Pimsleur Italian Review: Audio Lessons that Work

Key Takeaways

Dive into the comprehensive review of Pimsleur Italian, an audio-focused language course with a strong academic background. Discover if it’s the right choice for beginners, its unique spaced repetition method, and whether it’s worth the investment for learning Italian.

  • Quality: Pimsleur Italian offers meticulously designed lessons that effectively prompt learners to speak, although the additional app features may not provide significant value.
  • Value: While Pimsleur Italian can be effective with disciplined use, the cost may be prohibitive for some users, and it does not include much reading or writing practice.
  • Methodology: The program employs principles like graduated interval recall, core vocabulary, anticipation, and organic learning to enhance memory and language acquisition.
  • Program Structure: The course consists of daily 30-minute audio sessions designed for gradual, consistent learning, focusing primarily on real-life conversational skills and pronunciation.
  • Use Cases: Ideal for beginners and those looking to improve speaking and listening skills, Pimsleur Italian is convenient for use during other activities, though advanced learners might find it less useful.

Remember, learning Italian is a journey, so choose the path that best suits your style, pace, and goals. Buona fortuna!🚀

Quick facts

Why is Pimsleur Italian ideal for beginners?

Pimsleur's audio-based method and structured repetition help beginners focus on listening and speaking, making it accessible and effective for new learners.

How does Pimsleur incorporate spaced repetition in its lessons?

Pimsleur uses graduated interval recall, where words are revisited at increasing intervals, enhancing long-term memory retention.

What makes Pimsleur's pronunciation training unique?

Pimsleur emphasizes pronunciation early, using techniques like back chaining, where words are broken down syllable by syllable, aiding in mastering tricky pronunciations.

Why might some learners find Pimsleur's content boring?

The repetitive nature of the lessons, designed for thorough reinforcement, can be tedious for learners who prefer more variety and faster-paced content.

What is a significant drawback of Pimsleur's vocabulary focus?

Pimsleur introduces a limited vocabulary focused on formal contexts, which may not align with the practical, informal language needs of many learners.

How does the Pimsleur method compare to traditional language learning?

Unlike traditional methods that often emphasize reading and writing, Pimsleur prioritizes speaking and listening, aligning more closely with natural language acquisition.

What are the limitations of Pimsleur in terms of reading and writing practice?

Pimsleur primarily focuses on oral skills, offering minimal reading practice and no writing exercises, necessitating additional resources for comprehensive language proficiency.

How does Pimsleur maintain learner engagement during lessons?

By prompting active participation through questions and requiring spoken responses, Pimsleur keeps learners engaged and actively involved in the learning process.

Why is Pimsleur's pricing considered a disadvantage?

Despite its effectiveness, Pimsleur's high cost makes it less accessible, especially when compared to free or cheaper language learning alternatives available today.

How does Pimsleur's content address cultural context?

Pimsleur integrates cultural context and real-life scenarios into lessons, helping learners understand and use language in relevant, everyday situations.

My Thoughts

Italian language audio course review Pimsleur

A safe choice for beginners




It works, but slowly

The audio lessons are very well designed, but the extra training in the app doesn’t add much value.

If taken with discipline, Pimsleur Italian works because it focuses on oral language and prompts you to speak.

I only wish they made it cheaper!




  • You’re constantly being prompted to speak
  • The single lessons and the course as a whole are meticulously designed
  • You can take it while doing something else


  • Many casual learners find this kind of repetition boring
  • It teaches overly polite language
  • The practice activities included in the premium plan don’t add much value
  • Expensive

What is Pimsleur Italian?

Pimsleur Italian is one of the longest standing and most popular audio courses for learning Italian. As most audio courses, the user is first presented with a phrase in Italian along with its translation and, then, has to repeat it after the audio.

Its language program is organized by levels and made up of 30-minute sessions, designed to be worked through once a day. Its method is a well-researched and organized approach to language learning that uses techniques based on actual linguistic and psychological research.

Pimsleur uses a wide range of call-and-response approaches to learning a language and focuses on speaking, listening, and a good deal of pronunciation.

L'audio corso aiuta gli studenti a sentire e parlare fluentemente.

Pimsleur Italian Approach

Paul Pimsleur

The Pimsleur program was developed in the 1960s by the linguist Paul Pimsleur (1927–1976).

