Safe choice for beginners

It works, but slowly

The audio lessons are very well designed, but the extra training in the app doesn’t add much value.

If taken with discipline, Pimsleur Italian works because it focuses on oral language and prompts you to speak.

I only wish they made it cheaper!

  • Quality
  • Thoroughness
  • Value
Overall
3.8

Pros

  • You’re constantly being prompted to speak
  • The single lessons and the course as a whole are meticulously designed
  • You can take it while doing something else

Cons

  • Many casual learners find this kind of repetition boring
  • It teaches overly polite language
  • The practice activities included in the premium plan don’t add much value
  • Expensive

What is Pimsleur Italian?

Pimsleur Italian is one of the longest standing and most popular audio courses out there for learning a foreign language. Their programs and method are unique and have a strong academic background.

Pimsleur is an audio language learning program organized by level and made up of 30-minute sessions. The levels are designed to be worked through once a day.

Pimsleur’s method is a well-researched and organized approach to language learning that uses techniques based on actual linguist and psychological research.

It’s not a substitute for speaking with a real person but as far as language programs go it comes pretty close. Pimsleur also focuses a lot on pronunciation were most other courses tend to overlook it.

Concept: the Pimsleur Italian approach

Pimsleur Italian is primarily an audio-based course for learning foreign languages. It uses a sort of call and response approach to learning where the user is presented with a phrase in Italian along with its translation and repeats after the audio. Pimsleur focuses on speaking, listening, and a good deal of pronunciation.

The Pimsleur program was the brainchild of the late Dr. Paul Pimsleur, who developed a series of language learning courses in the 1960s. Dr. Pimsleur was a scholar with a background in both linguistics and psychology.

He performed a great deal of research in the area of language acquisition, studying how both adults and child learn languages. His primary concern was how people learned new languages. He put the results of his research in an enlightening book on how we learn languages that I recommend that you read.

Pimsleur program is the second most popular language-learning product in the world following Rosetta Stone. It uses spaced out repetition methods developed by Paul Pimsleur in the 70s. The format is you are told words and sentences and are then asked to strategically repeat them.

You are supposed to do 1 session a day and if you fail to answer at least 80% correctly then you are advised to repeat the lesson. Throughout the program, you take part in conversations, so it warms you up to realistic (in most cases) real-life situations. Every unit presents phrases in the Italian first, and then in your mother tongue for you to translate into that language.

The Pimsleur learning programs were developed in the 1970s when the best available technology was a cassette tape player. In recent times, Pimsleur has been copying the cassette tape courses onto CDs and then, more recently, into digital MP3 downloads. They recently added a software version for both PC and Mac.

In the course, the narrator emphasizes the importance of concentration and participation. For Pimsleur Italian to be effective, it suggests you complete one 30-minute lesson per day. Each unit builds on the previous one to help build a good base for more advanced ones . If you follow these instructions, listen carefully and refrain from taking notes, Pimsleur Italian can be an effective curriculum, especially if you prefer audio-based learning.

One of Pimsleur’s core principals is the idea of training your brain to anticipate the correct response to a question or phrase by asking for understanding, pausing for a response and reinforcing the correct response. This memorization method is not as interactive as reading and comprehension exercises found in some programs we reviewed, like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. Because phrases are introduced in the context of a conversation, you can recall them quickly. Your brain anticipates the correct response, rather than searching for the equivalent English term and translating it to French.

The audio presents words and phrases to you, with their translation, either said in isolation or in a suggested context (the audio tells you to “Imagine you are at a restaurant in central Budapest” for example). There is then a pause for you to repeat the phrase, or to recall a previously learned one from memory. The audio then gives you the answer so you can confirm you were right or learn it better for next time.

The system is almost entirely audio-based. There may be some reading material for particular units, but even those are to be read while listening to the audio that gives instructions on how to proceed. The vast majority of what is said to you will never be written down in any form, so this is forcing you to get used to the spoken language and not being able to read it at any time.

Why the Pimsleur method Works

According to Pimsleur’s site, the four pillars to their method are Graduated Interval Recall, Core Vocabulary, Principle of Anticipation, and Organic Learning.

Spaced Repetition

Dr. Pimsleur did a lot of research on human memory. From it, he concluded that if you were shown the same new word at graduating intervals you would be more likely to remember the word after each time you saw it. So instead of introducing you to new words and phrase once or twice, you would work with them multiple times over weeks or months.

