The Pimsleur approach to foreign language acquisition was created in 1963 by Dr Paul Pimsleur, a New Yorker and son of a French immigrant. Pimsleur founded the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and much of his work had a profound influence on the way language is taught. Today, in collaboration with the publisher Simon & Schuster Inc, the Pimsleur approach is distributed all over the world, teaching over fifty different languages, ranging from French and Japanese to Urdu and Twi.
The main element of the Pimsleur approach – and perhaps the key to its success – is something called Spaced Repetition. This technique involves the language learner listening to a foreign phrase and being asked to repeat it. The learner must then memorize the phrase and say it out loud over and over again, with increasingly long intervals between repetitions, which will range from one minute to (eventually) several days and even weeks. Dr Pimsleur did not invent spaced repetition – this was done by Professer C.A. Mace in 1932 – but it remains a central part of the Pimsleur approach.
Undoubtedly the biggest positive of the Pimsleur method is that it does genuinely seem to work. Users have reported that fairly quickly they have found themselves able to understand the conversations between two language speakers which are provided at the beginning and end of every Pimsleur lesson. Perhaps this is because the interactive element of spaced repetition means you put pressure on yourself to correctly absorb the language to enable yourself to move forward to the next lesson. The provided lessons are all short but effective, so you won’t waste hours each day with superfluous content, and can instead focus on the essential elements of learning a language.
There have been some criticisms of the Pimsleur system, for instance many have found the lessons to be overly repetitive, and it seems that whilst the approach is definitely effective, there are other systems out there which provide a quicker and snappier learning environment. The method has also been criticized for containing a large amount of English rather than the target language. Obviously, this is not necessarily a negative point as some people might prefer to learn this way, even if it might seem counterproductive to some. In addition to this, most of the course involves listening and speaking rather than reading and writing, though again whether this is a problem or not will be a personal choice.
There can be no doubt that the Pimsleur approach works, but due to the methods used, it may not be the ideal way for everyone to learn a language. However, if it is suited to you, you can be sure that you will get a solid grip of your chosen language in a fairly quick amount of time.