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Pimsleur Italian Review
An in-depth review of the Pimsleur Italian course after using it every day for a month
Though it’s not as widely popular as Duolingo or Rosetta Stone for learning Italian, Pimsleur has a bit of a cult following. And I can see why. The audio lessons that form the basis of the program are really in-depth and practical, and the digital platform itself is awesome. But is Pimsleur better and more effective than those other options? We answer just that question in this comprehensive breakdown.
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Video Review: Pimsleur Italian Course
In this video, team member John covers our thoughts of Pimsleur Italian after using the program. For more detail, continue reading our full written review below. That way you can finally make a decision as to whether Pimsleur is the right choice for you to learn Italian.
How The Pimsleur Italian Program Works
To dive straight in, let’s cover how the Pimsleur Italian program is structured from a high level. As you might imagine, there are several different levels to complete within the Pimsleur Italian course. To be specific, there are five of them.
Each level escalates in terms of complexity and difficulty, and though they’re not labeled as such, you can sort of think of them as progressing from newcomer up to advanced.
Then within each of these five levels, there are around 30 full-length lessons to complete, each of which is comprised of multiple components (discussed directly below).
And really, in terms of organization, that’s it from a 10,000 foot view. You’ve got five levels and 30 lessons per level (or 150 lessons total, if you want to look at it that way). It’s a pretty standard and straightforward course structure to be honest.
What Are The Lessons Like?
As for what the Pimsleur Italian lessons themselves are actually like, they are fairly unique among language learning apps (apart from maybe Rocket Italian). Everything with Pimsleur is based around their audio lessons. This is what founder Paul Pimsleur built his learning framework on, and it’s what really separates Pimsleur Italian from others.
When you start each lesson, you’ll be prompted to complete one of these audio exercises, which takes about 30 minutes. Basically, the audio starts to roll and a moderator speaking in English guides you through a mock Italian conversation.
You’ll listen to a short discussion between two fluent Italian speakers, then the moderator will stop to clarify what you’re hearing, explain key points, and then ask you questions in order to get you involved and participate. This sort of back and forth lasts for about a half hour.
At its essence, you can think of this exercise as a supported or guided conversation. In my opinion, that’s the best way to characterize it.
Then as you progress through the course and start hitting the higher levels, the moderator will slowly start speaking less English as you become more fluent in Italian. This really forces you to rely on what you’ve learned up to that point.
After each audio lesson, you then review what you just learned through a variety of drills and exercises. These include flashcards, quizzes, pronunciation practice, and speed games, among others.
Each of these drills and exercises takes around 5 minutes each to complete, making a full Pimsleur lesson (the audio exercise plus all the reinforcement drills) about 60 minutes in length.
Additionally, one interesting thing with Pimsleur which you don’t see with other apps is that you can skip around from lesson to lesson, or even level to level if you want.
You’re not forced to follow a strict progression like other Italian language apps we’ve reviewed.
Though I would admit that the levels do somewhat build on one another and you’re probably better off not jumping around unless you’ve already got a good foundation in Italian.
The first plan is Pimsleur Premium, which gives you access to their Italian course for $20 per month.
The second plan is Pimsleur All Access, which gives you access to all Pimsleur languages (50+) for $21 per month (i.e. $1 more).
Now, if you stack this cost up against competitors like Babbel, Duolingo and the like, Pimsleur is more expensive by around $5 to $10 per month on average. Thus, Pimsleur Italian is definitely not the cheapest program on the market, but honestly, it’s not terribly expensive either, at least compared to some others.
And in fact, if you’re learning with a partner, family member or friend (which a lot of people do), you can actually account split with Pimsleur, effectively making the price $10/month. And that price point is right in line with competitors and very reasonable in my opinion.
Finally, it’s definitely worth mentioning that Pimsleur does offer a 7-day free trial period so you can always try this program out and see if you like it first before diving in and paying, which is pretty nice. Not all Italian apps offer that chance and I’d personally suggest giving the free trial a go before buying straight away just to make sure you like it.
What We Like About Pimsleur Italian
Having covered cost, program structure, and lesson details, let’s get into what I like and what I don’t like about Pimsleur Italian after testing out this program. And like always, let’s start with the positives.
The Pimsleur Method Works (Really)
First and foremost, I was very impressed by the Pimsleur learning framework and how their lessons prepare you to hold conversations. This is rooted in the Pimsleur audio lessons which I referenced earlier, and what is called the “Pimsleur Method.”
I like how instead of just listening to and repeating individual words and phrases in a vacuum (a major complaint I have with other apps), the Pimsleur audio lessons are more practical and realistic (just like the Rocket lessons).
Their interactive lessons prompt you to respond to fluent Italian speakers using phrases and sentences under the construct of a simulated conversation. In other words, it’s all about context.
In my opinion, this active participation is effective for helping you to recall and use the Italian language under pressure just as you would in real life situations.
That is likely the most important takeaway with Pimsleur Italian: you’re getting simulated real world experience. And that, in my opinion, is about the best practice when attempting to learn Italian.
Moreover, because of this framework, I think the Pimsleur Italian course is ideal for all learning levels, from newcomer up through advanced. Other language companies out there, like Rosetta Stone and Memrise for example, base their lessons primarily around repeating words and phrases independently.
In other words, there’s really no opportunity for impromptu language usage that mimics or simulates real conversations like you get with Pimsleur.
