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Pimsleur Japanese Review

Comprehensive review of the Pimsleur Japanese program, from cost to audio lessons to drills

When it comes to learning Japanese, there are dozens of language programs and classes offered online to choose from —many of which our team has tested and reviewed. Among all these Japanese apps though, Pimsleur is unique. After using this program for 90 days, I can say that it has its strengths and weaknesses, just like every other course. In this post, I explore those positives and negatives, and break down exactly what you need to about how effective Pimsleur Japanese truly is.


Pimsleur Japanese

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  • One of the most effective frameworks for learning (based on spaced repetition)
  • Emphasis on audio and speaking makes program incredibly flexible (practice on the go)
  • Smart use of English speaking moderator
  • New voice recognition software with "Voice Coach" is solid
  • Modern digital platform offers a great user experience
  • Though effective, lessons can feel somewhat tedious
  • Not many visuals within the coursework (visual learners take note)
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Outline: Pimsleur Review Japanese

As this is a lengthy review, please use the jump-to links above to quickly navigate this article.

Video Review: Pimsleur Japanese Course

In the above video, John (from the TPI team) breaks down everything you need to know about Pimsleur Japanese. Please continue reading for more detail.

Pimsleur Japanese Subscription Options

Before I dive into breaking down how the Pimsleur Japanese program works, let me quickly touch on pricing to set the stage for this review.

Pimsleur offers two different plans. The first plan is Pimsleur Premium, which gives you access to the Japanese course for $20 per month, and the second plan is Pimsleur All Access, which gives you access to all Pimsleur languages (50+) for only $21 per month.

If you compare this cost against competitors like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, Pimsleur is more expensive by around $5 to $10 per month on average. It’s definitely not the cheapest Japanese app on the market, but honestly, it’s not that bad either – at least compared to some others like Rocket Japanese.

Plus, if you plan to learn Japanese with your partner, a family member, or a friend, you can actually account split with Pimsleur, effectively making the price $10/month. And that is right in line with those competitors noted above.

Not to mention, 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 just diving in and paying. This is pretty nice as not all Japanese apps offer a free trial. I’d personally suggest at least signing up for the trial period and giving this app a good test run before buying.

How Pimsleur Japanese Works & What The Lessons Are Like

Next, let’s discuss how the Pimsleur Japanese program works – or in other words, how it’s structured and what the lessons are all about.

From a high-level, structural point of view, there are five different levels to complete within the Pimsleur Japanese course, all ascending in terms of mastery. Level 1 is a beginner level, and it goes up from there to Level 5, which is advanced. And within each of these five levels, there are 30 full-length lessons to complete.

As for what exactly each lesson looks like, it’s actually kind of simple. Each lesson has the same general components, which you methodically work though. When you start each lesson, your first task is to complete a 30-minute guided audio exercise, where a moderator speaking in English guides you through an audio lesson based in large part on a simulated Japanese conversation.

Pimsleur Japanese audio lesson
Pimsleur Japanese audio lessons are a key part of the program

You’ll listen to a little back-and-forth between two fluent Japanese 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.

The moderator will have you repeat phrases, quiz you on certain words, and generally serve as a tutor of sorts. Thus, you can think of this portion of the lesson as a guided audio lesson. Additionally, I would just note that as you progress through the course, the moderator will slowly start speaking less English as you become more fluent in Japanese, forcing you to rely on what you’ve learned up to that point.

After the audio portion of the lesson, you will be prompted to review what you just learned through a variety of drills and exercises. In a way, it’s kind of like class, followed by homework.

Pimsleur Japanese dashboard
The Pimsleur Japanese dashboard

The drills consist of flashcards, quizzes, pronunciation practice, and speed games, among others. In fact, that actually touches on one of the updates Pimsleur has made recently. Pimsleur never used to have any voice recognition software for pronunciation feedback. However, they have since implemented this feature with a new tool called Voice Coach. I’ll discuss this a little later on in this review under my pros section.

In any event, each of these reinforcement drills takes around five minutes complete, so all in all, you’re looking at around one hour to complete a full Pimsleur lesson (to be clear, that’s the audio exercise plus all the reinforcement drills). And that’s about in terms of how Pimsleur Japanese works and what the lessons are like.

What We Like About Pimsleur Japanese

Now that we’ve discussed cost and how this program works, let’s get into what I like and what I don’t like about Pimsleur Japanese after testing out this app. And let’s start with the positives, since I believe there’s more good news than bad with this course.

Audio Lessons Are Effective

For me, the first clear highlight of Pimsleur Japanese is their audio lessons. Compared to other language apps out there (apart from maybe Rocket Languages), there isn’t any real level of in-depth conversational or verbal practice.

Most apps, like Duolingo, are more game-like in nature. The Pimsleur Japanese course is totally different though. It feels much more like an actual learning program than a game, and that’s largely because of the 30-minute audio lessons that kick off each unit.

These lessons are incredibly immersive and really help you to develop an ear for listening to Japanese, as well as speaking. Because they simulate real conversations, and teach you actual back-and-forth conversation, as opposed to just memorizing vocabulary, they are very useful.

The impromptu nature of the Pimsleur conversations, layered in with the moderator guidance, is by far my favorite part of the Pimsleur program.

Smart Use of English Moderators

Another pro is that I like how Pimsleur uses an English speaking moderator in their lessons to keep you engaged and on-track. Some other language learning companies, like Rosetta Stone for example, are huge proponents of immersion – meaning very little English is used or spoken throughout the course. They just toss you into the fire, and you sink or swim.