If you think this is starting to sound like a Spaced Repetition System, you’re right. The Pimsleur programs were one of the first, if not the first, to incorporate a sort of spaced repetition approach.  Dr. Pimsleur didn’t discover SPSs, but he was one of the first to apply it to the field of language acquisition.

Anytime you’re given a new word or phrase in Pimsleur Italian it’s a safe bet that you will come across it again multiple times. However, the courses won’t be cramming the words down your throat every day either.

You can expect a gradual progression of vocabulary when using Pimsleur. You’ll use newer Italian words more often, while the more familiar ones will be slowly emphasized less and less.

Here’s what spaced repetition means. First, you listen to an Italian phrase, and then you are asked to repeat it. Next, you’re asked to remember the phrase and say the words out loud at timed intervals. The intervals start very short and get longer and longer.

For example, first, you hear a word and then you’re asked to say it 15 seconds later. Then you will be asked to say it 45 seconds later, then 1.5 minutes after that, and so on. The time intervals grow quickly until they are measured in days and then weeks.

This learning method works for everyone willing to use it. You will learn a lot (and remember a lot) for every hour you spend studying with any spaced-repetition method.

Spaced repetition was invented back in 1932 by Professor C. A. Mace. Pimsleur courses that use spaced repetition were developed when cassette-tape technology became widespread in the 1970s.

One of the terms that get thrown around a lot in language learning discussions is ‘Spaced Repetition System’ (or SRS). I feel it’s one of those terms which everybody knows is a good thing but most don’t understand what it means. Here’s a simple explanation:

  1. You come across a new word that you’ve never seen before. You forget it almost immediately.
  2. One hour later, you see it again. It’s familiar to you but you can’t remember it until the answer’s shown.
  3. The next day, you see it again. This time it’s very familiar but you still can’t remember it until it’s shown.
  4. Three days later you’re shown the word again. Finally, you remember the word.

You might have noticed that each time the word is shown, there’s a larger gap between the time it’s shown and the previous time you saw it.

At first, you forget the word almost immediately but gradually it becomes more and more familiar until you remember it with ease.

Sometimes this happens early, sometimes it takes a lot more exposure for it to stick.

Paul Pimsleur developed his version of SRS based on his research into intervals (the periods between each time a word or phrase is recalled) so the Pimsleur Method adheres to a fairly rigid timeline starting with high-frequency recall (in seconds and minutes) and gradually moving up to days, weeks and months.

So, if you listen to a Pimsleur product, you’ll hear a word or sentence introduced for the first time and then seconds later you’ll be asked to recall it. Then it will be minutes later, hours and so on.

Usually, when people learn with SRS, they do it for memorization. In other words, just listening or reading at spaced intervals. However, this is not just about memorization. Paul Pimsleur knew how important participation is in the process of language learning.

Pimsleur products pressure you to recall and participate in an actual exchange. So instead of playing a word to get you to remember it, the audio series asks you how to say something or to respond to a native speaker. It never allows you to become a passive listener.

You’re actively involved in what you’re listening to and the presenter of the series keeps you on your toes because you need to respond at various intervals. This active recollection is powerful at getting you to recall and use the language just as you would often have to do in real-life situations.

Core vocabulary

Core vocabulary is the idea that there are Italian words that are more important to learn than others, and that you should spend most your effort learning them instead of less useful words.

The importance of a word is determined by how common it is in the language you’re learning.

The goal here is to give your mind less material so that it can more easily master it. Once you get a hold of the core vocabulary then you can move on to other parts of the language.

The Italian words and phrases in Pimsleur are designed to give you the most relevant vocabulary first. If you work through the program as recommended (once a day), you will gradually move through the most essential words and phrases in your target language.

Principle of Anticipation

When we hear someone say something (question, phrase, etc.) our brains instinctively process the information and we come up with a response, almost without thinking about it.

The principle of anticipation says that this process of hearing and anticipating it was helps us understand and speak in a foreign language, especially when we’re given feedback on whether our answer was right or wrong.

If you were learning English and I taught you the phrase, “This is a dog”. You would better remember and understand it if I asked you “What is this?” (pointing to a dog of course), and you then gave the correct response.