He was a professor at UCLA and later at Ohio State University, where he developed the Pimsleur Language Learning System. He had a background in both linguistics and psychology and did plenty of research in the area of language acquisition, studying how both adults and children learn languages.

The core philosophy behind Pimsleur’s method involves several key principles:

  1. Graduated interval recall: Pimsleur discovered that reminding learners of new words at gradually increasing intervals helps solidify the memory. This technique is a form of spaced repetition, which is now a widely recognized learning strategy in many fields.
  2. The Principle of anticipation: This involves challenging learners to recall a concept before providing them with the correct answer. This process mimics natural conversation and helps reinforce learning.
  3. Core vocabulary: The method focuses on teaching a core vocabulary that is most useful and frequently used in practical conversations, rather than overwhelming the learner with extensive vocabulary that may not be immediately useful.
  4. Organic learning: It emphasizes that words are more effectively learned in real-life contexts and conversational settings rather than in isolation, and that retention is enhanced when vocabulary is contextualized in actual scenarios.

The Pimsleur Program

The Pimsleur language learning program is the second most popular language-learning product in the world following Rosetta Stone.

Its key principles are embedded in an audio-focused learning format that emphasizes listening and speaking skills, together with pronunciation. The format is organized such that the learner is exposed to words and sentences, which have to be strategically repeated.

Pimsleur’s programs are designed to be completed once per day. Moreover, if you fail to correctly answer at least 80% of the questions, then you are supposed to repeat the lesson.

Throughout the program, you take part in conversations, so that you are prepared to realistic – or almost – real-life situations. Every unit presents phrases in Italian first, and then in your mother tongue for you to translate into that language.

Pimsleur’s audio material is a good resource to learn Italian in your car.

The audios present words and phrases together with their translation, either in isolation or in context. For instance, you might be told “Imagine you are at a restaurant in central Budapest”. Since phrases are introduced in the context of a conversation, you can recall them quickly.

The system is almost entirely audio-based. There may be some reading material for particular units, but even those are to be read while listening to the audio that gives instructions on how to proceed.

The vast majority of what is said will not be written down in any form, forcing you to get used to the spoken language and not be able to read it at any time.

Each lesson starts with a review of the previous lesson’s material, which will be showed in future lessons within different contexts. As a linguist, I found progression very useful, because it makes sure that you are exposed to a broad range of topics throughout the course.

Also, there’s a bit of cultural information specific to the language you’re studying, which, for me, is essential. In fact, I strongly believe that language should never be studied without cultural references as language and culture influence each other.

For instance, there are several references to famous locations: the question “Where’s the hotel?”, is not simply answered with “It’s by the river”, but rather with “It’s near the Huangpu River”, for Chinese.

Focusing on Audio to Learn Languages

So, as I mentioned before, the presenter gets you to imagine scenarios:

“Imagine an American man meeting an Irish woman in an area where Irish is spoken. He wants to begin a conversation…”

I didn’t realize this at first, but this kind of mental imagery can be very stimulating. If you are a visual-spatial learner like me, you will see that this approach is way more powerful than reading texts on a page.

Another interesting aspect of Pimsleur Italian is the way words are pronounced: once the word is said out loud, the native speakers spell it one syllable at a time, allowing you to picture and focus on each sound.

Thanks to this, you will constantly associate sounds with mental images which will help you remember what you hear. However, in order for this to happen, you have to make sure you focus on what you are listening to.

A further reason why it is important to focus on audio to learn Italian is that you will be prompted to actually produce language, which is precisely what you need language for daily: production.

For beginners and lower-intermediates, I agree that instruction should be focused on communication skills and not so much on grammar, and Pimsleur makes sure this occurs.

Something I noticed is that in any individual lesson, not only is there an English-speaking narrator, but also native-speakers of both genders. I liked this aspect because it exposes you to different speakers’ voices and ways of speaking.

And, for me, this is the best way you can learn Italian. As a matter of facts, languages are first spoken, and only later are they written. Humans invented writing systems as a way of representing spoken sounds on paper – and not the other way around.

La ripetizione è essenziale per il metodo Pimsleur.

Why the Pimsleur Method Works?

