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Pimsleur – A Practical and Innovative Language Learning Solution or a Scam?

Senior Editor, TipsHire

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a foreign language or improve your already acquired skills, you will want to find out more about platforms like Pimsleur and their offers. However, keep in mind that reality does not always live up to promises, so it helps to do your homework before investing time and money into any platform. What exactly does this particular platform have to offer and what should you expect from it? Let’s discover the answer together in the following lines!

About Pimsleur

As mentioned above, this is a language learning system. It relies on the learning method with the same name, developed by linguist Paul Pimsleur during the 1960s. The related brand became the property of Simon & Schuster and is associated with numerous digital downloads and CD courses.

The first course using this method, Modern Greek, was the creation of Pimsleur himself. It used a method Paul Pimsleur developed after observing how children learn to speak. While the method itself has a fairly good reputation, the brand was severely affected when a scam website named www.pimsleurapproach.com started offering unsuspecting customers low-quality content under its name.

In the meantime, Simon & Schuster have managed to shut down the copycat operation and bought the domain, setting it to automatically redirect visitors to the genuine Pimsleur website. Today, the Pimsleur Language Learning system offers courses for over 50 languages from all over the world, and many swear by its effectiveness.

Pimsleur Offer Details

The official website offers digital downloads for language courses to users from all over the world. They also offer courses on CDs, but only to users in the U.S. The courses consist of short, self-paced audio-only lessons. The concept behind the Pimsleur system is to help people speak a new language and perfect their pronunciation by repetition.

According to the homepage of the Pimsleur website, the available courses cover the following languages:

  • Spanish (Latin American)
  • French
  • Italian
  • German
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Japanese

However, the full list consists of 48 languages plus English as a foreign language for native speakers of:

  • Spanish
  • Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese
  • Russian
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Arabic
  • French
  • Vietnamese
  • Farsi
  • Korean
  • Haitian
  • German
  • Hindi

From this point of view, Pimsleur has one of the most generous offers on the market of online language learning, including courses for languages such as Dari Persian, Ojibwe, Tagalog, or Urdu.

The Science Behind the Pimsleur Method

The Pimsleur method has four core principles:

  1. Gradual interval recall – Dr. Pimsleur discovered and defined this principle according to which people should be reminded of the same new word at gradually increasing intervals. Thus, during the first repetitions, the learner will forget the information soon after hearing it. As it re-occurs, the information becomes vaguely familiar, and, in the end, it is crystallized in the learner’s permanent memory.
  2. Anticipation – The human brain uses an intricate process to analyze speech and anticipate answers. Most people are not even aware of it because it happens extremely fast. Dr. Pimsleur believed it is possible to stimulate and accelerate this process by asking people questions regarding the information they have just accumulated, giving them time to answer, and reinforcing the correct answer by acknowledging and repeating it.
  3. Core vocabulary – People are more likely to retain information if it is given to them in limited quantity. This is why Pimsleur lessons are very short and include a limited number of words and phrases. Thus, by the time participants finish a lesson, they are more likely to assimilate the new information. With time, as they acquire new information, they form new connections and develop new language structures and sentences by themselves.
  4. Organic learning – Instead of teaching words as such, the Pimsleur lessons use real-life conversations. Through them, users can retain new words faster and easier, because they are integrated into familiar situations, they follow naturally, and they are easier to understand and associate with various scenarios.

The Free Pimsleur Lesson

A free lesson is available for every language course. It is 30 minutes long and it covers the basics of the first course. In order to access it, website visitors need to register with their name and email address.

However, this initial registration does not create an account on the Pimsleur website. The email address is only used (according to the explanation in the pop-up message) to send the learner a customized offer for the full language course they are interested in.

If the user is satisfied with the first lesson and finds the offer acceptable, they can continue with Pimsleur. If not, they at least know they considered the offer and it does not meet their needs and interests.

The free lesson contains lots of explanations in English, instructing the learner to repeat the pronunciation in a loud voice when prompted, and offering translations for each word and phrase spoken in the foreign language. The foreign words are recorded by a native speaker of the language, using the standard accent.

The official website deems the free lesson as representative for the entire course. The approach is simplistic, without special focus on grammar and spelling (this would be impossible given the fact that the lessons are in audio format only).

