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There’s some great language learning courses out there that are free, fun, and teach you vocabulary and grammar. My first ever stab at learning Spanish was with one of these courses called Duolingo, and it was great. I really enjoyed the game like feel and I felt like I learned a lot….until I actually tried to speak to someone.
I was a about a quarter to a third of the way through the course and knew a fair amount of Spanish words, but for the life of me I could not remember them when talking to someone! Looking back, it's as if learning Spanish words and using them in a conversation are two different skills.
Duolingo helped with one (learning the meanings), but didn’t do much to help with the other (speaking). And Duolingo isn’t the only course that runs into the speaking wall. It usually takes a lot of extra effort on your part to speak a language while working through a course.
Most language courses do little to nothing to address your need to actually speak the language.
...Then there’s Pimsleur. Pimsleur courses are specifically designed to get you to recall and speak a foreign language. For the most part the courses are pretty effective, though they’re not perfect. If you want a full review on the Pimsleur method and its overall strengths and weakness as a language learning program. You can find it here.
Summary of Pimsleur Method (all languages)
Review of: Pimsleur
Use: Audio courses for learning foreign languages
With Pimsleur you will be able to speak at a functional level
Pimsleur Courses are expensive. Expect to pay $100+ for 1 Level
Each lesson is 30 minutes
Ease of Use
Lesson are simple: just listen and repeat when prompted
Pimsleur courses are well designed and structured to teach you a foreign language
- Actually gets you speaking & listening
- Functional vocabulary
- Emphasizes pronunciation
- Easy to use
- You can switch between languages
I Don't Like
- High price tag
- Very formal language
- Little reading and no writing
Summary: Pimsleur courses are known as some of the best audio courses for learning to speak a foreign language. Their method includes a question/recall/response technique that is very effective for helping you internalize the basics of a new language. Many people who use Pimsleur cite a marked improvement in their speaking abilities.
Pimsleur is also one of the few language courses that focuses heavily on correct pronunciation. This helps a lot when trying to remember new words in a foreign language.
However Pimsleur courses also have their drawback. They're pretty expensive compared to other audio courses. They also tend to use highly formal language that is too respectful for most day to day situations. The courses are also sometimes criticized for teaching limited vocabulary.
Starting at $19.95 for 5 lessons up to $107.95 for 30 Lessons
In this post you won’t find a description or commentary on Pimsleur’s method. The purpose of this article is to point a few unique things about Pimsleur’s Spanish courses and how they can help or hinder the Spanish learners who use them.
Is Pimsleur Spanish right for you?
If you are a beginner to upper intermediate Spanish learner who wants to work on their speaking, listening, and pronunciation then yes, you should look at Pimsleur. The level one Spanish course may seem a little overwhelming if you have absolutely no experience with the language, but as you work through the course that shouldn’t continue to be a problem.
Pimsleur doesn’t do anything to help you practice writing in Spanish. It incorporates some reading practice, but it's not much. If you want to develop these skills then you might be better off with something other than Pimsleur.
5 things unique to Pimsleur Spanish
- Good audio
- 5 Level for Latin Amer. Spanish
- Reading portion is pretty helpful compared to other Pimsleur courses
- 1 level for Castilian Spanish
- Mainly uses formal usted instead of tu
- Level 4 Latin Amer. isn't necessary
It has good audio
The Spanish courses are probably Pimsleur’s most popular. As a result they have some of the best audio. The native voice actors do a good job making the conversation sound natural while still speaking at speed that is easier to understand.
Some of Pimsleur’s other language courses recycle old audio with dialogues that feel stiff and fake. With Pimsleur Spanish that’s not the case.
You can skip level 4 (if you want)
Pimsleur Spanish has five levels. For the most part they each do a good job of building up your vocabulary by showing you new words and reinforcing the ones you already know. That is, with the exception of level 4. There isn’t much of a difference of difficulty between levels 3 and 4.
The words and grammar you use for the two levels are also closely related. When working through level 4 you get the feeling that it was part of another shorter stand alone course and Pimsleur threw it in so they could have 5 levels of Spanish instead of 4.
...Within each of the first III editions (30 lessons apiece), I felt consistently challenged to the point where each day brought new challenges (and thus, progress). They were never easy, and in some cases there were notable jumps in difficulty from lesson to lesson. That is a good thing. Therein lies the problem with Pimsleur Spanish IV. While the quality of the product is the same - taut, straight-forward, well-paced - the lessons are shorter (lesson 18 was 28 minutes while lesson 19 was a paltry 26!) and the difficulty level is not increasing.
