What follows is a complete review of the Pimsleur French learning platform from someone (myself) who’s completed all five levels. This is an unbiased review – I have no affiliation with Pimsleur or any other learning platform.
I have not been paid (or given any incentive) to sway my review either in one direction or the other. Therefore, I hope that you will feel that you can trust that this review is genuine and has no bias.
Within this review, you will obtain the following information:
- The level of French I was at when I began my Pimsleur journey and my perceived level when I completed it.
- How long it took for me to complete Pimsleur
- How much it cost
- Different platforms you can use Pimsleur with (advantages / disadvantages of both)
- Whether you should focus just on Pimsleur or complement it with other methods
- Pros and Cons of the Pimsleur learning method
- Whether I would recommend it or not
- Other important things…
So, without further ado – let’s get into it.
What level was my French when I started Pimsleur?
Prior to starting Pimsleur, I knew very little French. The usual basics, such as ‘Bonjour’ and ‘au revoir’ – but even with these simple phrases, I didn’t know why they were constructed the way that they were and it turned out I didn’t even know how to pronounce them properly either!
I knew a few numbers, perhaps up to around forty but even this was sketchy. So, using the below chart as an indicator of knowledge, I was very much at the A0 level. In fact, if there was an A -1 level, I’d probably be there!
Why is this important? When it comes to a knowledge of language, everyone has a slightly different grasp of it. No two people are at the same level. Also – this wouldn’t be much of a review of Pimsleur if my French was already pretty good!
What level was my French when I Finished Pimsleur?
This is slightly more difficult to quantify than when I started. That was easy – I knew nothing at the start. Now, I know a lot more. We can’t just leave it there though, can we? We’re able to differentiate my knowledge of French into different categories:
- Speaking French
- Listening to and understanding spoken French
- Understanding written French (ability to read literature)
- Writing French (with correct grammar)
I would estimate my spoken French is now at around the B1 level, my listening and understanding very similar – perhaps slightly lower, so A2/B1.
My ability to write French (correctly) is certainly not B1, maybe a mid-A2.
My comprehension of written French is probably also around the B1 level, if not a high A2.
This may initially seem a little disappointing, but when I review this, I need to remind myself of a couple of things:
- I came into Pimsleur knowing no French – I was the ultimate beginner. I can now have conversations in French, not just answering in the most simplistic terms but expanding with some detail.
- There was no explanation within the course relating to any grammar or comprehension of tenses within the course. It’s literally a case of listing and repeating. This is the reason why my understanding of French grammar is still quite weak after the course.
Point 2 isn’t necessarily a bad thing and how you feel about this depends on what you want to get out of the course. My primary goal was a desire to speak and understand French. I wanted to be able to have simple conversations in the language. I believe I have achieved this.
I was not (at the time) interested in writing the language and considering my English grammar was below average (at best), the thought of having to learn the grammar of another language (when I didn’t truly comprehend my own) was not a priority!
Who is Pimsleur French Aimed At?
Pimsleur French is unashamedly aimed at students wishing to improve their spoken French and comprehension of spoken French. The goal is quite simple when it comes down to it: once completed you should be able to converse in French. In my opinion, it absolutely achieves this – but more on this later.
There are many components related to language learning, which you perhaps already know if you’ve started looking into it. There is certainly more to it than I expected and for me, the journey has not been easy. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been enjoyable though!
There are many ways to learn a new language. I’ve looked at dozens of courses and apps and there isn’t a single course that covers absolutely everything.
Once you have this knowledge and accept it, then it makes your decision as to what direction and what course you’re going to take a lot easier.
As I said, Pimsleur is great for improving conversational French with many additional benefits that you might not realise. Again, I’ll cover this later. But, if you have a desire to not only speak French but to understand the intricacies of their grammar and be in a position where you can write it too, you’ll need other resources. You’ll use Pimsleur to satisfy one component of the language-learning journey, and others to satisfy the rest.
Do You Need To Understand English Grammar Before Learning French?
No, you don’t need to have a great comprehension of English grammar in general before taking on a new language. I’m a great example of this as my knowledge of English grammar prior to starting Pimsleur was poor. One great side-effect actually of learning a new language is that it will improve your own!
If like me, your knowledge of verbs, nouns, indefinite articles, and tenses (I could go on…) is weak, then you’ll find that it will dramatically improve over the course of your learning.
Does it help if you have a good understanding of grammar prior to embarking on Pimsleur? Yes, undoubtedly it does. It will certainly make the comprehension of why words are formed in certain ways a lot easier to understand.
As I mentioned earlier, Pimsleur does not explain the detail around why words change depending on their tense (for instance), you just need to remember them, which actually, isn’t the worst way of learning initially. Perhaps if they attempted to teach you the grammar around it also, it would make the course a whole lot longer – and a whole less enjoyable if you ask me!
So, in summary, it doesn’t matter what level of English grammar understanding you have prior to starting Pimsleur, but the more you know the better.
How Long Does It Take To Complete Pimsleur?
