Learn a Foreign Language With Pimsleur

Image: Pimsleur
Image: Pimsleur

Both Rory and I have been interested in learning to speak German for quite some time, but, when I was in school, it made more sense for me to study Spanish. Now, though, we’ve decided to take on learning German together, since our travel desires are mostly in western Europe, including many German-speaking areas. Even though many people in Europe speak English quite well, you can’t expect to get around nearly as well if you don’t know the native language.

Pimsleur is a well-known name in the foreign-language-learning world. The Pimsleur System has been around since the early to mid 1960s, growing and building along the way. According to the website, the Pimsleur Method is “a scientifically proven set of principles designed to take a learner directly to the heart of the language, eliminating noise, confusion, and information overload.” It’s based on graduated interval recall, the principle of anticipation, core vocabulary, and organic learning. The Pimsleur folks have studied language learning to the point where they know exactly when to remind you of something you learned a few lessons ago, right before you think you might need to review it. The system builds on what you’ve learned, adding in new words and concepts at the right speed. Dr. Paul Pimsleur studied how children gain their native language, and used that information to design a learning system for learning secondary languages.

Image: Pimsleur
The digital download of Level One. Image: Pimsleur

After listening to the introductory audio track, I started with Lesson One. It was exactly what I expected. You listen to the audio files, and repeat or answer when needed. I didn’t like how they counseled you against looking up words in the dictionary to see how they were spelled (I’m a very visual learner, and without looking up the words, I was learning them incorrectly), so I cheated a little, but it didn’t detract from my learning.

Some words in German, as with other languages, have sounds within them that are extremely subtle, and can be missed when listening. But if you don’t pronounce that subtlety, the word doesn’t sound right. So knowing how a word is spelled gave me the insight into how to properly pronounce the word. I only peeked when I needed to, and spent most of the time with the recordings. But I found that when I didn’t check on some of the new word spellings, I ended up pronouncing the words incorrectly. But your mileage may vary.

Paul Pimsleur. Image: Pimsleur
Paul Pimsleur. Image: Pimsleur

Included with the lessons are a set of reading lessons. You start the reading lessons after Lesson 10 and carry through to Lesson 30. If, unlike me, you don’t mind not having word spellings to go with your word pronunciations from day one, going with their progression schedule will work out just fine. The reading lessons have a booklet portion and audio portion to guide you through correct pronunciation. Once you complete all 30 audio lessons along with the reading lessons, your reading skills should be on par with your speaking skills.

It didn’t take too many lessons for us to be able to insert many German words into our daily discourse. The more lessons we took, the more we tried to speak in German casually. We’re excited to tackle additional German levels in the future.

The people speaking in the lessons are native speakers, to best help you develop an accurate accent. The instructions for the lessons gradually shift from English to German, for more of an immersion experience. The difficulty ramps up gradually, not too steeply.

There is a handy app for managing your audio files and reading assignments. Image: Pimsleur
An app manages your audio files and reading assignments. Image: Pimsleur

The Pimsleur System recommends listening to one 30-minute lesson per day to maximize learning. Learning too much new information in a short period of time makes my brain hurt, though, so we did the same lesson two days in a row before moving on to the next lesson on the following day. This gave me time for the information to sink in, and on the second listen for each lesson, the established context helped me pick up on even more.

There are several levels of German available from Pimsleur, along with many, many other languages. If you’re not sure Pimsleur is for you, no worries. The first 30-minute lesson of each language is free to download.

I highly encourage everyone to learn a foreign language, even if you just learn the basics. It’s most fun to learn with a partner. You keep each other going, encouraging each other to work on the next lesson. Also, as you’re repeating the words, phrases, and sentences, you can sometimes hear what you’re doing wrong as you hear your partner get things right. Plus, you’ll automatically have someone to communicate with in that language who is at the same level as you.

Going into this, Rory and I both knew very little German. I probably knew a couple dozen words, enough to recognize particular signs (e.g., Zimmer Frei!, Achtung!), but very little else. Rory was the same. We still aren’t at the point where we can completely make our way in only German, but we likely have enough vocabulary to take care of our basic needs.

Next, on to Level 2!

Each level of Pimsleur MP3 files costs $119.95 and is immediately downloadable from their website. There are other formats available as well, including CDs and more comprehensive software kits, each with their own price. (There are many affordable older editions of Pimsleur materials available on Amazon.) Pimsleur offers courses in more than 50 languages including German, French, Latin American or Castilian Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Czech, Finnish, Dutch, Swiss German, Croatian, Ojibwe, Pashto, Urdu, Twi, and more. If you don’t see your desired language on their site, you can even request it. If you’re going on a trip to a country where English isn’t the predominantly spoken language, give Pimsleur a try. It’s a perfect and portable solution.

Note: I received a download of the first level of Pimsleur German for the purposes of this review.

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2 thoughts on “Learn a Foreign Language With Pimsleur

  1. I’m currently using Pimsleur’s teach yourself Japanese and its great. Really is a wonderful resource to learn not only the language but also about the culture. Its very important to understand part of other peoples culture before you can truly understand the language and the Pimsleur tutorials cover this aspect. A must use resource.

  2. I think the advice about not looking up the word is because we (well, most of us) look at the letter and say it as we would in our native language, rather than learn how to pronounce the word as speakers of the acquisition language would do. For example, so many German students say “ick” or “itch” when they see “ich”, because that’s kind of how “ch” maps to our American English, but it’s a very different sound in German.

    For quick conversation practice (as in, five minutes), I recommend italki! You can set up very quick conversation exchanges with a native speaker for free.

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