Rosetta Stone vs. Pimsleur

Kate Kerns by Kate Kerns
To compare Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, let’s start with a look at each of them.

Rosetta Stone

is a computer program for learning a new language. The Rosetta Stone program is broken down into lessons, where each lesson is made up of several questions or tasks. A typical question would show four pictures and describe the pictures. In early lessons, the description or prompt might be one or two words. Later, the description would include full sentences.

The Rosetta Stone student’s task is to select the image that corresponds to what you just heard. A lesson contains questions that are grouped by theme, for example, colors or sizes. At the end of the lesson you will see how many questions you got right and whether you advance to the next level. Click here for more details on Rosetta Stone.

Pimsleur Language Programs

So now let’s look at the Pimsleur approach

Pimsleur language learning programs follow a more traditional audio format. Pimsleur offers CD’s alone or CD’s with accompanying text. Pimsleur language learning method is based on you listening and speaking the language. Lessons are designed to take 30 minutes and it is recommended that you do them at a time when your mind is alert and you won’t be interrupted. I did the sample lesson on the Pimsleur website and I liked the way it broke down words when asking you to pronounce them. If you are like me and struggle with pronouncing a new word, you will like the step-by-step pronunciation coaching that Pimsleur offers. On the other hand, some users may find this gradual approach a bit ho-hum, perhaps even boring.

Pimsleur promises that you will recall the words you learn in their foreign language learning programs better than other programs based on the Graduated Interval Recall built into their program.

From the Pimsleur website, this concept is explained as follows:
The term, “Graduated Interval Recall” is a complex name for a very simple theory about memory. No aspect of learning a foreign language is more important than memory, yet before Dr. Pimsleur, no one had explored more effective ways for building language memory.

In his research, Dr. Pimsleur discovered how long students remembered new information and at what intervals they needed to be reminded of it. If reminded too soon or too late, they failed to retain the information. This discovery enabled him to create a schedule of exactly when and how the information should be reintroduced.

Suppose you have learned a new word. You tell yourself to remember it. However, after five minutes you’re unable to recall it. If you’d been reminded of it after five seconds, you probably would have remembered it for maybe a minute, at which time you would have needed another reminder. Each time you are reminded, you remember the word longer than you did the time before. The intervals between reminders become longer and longer, until you eventually remember the word without being reminded at all. This program is carefully designed to remind you of new information at the exact intervals where maximum retention takes place. Each time your memory begins to fade, you will be asked to recall the word.

Pimsleur very nicely offers its language programs in all kinds of sizes, from an Introductory, one-CD offering, to their ‘comprehensive’ package. This allows customers to try out the system and see if it is for them without spending a lot of money. The different Pimsleur language programs are described at: I think the variety of Pimsleur’s offerings are more customer-friendly than Rosetta Stone’s one-size-fits-all (or doesn’t) approach where the company offers the customer nothing for less than $100.

If you are interested in buying Pimsleur language CD’s, I would buy them at a bricks-and-morter bookstore or buy Pimsleur on Amazon or buy from the official Pimsleur website. At one time there were some Pimsleur resellers that had less-than-great track records in terms of satisfied customers.

Hear What Other Language Students Have Said About Rosetta Stone versus Pimsleur

So the blog post you have just read was once part of another blog that disappeared for reasons too time-consuming to explain here. But, while originally posted, I received MANY comments from readers about their experiences with Pimsleur and/or Rosetta Stone. So I have put each comment in its own quote box to help others with their decisions.

I’ve used both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur Spanish.

Pimsluer made me much more confident as far as being able to hold a conversation and understand what the other person was saying.

Rosetta stone was good for learning sentence structure. I gave up on Rosetta Stone fairly quick.

One thing I loved about learning Spanish is the fact that it’s so easy to read. With other languages, such as French, I imagine Rosetta Stone would be the best choice

December 14, 2012 – dwiz123 said:
I tried Rosetta Stone for Japanese, but it tries to teach the written language along with the spoken, and it's very hard with asian languages. I did Pimsleur for a year, which helped a bit because it only focused on speaking, but without visuals, I didn't retain as much. Now I'm using Mango Languages which I can get free from my public library, and I feel like I'm learning and remembering way more. I want to start using Busuu soon to get more practice.

Derek said:

I used Pimsleur Spanish I, II, III, and IV, on my drives to work and those 30 minute lessons were perfect and as I can reply to the dialogues on the CDs, I cannot comprehend hispanic radio (songs, commercials, talk radio) or TV because they are too fast. There is a Pimsleur dealer offering trade or buy/sell back.

