Test Prep Insight is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone
Our in-depth comparison covers the key differences between the language learning programs from Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone
In the language learning world, one of the toughest decisions is trying to decide whether to go with Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone. Both companies are extremely popular and get rave reviews from their students, but there are key differences between them, making each better for different types of learners. In this comprehensive comparison guide, we highlight those key distinctions, as well as provide our thoughts on which is ultimately better overall – Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur.
As this is a long and detailed comparison, we’ve provided jump-to links above so you can quickly navigate this article.
Video Comparison: Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone
In the video above, team member John breaks down how the language learning apps from Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur stack up, ultimately declaring one the winner. If you’d like more detail, continue reading our full guide below.
At a high level, the Pimsleur lessons are primarily focused on mock conversations. To start each module, you complete a 30-minute audio exercise, where a moderator speaking in English walks you through a native conversation step-by-step.
You listen to a few sentences in your target language, before the moderator stops and explains what’s happening in the conversation to you. He’ll then ask you questions, and have you engage and participate in the conversation directly.
So in a way, you can think of this exercise as a guided conversation. That’s really the crux of it. And as you move up levels, the English moderator starts to phase out as you become increasingly familiar with the target language, until you’re finally fully immersed (though that’s not until the very end).
Then after each audio lesson, you review what you just learned through a variety of drills and exercises. This includes reading drills, flashcards, quizzes, pronunciation training, and speed games, among others.
And that’s the Pimsleur lesson work in a nutshell. You start each lesson with a 30-minute guided conversation, followed by a bevy of drills and exercises that help you to review the content you just learned from a multitude of angles. In total, each lesson takes roughly an hour to complete.
Strengths Of The Pimsleur Program
So now that you have an understanding of how the Pimsleur program works generally, let’s get into the more important part: our thoughts on the Pimsleur program as it compares to Rosetta Stone.
Amazing Teaching Framework (The Pimsleur Method)
The foremost highlight of the Pimsleur program has to be the learning framework that forms the backbone of their program. Crafted by expert linguist Paul Pimsleur and often referred to as the Pimsleur Method, I’m a huge fan.
Now when you really break this framework down, it is just a variation of the popular spaced repetition system; however, I really like the spin the Pimsleur team has put on it.
Instead of just listening to or reading an individual word or phrase, and then repeating it in order to remember it (like you do with Rosetta Stone most of the time), the Pimsleur audio lessons ask you to respond to a native speaker in the context of an actual conversation.
This has the effect of preventing you from becoming a passive listener. You’re actively involved in tracking the conversation, and the moderator of the audio lessons keeps you on your toes as you need to respond at various intervals.
In my opinion, this active participation is powerful at getting you to recall vocabulary and use the language under pressure just as you would in real life situations. And that’s really the key – you’re getting real world experience with Pimsleur.
This is much more effective for learning a new language as opposed to just listening and repeating words in a vacuum.
Extremely Flexible Learning
As the core Pimsleur lessons are audio-based, I like the fact that you can complete these lessons while you’re working out, cleaning your house, taking your dog for a walk, or laying in a hammock on your back deck. It’s just nice you don’t have to be glued to your computer or phone at all times like you do with Rosetta Stone since their lessons are so heavy on imagery (more on this below).
In fact, the Pimsleur mobile app even comes with a special driving mode so that you can knock out lessons during your commute. Overall, the flexibility of the Pimsleur lessons give them a big leg up on Rosetta’s Stone more rigid teaching model.
Plenty of English Translation
Finally, I like that within the Pimsleur lessons there is an English speaking moderator to ensure you understand what’s going on. This really helps to keep the lessons moving in a timely manner and prevent frustration.
I know Rosetta Stone is a big proponent of 100% immersion (meaning no use of English). However, in my experience, I’ve found that limited use of English for directions and translations can be really helpful.
In our modern internet age, we’ve become totally accustomed to having the answer to every question right at our fingertips on our smartphone. This means when you get lost in a Rosetta Stone lesson with no English translation, it can just be frustrating not having answers right in front of you.
Sometimes you just need a quick English translation to get you back on track. So at the end of the day, I can see the merit of Rosetta Stone’s 100% immersion argument, but I just appreciate how the Pimsleur lessons use small amounts of English to help keep you from getting frustrated and to keep the lessons moving.
Now that we’ve covered the structure and format of Pimsleur’s lessons, let’s get into what Rosetta Stone is all about. This way you can start to get an idea of how these two companies really differ.
With Rosetta Stone, when you really boil it down, the backbone of the Rosetta Stone lessons are essentially a combination of images and recorded audio. You’ll spend most of your time listening to a word or phrase, repeating the word or phrase, and then matching it up to a corresponding image.
So in a way, you can sort of think of the lessons and drills as interactive flashcards. For example, let’s say you’re learning Portuguese. You’ll listen to a native speaker who says “menina bebe,” and then you’ll click an image of a small girl drinking a glass of juice to match the two up.
The whole idea is that you have to rely on visual cues, intuition and inference as you gradually acquire the language content necessary to move on to the next lesson or unit. You start with one- or two-word building blocks and slowly progress to longer, more grammatically complex sentences as you reach the higher levels.