It took me 1 year and 4 months to complete Pimsleur French. That’s 16 months, which is a long time and probably longer than it will take most people. There are many factors behind this. For instance, if you already know a fair bit of French, then you’re going to be able to skip a lot of the initial lessons.
If, like me at the time, you know slightly less than nothing at all, then you’re going to be spending a lot more time over the initial lessons. There is no point in moving forward until you’ve understood what you’ve just been presented with. I became somewhat impatient after a few months and started just trying to get through them as quickly as possible. With this approach, I soon found myself way out of my depth and the experience very quickly became frustrating.
If you don’t understand a particular lesson then repeat it. Some days, with the earlier lessons, I could complete a couple of lessons in a day. With other lessons, I found them so difficult to comprehend it would literally take me a week of daily reviews to finally understand what was being taught.
It averaged out (for me) to around one lesson every 3 days, which considering I had holidays, work challenges, and other things that just got in the way, doesn’t sound too bad to me.
Each lesson is approximately 30 minutes long, but you’ll need longer than that to consume all the knowledge. I found myself pausing throughout the lessons (throughout the course) as otherwise, it would move on before I’d understood (or answered) what was being asked previously. This typically dragged each 30-minute lesson into 60 minutes.
There’s an approach I recommend below but on top of this, you should test yourself on the knowledge presented to ensure it’s gone in!
What Does The Pimsleur French Course Consist Of?
The Pimsleur French course consists of five levels (each one getting harder) and each level consisting of 30 lessons, making 150 lessons in total. Each lesson is approximately 30 minutes long. This, therefore, equates to 75 hours of learning time.
The structure of each lesson is reassuringly consistent.
It begins with a brief conversation between two individuals, which is then repeated. This is relatively straightforward and easy to comprehend during the initial lessons but gets progressively harder.
I found these conversations difficult to understand in the latter lessons and would have to repeat them many times, even then not always understanding it! The speed of the dialogue was often too fast for me, but perhaps this is the best way as it gets you used to the real world.
This dialogue is also available online (and in the app) with the transcript. I often had to go into this to see what it is they were actually saying before moving on.
The next 10 minutes or so in the lesson is spent reviewing words and phrases that were used during the previous lesson and is a great way to ensure you understood the previous lesson and increase your confidence.
After this time you will typically focus on new content but also incorporating new practices that you have learned previously.
The method of learning is consistent throughout the course:
- You will be asked to repeat a question or response
- It will be repeated, initially frequently and then sporadically in future lessons
The course can be accessed online via a browser or via an app. Both are pretty good and I haven’t noticed any bugs in either.
There is more to Pimsleur though than just the lessons, there are other tools that can aid your learning.
During your lessons, you will see what particular skills you are going to be learning during the lesson. These build up through the course, for instance, ‘Directions’, ‘Money’, ‘Animals’ – as you can see from the below pic, the content is quite varied.
It also serves to make progressing through the course more interesting as you look forward to learning more about certain subjects.
After each lesson, it’s a good idea to review the flashcards for that particular lesson. These cards will typically consist of words and phrases that you haven’t come across yet in previous lessons. You have the option of either looking at the English first or the French, so you can practice both directions.
Personally, I found these quite useful for cementing my knowledge after each lesson but wouldn’t go back to them after the initial review. For flashcards, I used a more professional / stand-alone method (Anki) which I’ll talk about later. I think utilising Flashcards is almost mandatory for the long-term consumption of new vocabulary.
Also, unique for each lesson is a ‘Quick Match’ quiz where you will be presented with a question and four possible answers. If you get the answer wrong, you move on to the next question but the questions you answered incorrectly are repeated at the end of the quiz.
These questions start quite simply at the start of the course but as you approach the latter stages it’s not so easy to just guess. The answers are very similar and you need to know the correct spelling/tense to be able to answer them correctly. This can be pretty challenging but is a great addition to the course.
I mentioned earlier that at the start of each lesson is a relatively short dialogue which you listen to twice and try (your best) to understand what’s being said. If you’re stuck, or just want to practice it later, you can go into this ‘Speak Easy’ section where you’ll find the dialogue in French. I always found it was a lot easier to understand written French than understand it when spoken.
This not only helps with oral comprehension but is a great way for you to practice your pronunciation of certain challenging words (pronouncing a word incorrectly can make a big difference in French!) (any examples we can put here?)
How Much Does the Pimsleur French Course cost?
Prices can fluctuate but at the moment you can test the water by having a 7-day free trial. You are charged on a subscription basis, and currently taking the French Pimsleur course will cost you £17.45 (around $20) per month. For me, that made the course around £280 (~$330). Actually, I think it was a little more expensive when I started but it gives you a ball-park figure.
This sounds like quite a lot but remember, I started from zero knowledge and it took me quite a long time to get through it. I was pretty meticulous in my approach. Even so, for what the course has given me, I believe it to be of exceptional value. You can also cancel at any time, so if you finish quicker than me it will cost you less.
What’s The Best Way To Use Pimsleur?
Everyone has different ways of learning and consuming information so what I’m going to share is what worked well for me. It took several weeks to get into a rhythm and find a method that worked with the material.