Overall, the lessons seem useful for someone trying to become fluent in everyday conversation for travel purposes. They are not adequate, though, for people who really want to master the language to the point of being able to read books by foreign authors in the original language.

Testimonials, Reviews, and Endorsements

The Pimsleur website features various testimonials on almost all its pages. They supposedly belong to people from various countries that learned the language they were interested in using the Pimsleur method. They are, of course, all positive and encouraging.

When it comes to third-party reviews, impressions differ. Some websites put the language courses in an entirely negative light, but mostly due to the scam copycat website named www.pimsleurapproach.com that operated in parallel with the legitimate one.

This makes it almost impossible to assess whether the strongly negative reviews refer to the real Pimsleur products or the scam offers. The fact that most negative reviews date back in 2015 suggests they refer to the scam website, live around that period.

The numerous positive reviews from people who appreciate the audio-only learning system using downloadable MP3 files suggest the Pimsleur offer is not worthless. With these lessons, users have the freedom and resources to learn on the go or during other activities, like working out or doing house chores.

According to the About Us page, Pimsleur is the method of choice for the US Army to teach Pashto to military personnel deployed in Afghanistan. The Pashto language course was developed and offered for free by Pimsleur as a part of the Operation Speak Easy. The language system also donated courses of Haitian Creole to the organization Doctors Without Borders.

Pricing and Return Policy

Pimsleur language courses are quite expensive. Prices vary according to the length of the courses. Most courses for European languages consist of ten 30-minute lessons and cost $119.95. However, there are also packages named “Unlimited Software” which cost as much as $575. Buyers can also opt for level by level or 3-course packs acquisitions.

The FAQ section of the website states that, for select purchases, a FlexyPay installment option is available.

The option consists of three payments, spaced as follows:

  • 1/3 of the price at the time of placing the order
  • 1/3 30 days after the order
  • 1/3 60 days after the order

However, this payment option is available to US-based customers only, excluding Florida.

Pimsleur accepts the following credit card types for payment:

  • Discover Card
  • Visa
  • MasterCard
  • American Express

For CDs and other physical product packages, the supplier accepts checks or money orders. They only offer refunds for physical products. Users who opt for digital downloads benefit from the Pimsleur guarantee.

According to the Guarantee page of the website, every user who completes Level1 of any language program will be able to take the Novice test of Language Line, an independent language proficiency test. Level 1 buyers who take the test within 60 days after the purchase and fail can get a full refund.

Pimsleur Strengths

The Pimsleur language learning system has a good reputation for valid reasons:

  • It is based on a scientific method developed by a reputed linguist
  • It offers a very wide variety of languages, as well as English as a foreign language for many people worldwide
  • There are many positive reviews from people who bought the courses (many negative reviews refer to a copycat website, now shut down)
  • Short and easy audio lessons, in downloadable MP3 format
  • Self-paced course
  • The language system is endorsed by reputable clients such as the US Army and Doctors Without Borders
  • Users can test their knowledge in tests like the Language Line Novice Test
  • The supplier offers refunds, showing confidence in the courses’ value

Pimsleur Weaknesses

  • It is quite expensive
  • Refunds are subject to very specific conditions
  • The FlexiPay installment plan is only available to US-based users
  • The learning system is audio only: this may not be very helpful when trying to learn languages using a different alphabet (Arabic languages, Chinese, Japanese) and languages using accents and special letters (French, German, Polish).

The Bottom Line

If you want to learn a new language only in order to get by in real-life situations, ask questions and understand simple answers, Pimsleur can definitely help. With a pair of earphones connected to your smartphone or MP3 player, you can learn the new language on the go, while commuting to work, shopping, running errands, jogging, or doing housework.

However, if you want to really master the new language, covering grammar and writing as well, you are in for a disappointment, so you should weigh your options and think twice before acquiring these courses, especially since their price is not exactly accessible.

As mentioned above, a full course can cost up to $575 and does not guarantee performance or offer degrees you could use to prove your newly acquired skills. Refunds are not too easy to obtain either.

All these small but important inconveniences make Pimsleur courses a luxury many language learners can manage without, but, of course, the final decision is yours. Don’t hesitate to share it with us, and let us know what you think of Pimsleur in a comment or more comprehensive review.

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