In contrast to many traditional language classes which will tell you “this is a dog”, and leave it at that; Dr. Pimsleur believed that you would remember and understand the phrase if you had to hear the question, recall the answer on your own, say it out loud, and then receive feedback.

You’ll be required to repeat and recall every phrase you here in the Pimsleur Italian course. After you’ve heard the translation of a word the speaker will ask you a question in the target language followed by a brief period of silence.

You have a few seconds to remember and say the correct phrase out loud. After the silence, the speaker will repeat the correct answer to the question.

Organic learning

Words are learned better in a real-life context versus in isolation, that’s the idea of organic learning in a nutshell. So instead of learning “cat”, “dog”, “bird”, it’s a lot more beneficial if you learned these words in the context of a conversation, like maybe a talk with your friend about his new pet.

Each lesson is built around a conversation between two people. More than that though, each conversation is prefaced by a detailed description of where the speakers are and what they’re doing.

The course will invite you to imagine yourself in the speaker’s’ situation. The situations can be anything from talking to a stranger on a bus in Russia to making plans with a friend over the phone in a hotel lobby in Mexico.

What do you get in a Pimsleur Italian audio course?

Italian language audio course review Pimsleur

The Pimsleur Italian courses are divided into levels, for example, Italian 1, 2, etc. Each level is made up of 30 units, and each unit is 30 minutes long (so each level is essentially 15 hours long). The levels are consecutive. If you were new to Italian, you would start with level 1 and work your way up.

The number of levels varies from language to language. Most of the more popular ones have 4-5 levels (Spanish, French, Japanese, Mandarin, etc.), while some minority languages only have one (Ojibwe, Irish, Haitian Creole, etc.).

So, if you complete them at their recommended pace, without skipping any days, you’ll be able to complete the entire program within five months. You’re also able to download the lessons.

Pimsleur programs are built around conversations. In each unit, there is an English narrator and two or more native speakers. First, each lesson will begin with the narrator setting the scene for the lesson’s conversation. He’ll describe the location and the particulars of what’s happening, then tell you to imagine it yourself. After that, you hear the full conversation in your target language twice.

Then the lesson will break the conversation down into parts from phrases, to words, and even down to syllables of the words. The narrator will tell you what a word means then a native speaker will say the particular word or phrase. After the native speaker will come a period of silence in which you are to repeat what was said.

The conversations are almost always built around a series of questions and answers. As the lesson progresses the narrator will ask you questions in English while you respond in the target language. Then the native speaker will ask questions completely in the target language and without any translation. This cycle repeats for the duration of the lesson.

The narrator will sometimes interject to point out something about grammar or pronunciation from time to time, but by and large, the majority of each lesson is centered on the conversation.

As you work through the lessons and levels the narration will use less and less English. Also, the earlier lessons and levels usually feature more emphasis in pronunciation than the later ones. As you work through the higher levels, you’ll see fewer words broken down to the syllable level.

With Pimsleur Italian, you will be comfortable understanding basic meaning in most tourist situations:

  • Formalities
  • Meeting and greeting
  • Eating and drinking
  • Inviting somebody for lunch/dinner
  • Buying things
  • Numbers 1-100
  • Giving directions and stating intentions
  • Basic grammar
  • Pronunciation

Features of the app/desktop version

I only use the MP3 files, but many casual learners find apps more entertaining. If you’re one of them, you’ll like the app, too. I left it in the end because, for me, that’s just an extra.

The app has the same learning content as the desktop version, but it’s missing features that pair well with the software’s repeat-aloud philosophy, like voice recording and a speech recognition tool to help you perfect your accent.

One thing that has impressed me is just how well designed the app is, especially when compared to the old app. It’s smooth, easy to use, has lots of beautiful pictures, and the premium version includes a few extra features.

So far, everything I’ve talked about in this review is available in the basic app for $14.95. It also includes the following features. For an extra $5 per month, the premium version includes some extra practice activities.

With the flashcards, you’ll have two options to practice – English to Italian or Italian to English.

In the quick match section, you’ll be given a sentence in English and have to choose the correct Italian translation. You can do so by either reading the options or playing the audio for each selection.

The next section of the activities is the SpeakEasy. This is just dialogue. If you click “Play & Repeat” the dialogue will play and include pauses for you to repeat the sentence.

