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Pimsleur Spanish Review
Our in-depth and expert review of the Pimsleur method for learning Spanish
Whether you’re simply looking to refresh your elementary-level Spanish for a vacation to Spain, or become 100% fluent before moving to Mexico, many folks look to Pimsleur to learn Spanish. It is one of the most-widely used language learning programs in the world, all based on the teachings of expert linguist Paul Pimsleur. However, is this the right language learning app for you? We break down and evaluate the Pimsleur Spanish program in this detailed review, covering the things that matter most.
Given that this is a lengthy review, we’ve included helpful jump-to links above for convenience.
Video Review: Pimsleur Spanish
In the video above, John from the Test Prep Insight team covers our evaluation of the Pimsleur Spanish program. For more detail, be sure to continue reading our full written review below.
Pimsleur Spanish Pricing
To provide some context for the detailed review that follows, let’s quickly cover pricing. Pimsleur offers two different subscription options: Pimsleur Premium, which gives you access to their Spanish program for $20 per month, and Pimsleur All Access, which give you full access to over 50 languages for only $1 more per month (i.e. $21/month).
If you stack this pricing structure up against Pimsleur’s main rivals Rosetta Stone and Babbel, Pimsleur is more expensive by around $5 to $10 per month on average. So overall, Pimsleur isn’t the cheapest Spanish program out there; however, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still relatively affordable.
And one saving grace for Pimsleur here is that each subscription does come with a 7-day trial period so that you can always test the waters before fully committing. This is a nice safety net in case you aren’t happy with the course once you purchase.
How The Pimsleur Spanish Program Works
So now that pricing is out of the way, let’s start the meat of this review off with a bird’s eye view of how the Pimsleur method works. In other words, how it’s structured.
So essentially there are 5 different levels, and each level contains 30 lessons. Then within each lesson, there is a 30-minute audio exercise followed by a variety of review drills.
And interspersed between all of these exercises within the lessons, there is Pimsleur’s trademark spaced repetition review. This is a hallmark of Paul Pimsleur’s system, but I’ll touch on this more below in my pros section (i.e. what we like).
But that’s generally it from a 10,000 foot view. You have 5 levels, 30 lessons per level, and each lesson takes around 1 hour to fully complete.
What The Pimsleur Spanish Lessons Are Like
Knowing how the program is structured, let’s dive into what the lessons themselves are actually like. To kick off each lesson, you complete a 30-minute audio exercise, where a moderator speaking in English walks you through a basic Spanish conversation step-by-step.
You’ll listen to a few sentences in Spanish, then the moderator will stop the conversation to explain what’s happening to you. From there, he’ll ask you questions and have you engage in the conversation by participating. In this respect, the Pimsleur lessons are sort of like the Rocket Languages lessons if you’ve used that app.
So essentially think of this exercise as a guided conversation – that’s the gist of it. In addition, as you move up levels, the English moderator starts to phase out, and you see less and less of him as the lessons become more advanced and you become more familiar with the Spanish language.
In each lesson, after this primary audio exercise, you then review what you just learned through a variety of drills. This includes reading exercises, flashcards, quizzes, pronunciation training, and speed games.
Each drill or exercise takes around 5 to 10 minutes to complete, so in total, you’re looking at around an hour to finish the entire lesson (the audio exercise plus all the drills).
Also, I would just note that each lesson covers different skills and topics, such as food, weather, travel and business. Not only do I like this for expanding your vocabulary and keeping these interesting, but as you complete each lesson you can also gain “skills” badges to help you track what you’ve learned. You can review these at anytime under the skills section from the dashboard if you want a quick refresher.
The other nice thing with Pimsleur worth noting is that you can jump around from level-to-level or lesson-to-lesson. You’re never forced to follow a strict agenda, though I would recommend doing it under their suggested schedule.
What We Like About Pimsleur Spanish
Now that I’ve covered cost and you know what the lessons are all about and how the course is structured, let’s get into what I like about Pimsleur Spanish after thoroughly testing this program.
Highly Effective Learning Framework
Without a doubt, the greatest strength of this program is the learning method that forms the framework for their lessons. To define it, I’d say it is really just a variation of the popular ‘spaced repetition’ system.
Essentially, this method is all about intervals – the periods between each time a word or phrase is recalled. It starts with high frequency recall (think seconds and minutes), and then gradually moves to low frequency (think days and weeks).
As you complete Pimsleur lessons, you’ll hear a word or sentence introduced for the first time, and then seconds later you’ll be asked to recall it. Then minutes later. Then days later. Then weeks later.
However, whereas the traditional spaced repetition learning system primarily relies on memorization – in other words, just listening or reading at spaced intervals – the Pimsleur learning method is unique in that their lessons put pressure on you to recall and participate in an actual exchange.
So instead of just listening or reading a word or phrase, and remembering it, the Pimsleur audio lessons ask you how to say words or phrases and respond to a native speaker.
The great thing about this is that it keeps you from becoming a passive listener. You’re actively involved in what you’re listening to and the moderator of the lesson keeps you on your toes since you need to respond at various intervals.
In my opinion, this active participation is powerful at getting you to recall and use the language just as you would in real life situations. So overall, I have to give props to Paul Pimsleur and the system he helped develop. I love the spin he added to the traditional spaced repetition learning system.
