Pimsleur Review, Learning Romanian from Scratch

Pimsleur Review, Learning Romanian from Scratch has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.


My Pimsleur Review: The Good and the Bad

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann, I want to do a review of Pimsleur. I bought Pimsleur because I have to go to Romania on business in early June, just for three days. I’ll be on business in Bukovina and then touring a bit in Transylvania. We’ve also launched Romanian at LingQ, but we haven’t got all our resources organized yet. We just put the dictionaries up today, there’s nothing in the library, so I said I need to get started because in six weeks I’m going to be in Romania.


I phoned around and the only thing I could get with sound was Pimsleur, so I went and bought Pimsleur. I also do have at home a copy of Teach Yourself Romanian, which I’ve never studied, but I have no soundtrack for it. I wanted to hear what the language sounds like, so I went and bought Pimsleur and I figured I would do a review of Pimsleur.


Pimsleur is quite popular with many learners, so I thought I would see what it’s like. I have looked at Pimsleur before. I have Pimsleur at home, in fact, for Portuguese and for Russian. But in both cases I was already fairly well along in the language, having used resources like Teach Yourself or LingQ, so I found the Pimsleur Russian or Pimsleur Portuguese simply too boring. It wasn’t a good test of Pimsleur because Pimsleur is always recommended as a good beginner system. So here I am a total beginner. I know nothing in Romanian, so a good place to test Pimsleur.


My first reaction to Pimsleur is that it’s extremely well done. The quality of the recording is excellent. The voices are excellent. It’s very easy. In some ways it’s quite comfortable. It’s not demanding and they repeat stuff over and over and over again. Basically, they have simple phrases which are then broken down into words or smaller phrases. You’re told what it means in English, you are prompted to ask someone something using the words and phrases that you have just learned and it’s extremely repetitive.


Each of the 10 CDs (here’s one of them) there’s 10 of them in all, 30 minutes each. No, sorry, there are five CDs and each lesson is, I think, 30 minutes long. I’m not entirely sure. I should say that since buying them — I bought then on Wednesday, today is Friday — I’ve listened through just about all the 10 lessons. There’s a little bit in the last lesson I haven’t listened to. I listen mostly in my car. I also imported them into iTunes and downloaded them onto my iPod Nano so that I could listen while exercising and while doing the dishes. So, basically, I’ve found the time to listen to most of the lessons.


Each lesson begins with a very short dialogue, two or three sentences, and then those are broken up and jumbled in different forms of it. Do you want to have lunch? Do you want to have lunch now? Do you want to have lunch later? Do you want to have a drink? Do you want to have a drink at my place? Do you want to have a drink at your place? Do you want to have a drink? I want to have a drink. It just goes on and on and on.


These phrases, because now I’ve heard them over the last three days, however much time that I’ve spent, however many hours that amounts to, just come back and back and back. Will they stick with me? I don’t know. It gives you a very painless introduction to some of the idiosyncrasies of the language, but there’s a limit to what you can cover. In fact, Pimsleur covers very, very little. I’m not the first person to comment on this, but there is very little vocabulary there. I think in the first lesson, which cost me $27, basically, what we’ve covered is do you understand Romanian, do you understand English, yes, no, do you want to have a drink, do you want to have dinner with my at my apartment or in a restaurant, where is _____ Boulevard, where is _____ Street. They go to great lengths to help you with the pronunciation, even for things like _____ Boulevard. _____ and _____ Boulevard is not something that I consider all that useful.


There’s a lot of effort to make it simple, like ____ is here. ______ is here. So _____. Then they’ll say notice that the words kind of run on to each other ______, which they don’t really do. Most words where there are two vowels, in any language, will tend to run on a little bit, but they must mention that three or four times. So there’s a lot of superfluous advice and English and so forth. To my mind, I want to see the advantage is that I’ve had a painless introduction to Romanian having listened to all that Romanian.


The other source that I’m going to go at, together with LingQ, is this Teach Yourself. I mean just in reading the first three-four lessons of Teach Yourself, I have covered more vocabulary than is covered in the whole of Pimsleur. So if I were to continue with Pimsleur, I would have to spend an awful lot of time listening.