Pimsleur Japanese audio
A Pimsleur Japanese audio exercise

While I think there is some merit to doing things this way, in my opinion, it causes more frustration than it does good. Being honest, Japanese is a very tough language to learn for English speakers, and the guidance in English, at least early on, really helps.

It keeps you from getting bummed out and quitting, and provides a support system along the way, so I like that Pimsleur uses a moderator.

Do Lessons On The Go

As the core, 30-minute Pimsleur lessons are audio-based, I like that you can treat these sessions almost like podcasts, and do them while you’re on the go. You can do the lessons while you’re washing the dishes, walking the dog, running on the treadmill, whatever.

It’s just nice that you don’t have to be glued to your computer screen or phone at all times like you do with other apps out there. In my experience, when you’re learning a language, sometimes it’s best to not sit in one place with a hyper-focus on the screen in front of you.

It’s better to just listen and let your brain absorb what you’re hearing. It sort of limits distraction. And the Pimsleur audio lessons definitely allow for that.

Their mobile app even comes with a special driving mode, so you can learn and complete lessons during your commute or a road trip, which I really like. Overall, I think the flexibility of the Pimsleur lessons deserve some credit.

New Speech Recognition Software

The final highlight worth noting is Pimsleur’s new speech recognition software. Essentially, up until just the last few months, Pimsleur had never offered any speech technology. It was always a knock I had on their program.

Just about every other language learning company on the market – Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Duolingo, everyone – has some form of voice software. However, finally, Pimsleur has gotten with it and added a new feature called Voice Coach, where the system records your voice and provides a text output of what the system “heard.”

Pimsleur Japanese speaking
Pimsleur Japanese speaking practice

Plus, one cool thing is that unlike other apps, Pimsleur doesn’t just give you the phrase to say – it actually prompts you in English. Then you have to come up with the Japanese phrase yourself, which I really like because it makes you think critically.

Now, don’t me wrong, this Voice Coach system is not perfect, and you can tell they’re still working out some bugs, but it is a massive improvement over having no speech software tool at all, and I genuinely like it.

What We Don’t Like About Pimsleur Japanese

That’s the good news for Pimsleur Japanese. However, as with every Japanese language app I’ve tested, there are some weaknesses as well. Let’s explore those next.

Lessons Are Lengthy

Though I’ve raved about Pimsleur’s lesson framework to this point, there is one downside—the lessons are just long. There’s no way around it. Between the main audio exercise and the reinforcement drills, you’re looking at about an hour or so from start to finish to complete a full lesson. Again, I love the lessons—they’re some of the most comprehensive Japanese lessons I’ve reviewed—but they can also become tedious at times.

Sometimes, around the 20- to 25-minute mark of an audio lesson, my mind would start to hit a wall and wander. When this would happen, I would usually pause the program for 10 minutes while I took a quick break to get a drink and check my email, then finish up the last few minutes of the lesson. So not a huge deal.

Pimsleur Japanese skills
Pimsleur Japanese skills badges

However, if you’re the type of person that has a short attention span, this is something to keep in mind. In this case, shorter form Japanese language apps like Duolingo and Busuu might be better because they offer short, quick-hit lessons.

Very Basic Reading & Writing Lessons

My second negative is that Pimsleur offers fairly limited Japanese reading and writing lessons. There are some lessons in the later half of the program once you’ve established a base, and they say that you should be able to understand basic kana and kanji, the dual Japanese writing systems, once done. But I would say just that—it is very basic.

Essentially, if learning to read and write in Japanese is just as important to you as listening and speaking, then other programs, such as Rocket Japanese, might be a better fit for you. With Pimsleur, you’ll learn enough to get by, but it’s very clear their focus is on verbal Japanese (speaking and listening), not reading or writing.

Not Many Visuals

Since the Pimsleur lessons are so heavy on audio and text, they might not be the best option for visual learners. Beyond the reinforcement drills after the core audio lessons, there really aren’t too many visuals or images throughout the program, which might be an issue for some types of learners.

This all goes back to the “Pimsleur Method,” which is about developing your ear for a language, not necessarily reading and writing. As such, there is limited imagery, and even somewhat limited use of text compared to other apps.

So if you’re the type of learner that needs pictures for memory aids, then Pimsleur may not be the most ideal option (you may want to consider the Rosetta Stone Japanese course).

Verdict: Is Pimsleur Japanese Worth It?

All in all, I really like the Pimsleur Japanese course, including the updates they’ve made. The audio lessons that form the backbone of the course are highly effective (even if a little long), and the reinforcement drills that follow them are fantastic for getting material to stick post-lesson.

The new Voice Coach tool, though still needing some improvement, is an awesome addition for working on your Japanese pronunciation and getting you to think critically. Plus, the program overall has a very clean organization, look and feel. It’s just a well put together Japanese program from top to bottom.

Pimsleur Japanese isn’t perfect, but compared to most of the other Japanese language programs I’ve taken and reviewed so far, Pimsleur is a rock solid option and should work for most people.


Is Pimsleur good for Japanese?

In our team’s opinion, yes, Pimsleur is a very good program for learning Japanese. Though it lacks the “fun” element of Duolingo and others, the learning framework is comprehensive and the audio based lessons are very effective for learning to listen and speak.

Rosetta Stone vs Pimsleur Japanese, which is better?

Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur have wildly different approaches to teaching Japanese. Rosetta Stone’s program focuses on using visuals as memory aids, while Pimsleur’s method is rooted in conversation-based practice.

How much is Pimsleur Japanese?

You can purchase access to Pimsleur Japanese in one of two ways. You can buy Premium access, which gets you access to the Japanese course only, for $20 per month. Or, you can purchase access to Pimsleur All Access, which costs $21 per month and comes with access to 50+ languages.