Amazon.com Reviewer (Pimsleur Spanish IV)
Just like the other levels, level 4 is good for practice, you’re just not going to get a lot of new material if you just finished level 3. You won't miss out by skipping level 4 and going to straight to 5.
Early levels use Usted not tú
Pimsleur is sometimes criticized for using language that is too formal. In the beginning levels this certainly true. At first you will deal almost exclusively with the formal pronoun for you (usted) and not the informal one (tú).
For those who are new to Spanish usted is the pronoun you’d use to be polite to a stranger or someone in a formal setting (think of when we use “sir” or “ma’am” in English).
The difference between usted and tú becomes important when you’re conjugating verbs. Each pronoun has its own set of verb conjugations. For most of the course you will probably being using usted and its conjugation.
This is fine. It won’t keep you from being understood by native speakers. You’ll just seem super polite (not the worst thing in world).
You will start to use the informal tú in the later levels. To be honest, for Spanish I don’t think using formal language is a huge deal, but it might be in other languages. It’s pretty easy to make switch usted for tú.
Also the verb conjugation for usted and tú are similar enough that they're also pretty easy to substitute for one another. A lot of times the only difference between the two is adding or subtracting an “s”.
Latin Spanish versus Castilian Spanish
You may or may not know that there are two main types of Spanish: Latin and Castilian Spanish. Castilian Spanish is spoken in Spain, while Latin is spoken in central and south America. If you speak one you can understand the other.
The main difference are changes in pronunciation and the addition of an extra pronoun. Castillian uses an informal pronoun for “you” (as in “you all”) called vosotros. Latin American Spanish doesn’t use this pronoun or its verbs conjugations.
Pimsleur offers 5 levels for Latin Spanish but only 1 for Castilian. If you plan on traveling to Spain it would be perfectly acceptable to work through the 1st level of the Castilian course and then continue on with Latin Spanish 2.
There will be a difference in accent but what you learn from the Castilian course can carry over to the latin one. Just remember that in the latin one you won’t being using vosotros.
Reading portion is better than other Pimsleur courses
Reading is not the focus in Pimsleur courses, but each course level in the Spanish language comes with 2 disks of reading exercises. In each exercise the narrator reads a story in Spanish line by line and you follow along with the appropriate Spanish text.
The text comes in a booklet if you buy the CD’s. If you get the Mp3 or software version you can access the reading text on their website in pdf form.
There isn’t much to the reading the exercises, but they do help you learn how to read Spanish. Spanish is a phonetic language that is always spelled the way it sounds. This makes reading easier than other languages, so that you don’t necessarily need more reading materials than what Pimsleur provides.
Spanish also uses a latin based alphabet similar to the English alphabet, which again makes it easy to read.
What other people are saying about Pimsleur Spanish
Are the Pimsleur Spanish courses worth it? Yes, absolutely. I’d recommend them to anyone. But Pimsleur is not a panacea.
Keep in mind that:
- You will not become fluent after completing Pimsleur Spanish, even levels 1 through 3
- Alone, it will give you a limited vocabulary
- It can be dry and a little slow
I’d recommend that you use Pimsleur Spanish to
- Learn how to put together sentences using the words you know
- Improve – even vastly improve – your pronunciation
- Give yourself a way to learn during your commute the basic sentences you’ll need to survive in a foreign country
Alternatives to Pimsleur Spanish
Rocket Spanish is a comprehensive Spanish course that will take you from a beginner level up to the mid-intermediate level in the language. The course is designed around interactive audio lessons.
Each lesson will breakdown a Spanish conversation which native speakers into smaller parts so that you can pick the grammar and vocabulary and then use them yourself when you speak Spanish.
Even though the emphasis of Rocket Spanish is always conversation, the course also does a good job of incorporating reading and writing as well.
Spanishpod101 is a Spanish course in the form of audio podcasts. Each lesson is an episode and features a conversation between two native speakers, as well as lesson notes, and sentence examples.
Every episode is moderated by two hosts who help explain difficult concepts and share interesting insights into the language or culture.
The site also features many extra resources like in site flashcards, slow playback and recording (for pronunciation), and vocabulary lists.
Pimsleur is a great language learning tool. It’s not perfect but it clearly stands out from other audio language learning courses (again you can read our full review here). If you decide to use Pimsleur Spanish be conscious of the formal and informal pronouns and feel free to skip the 4th level f you want.
If you’re learning Castilian Spanish unfortunately you only have one level. Still, you can more than get by by using the 1st level of Castilian Spanish alongside the later levels in Latin Spanish.
Pimsleur's site offers 1 free lesson for both their Latin and Castilian courses, so you try them out and see if you like them.
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