languages. Since this is an online ESL learning site, this article will focus on English. Dr. Pimselur’s ESL course stresses self-instruction and the use of memory. It is based on his years of teaching and his study in linguistics and the psychology of language.

How are the courses marketed?

In 1995, Simon & Schuster took over the distribution of the language products. CDs were introduced in the 1990s and digital download editions in 2005.

How does the Pimsleur Method actually work?

English for Arabic Speakers

There are thirty-minute daily lessons which are repeated until a score of at least 80% comprehension is achieved before moving on to the next lesson. (There are thirty lessons per level with three levels of ESL instruction. So that would make a total of ninety lessons of English instruction. You can purchase the lessons in smaller units of 10, as well.) During the lessons, students listen to native speakers of English as they speak phrases in English and the student’s native language. This method focuses on proficiency in speaking and in reading. As the student moves through the program, their vocabulary increases.

What principles are the program founded on?

Pimsleur uses 4 principles to form memory associations and language recall inherent in these lessons. These principles include:

  • Anticipation

Students just don’t repeat words and phrases in English. They translate a phrase into English. This technique is an active way of learning. The student needs to think before responding. Pimsleur felt this was similar to real-life conversations where a speaker must recall a phrase quickly.

  • Graduated-interval Recall

This method of reviewing learned vocabulary allows the learner to review the vocabulary learned at increasingly longer intervals. For example, a word is introduced and practiced every few seconds. Eventually it is practiced every few minutes, then every few hours, then every few days. This method allows students to store the vocabulary into long-term memory.

  • Core Vocabulary

The Pimsleur Method focuses on commonly used words to build up a “core vocabulary”. For example, in the English language, a specific set of 2000 words makes up nearly 80% of the total printed words. So for each level in English, there is an average of 500 words spread across the 30 lessons.  Grammar is presented through common patterns and phrases. It is repeated at intervals throughout the course. This matches how native speakers (as children) learn grammar.

  • Organic Learning

This method of listening to learn English helps with the proper pronunciation of words and the correct accent.

What are the advantages of the Pimsleur Approach, as advertised through their marketing strategies?

  • No textbooks or videos
  • CD audio, iPod or MP3
  • 30 minute lessons for a daily commute, lunch break or workout
  • 40 years of research and a 30 years history of success
  • Special offers and free shipping
  • Various ESL programs
Pimsleur Course Chart

Current Languages Sold

different languages in Pimsleur

English for Arabic Speakers

English for Cantonese Chinese Speakers

English for Mandarin Chinese Speakers

English for Farsi Persian Speakers

English for French Speakers

English for German Speakers

English for Haitian Speakers

English for Hindi Speakers

English for Italian Speakers

English for Korean Speakers

English for Portuguese Speakers

English for Russian Speakers

English for Spanish Speakers

English for Vietnamese Speakers

What do some of the customer reviews say about this language method?Advantages

  • At the start of each lesson a full conversation between two speakers is given, and by the end of the lesson you do actually understand all components of the conversation. This is quite an achievement and makes the system all the more impressive. Explanations are useful and non-technical so you get the basic gist of some grammatical concepts, as well as the vocabulary itself.
  • It is perhaps an excellent way to help you get by (albeit in very restricted situations) for a weekend trip, but if you have long-term plans with your target language you will absolutely have to combine it with another course to make any real progress. That sounds fair enough, as many people do use several courses at once.
  • Good at teaching basic vocabulary
  • Helpful way to pick up new vocabulary for future learning
  • An enjoyable way to learn English especially if you don’t have experience
  • An effective way to start learning English
  • Offers a good comfort level
  • Allows you to feel achievement and success
  • Helps with sentence intonation, accent, and rhythm
  • Fantastic, organized lessons
  • Replicates native language learners through the oral approach
  • When a lesson is finished, you understand it
  • Forces you to speak English
  • Encourages active learning
  • Gives you a sense of achievement
  • Convenience of taking with you and listening anywhere
  • Provides motivation to keep studying
  • Affordable option compared to university coursework