I used a combination of the Pimsleur App (on an iPhone but it’s also available for Android) and also the web-based product. Both worked well for me but at different times of the day.
In summary, my learning via Pimsleur consisted of:
- Early morning walk with Pimsleur phone app, listening to one lesson
- During the day, I re-listen to the lesson and flashcard words I didn’t know / confused me.
- The next morning I would repeat the lesson during the walk (should be an improvement).
- During the second day, re-review of flashcard material.
- Repeat as many times as necessary
So, providing a little more detail – every morning, before work, I’d go out for an hour and use the Pimsleur app on my phone to listen to a lesson. It’s easy to use and it’s possible to pause it and also to skip back 10 seconds. I needed this feature a lot as sometimes I just couldn’t understand what they were saying.
During the day, I would use the web-based app to check out the flashcards and other Pimsleur tools. I would also re-listen to the whole lesson, and where I didn’t know something – I would make a note of that and create a flashcard for it using Anki (if you’re not sure what Anki is, it’s a great tool for Flashcard use and I’ll talk about it below briefly).
The following morning, I would repeat the lesson during my walk where I should see an obvious improvement in my comprehension. If not, I would make more notes and repeat.
The very best bit of advice I could give those taking this course is to take your time and don’t move on until you’re comfortable with the previous content. You’re only cheating yourself otherwise and things start to get less enjoyable quick quickly!
One last bit of information is that if you’re truly serious about learning French then Pimsleur is one of many tools you should be using to get there. It really needs to be complemented with other things, which brings me to the below.
Other Tools You Need To Help Learning
As mentioned, complement Pimsleur with other tools to help with areas that Pimsleur doesn’t cover. These are the ones I recommend.
Arguably, the best Flashcard tool out there. You can use it on your phone or your PC/laptop via a web interface for free. You can also download an app (for Windows O/S). There is an app for phones but it’s quite pricey and you don’t really need it.
Anki utilises spaced recognition, so the more times you forget something (and get the answer wrong) the more times it will show it to you. Then, when you start to get the answer correct, you’ll see that card less and less.
There are other space-repitition-based flashcard tools out there, but having tried to use many of them, I always came back to Anki.
Find it here: https://apps.ankiweb.net/
An obvious resource naturally and I’m sure you’ve already explored many channels. So, I won’t bore you with specific channels but what I would suggest is to fill in the gaps that Pimsleur leaves by utilising content on YouTube.
For instance, watch vlogs purely in French – you won’t understand most of it, not for a long time. But it will get you used to how French sounds and you’ll slowly understand more and more words.
YouTube is great for filling the grammar gap that Pimsleur leaves. Searching for this will yield hundreds of results, take your pic.
A great way to improve your comprehension and be immersed in the language is via radio. Find your way over to http://radio.garden/ – there are dozens of French-based radio stations you can listen to here. I particularly recommend ‘France Info 105.7’ which is mostly chat (obviously in French).
I’ve never really gotten on with apps as a vehicle to learn a language. In my opinion (and I’ve tried pretty much everything out there) there’s never enough content and too much focus on vocabulary only. However, it’s this last point that has value.
To complement the Pimsleur course, using an app can help with learning new vocabulary. Which is never a bad thing! I’ve used Duolingo, Speakly, Babbel, to name a few. I’ve never enjoyed the experience. However (and again, no affiliation with these guys) the ‘Drops’ app is quite nice. It focuses on vocab primarily and has a lovely interface, check it out.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t look at these apps, but don’t rely on them – use them with other tools.
Not much to be said here, you’ll need to use them occasionally – I tend to use ‘DeepL’ (deepl.com) but also use the basic Google Translator one.
In addition, grab yourself a copy of ‘Bescherelle – Le conjugaison pour tous’ – as you progress it’ll really help you with tenses and the conjugation of verbs.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Pimsleur French
- Good interfaces both on the web and mobile
- Relatively short lessons make progress manageable
- In-built learning tools (such as flashcards and quizzes)
- Proven course, has been around for years
- Focuses on the essentials – being able to speak and understand French
- Can be costly – depending on how long you take to complete the course
- Little explanation of ‘why things are the way they are’
- No focus on grammar
- Little focus on pronunciation (you need to just listen very carefully)
- Sometimes the French is spoken too quickly making it difficult to understand what is being taught.
Would I Recommend Pimsleur French?
Yes, I would absolutely recommend Pimsleur French. With every platform, you will find some disadvantages and you may wonder why I would recommend it after listing a few negatives above.
Well, the answer is quite simple – the Pimelsur course focuses on what’s important (at least to me), and that’s being able to speak and understand the French language.
I think if they’d added explanations into the nuances of the grammar then it would have made the course less enjoyable. Also, personally, I enjoy learning whilst walking and if I’m being taught grammar then no doubt I’d need to be writing things down – not something I want to do whilst out on a relaxing walk before work each morning!
For me, since completing Pimsleur I’ve now moved on to the grammar side of things as I think it will now help me move to the next level.
Pimsleur was a great experience for me and in many ways, I was disappointed when it ended. I can thoroughly recommend the course to others in a similar position to me.