That’s the other point in Pimsleur. Why is there no transcript? I can’t understand why they wouldn’t provide a transcript, maybe it’s because it would become too obvious to people that there is very little vocabulary there. But if I hear _____, what is it, was it ______? I can’t really make out the sound because I’m not used to listening to Romanian. If I could read it and I kind of looked at how Romanian spelling works, I’d have a much better chance of remembering it, remembering the vocabulary and remembering the pronunciation, at least the way I learn. So, to my mind, it’s a bit frustrating that there are no transcripts.


Also, Pimsleur is based on the idea that if there’s a spaced repetition it’s going to help you learn. In the short term, I’m not finding that to be the case. When they prompt me to say something, I’m not able to say it. Even something that’s been repeated now since the first lesson, I still can’t do it. I can’t respond that quickly. I believe that it just takes time for the brain to get used to a language. I don’t see the benefit in having this spaced repetition within this artificial and very boring uninteresting context.


It seems to me it would be better to get going with denser content, keeping it simple, where you are listening only to the target language. But you’re covering more and more material, so you are, in fact, achieving this spaced repetition because all of the most common words and phrases are going to come up very often in most contexts so that there’s no need. Spaced repetition is for studying vocabulary lists, so Pimsleur is almost like a vocabulary list. But if you have meaningful contexts, which Pimsleur doesn’t provide, meaningful and interesting context.


I mean this is the other thing about Romanian, you can read the newspaper very quickly because the difficult thing in Romanian is the day-to-day conversation. I downloaded some items into LingQ from newspapers. ‘The Director of the Bureau announced that there will be an investigation into the situation…’ All the words they use are words that we’re used to from English, so it’s not difficult, I think, to get into more advanced material in Romanian pretty quickly, once you figure out the ‘if’, ‘and’, ‘then’, ‘by’, ‘because’ and some of the phrase forms which are non-intuitive. But my repetitive listening to Pimsleur hasn’t made them any more intuitive, they’re still a bit of a black box for me. If I were able to read them in different contexts I think it would be more meaningful to me.


I don’t want to be too negative on Pimsleur here. I sound negative. I’m telling you exactly how I react. I react the way I react because of the way I like to study. I like to study from meaningful context. I like to read, as well as listen. I need them both, but Pimsleur doesn’t that. I’m not convinced that this artificial spaced repetition within that system is effective, but it is pleasing, it is easy. I’m sure that the large amount of English that’s in there is comforting to most learners who are not so keen to get totally thrown into the target language. If you’re in a hurry to learn the language, I don’t think Pimsleur is the way to go. As an icebreaker, I think it’s good. It’s easy.


This is the part that I have trouble measuring. (I will also do a review of the Teach Yourself book.) Reading the Teach Yourself book before I did Pimsleur, which I did, and then having done a bunch of Pimsleur listening, when I go to read in the Teach Yourself again it’s more alive to me now because I’ve heard it in action. Now, is that because I was hearing it? Is it because of Pimsleur? If I had had the CD that goes with Teach Yourself, would I have had the same pickup through listening when I go back to reading? I don’t know.


A lot of these things are hard to gage. I know when I was doing Russian a lot of material that I listened to very, very repetitively, those phrases stayed with me for years. They would be the easiest phrases that I could call on, so there is an advantage in repetitive listening. However, I don’t understand why they don’t reinforce it with writing. As Manfred Spitzer said in his book, the brain requires repetition, but the brain also requires novelty, interest and there’s relatively little novelty in Pimsleur. I think you could describe the plot line in about four lines in the whole 10 lessons of Pimsleur.


So, there you have it. I’m sure I’ll get criticized for being too harsh and I’m sure that there are lots of people whose learning style makes Pimsleur ideal for them. For me, I think it has been beneficial. There’s hardly anything you do in language learning that isn’t beneficial, the question is would I buy more Pimsleur CDs to progress further in the language? The answer is no. Would I buy a Pimsleur CD if I were going to say start a language like Hungarian? Maybe; in fact, probably that’s what I would do. I would buy one Pimsleur to break the ice. I say that now without having heard the audio for the Teach Yourself, but I have ordered it and so the experiment with Pimsleur and other systems continues.


