Pimsleur Japanese Review: Does It Work?

Pimsleur Japanese Review : A Quick Overview
  • Amount of Material Available
  • Teaches Natural Japanese
  • Effectiveness
  • Lessons are Fun
  • Price
  • Value
3.3

Summary

The Pimsleur Japanese lessons are effective for learning the language. It can also drastically improve your pronunciation to make you sound more natural. The lessons are very convenient to study, and their app even has a special “driving” mode to make it easier to listen to in your car.

However, the amount of material they teach is very limited. Using only the Pimsleur lessons will result in you having difficultly coming up with original sentences for your to express yourself freely. The audio lessons are fun to do at first, but over time, it can get a little dull.

If you used the Pimsleur course to supplement other materials, it would work well (but be expensive). If you want to reach an advanced level of Japanese or have access to more material, there are much better options out there.  If you are interested in the Pimsleur lessons, try out the 7-day free trial first so you can test it out for yourself without wasting any money.  

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Back in 2005, I went on a vacation to Japan for the first time. I took basic Japanese classes before, but I couldn’t even put together a good sentence. So I was worried that I wouldn’t understand anything when I was in Japan.  

Well, I ended up loving Japan so much I moved there for a few months with my friend. While I was there, I went through the Pimsleur Japanese course (3 levels), studying 1 lesson per day.  

Did my Japanese improve? Is the Pimsleur® Method effective, and is their Japanese course worth it?

My Results: A Quick Overview

Overall, yes, my Japanese improved. And yes, I think the Pimsleur® Method is effective at learning a new language. The lessons can become a little dry after a while, but I enjoyed them. But is the Pimsleur course the BEST way to learn a language? Is it worth it?

Depending on your goals, time commitment, and learning style, the Pimsleur lessons can be worth it for you. However, I can’t recommend it to everyone-I can only think of a few types of people who would benefit from the Pimsleur lessons.  

Best and Worst Points

I think the biggest strength of the Pimsleur Japanese course is that your pronunciation can improve a lot. You’ll probably also have a good understanding of the rhythm and flow of speaking Japanese, which other programs don’t teach.

Unfortunately, you don’t learn much vocabulary or grammar concepts (compared with other courses), so you won’t be able to produce your own original sentences and truly express yourself.  

If your goal is to speak and truly understand Japanese well, then there are much better options out there. The best program I have used to improve my Japanese is Japanesepod101. The massive amount of material and study options you have with Japanesepod101 makes it a much better value.  

In this Pimpsleur Japanese review, I’ll go into great detail about the pros and cons of their teaching method and give you information about their new platform (online lessons), so you can decide if it will be worth it for you.  

The great thing about Pimsleur is that they have a 7-day free trial, which is awesome. So you can try out their lessons for a week to see if it is something you would enjoy.

Pros

  • Active learning: You’re frequently being asked to speak and recall information you learn in the lessons. This motivates you to listen to the lessons more carefully and helps you to remember the information better.  
  • Great for Pronunciation:  Listening to native speakers and repeating the words and phrases you learn multiple times per lesson can improve your pronunciation.
  • Self-contained, convenient lessons:  You don’t need any materials to study; you must listen to the audio files. 
  • Simple, easy to understand:  The lessons are easy to follow and present the information in a way that is easy to remember.  
  • Focus on speaking:  You’ll be speaking from the very first lesson.
  • Learn Japanese in a natural context:  Conversational dialogues are used to teach the material.

Cons

  • Price: Buying the lessons are expensive.
  • Monotonous: The same format and narration of the audio lessons can get boring after a while.
  • Limited teaching of grammar and concepts: Doesn’t do a good job of teaching concepts, mostly remembering words and phrases.
  • Minimal teaching on reading and writing: Doesn’t teach you how to write in Japanese. Teaches the basic readings for hiragana and katakana; minimal kanji.

What is the Pimsleur® Method?

Pimsleur® Method was developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, a professor, and expert in applied linguistics.  

It consists of audio lessons that focus on speaking and listening skills instead of reading or writing (although there are lessons/activities to practice reading). Instead of teaching you grammar and how to construct sentences in a foreign language, you start having short conversations from the very first lesson.  

Notice I put the “audio lessons” in bold. I want to emphasize that there are no videos, fancy games, or cool animations to help you learn a language. Just audio files that you listen to.  

There are some simple games to review the words and phrases you learned in the audio lessons. These games also test your reading skills, helping you remember the material better than just speaking and listening alone. That being said, the audio lessons are the main focus of their system, and it’s where you’ll be learning all of the material.  

About the Pimsleur Lessons

Although I went through the audio lessons back in 2005, I also signed up for their online lessons this past year. The Japanese course has 5 levels, with each level having 30 lessons (30 minutes each) and reading lessons. Has anything changed over the last 15 years?  

Nope. Not that I could tell anyway. I’m not sure if they added anything new to the audio lessons, but it sounded the same to me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed the lessons just as much now as I did 15 years ago.  

