This Foreign Language App Made Me More Confident in Speaking French Than a Year of College Classes
Ever since high school, it's been a dream of mine to book an extended trip to the French countryside, enjoy dinner under the lights of the Eiffel Tower, and taste test authentic French pastries in one of the most romantic countries in the world. While this trip of a lifetime remains high on my bucket list, my unfamiliarity with the French language has always held me back. However, after recently trying out Pimsleur's online French course for a few weeks, I've already become so confident in speaking and understanding the language (and even more eager to book an international flight).
Pimsleur is an online foreign language platform that focuses on helping learners improve their conversational skills in new languages. Rather than employing repetitive memorization tactics, each lesson uses listening exercises, question and response activities, and active participation to help students commit new words and concepts to their long-term memory. To see if this structure is an effective method of learning, I tried a two-week subscription to Pimsleur All-Access, which includes audio lessons, reading exercises, and bonus materials for additional practice. I also researched the company and its customer ratings so I could really weigh the value of such a course.
After reviewing everything for myself, I can honestly say that Pimsleur makes all the difference when it comes to learning a new language—and not giving up. The classes were easy to fit into my existing routine, the vocab words I learned were actually useful, and the structure of the lessons helped me pick up on new concepts super quickly. Keep reading to see a detailed review of why I found Pimsleur to be so helpful, who the service is best for, and how to sign up.
Overall Rating: 8/10
- Short, daily audio lessons you can take at your own pace
- Classes strengthen speaking and conversation skills
- Driving mode for hands-free learning
- Downloadable lessons for offline use
- Learn multiple languages at once with an All-Access subscription
- Subscriptions support up to three users on one account
- Fewer lessons for advanced learners
- Not every language is available at the audio-only subscription level
- No community aspect or ability to interact with other learners
How Pimsleur Works
Focused on helping you develop conversational skills, Pimsleur uses 30-minute audio lessons and short reading exercises to expand your vocabulary and provide an all-around understanding of new languages. The courses are structured to help you form new neural pathways in your brain by reminding you of new words at gradually increasing lengths of time. According to the Pimsleur website, this method has been scientifically shown to help you learn to read, speak, and comprehend your new language with greater ease because you actually commit what you've learned to your long-term memory. All the courses can be accessed on your desktop computer or through the app, where you'll also be able to download audio lessons that you can listen to without a wifi connection.
The Pimsleur Method
Developed nearly 50 years ago by renowned linguistics scholar Paul Pimsleur, the Pimsleur method is designed to help your brain process information and create long-term memories as you study. Instead of memorizing 30 vocab words and corresponding definitions at a time, the Pimsleur method uses small, bite-size lessons that give greater context to the language as a whole. Using an approach called graduated interval recall, each class will prompt you to remember newly learned words and to use them correctly with proper pronunciation over varying lengths of time. This process can help your brain more easily remember the things you've learned and for longer amounts of time, rather than forgetting everything the moment the lesson ends.
Pimsleur offers over 50 different languages for you to try, but its most popular options are Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Mandarin Chinese. Once you've selected the language you want to learn, you'll be taken to a full list of audio lessons that progress in difficulty and introduce new words and concepts as you go. You can choose to start from lesson one, or you can skip ahead and take more advanced lessons if you've already mastered the basics.
As you progress through the course, you'll listen to recorded conversations as the narrator explains the meaning of each new word or phrase. Then, you'll practice repeating the words, speaking them in a sentence, and responding to questions in your chosen language to help you actually retain what you've learned. Though the app isn't actively "listening" to you, there's a pause in the narration for you to respond aloud before the correct answer plays.
To make it even easier to integrate into your normal schedule, Pimsleur doesn't have any homework to complete or assignments that need to be reviewed before progressing; you can skip around or go back and review past lessons whenever you please. There's no passing or failing, either. Since the goal is to learn and apply your new language in any setting, there's less of a focus on mastering specific vocabulary and more on understanding the language as a whole.
One thing Pimsleur lacks is the community aspect that many other online learning platforms offer. While apps like Duolingo have leaderboards, challenges, and audio chat rooms to help you stay motivated, Pimsleur classes are taken individually, and there's no way to interact with other learners. Having tried both platforms, I didn't find myself missing the social aspect of Duolingo. The responsive nature of Pimsleur's lessons helped me to still gain conversational skills and feel like I was improving without the online community.
Pimsleur is a subscription-based service, so you can sign up to learn one language at a time, or pay an additional $1 per month for an all-access subscription to receive access to the entire library of language classes. You can also try out Pimsleur with a seven day free trial before committing to a subscription.