  • The context of use may not be as relevant to every user. It may be more tailored to the family businessman who travels.
  • It is difficult to skip through some of the material if it is not as relevant, as everything is audible.
  • It is not personalized to individual needs.
  • If you are a visual learner or have a preference to learn visually, this method might not be the best match for you.
  • For the steep price, you would expect it to be more encompassing.
  • Falls short in content
  • Little vocabulary
  • Too expensive for what you get


In conclusion, the Pimsleur Method to learn English (like any other method of ESL study) has its pros and cons. The 3 levels of lessons (30 lessons of 30-minutes per level) provide a structured format that builds vocabulary though listening skills. The ease of access and convenience of study especially for the beginning ESL student are a big plus. No one seems to argue about the student learning good pronunciation and vocabulary from this method.

There is some disagreement about the relevance of the vocabulary learned and some discussion regarding the lack of personalization of the instruction to the individual learner. But you would probably get the same discussion regarding any method of ESL instruction unless it was a format that you could engage in direct conversation with another native English speaker. For example, an online English course tailored 1-1 with direct instruction would allow for more personalization, as well as a university course where you could talk to the instructor and also raise questions.

The cost factor is debatable, too. Some students feel that the discount prices that are often available online make the purchase more economical. There is also a resale value. Others feel disappointed about the price. They feel there should be more substance for their money.  Many students expressed a viewpoint that it was worth trying. Many others said that the program helped to develop more confidence in their English speaking. Others added that using this method fit well in their lifestyle. They were pleased about the end results.

Some students argued that you need more English than what this program offers. However, as one reviewer put it, “Pimsleur never said that this was the only method to use.”

Certainly you can add other ways to study English. Again, with any method to learn English, you often supplement materials. The Pimsleur Method appears to be a good way to begin learning and reinforcing English skills, and a successful one at that. You will make progress. You will learn English.

Whether you are able to “rapidly start learning English in 10 days” or “you [are able to] strike up basic conversations, amaze yourself and shock the locals” is probably open for debate. There are testimonials that people did just that, but not everyone exhibited these results. With nothing to lose, you could try out the program and return the course within 30 days for a full refund. If you have time on your hands and a desire to learn ESL, then the Pimsleur Method just might be worth trying. For more information, go to the Pimsleur website at https://www.pimsleurapproach.com/atc431.asp?sid=sl30000emcams&uid=750477

Final Mark

After reading the reviews and in studying the components of this English as a Second Language program, I would rate the Pimsleur Language Program a 4 star on a 5 star scale, with 5 stars being the highest. This language learning program is especially helpful to students who want to study English independently and have about 30 minutes a day to do so. It is best studied over a consecutive number of days to ensure continuous progress and long term gains. It is an audio-based learning program so for individuals who like to learn this way or for those who have an auditory learning strength, it is especially helpful. It is also designed for convenience to fit into a "normal" day as students can squeeze a 30 minute lesson into a daily commute, lunch break, or other short interval of time. Although progress may be limited to three sets of 30 lessons, students will learn and progress to get some basics of the English language when the entire course is completed. This serves well  for many purposes:  familiarity of the English language, a jump start to study English, and fundamentals for travel for business, school, or leisure. Although it is not personalized and does not offer a visual component, Pimsleur functions as a valuable learning method. It can be easily supplemented with additional resources, whether hard copy or online. Likewise, additional study can build on this prior ESL knowledge, whether through 1-1 tutoring, study groups, classroom instruction, or online English learning.

And if you give it a try, let me know your thoughts. Were you happy with the English you learned? Did the method meet your expectations? Share your opinion(s). I would love to hear from you.  And if there is anything I can do to help you on your path to learn English, please write to me about that, too. I would be glad to help.

Write to me using the comments section below and tell me about your thoughts and review of the Pimsleur method of learning English.

*All of the links in this article are put in for your own use, we were not paid in any way by Pimsleur to write this post nor do we receive any monetary gains from visitors clicking on the links.

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