In the speed round, you need to match the falling words to the translations before they hit the bottom of the screen.

Because Pimsleur’s Italian lessons are so focused on the oral language, without these extras, you could study a language for months before you have any exposure to the written language.

While there are plenty of other resources where you could practice reading or writing, the fact that these are aligned with the lessons you’ve been studying helps.

So, these extra features may be the only place you can get any reading practice from Pimsleur’s lessons.

How to learn languages: focus on audio

Let’s go back to the main part: its audio files.

First of all, the presenter gets you to imagine scenarios:

“Imagine an American man meeting an Irish woman in an area where Irish is spoken. He wants to begin a conversation…”

I didn’t realize this at first but this kind of mental imagery can be more stimulating for me as a visual-spatial learner than reading text on a page.

If I were to read those same lines – “Imagine an American man meeting an Irish woman…” – as words on paper or screen, it might even distract me from visualizing it because I’d be focused more on the actual text I’m reading.

The other thing is the way the pronunciation of words is presented.

The native speakers speak the words backward, one syllable at a time.

This gets you to picture and focus on each syllable.

We associate sounds with mental images constantly and it’s those mental images that serve in helping us to remember what we hear.

One thing I would recommend if you do use Pimsleur Italian is to make sure you’re not preoccupied with anything while you’re listening to it (e.g. commuting) since concentration is so important.

Much more so than most language courses, Pimsleur focuses on listening and speaking while grammar is ignored.

For students at the beginner and even the lower-intermediate level, I agree that instruction should be focused on communication skills and not so much on grammar.

Unlike most courses that require a lot of speaking, it’s not just repetition. Pimsleur makes you produce the language.

You’re constantly prompted by being asked things like, “How do you say ___?” In addition to this, you’ll hear someone else saying the equivalent of “How do you say?” but in the language, you’re learning.

After this, there will be a pause where you’re supposed to speak out using the language you’re learning. Following this, a native speaker will come in and say the sentence, phrase, or word.

One cool aspect I noticed is that in any individual lesson, there’s not only the English-speaking narrator but also both a native-speaking man and a woman interjecting throughout.

This not only helps you to understand different speakers but makes it easier to model your speech off someone of the same gender as yourself.

Often, the instructor will break down the words into their components – emphasizing a part of the word.

The lessons build upon each other exceptionally well.

Each lesson starts out reviewing the previous lesson’s materials. Stuff that was taught earlier keeps showing up in future lessons but within different contexts.

This is something that has impressed me. How the lessons progress makes it so that you’ll be able to speak about a pretty broad range of topics if you make it to the later levels in the course.

The conversational nature of the lessons will also help students become competent speakers quicker than most courses.

There’s quite a bit of cultural information unique to the language you’re studying throughout the lessons. There are lots of references to famous locations. To the question “Where’s the hotel?”, instead of simply answering, “It’s by the river” there would often be responses similar to, “It’s near the Huangpu River.” (for Chinese).

There’s no book or program to look at. You just put on your headphones, listen and repeat. So, the emphasis is entirely on speaking and listening.

This is how languages should be learned. Languages are not written. They’re spoken. We invented writing systems as a way of representing spoken sounds on paper – not the other way around.

I think part of the problem with language education is that we’ve reduced foreign languages down to a list of rules on paper. We focus too much on the representation of what we hear when we should focus on what we hear first and worry about the representation later.

Doing so is not only a more natural way to learn but also helps with your pronunciation.

You can’t learn to pronounce something properly by reading it. You need lots of listening and repeating.

How to use Pimsleur Italian

Be disciplined: once a day every day

It’s best to use Pimsleur Italian the way it itself recommends: listening to a single 30-minute lesson a day, each day. Remember that the lessons are designed to introduce you to a language gradually but consistently over time.

You’ll want to work at a consistent pace to get the most out of them. Don’t try to rush through them listening to 4 or 5 lessons a day. It won’t have the same effect. Also, if you miss a day, don’t let the missed day turned into a missed week.

Be patient

There’s a lot of reviews out there of people who tried a level 1 package for a few weeks and then complain they didn’t learn much in their target language.

To see significant results with Pimsleur Italian, you’re going to have to work through at least a couple levels of a language. At times it may feel slow but trust the design.