Taking a Pimsleur Course
As someone who tends to cram her schedule until it's full, I was skeptical about being able to consistently practice learning a new language in the midst of work, social events, and my other responsibilities. But I was pleasantly surprised by how easily Pimsleur fit into my existing schedule. Since Pimsleur can be used both on your desktop computer and through the mobile app, you can take a language lesson just about anywhere. Each guided audio lesson involves listening to conversations, answering questions, and recalling past vocab words when prompted. Every new word or phrase you learn from Pimsleur gets introduced through audio conversations, so you can hear it in the context of a real-life scenario rather than reading the definition from a flashcard.
After your first few lessons, you'll also have the option to complete reading assignments a few times a week to complement your daily audio classes (though this feature is not included in an audio-only subscription). This learning method is designed to mimic the way you likely learned your native language—by listening to conversations as an infant, beginning to speak it as a toddler, and finally learning to read in elementary school.
Even in the reading sections, though, speaking the language is still a critical part of learning. You'll be prompted to repeat each word aloud as you read it, helping you to not only memorize the word itself, but also to make important connections between spelling and pronunciation. I found this aspect of the lesson to be super helpful when I came across brand-new words later on; I was able to easily sound out the word on my own and sometimes even determine what the word meant without an explanation.
Both the premium and all-access subscription options give you additional practice materials to go along with every lesson, including flash cards, quizzes, pronunciation practice, and a "speed round," which involves matching English phrases with their foreign counterparts before time runs out. I found these to be a fun way to practice new concepts whenever I had a spare moment—on my morning commute, in between work and getting drinks with friends, or even for a few minutes before going to bed. These quizzes all take less than five minutes, so they're a great way to squeeze in a little extra practice without requiring you to set aside special time.
Signing Up for Pimsleur
You can sign up for a Pimsleur account in just a few minutes either online or by downloading the Pimsleur app on your phone. Select which language you want to learn, then choose the type of subscription you want. There are three options to choose from, although only Pimsleur's most popular languages are available at all three tiers.
The audio-only subscription costs $15 per month and includes access to all the audio lessons for one specific language. You'll be able to listen to any of the audio classes for that language on any device, use driving mode while in the car, and add up to three members to your account. However, you won't be able to use the accompanying reading lessons or bonus practice materials that are included in the other two subscriptions. The audio-only option is only available for Pimsleur's most popular language courses, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.
A premium subscription, which includes access to Pimsleur's full range of features for the language of your choice, costs $20 per month. You'll also be able to use audio and reading lessons, try additional practice games, save vocab words for easy reference, and learn extra vocab words.
Finally, the all-access subscription includes all of the same features as a premium account, but you'll be able to use the entire library of 51 languages at one time instead of accessing just one language. At $21 per month, this subscription option is most beneficial for people who want to brush up on a few languages at once or for multi-user accounts who are learning different languages from each other. All three subscription plans are compatible with desktop use or learning through the Pimsleur app.
Pimsleur Class Review
Though I studied French for two semesters in college, I always left class feeling overwhelmed with vocab words but underprepared when it came to actually applying what I'd learned outside the classroom. While I could tell you the definition of a hundred popular words in French, stringing together sentences or having a real conversation in another language was a challenge. Almost none of the words I learned in class stayed with me longer than a few months after the semester ended. With Pimsleur, I actually found the learning structure of listening, repeating phrases aloud, answering questions, and frequently reviewing new terms to be shockingly effective. In just a few weeks, I already felt so much more confident in my ability to speak and understand common French phrases than I ever had in my college classes.
Since I was more familiar with the high-intensity, vocab-heavy language techniques used in my past experiences with French, at first I found Pimsleur's pace to be a little repetitive. But once I got a few lessons into it, I realized just how effective the slow and steady learning method really is. Especially when it came to pronunciation, I found that the habit of repeating words when prompted by the narrator greatly improved my ability to speak in a French accent (something I've always been insecure about trying in conversation). If I messed up a word or had trouble remembering how to respond to a prompt from the narrator, there were always chances later on to further solidify the new word in my mind.
Another aspect of the course that I really enjoyed was how easily Pimsleur fit into my existing daily routine. Rather than trying to find extra time in the day to squeeze in a few distracted moments of studying, I could simply listen to a lesson while going about my normal activities. Because the lessons are so immersive, you get the daily experience of speaking conversationally in your new language as if you actually lived abroad. For me, I found it was easiest to complete my daily French lessons while cooking dinner, since my hands were busy but I didn't have anything occupying my mind. Another Real Simple editor, Erin Johnson, says she loves using Pimsleur while watering her plants or fixing breakfast.
"I love that Pimsleur's courses are so conversational because that's the 'real life' aspect that I was lacking in my knowledge of the French language," Johnson says. "Every day I was speaking French for 30 minutes, so not only was I learning, but I was building confidence in my speaking skills and naturally picking up the cadence of the language."