I would never have time to sit in front of a PC that Rosetta Stone would have you do and the rosetta license I hear is not transferable and too expensive. Pimsleur could improve by providing transcripts and I found some using torrent downloads all those might be bootleg, the French I that I just started could use a beginners guide with all the silent rules. Some times you just can’t tell the difference between puh and buh. I can say that in every Pimsleur lesson I’ve heard (120 spanish lessons), there is content that should be slowed down and content that doesn’t need slowing down. Pimsleur also could improve by having its last lesson of a series (#30, #60, #90, #120) by reviewing the content in the series. I just signed up for the free trial of NoWorkSpanish and we’ll see if that improves my listening ear. Another source for Spanish, French, and Itailian is Sorry to give free advertising but it is something I subscribed to in the past.

I like Pimsleur better. It actually breaks down the words and phrases so you can say them right. It also teaches what the words mean. Rosetta just teaches some words then phrases with words that you never learned in them. The voice recgintion doesn’t tell how to say the word/phrase correctly if you get it wrong. Plus Rosetta is more expensive and is just like a little kid’s game, you have to match the pictures to the words.

Kurtqunitana said:

Both are very very good products, quite equal, but speaking will not be up to speed with listening because all you really do is listen. I prefer pimsluer personally.. I am fluent in Spanish, my mom was from mexico..When you are done listening, immediately after you are done, flip on a spanish t.v. program, listen for words/phrases you just heard and watch their lips at the same time and interact, a friend of mine taught himself that way with pimsluer and the t.v. set just pull the shades first, we thought my buddy was a was nut when we caught him off guard one day yelling at the t.v. in Spanish. Good luck with your new language. I trying doing German but I’m having a time.

Jim said:

I went thru all 3 levels of Pimsleur. I tried so many others and this was the one that worked the best. My whole family tried Rosetta and ended up borowwing my Pimsleur. I commute 30 minutes one way to work and it is the perfect time to learn. You will be speaking fluent spaninsh in no time with Pimsleur if you have a commute. I go extended periods without being able to converse in spanish, but this program builds it into your memory

“An Honest Opinion”

I can give feedback on both. Truthfully, I can’t finish a Rosetta Stone lesson without falling asleep. Don’t use the voice recognition, it’s more of a novelty and does not function well. When you get into the upper units the reviews of what you already know are one after another, drove me crazy because I was wanting to learn more new stuff. No direct translation and sometimes you’re just not sure why you are picking an answer wether it’s right or wrong. Highly over priced but a great advertisement campaign. In the end, when I was around a foreign speaker I could not understand but just some words here and there. Most people will not make it past level 1 before they succomb to frustration and give up.

Pimsleur has been far more valuable. One 30-minute lesson a day. Do it anywhere because time is important. The narriator will even tell you what not to wear to a dinner party in Shanghai if your doing Mandarin. Explains why certain intonnations or accents might be used to express emotion. Let’s face it, expression and feelings can not be learned from photographs. Simple things like “sure, with pleasure” or “I saw them yesterday, they looked great and said to say hi”. But the Pimsleur guy explains it with great detail. I’ve now been to Ukraine 7 times for several months at a time. I found myself using the stuff learned in pimsleur way more and even forgot many things from Rosetta Stone. I don’t know about you but I don’t like to waste time or money. Pimsleur is the best.


I completed all three discs of Rosetta Stone Portuguese. I’m at a place where I can understand a lot more than I can speak. I’m reviewing all the time, going back over what i learned, but when I chat with Portuguese speaking people online via chatrooms, I struggle. I don’t know if I could have done better with other courses, but I’m determined to learn the language. Level three in Rosetta Stone is still a long ways from fluency, but that fact was not made clear to me when I bought it. I can speak on a basic, functional level. If I were in Brazil, I could ask for directions, order food in a restaurant, and so forth, but i really couldn’t carry on a decent conversation, at least to a level where I feel I’m speaking the language.

Pete said:

Having worked for Rosetta Stone (2000- 2005 which gave my access to ALL their programs) and having used Pimsleur in the military, imho the best resource I ever found for learning a new language was . Not only do they have decent lesson plans, but you review and are reviewed by native speakers!!! I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed learning and RETAINED my new found language.

November 14, 2012, Susan said:
My son used Pimsleur Spanish (I think he went through two levels) and it worked very well for him. He had a great start going into South America for a 4-month trip. He took a few lessons when he got there, too, and of course immersion in the culture makes it much easier (and necessary) to converse in Spanish. He would choose Pimsleur again.

October 13 2010
I have worked extensively with both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur in studying Russian. I have nearly completed the Rosetta Stone program and am currently on Pimleur Russian level II lesson 23.

I prefer Pimsleur over Rosetta. I think you learn to listen to the spoken word with much more focus and to speak the language in more complete thoughts and sentences. Also, being able to "study" using my ipod while driving is something I can only do with Pimsleur. With Rosetta, I find myself struggling to stay awake at the computer. Pimleur is more difficult, but I think you learn much more.

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