Remember that Pimsleur emphasizes the mastery of a few but important parts of a language, versus a sheer volume of words. If you trust and work the system you will see your abilities improve. All foreign languages take time and consistent practice to learn, whether you’re using Pimsleur or not.

Assuming you have the discipline to keep using the Pimsleur learning method, it does work. That’s important to know because most language learning products simply don’t work even if you use them as recommended.

Take it while doing something else

If you sit in a chair and work through Pimsleur Italian you’re likely to get bored fast. Listening while you walk, clean the house, or commute makes a huge difference.

It’s always great if you can figure out how to do two useful things at the same time, like learning a foreign language and exercising. This is an area where the audio platform of Pimsleur is beneficial. Just remember to take your headphones off when you are crossing busy streets, and you should be able to exercise and study a language at the same time.

I prefer to use Pimsleur while I walk in a local park. The walking path is secluded enough that I don’t feel dumb repeating phrases out loud.

I’m not sure why but the added movement helps me focus more and keeps me engaged.

Pros

  • Hearing native-spoken pronunciations and intonations. A language like Hungarian has a different rhythm in the language, so I used the opportunity to learn to improve my pronunciation and sentence rhythm by hearing the answer to how I should have said something. In a purely reading course, you will never have this advantage. Although I tend to combine reading courses with listening to podcasts or simply speaking with people.
  • It focuses on trying to make a language natural. The contexts seem a little fake, but at least it provides them and creates a mini-story each time. This is way superior to other courses that just present the information as vocabulary and grammar.
  • At the start of each lesson, a full conversation between two speakers is given, and by the end of the lesson, you do 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.
  • Learning long words back to front. This may sound weird, but I do think this is a clever way to learn long words now that I’ve tried it. Some languages do have words that are quite a mouthful and saying the last syllable, then the second-last followed by the last and continuing to add another one on, always before, was an effective way to be able to say the word. I’ll be doing this more often in the future.

Active participation

Pimsleur’s active participation is what separates it from the majority of language courses. For some reason the short amount of time you have to respond pressures you to think and speak quickly in your target language.

I was surprised to get such a workout just from an audio course. I’ve had some experiences with other audio-based courses and if I wasn’t careful, I’d tune out and start casually listening. With Pimsleur, that’s just simply not possible.

You feel the pressure to recall, even from audio. Having not used audio courses before, I had this simplified idea that they were just mindless listening and repeating, but this product also gave me a short time-frame to produce the phrase/word that sparked pressure to recall that I wasn’t expecting. You genuinely feel disappointed if you don’t come up with the phrase correctly and this encourages you to focus and try harder later.

This “interactive” aspect makes focused listening way more useful than worthless passive listening. I did genuinely learn the phrases that were given to me (although only as a parrot would – see below), and any I didn’t learn was my fault rather than the courses.
Repetition of previously learned material. What you learn in one unit does indeed come back in later ones, thus reinforcing it in your memory. This is effective, but I prefer a well-structured spaced repetition system myself.

Use of context & imagery

Pimsleur Italian always teaches you words in the context of a conversation against the backdrop of what could be a real-life scenario. This is huge when it comes to both understandings and remembering a foreign language. Your brain remembers better when it can make connections with a new word.

Surprisingly the narrator does a good job describing the scene. It’s quite easy to imagine what he describes, and it paints a vivid picture in your head of what’s happening. It’s these mental images that help cement your new vocabulary into your memory.

The conversation also provides a great context for new words. No word or phrase stands alone. This is hugely refreshing if you come from a background of formal courses. Typically, in a textbook or class, you’re taught a grammar rule and then you’re given a list of unrelated example sentences.

Because you can’t readily use those sentences, and because they aren’t tied together through a story or event, you forget them quickly. Not so with Pimsleur.

Emphasis on pronunciation

Pronunciation is often overlooked in language learning. It’s seen more as a luxury rather than a necessity. But in my experience being able to pronounce sounds and words correctly make it much easier to hear and understand them in speech.

Pimsleur’s early focus on correct pronunciation helps you develop your accent as well as your ear. Both aspects don’t even appear in many other language courses.

I also love that Pimsleur teaches Italian pronunciation through back chaining (I don’t know what the correct term is). Back chaining is when you take a word that is difficult to pronounce and break it down syllable by syllable starting with the last syllable and ending with the first.