Thus, I would highly recommend Pimsleur if you’re main goal is to learn the language quickly so you can start holding basic conversations in Italian.
No Full Immersion (A Good Thing)
My second program highlight is that within the audio lessons there is an English speaking moderator to keep you organized, engaged, and on track. I know some companies in the Italian language learning space, like Rosetta Stone for example, are big proponents of immersion, meaning very little English is used or spoken throughout the course.
However, in my experience, I’ve found that even limited use of English directions and translations can be really helpful, especially when you’re just starting out. I do understand and appreciate the merits of the immersion argument, but ultimately, the cons outweigh the pros here.
Italian is a tough language to learn, and I just appreciate the use of English to prevent you from becoming annoyed or frustrated. Plus, the moderator of these lessons also shares some helpful tips, grammar explanations, and other cultural tidbits along the way.
Flexibility In Where & How To Learn
Next, as the core Pimsleur lessons are audio-based, I like that you can complete these lessons while you’re washing the dishes, doing some mindless task at work, running on the treadmill, or whatever. It’s just nice you don’t have to be glued to your computer screen or phone at all times like you do with other apps out there.
Any time you’re studying or trying to learn something new, it can just be nice to give your eyes a break, shake things up, and get a change of scenery to break up the monotony. And the Pimsleur lessons give you just that chance. For example, I frequently listened to the audio lessons while walking my dog after work.
In fact, their mobile app even comes with a special driving mode so you can learn and complete lessons during your commute. So overall, I just think the flexibility of the Pimsleur lessons deserves a callout.
New Voice Recognition Technology
Historically, the Pimsleur Italian course did not include any voice recognition technology like Babbel or Rocket Italian. In essence, while you were working on your verbal skills during the lessons, there was no tech working in the background to provide feedback on your pronunciation.
Luckily, that is no longer the case. And that’s because Pimsleur recently integrated a new tool called “Voice Coach” into their Italian language program. That way you know whether you are pronouncing words and phrases correctly or incorrectly during lessons.
After testing this new tool, our team came away very impressed. Not only is the Pimsleur Voice Coach feature accurate, but it’s also quick. The company did a really nice job developing their speech recognition technology. I wouldn’t say it is as good as Rocket’s tech, but it’s not far behind.
Super Nice Digital Experience
Lastly, this may be a minor point, but I found the Pimsleur digital platform and user experience across both their desktop and mobile app to be awesome.
It’s modern, sleek, and super easy to use. It’s one of those programs that is just visually stunning and it’s clear that Pimsleur has dumped a bunch of money into making it as pretty and intuitive as possible (similar to Duolingo). Overall, I give it two big thumbs up.
What We Don’t Like About Pimsleur Italian
Know what I like about Pimsleur Italian, now let’s switch over to the things I don’t necessarily like about this program.
Long, Intense Lessons
So, I know that I raved about the Pimsleur lessons (especially the audio exercises) above, but there is one downside: they’re just long. Between the full audio exercise and the corresponding drills, you’re looking at about an hour to complete a lesson from start to finish (the Babbel lessons are much shorter).
It’s true that the lessons are comprehensive, but this conversely means they can also become tedious at times. Honestly, I found that my mind would start wandering a little around the 20- to 25-minute mark of each audio lesson.
Therefore, if you’re the type of person that has a short attention span or trouble staying focused, this is something to keep in mind. In that case, you may want to consider a course like Babbel or Busuu since they offer shorter, quick-hit lessons.
Maybe Not The Best For Visual Learners
Lastly, because the lessons are so heavy in terms of audio and text, they might not be the best option for visual learners. Beyond the reinforcement drills after the core audio lessons, there’s really no opportunity for you to see or read the Italian words or phrases you’re learning. And this could be an issue for some types of learners.
Not to mention, the Pimsleur Italian lessons overall are pretty thin on images, video and other graphics. For whatever reason, they’re just not that big on imagery (unlike the Rosetta Stone Italian course).
Thus, depending on what type of learner you are, Pimsleur may not be the most ideal option. If you’re the type of learner that learns best with lots of stunning visuals, then I’d maybe give Busuu a good look.
Verdict: Learning Italian With Pimsleur
All in all, I came away very impressed by the Pimsleur Italian course. I think the learning framework that forms the foundation of the program (the Pimsleur Method) is highly effective.
Personally, I love the audio lessons that simulate real Italian conversations, as well as the fact that the program prompts you to participate by quickly recalling words and phrases under pressure.
Additionally, the drills and exercises that follow the audio lessons are pretty engaging and do a nice job of helping you retain the material. Plus, the Pimsleur digital platform is simply stellar.
Now, I do have a few minor grievances with their Italian course, like the lessons being somewhat lengthy and the lack of speech recognition technology, but all things considered, I think Pimsleur is a great option for those of you looking to achieve an intermediate level of fluency in Italian.
Pimsleur’s focus on audio lessons means that your learning of Italian is more conversational and causal in nature. They focus less on formal grammar and more on simply learning to speak.
How hard is it learning the Italian language with Pimsleur?
Given that Pimsleur uses a different approach to language learning than most other apps, the first several lessons are difficult. The lessons are simply more in-depth and intense. However, once you get the swing of it, they are ultimately more effective.
How much is Pimsleur Italian?
Pimsleur offers two subscription options. The first is Pimsleur Premium, which gives you access to their Italian course for $20/month, and the other is Pimsleur All Access, which grants you access to all Pimsleur languages (50+) for just $21/month.