Pimsleur Chinese Review (2020) – My Honest Opinion

Pimsleur is one of the names I had heard of prior to going on my Chinese language learning journey. They are a giant in the language-learning realm, with their special sauce of focusing on audio-only courses that use the Pimsleur method of learning with spaced repetition and an audio focus.

Did they deserve their rank as one of the greats in the language-learning realm? Yes, yes they do.

In this guide, I will evaluate Pimsleur based on my experience with their audio-only version. They have recently been evolving their platform with new mobile apps and a new pricing model, and I will talk on that briefly, but the focus of this will be on their core audio lessons.

Pimsleur Review Summary

Pimsleur is the best audio-only Chinese course on the market. With their bite-sized 30-minute audio lessons and daily schedule, it’s relatively easy to adhere to the program and see tremendous success and growth in just 30 days. Although it isn’t as exciting as your favorite Netflix show every minute, the payoff in what you learn is well worth the grind.

Pros of Pimsleur

5 levels of Pimsleur covers a range of Chinese learning from beginner to upper-intermediate
Audio-only instruction simplifies learning
Easy to remember what you need to practice each day (just listen to the next lesson)
30 minutes per day is very doable and adhere to from a student’s perspective
Perfect for those with a commute to make better use of time
Mobile app works really well

Cons of Pimsleur

Would love to see a level 6 of Pimsleur
Material can be boring at times
Transcripts would be useful to have

Now, let’s take a deeper look into Pimsleur and see what they have to offer and if it is the right solution for you. For your convenience, use the table of contents to navigate to different sections of the review.

What is Pimsleur?

Pimsleur is an online language-learning platform that focuses on using audio as the primary form of instruction. More recently, Pimsleur has been evolving in a very positive direction with the inclusion of flashcards, reading practice, quizzes, and more. In short, they have really upgraded their learning overall and if you were a past customer of Pimsleur and feel like it didn’t stick with you before, it is worth a re-visit because of their changes.

Can I just take a second to appreciate that logo? It looks so nice – great colors, nice typeface choice… I love it.

Okay, back to the review.

Pimsleur takes the guesswork out of learning a new language by providing you with a simple strategy: listen to 1 30-minute audio recording a day, every day, for 30 days to complete one of their lessons. After 30 days, you will have gained a large amount of proficiency in that language of choice.

Here are the benefits you can expect by taking a Pimsleur course:

Learn a wide-range of Chinese
Take the guesswork out of studying Chinese
Greatly improved listening abilities
Clean pronunciation skills
Test your retention with built-in quizzes
Learn from a structured, all-in-one course system

Courses Offered by Pimsleur

As of 2020, Pimsleur offers Chinese levels from Level 1 to Level 5. This covers a range of learners from absolute beginner to ~upper intermediate. They offer both Mandarin and Cantonese versions of Chinese instruction (I took the Mandarin versions). I personally have finished levels 4 and 5 (I skipped the first 3 since I had been learning Chinese prior to starting Pimsleur) and believe that someone will be able to hold daily conversations with little issues after completing the 5th level.

1. Course Content Style

As mentioned, Pimsler is audio-focused. On a learning day, it is as simple as opening up your app, pressing play, and staying focused for 30 minutes. I have tried to play video games while listening, cleaning, and playing guitar – but, to get the most out of the lessons, it’s best to sit/lay down and focus in. Well, maybe it’s just because I’m not a great multi-tasker, but the lessons do get progressively more challenging and taking the time to intentionally remember the words is worth it.

The presenter will set the scene with a situation and provide you with useful prompts, indicating tones and explaining concepts in English. He will regularly ask you to repeat or say a word/phrase to test your skills and I found this to be ultra helpful when learning. And, the feeling you get when you answer the speaker’s question successfully is great. I totally mean it, too. It feels like you are really making progress and (at least in my case) I had mini celebrations when I was able to remember what I learned.

So what is actually covered in the materials? It changes level to level but they do build upon each other. All of the vocabulary and phrases learned during the lessons felt useful and meaningful, even though sometimes I felt like they would not be useful. What do I mean, exactly? Well, I remember learning about Macau’s egg tarts in one early lesson and thinking, “Who is ever actually going to say that particular phrase?” As if the Pimsleur gods were listening, later that day, someone just had to talk about Macau and their delightful egg tarts.

I will never doubt you again, Pimsleur.

Joking aside, it does seem like the material isn’t useful at times or you may wonder why you are learning a particular thing. But, the content is verifiably useful.

I did want to point out, though, the one major hurdle people may encounter when trying Pimsleur – the boring factor.

I get it – as I grinded through level 4 and level 5 of Pimsleur, there are times when it feels like it lasts forever. Like, doing a plank at the gym for 1 minute feels like 1 hour forever. To this, I say – you got this. Or, at least that’s what I told myself to get through it. Language learning isn’t always explosions and entertainment. But, I can confirm that the payoff and feeling of achievement you will feel after finishing each lesson – it’s well worth it. This isn’t to say that their lessons are boring. In fact, they are really mentally engaging and challenging and fun. It can just be tough, sometimes, as all studying can be. Stick with it and you will see results.

2. Practice Materials Are Evolving

I’ll admit – I went through level 4 and 5 before the big changes occurred over at Pimsleur. After I graduated from their courses, they have made tremendous progress by updating their apps and expanding their offering with reading, quizzing, reviews, and more. I plan on doing a first impression’s video of their new offerings in the near future, but for now, you can visit their site to see what they have done. From what I see, it is so much nicer than when I took the courses and I felt like it was worth the money before this update. So, I really see this as a major bonus that is just icing on the cake.

3. Structured Learning

I feel like language-learning is like working out. Sometimes, you just need someone to tell you exactly what to do and follow a very particular structure. I personally found the predictable nature of listening to an audio recording every day for 30 minutes a day (for 30 days) to be an extremely welcome change to my Chinese learning. Not much more to say here.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

For complete beginners to Chinese that want to focus solely on listening and speaking and prefer an audio method or have a regular commute, Pimsleur is an outstanding option. It’s a great way to mix up your language learning if you need a change-up and the results speak for themselves if you commit yourself to the daily practice. It has my vote of confidence and is worth what they are charging (which is not very much for what you are getting!).

If you want to give Pimsleur a try, you can sign up for a 7-day free trial below to see if it is a good fit.

Happy learning and I hope this review was helpful for you!

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