We both agreed that the listening-and-response aspect of Pimsleur is its greatest strength. While the quizzes, reading assignments, and practice games are helpful accessories in solidifying your knowledge of the language, the daily audio lessons are where the bulk of the learning happens. However, the fun little vocab drills and reading lessons are a great way to pass the time if you've got a few moments to spare throughout the day (for example, I effectively killed an hour by reviewing French vocabulary terms during a long airport layover).
Personally, I found the premium subscription to be the best option for my needs and goals. Since I really want to focus on learning French before moving on to other languages, I loved that I still had access to the additional features like flashcards and practice games with Premium, but I didn't really miss the other language classes. However, my best friend has been subscribed to Pimsleur All-Access for several months, and she loves using it to brush up on her Spanish skills while also learning Korean.
The only area where I found Pimsleur to be slightly lacking was in its offerings for more advanced language learners. Because the courses are designed to give you an understanding of the language as a whole, people who are already experienced in speaking or writing may not feel challenged by the number of vocabulary words covered. You're likely not going to be able to achieve fluency with Pimsleur since the course is more aimed at giving an overview of the language, but the service gives you an excellent foundation to work from. Even though I'd already taken a year of French before, I still felt challenged by each lesson and honestly welcomed the chance to review any words that I'd previously learned.
Most Popular Pimsleur Courses
The most popular courses taught by Pimsleur include French, Spanish, Italian, German, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. Great for both brushing up on your foreign language skills and for learning something entirely new, each of these courses offers five different levels of difficulty to help increase your knowledge. As with all of the Pimsleur languages, you'll be able to listen to daily lessons, complete reading assignments, play practice games, and access bonus vocabulary to grow your familiarity with the language.
Compared to other language learning services, Pimsleur is priced similarly to its competitors at $15 a month for its lowest subscription level. While free foreign language apps are available in abundance, they don't offer the same immersive experience Pimsleur provides. I've also tried apps like Duolingo to learn French, and while it can be a great supplement to help you memorize more vocabulary, it does little to actually teach you the cadence of the language. Pimsleur only offers a month-to-month subscription unlike competitors such as Babbel or Rosetta Stone, who have year-long subscriptions at a reduced price.
- One Language Audio-Only (only available in some languages): $15/month
- Pimsleur Premium: $20/month
- Pimsleur All-Access: $21/month
Pimsleur also offers a seven-day free trial to new subscribers, so you can test out the service before committing to a monthly subscription.
Pimsleur Customer Service and Reviews
Pimsleur is currently rated an average of 4.5 stars out of 5 from nearly 90 reviewers on Google Reviews and has many more testimonials on its public Facebook page. Commenters especially love how quickly and easily they were able to start speaking new languages after starting a Pimsleur course.
"I've been using Pimsleur to learn basic Lithuanian," one reviewer on Facebook says. "It focuses heavily on pronunciation, which is great because Lithuanian pronunciation is hard. … I can actually speak entire phrases, and [my significant other] and I are already getting by at the grocery store after five lessons."
Most of the negative reviews left by Pimsleur subscribers say that customer service was difficult to contact if they had questions or problems with their account, but a majority of these negative reviews are from 2020 or earlier. Other reviewers say they love Pimsleur's current language offerings and hope the company continues to expand its library to include more languages.
"It's simple and ingeniously incorporates grammar and vocabulary that makes learning enjoyable," says one five-star Google reviewer. "I have tried many programs learning different languages … and this is one of the best programs to invest your time and money [into]."
To contact customer service, you can call 1-800-831-5497 in the U.S. and Canada or +1 800-051-4293 for international callers. You can also fill out the contact form on the Pimsleur website or read through the FAQs page to find answers to commonly asked questions. There's also a way to report a problem within the Pimsleur app by shaking your phone (though this feature can be toggled on or off in settings).
I gave Pimsleur an 8.0 out of 10 after reviewing the service and comparing different factors such as class quality, value, accessibility, and technology. After reviewing each of these elements, I assigned Pimsleur a weighted score out of 10.
What it Means
Numerical Ranking (1-10)
Classes are detailed, engaging, and thorough enough to leave you feeling confident in a new skill or topic.
The service has a variety of classes for varying interests. Class offerings are regularly updated and expanded.
Quality of Instructors
Instructors are knowledgeable about the course topic, easy to understand, and engaging.
Video quality was high, an app was available for enhanced learning, and there were online and offline options.
The cost of the service was reasonable for the quality and quantity of classes.
There are ways to interact with fellow students to learn together, share insights, and support each other's progress.
Accommodations are made for those with different learning abilities and styles.
Customer service is helpful and responds quickly to queries.