Beyond the learning method behind the audio lessons, I like the fact you can complete these lessons while you’re exercising, cleaning your house, taking your dog for a walk, whatever.
It’s just nice that you don’t have to be glued to your computer or phone at all times when learning (like you do with some Spanish language apps). In fact, the Pimsleur mobile app even comes with a special driving mode that you can activate so that you can learn and knock out lessons during your commute. For me, this was a huge bonus.
Helpful English Directions & Translations
I really like that within the audio lessons there is an English speaking moderator to keep you on task and engaged. This helps to keep the lessons moving along in a timely manner.
However, in my experience, I’ve found that limited use of English for directions and translations can actually be very helpful for language acquisition. In our age of instant gratification, we’re all used to the convenience of having the answer right at our fingertips. So struggling through something with no answer can be infuriating.
At the end of the day, I can see the English translation argument both ways, but I ultimately just appreciate Pimsleur’s limited use of English to help combat any building frustration and keep the lessons moving.
Killer Digital Platform
To be honest, I was very impressed with the Pimsleur digital platform and user experience across desktop and their mobile app. It’s professional and sleek on the design side, as well as quick and snappy with respect to responsiveness.
Everything is laid out in a logical manner for learning, and it’s super easy to use. I had no issues with using this platform whatsoever, and think most people would really like it.
What We Dislike About Pimsleur Spanish
Now that we’ve covered the strengths of the Pimsleur course and what we liked, let’s switch sides to the things we didn’t like.
Lessons Can Feel Drawn Out
While there are certainly advantages to the Pimsleur audio lessons, there are a couple negatives as well. Namely, the lessons just move a little slowly. Yes, the moderator does keep you engaged and on your toes by asking you questions, but there’s no denying that around the 15- or 20-minute mark of each lesson, your mind sort of starts to wander.
It would just be nice if Pimsleur would sprinkle in 1 or 2 quick-hit drills, or even rapid fire verbal exercises, during the middle of the audio lesson just to switch things up and add a little variety.
Still, this is kind of grasping at straws here because as I referenced above, I found the audio lessons to be effective for language retention on the whole. This is just me asking Pimsleur to take their lessons from A- grade to an A+.
No Voice Recognition Technology
Though I do like that Pimsleur places a heavy emphasis on output – meaning, actually speaking and talking – the company doesn’t employ any voice recognition technology like competitors Babbel, Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.
While you do practice your verbal skills during the audio lessons, there’s no technology listening to ensure you’re saying words and phrases correctly. For all you know, you might be pronouncing the word “volante” incorrectly.
To be fair, the moderator and the fluent speakers within the lessons repeat themselves multiple times so the chances of you mispronouncing words over and over again are slim. Not to mention, the voice recognition technology from Rosetta Stone and Babbel is far from perfect anyway. Those systems definitely have their own flaws.
I guess the bottom line here is that there’s really no substitute for talking with an actual human being. That’s the best practice you can get.
As the lessons are so audio-heavy, they might not be the best option for visual learners. Beyond the drills you work after the core lessons, there’s really no chance for you to see or read the words or phrases, which may be problematic for some folks.
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 vocabulary.
To be clear, the Pimsleur lessons do have a visual component to them, just not in the traditional manner you’re used to. The Pimsleur lessons rely more on mental imagery than visual reading.
You’re asked to imagine scenarios and situations, and the native actors speak the words one syllable at a time, which gets you to picture and focus on each individual syllable. It’s sort of the same concept, just in a different way.
Ultimately, this boils down to what type of learner you are. It may be a big deal or it might not be, it just depends on personal preference.
Lessons Light On Grammar
As you might imagine given how much emphasis Pimsleur places on listening and speaking, the lessons are a little light on the grammar and writing side.
For some people this may be an issue, but in my opinion, I don’t think it is. After all, languages are not written, they’re spoken (I mean they are written, but you know what I mean). Sometimes when there is too much emphasis on grammar and writing during the early stages of language acquisition, it can do more harm than good.
I personally think it’s more important to focus on what you hear first and then worry about rules later. Doing so is just a more natural way to learn, and it also helps with your pronunciation.
Think about when you’re were just a toddler learning English – you weren’t sitting in your play room reading dense grammar books. You were listening to your parents talk, and learning how to say words first. Then you circled back to grammar rules and writing as you got older in grade school.
So from that perspective, I do think Pimsleur has their priorities right, even though some may gripe that there’s not enough grammar instruction throughout the lessons.
Verdict: Learning Spanish With Pimsleur
All in all, I’m a big fan of the Pimsleur Spanish method and online program. I believe that the learning framework which forms the backbone of this program is highly effective for language acquisition. I love that the audio lessons track actual speaking conversations, and the fact that it gets you to participate by quickly recalling words and phrases. In addition, the drills and exercises following the audio lessons are sort of fun, and do a good job helping you review. Plus, the user interface is clean and super easy to use. There’s just a lot to like here.
Sure, I do have a few minor grievances with their program, but overall, I think Pimsleur is a highly effective program that should get the job done for pretty much anyone looking to gain an elementary to intermediate understanding of Spanish. Not to mention, at roughly $20 per month, it’s pretty affordable. So all things considered, I have no problem recommending Pimsleur to learn Spanish. They receive very high marks from me.