You slowly link each syllable together one by one until you can say the whole word. I’m not sure why but this technique helps take the edge off of tricky pronunciations. I do know that opera singer are taught to back chain when they are trying to nail the accent of a song sung in a foreign language.

Convenience

Pimsleur Italian ​ is an audio course broken up into 30-minute lessons. It was designed so that you could practice on your time. Pimsleur recommends that you try to work through a single lesson daily for the best results.

It’s not hard to think of ways to squeeze the needed 30 minutes into your daily schedule. I love courses like this because it helps you fill in those seemingly random gaps of time throughout the day with valuable practice.

Cons

Price

Pimsleur Italian ​is ludicrously expensive. It’s a fantastic product of which I have mostly good things to say about but the price is frankly extreme and completely unaffordable by ordinary people.

They do provide a lot of different options for customers (e.g. only buying some levels or individual lessons).

In an era of free courses (Duolingo), online dictionaries, and YouTube teachers; Pimsleur’s high price tag doesn’t make much sense anymore.

Lack of reading practice

Reading is an afterthought in the Pimsleur courses, and writing isn’t covered at all. Pimsleur helps you speak and listen. If you want to become proficient at reading and writing then you’ll need to look for an additional resource.

Irrelevant context

A common complaint about Pimsleur is that the words you learn are not that useful in real life. The original courses were designed for the traveling businessman.

At the time it made sense because businessmen were probably responsible for the bulk of international travel. But the present day that’s simply not the case.

The other problem with the context of the traveling businessman is that not as many language learners are likely to relate to it. In most conversation scenarios you’re arriving on a bus or plane, shopping for souvenirs for your wife and children, or sorting something out at a hotel.

The vocabulary you learn through these scenarios is useful but I think Pimsleur should update their program a little to meet the more modern needs of a language learner. We’re not all international businessmen on a short trip away from our wife and kids.

For example, the context in use was completely irrelevant to me. If you are a married businessman with children, planning to do some shopping and eating out in restaurants, then Pimsleur (at least the Hungarian version) is perfect for you. If you are anyone else then you will learn things that simply should not be prioritized in the early stages. For talking about my family, I would personally need to say brother and sister way more than wife/husband/son/daughter. I never learned the words I wanted to use in the early stages.

This prioritization seems like a clever marketing strategy for several decades ago when most people traveling for short periods would indeed be businessmen. In this day and age anyone can travel, so why focus on just one demographic? I feel like it should be called Pimsleur-for-married-businessmen. If it was tailored to other types of people, it would be way more interesting, with different versions for different purposes of travel, but this would be asking a lot of any course.

The context I would tend to use the language in was off. For example, since I tend to socialize with my age group in all of my languages, I have little need for the formal “you” (“Lei”) beyond pleasantries in shops and with the elderly.

The entire program (even pleasant conversations) used this formal you (apart from a quick mention in one unit) and that would create unnecessary distance between me and those I meet in social events if I were to use it. I imagine in popular language courses with three times as much audio they cover informal usage, but I didn’t get what I needed from my fifteen hours, so I’m not confident about the following thirty hours.

Limited vocabulary

While I have learned to appreciate audio-based courses somewhat thanks to this experience, the fact that I can’t “flick through it” to get past irrelevant vocabulary (for my current level) means that I am even more likely to waste time. With a book or software at least you can skip through the current lesson after glancing to see that the words covered in this one should be low on your priorities.

If you skip an audio lesson you may indeed miss words that you immediately need to learn, and no written or preview summaries means you don’t know what is going to get covered. The sample conversation at the start of the lesson is a good scope to get a vague idea, but other things are covered.

I am more of an independent learner, and use courses as I see fit. An audio product like this takes away some of that freedom as you must go through it in the right sequence. This is an advantage for learners who prefer for the course to do all the work for them, but I encourage people to analyze what they are learning and adapt the program to their needs rather than vice-versa.

One common criticism of the Pimsleur Method is that it doesn’t teach enough vocabulary.

Each language series only introduces a few hundred new words in total. The exact amount depends on how many levels there are since some languages have only one level and others have three, four or five.