There are 2 different ways you can purchase the Japanese lessons. You can::  

  1. Sign up for their subscription service*
  2. Purchase their lessons (digital downloads or CDs), so you can keep them forever.  

If you choose to purchase the lessons, you have the option to buy just the audio files only, or their “premium” version, which includes the interactive games to help you review the material.  

The lessons also include cultural notes, where you’ll learn some interesting facts about the country or language you are studying.  

Audio Lessons: My Experience Using the Pimsleur Japanese Course 

Before I started studying Japanese with the Pimsleur lessons, I was skeptical. I thought that just listening to audio files to learn a language would be unbearably boring. What made it worse was when I first listened to the lessons, the teacher guiding you through the lessons sounded very “mechanical.” Not robotic or weird in any way, just a little stiff.  

However, to my surprise, I really enjoyed the lessons. I thought they would put me to sleep, but the opposite happened. I actually got energized listening to the audio and would pay close attention the whole time.  

I believe there are several reasons why I thought the lessons were so enjoyable.  

  1. You start speaking and having a conversation on your very first lesson
  2. You are actively repeating the words and phrases you learn throughout the lesson
  3. You are continually being asked to recall the information you just learned.  

Does Pimsleur Japanese Make You Fluent?

Let me address this question right away.  

No. Not even close.  

Pimsleur themselves say that all of their lessons will take you to an intermediate Japanese level (but not even that, in my opinion).  

Your pronunciation can improve a lot, but you won’t learn enough material to be fluent in Japanese.  

Teaching Style of the Lessons

Most traditional methods to learn a new language involve teaching basic words and grammar to create your own sentences and eventually have a conversation. The Pimsleur® Method bypasses all of that and goes straight into a live conversation. For the beginner lessons, you first listen to a short dialogue. You’ll probably have no idea what the people in the dialogue are saying at first.

The lesson then breaks down the dialogue into smaller phrases and words and teaches them to you. There are no lengthy explanations here. It is pretty much a quick, direct, one-line type of explanation.

For example, the word “wakarimasen” is said by a native speaker. The English-speaking narrator comes on and says, “~means I don’t understand.” So you automatically know that “wakarimasen” means “I don’t understand.” You are then asked to recall and say this word multiple times throughout the lesson. This is done for the other words and phrases you heard in the dialogue.  

At the end of the lesson, you’re able to put all of the words and phrases you just learned together. You can understand the whole dialogue you heard and take part in it, saying the entire conversation by memory.

Going from knowing nothing to being able to speak and understand a conversation in 30 minutes is pretty amazing if you think about it.    

Pimsleur Japanese for Free: 7-Day Free Trial

Pimsleur currently offers a free trial of their Japanese course (other courses as well) for 7-days. If you are thinking of purchase the lessons on Pimsleur, I highly recommend doing the free trial first, to make sure that you acutally like the lessons and teaching style. This way, you won’t waste your money if you find that you don’t enjoy the lessons.

Get a 7-Day Free Trial Here:

Does Pimsleur Teach Reading and Writing Japanese?

As you may know, Japanese has 3 writing systems (4 if you include rōmaji): hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are pretty easy to learn, but kanji takes a HUGE amount of time to master.  

The Pimsleur Japanese course states that it does include reading lessons for hiragana and katakana. If you go through all the levels, you will be able to recognize some basic kanji.  

However, this is not sufficient at all if you are serious about learning Japanese. You might be able to read the hiragana and katakana characters with the Pimsleur lessons, but I would be surprised if you could write them out to form your own words. You definitely won’t be able to write any kanji after going through the lessons.  

The truth is that for most people, even those living in Japan, do not need to write kanji. Being able to read kanji usually is more than enough for living in Japan. However, the Pimsleur Japanese course material for learning kanji will be of little use to you. You’ll only recognize the kanji for specific words, which is very limiting since you need to know over 2,000 characters for daily use. 

Is Reading Japanese Important?

I HIGHLY recommend you learn how to both read and write hiragana and katakana. Not only are they relatively easy to learn, but you will use them all the time if you go to Japan. Even if you never go to Japan, reading and writing hiragana and katakana are essential for improving your skills. When you get to an intermediate level of Japanese, reading things in hiragana or katakana will not only help you learn, but it will be easier to read than English.  

Of course, the goal of the Pimsleur lessons is to help you speak, not read Japanese. But if your goal is to become good at Japanese, you’ll need to learn how to read and write hiragana, katakana, and kanji eventually. I even wrote a free guide on how to learn Japanese for beginners, where you can learn how to write hiragana and katakana (in part II of the guide).  

Pimsleur Japanese Price

  1. The price of their subscription service: $19.95 per month.  They offer a 7-day free trial, so you should definitely try it out before you buy.
  2. Just the audio lessons (no interactive tools): $119.95 per level (30, 30-minute lessons) or $550 for all 5 levels
  3. Pimsleur Premium Japanese (includes audio and interactive tools): $150 per level (30, 30-minute lessons) or $550 for all 5 levels

Note:  Prices listed above do not include tax, VAT, or shipping charges.  