Thank you for listening, bye for now.


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4 comments on “Pimsleur Review, Learning Romanian from Scratch

Name *Demian Martell

I tend to agree with you on this evaluation of Pimsleur. It may very well be because I have a learning style similar to yours, which involves massive exposure to reading and listening to new, and interesting content. Pimsleur is clear and well-produced, and I can see that it would be a good, non-threatening first exposure to a language, especially for those who aren’t really used to language learning in general as something they regularly pursue. For the small amount of actual language content Pimsleur, even with several volumes in a course, it is quite expensive. For the same financial investment you could acquire a lot of good materials from a range of sources. If someone has the money and the inclination, and is new to language study, I’d say “be my guest” and have at it. In a world with so many easily accessible and often free resources out there, I just think that Pimsleur is a steep investment for the return.

Name *Frank

First 10 lessons of Pimsleur are a bad test, because they are deliberately making it easy so people feel happy about their progress. Also, those initial lessons focus on getting basic pronunciation down correct, rather than building vocabulary. Finally, Romanian will be an easy language for someone who speaks any other Romance language.

A better test is a language like Russian, where you do the full 90 lessons. For most people, who are beginners to Russian, Pimsleur Russian will kick their ass somewhere starting around lesson 15, and continue kicking it from then on with occasional easy days where you don’t feel mentally exhausted afterwards. Most people will need to repeat lessons occasionally for Pimsleur Russian after lesson 15 or so, and the last thing they will want is more vocabulary, since they will already be feeling overwhelmed. Without the happy feeling from lessons 1-10, many people would give up. And remember, for most people, Russian basic pronunciation, which is what lessons 1-10 focus on, is more difficult than Romanian pronunciation. Здравствуйте is in lesson 1 of Pimsleur Russian, if I’m not mistaken, and yes, they go over and over repeating that word and forcing the learner to repeat it too, as they should, IMO.

I really cannot recommend anyone bother with Pimsleur of they are only going to do 10 lessons, and I don’t recommend it other than for beginners who don’t know a closely related language (any Romance language in the case of Romanian). The right way to use Pimsleur is for beginners to go through a full 90 lessons in three months (new lesson each evening repeated next morning), to get a foundation of correct pronunciation and basic vocabulary in the language, then switch to building passive listening/reading skills for several hundred hours (several years if an hour per day), and finally switch back to making passive skills active.

I don’t think Pimsleur needs a transcript, but they should show a list of new words for each lesson, including their declined/conjugated variations. Then again, not all languages are have phonetic writing systems and even when the writing system is phonetic, it might not help to have the written version. Most Russian beginners are not going to be helped by seeing either Здравствуйте or Zdravstvuite, for example, especially not in lesson 1.

Name *Richard Tessier

I agree with your review of Pimsleur, namely that it’s too basic, has too little vocab, etc. but at the same time that it’s a good, if too basic, intro to what the language sounds like. Just a hint about one the the difficulties you encountered, amely that you don’t feel you’re able to repeat what you’ve heard when Pimsleur says that’s what you have to. What I’ve found (not with Pimsleur but with any other sources of material) is that if at first you just try to repeat silently, in your head, then after a while (at most a few days), somehow it becomes easy to repeat aloud later. Plus, one added benefit (at least that seems to work for me) is that it helps improving both the accent and the delivery when you start speaking (this might be like those sentences which you said are still with you years later because you’ve heard them so often). Plus isn’t this just the way we learn our first language as children (listening without making a sound for roughtly two years before we venture saying our first word?)

Name *James Brown

I think your experience with Pimsleur may be jaded a bit by your advanced knowledge as a linguist. For one thing the full level one of Pimsleur Romanian is actually 30 lessons of 30 minutes each. You must have purchased some sort of starter pack. The full course does come with reading material guided during the lessons. I used Pimsleur Spanish along with other resources to help propel me from beginner to solid intermediate. The Spanish courses are provided in 5 levels each with 16 hours of material. As you progress through the levels, less and less English is used until all instructions are in Spanish. I used all five and would recommend them highly except for the expense. I now use LingQ as my primary source for continued learning but I credit Pimsleur with having been a great help along the way.

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