So from a bird’s eye view, that’s the basis of how Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur compare. The Rosetta Stone lessons are image heavy, include little to no English translations, and primarily rely on visual cues and inference. On the other hand, the Pimsleur lessons place a strong emphasis on listening and speaking in the context of actual native conversations and include English translations to keep you on-track and engaged.
During lessons, Rosetta Stone employs what they call their TruAccent voice recognition technology. This is a software system the company has spent years developing and even has a patent on it.
Here’s how it works. When you’re asked to repeat phrases, fill in blanks, or describe what’s happening in the various images you see during the lessons, Rosetta’s voice recognition software listens to everything you say. If you say something correctly, it will confirm this with a little green indicator. However, if you mispronounce a word or phrase, it will prompt you to say it again until you get it right.
Now, it’s not a perfect system. It’s definitely not a substitute for speaking to an actual fluent human being, and does have some flaws. But I have to say, all things considered, it’s actually pretty darn accurate (much better than Duolingo’s, but maybe not as good as Rocket Languages’ tech).
And to be clear, this is something Pimsleur simply does not offer (though most other language companies like Babbel do). While you’re practicing your verbal skills during Pimsleur’s audio lessons, there’s no technology listening to ensure you’re saying words correctly.
So for all you know, you might be mispronouncing particular phrases with Pimsleur. However, just to be fair, I would note that the moderator and the fluent speakers within the Pimsleur lessons repeat themselves multiple times so the chances of you mispronouncing words over and over again are pretty slim.
But we have to hand it to Rosetta Stone for their tech. It’s just nice that they provide this cool software as a backstop to ensure you’re pronouncing words correctly.
Fantastic For Visual Learners
My second highlight of the Rosetta Stone program is that because their lessons are so image heavy, they are great for visual learners. There is just a ton going on visually with the Rosetta Stone lessons in the form of images, word spellings and audio software readouts.
With Pimsleur, because their core lessons rely so heavily on listening and speaking, there’s not really much of a chance for you to see or read the words and phrases you’re learning, which may be problematic for some people.
I know there are people out there who learn best by seeing and understanding how each word is spelled. Then when they’re asked to recall it, they picture the spelling of the word. It’s just how some people learn and retain new words, and Rosetta Stone has a distinct advantage over Pimsleur in this respect.
The last pro in favor Rosetta Stone is all the extra resources they provide. With Pimsleur, there’s really not much beyond the core audio lessons and exercises you complete thereafter.
The Rosetta Stone subscription, on the other hand, comes with a ton of resources beyond the core lessons and drills. Among these tools, you get access to on-demand videos, so you can dive deeper into concepts and become more familiar with local culture. You’re also provided short stories so that can you improve your reading and listening skills, as well as phrasebooks, where you can perfect your pronunciation using Rosetta Stone’s voice recognition technology.
Plus, for an additional fee, Rosetta Stone even offers access to live classes and coaching, which can be extremely beneficial. So overall, there’s no question that Rosetta Stone beats Pimsleur when it comes to all the extras.
Before we get to the final verdict, let’s quickly discuss cost, as this can be a make or break factor for some people.
To keep things brief, both companies offer multiple subscription options. With Rosetta Stone, you have your choice between a 3-month, 12-month and lifetime subscription.
The 3-month plan costs around $36 total ($12 per month); the 12-month plan is $96 ($8 per month); and the lifetime subscription costs around $180.
The first two plans only include access to one language, whereas the lifetime plan grants you access to all Rosetta Stone languages.
Pimsleur, on the other hand, offers just two options: the Pimsleur Premium plan, which costs $20 per month and includes one language, or for $1 more per month, you can upgrade to the Pimsleur All Access plan, which includes all Pimsleur languages.
So from an overall cost perspective, it’s pretty clear Rosetta Stone is the winner. On average, their plans are about $8 to $12 cheaper per month. Though I would also note that both companies offer trial periods so you can test the waters before fully committing. With Rosetta Stone, you have three days and with Pimsleur you have seven days.
Alright, that does it for the full analysis with all the detail. So let’s get to the final verdict – should you choose Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone? Well, after testing each program, I have to give the edge to Pimsleur. They simply offer the more effective language learning course.
True, Pimsleur is slightly more expensive on a monthly basis, but I think it’s worth it. Ultimately, I just think their learning framework and how they design their lessons within the context of real conversations is super valuable, especially when compared to the Rosetta Stone lessons that can become a little repetitive and boring. With that said though, if you’re a big visual learner, Rosetta Stone may be the better way to go given that Pimsleur places such a large emphasis on audio. But at the end of the day, I just think Pimsleur is the better option to obtain an elementary to intermediate understanding of a new language.
Which is better, Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone?
After a thorough review of the language learning courses from both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone, our team gives the edge to Pimsleur as the better course. Compared to Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur offers a more robust course from top to bottom.
What is the difference between Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone?
The main difference between Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone is that Pimsleur focuses on audio lessons and guided drills, while Rosetta Stone is big on imagery for visual learners.
What is better for Spanish, Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur?
In our team’s opinion, Pimsleur is better than Rosetta Stone for learning Spanish. With their guided audio exercises and variety of interactive drills, the Pimsleur program is simply more effective.