Pimsleur Premium

If you purchase the premium version of their lessons (or have a monthly subscription), you’ll have access to the interactive activities as well. The activities are flashcard/quiz style of games where you’ll need to find the right word to fit the question. These games are very simple, but I feel that it does help you remember the material better. These activities are useful since they involve reading practice, which allows you to understand the material on a different level than just speaking alone.  

Are these activities essential to learn the material? Not at all. But given a choice, I would probably get it since it’s not that much more expensive than the audio-only option.  

Pimsleur vs. Rosetta Stone Japanese

Having used both of these programs, I can say, without a doubt, that the Pimsleur Japanese lessons are MUCH better than Rosetta Stone. I honestly think Rosetta Stone is overhyped and doesn’t teach much. Check out my full review of the Rosetta Stone Japanese lessons if you want to know all of the reasons I think it sucks.  

Yes, you can learn words and phrases with Rosetta Stone. But it’s not as effective as other teaching methods and is pricey for what you get. If you had to choose between these two, I would definitely go with Pimsleur.  

Pimsleur Japanese vs Japanesepod101

As stated above, the Pimsleur Japanese lessons are much better than the material on Rosetta Stone. However, the material on both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone Japanese is very limited. Pimsleur claims that it will take you to an intermediate level of a language. The material you learn at level 5 is considered to be at an intermediate level of Japanese. But here is the big problem.  

You’ll be able to recite the exact words and sentences you learn, but you won’t be able to come up with your OWN sentences. Well, not without studying other material, that is. Both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur only teaches you a limited amount of vocabulary and grammar patterns, so it limits your ability to speak freely.

The audio lessons on Japanesepod101 focus more on grammar patterns and concepts, so you’ll know how to create your own sentences and not rely on remembering set phrases. Japanesepod101 has a massive amount of material on their site. You’ll not only learn grammar and vocabulary, but you’ll also learn how to read and write in Japanese, formal and casual expressions, and even slang words.

If you want to reach an advanced Japanese level and speak naturally, the material on Japanesepod101 is the best I have used.  

Check out my full review on Japanesepod101 to learn more.  

Is the Pimsleur Japanese Course Worth It?

I really like the Pimsleur® Method and how you can quickly jump in and start speaking. I also like how they frequently ask you to recall information, which helps you to learn and remember the material. Your pronunciation can also become very good since you listen to native speakers and repeatedly repeat what you hear. 

That being said, I think the Pimsleur Japanese lessons are NOT worth it for most people.  

The main reason for this is that there are much better options available that provide much more value for your money.  

Who Would Benefit From the Pimsleur Japanese Lessons?

There are only 3 types of people who I think would greatly benefit from the Pimsleur Japanese lessons.  

  1. Someone who only wants to learn basic Japanese (for a trip, business, etc.) with no intention of learning more.
  2. Someone who wants a self-contained learning system (no need for books, paper, etc.): All you need to do is listen to the lessons and repeat, making it easy and convenient to learn. 
  3. Someone who has money to spend and wants to use the Pimsleur course to supplement other material.  

Pimsleur says that their course can take you to an intermediate level of Japanese, with near-native level pronunciation. The material you learn in the later lessons is at an intermediate level. I think that it is possible for your pronunciation to become very good. I would say that doing the Pimsleur lessons will improve your pronunciation more than most other programs out there, based on the fact that you are continually repeating what you learn.  

However…

Do You Want to Become Fluent in Japanese?

Even if you mastered all of the material, your Japanese will still be inside the “Pimsleur bubble,” as I like to call it. This means that you will only know the material you studied in the lessons. You just remember the phrases you were taught instead of learning concepts and principles to create sentences on your own.

For example, being able to conjugate verbs is an essential skill in any language. You need to know how to change a verb like “eat” into its different forms like ate, eaten, eating, etc. Conjugating verbs like this in Japanese is more straightforward than in English since it’s very formulaic, and there are only 2 irregular verbs (vs. around 200 in English).  

In the Pimsleur lessons, you just learn verbs as is, without much explanation on why and how to conjugate them. There are some explanations, of course, and you could learn it “naturally” by having your brain eventually recognizing specific patterns in the language. But I think it’s much easier and faster to learn how to conjugate verbs on your own. 

This isn’t a problem if you only wanted to learn a little bit of Japanese and don’t want to reach an advanced level.  

Final Thoughts

I will say that the convenience of the Pimsleur lessons is outstanding, though. You don’t need any books or to write anything down, making it great for listening to in your car (their app even has a “driving” mode) or at home while you’re relaxing.  

If you had both money and time to spare, I think the Pimsleur® Method would be an excellent supplement to other materials.  Just be sure to try the 7-day free trial first, so you can test it out for yourself and see if you enjoy it or not.

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