Here’s what the Simon and Schuster website has to say about this:

“Effective communication in any language depends on the mastery of a relatively limited number of words and structures. Trying to learn too much at once substantially slows the process, and many people quickly become discouraged.
Pimsleur courses deliberately limit the amount you learn at any one time, giving your brain a chance to internalize each new item before moving on. Once this foundation is built, adding new words and phrases becomes easy and natural because there’s a clear framework to attach them to.”

Products like Pimsleur aren’t meant to be exhaustive sources of vocabulary. They exist to teach you the ‘framework’ of a language so that you can do the rest on your own.

Overly polite language

If you are anyone else then you will learn things that simply should not be prioritized in the early stages.

This image of the traveling businessman affects the vocabulary and scenarios presented in Pimsleur Italian, especially in the early courses. In the early levels, you are almost exclusively put in situations where you are talking to strangers in a very polite yet formal way.

While it’s great to polite and you will probably meet strangers in your foreign language, you are likely to find that the informal usage is used just as much if not much more.

Pimsleur Italian does cover the informal usage but it’s not until the later levels of the course.

It’s almost funny to hear the excessively formal and polite language used in the dialogues.

Although it’s good practice to learn and use these forms where appropriate, in reality, native speakers aren’t always this formal – especially when talking to family or strangers who are the same age or younger.

In Pimsleur’s defense, most of the dialogues are strangers addressing each other so their use of polite forms is quite justifiable.

Exaggerated marketing claims

Pimsleur is currently advertising that you can learn a new language to an intermediate level in 30 days. This is a marketing lie.

Like most language learning resources, Pimsleur may exaggerate a bit about the speed with which you’ll learn the language. They say that in one month, you’ll reach the intermediate level.

I don’t think that’ll be the case, but without a doubt, you’ll pick up quite a bit of the language and begin speaking more quickly than you would with most other resources.

However, if you study every day with Pimsleur Italian you probably will be happy with what you learn.

The reason that most marketers of language learning products are such bold-faced liars is that the lies work. We want to believe that we can learn well with very little effort. So, we buy and don’t usually ask for refunds of products that can’t possibly deliver on what the marketers promise.

Is Pimsleur right for you?

I always start a new language with Pimsleur. Especially I like it that:

  • The lessons build upon each other and reinforce previously learned material
  • You’re constantly being prompted to speak

Pimsleur courses are good for beginners to upper-intermediate students. You’ll want to consider them if you’re looking to improve your speaking, listening, or pronunciation skills.

Their programs excel at teaching each of these aspects of a language. If you already have a high speaking level then the courses become a lot less useful and probably aren’t worth the money (though you could still use them for accent and listening training).

Pimsleur is a great way to practice a language while doing something else like walking, waiting, or driving (be careful though!). If you have a busy schedule or mobile lifestyle these programs could be a godsend. Pimsleur isn’t perfect, but even with its flaws, it’s still one of the most effective audio courses out there.

This is good language software for those who enjoy audio-based learning. If you prefer to learn by listening, you can excel quickly with this program, but self-motivation is an important component of this learning method.

How to buy Pimsleur Italian audio course

The best place to buy Pimsleur Italian is on Pimsleur’s Official Website.

Two versions are available: premium (app, more expensive) and audio-only (MP3s, cheaper).

I believe that Pimsleur’s strength lies in its audio lessons. Thus, I neither use its app nor recommend it.

Whichever you choose, use the code SAVENOW at checkout to save up to 25%.

There’s a discount on the monthly package compared with the 5-lesson one. And there’s even a 5-month package with an even bigger discount. Since this method works in the long term, it makes sense to go at least for the monthly package right away.

An alternative to Pimsleur Italian: Ripeti con me!

Italian audio lessons

If you want to learn a broader range of useful vocabulary at a faster pace, I recommend the audio course Ripeti con me!

It’s based on the same principle of spaced repetition, but it has a different structure. It’s more interesting and challenging.

However, if you’re a total beginner and expect guidance from the speaker, you might want to start with Pimsleur for a couple of months and then switch to Ripeti con me.

More Pimsleur reviews

I’ve personally used Pimsleur as a language learner. Thus, my review is based on my personal experience. However, there are also other reviews around and I occasionally drew upon them. Check them out:

I also compared Pimsleur features with other Italian audio courses: Ripeti con me, Glossika, and Italianpod101.


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