As I mentioned before, there are four main pillars of the Pimsleur’s method:

  • Graduated Interval Recall
  • Core Vocabulary
  • Principle of Anticipation
  • Organic Learning

Spaced Repetition

Dr. Pimsleur did a lot of research on human memory and concluded that if you are shown the same new word at gradually increasing intervals, you are more likely to remember it after each time you see it.

So instead of being introduced to new words and phrases once or twice, you are exposed to them multiple times over weeks or months. And this is the reason why he named it the spaced repetition system.

The Pimsleur’s program was pioneer in incorporating a spaced repetition approach: Dr. Pimsleur didn’t discover it, but he was one of the first to apply it to the field of language acquisition.

Therefore, anytime you’re given a new word or phrase in Pimsleur Italian, be aware that you will see it again multiple times!

Let me show you how easy spaced repetition is: first, you listen to an Italian word or phrase and, then, you are asked to repeat it out loud. Next, you’re required to remember the phrase and say the words out loud at timed intervals. The intervals are short at the beginning and gradually increase, from seconds, to minutes, then days, and weeks.

If you are wondering why this method works, let me explain it easily: if you come across a new word that you’ve never seen before, it is very likely that you will forget it.

However, one hour later you see it again. Now, that word is familiar to you but you can’t remember it until you are shown the answer. The next day, you see that word. This time it’s very familiar but you still can’t remember it until its meaning is shown.

Three days later you’re shown the word again and, finally, you recognize it and remember it.

The Pimsleur Method adheres to a fairly rigid timeline, starting with high-frequency recall (in seconds and minutes) and gradually moving up to days, weeks and months.

However, be aware that Paul Pimsleur knew how important participation is in the process of language learning, therefore this method is not limited to memorization.

The audio course does not play a word only to get you to remember it, but it requires you to say something or to respond to a native speaker, keeping you active in the language learning process.

Core vocabulary

Core vocabulary is the idea that there are Italian words that are more important to learn than others, and that you should spend more time and effort on the important ones than the others.

The importance of a word is determined based on how common it is in the language you’re learning. The goal of this approach is to focus on quality rather than quantity, giving your mind less material in order for you to easily master it.

Once you get a hold of the core vocabulary, then you can move on to other parts of the language.

If you work through the program as recommended (once a day), you will gradually move through the most essential words and phrases in your target language.

Principle of Anticipation

When you hear someone saying something, your brain instinctively processes the information and then comes up with a response, almost without thinking about it.

The principle of anticipation says that this process of hearing and anticipating helps us understand and speak in a foreign language, especially when we’re given feedback on whether our answer is right or wrong.

Imagine you are learning Italian and I teach you the phrase questo è un cane (this is a dog). According to the principle of anticipation, you would better remember and understand it if I asked you “what is this?” while showing you a dog and then giving you the correct answer.

Therefore, this method is against the traditional language classes where someone tells you “this is a dog” only, because that would not stimulate you in understanding.

In fact, Dr. Pimsleur’s theory behind this method is that learners remember and understand the phrase if they have to hear a question, recall the answer on their own, say it out loud, and then receive feedback.

Organic Learning

The core idea of organic learning is that words are better learned when immerged in a real-life context rather than in isolation. This is also why I advise you to learn Italian vocabulary in context.

Instead of learning long lists of words, I recommend you learn them in the context of a conversation: you can talk with your friend about his new pet if you’re focusing on vocabulary about animals, or about your favorite movie if you want to learn vocabulary in that field.

Each lesson is built around a conversation between two people. However, each conversation is introduced by a detailed description of where the speakers are and what they’re doing, so that you are exposed to a partial context already.

The course invites you to picture yourself in the speakers’ situation, which can range from talking to a stranger on a bus, to making plans with a friend over the phone.

L'audio corso di Pimsleur italiano è ottimo mentre guidi.

What to Expect from a Pimsleur Italian Audio Course

review pimsleur italian

The Pimsleur Italian courses are divided into consecutive levels: each level is made up of 30 units and each unit is 30 minutes long, therefore so each level is essentially 15 hours long.

The number of levels varies from language to language. The most popular ones have 4 or 5 levels. Examples of these are Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese Mandarin… Some minority languages such as Ojibwe, Irish, and Haitian Creole, only have one.

So, if you complete them at their recommended pace without skipping any days, you’ll be able to complete the entire program within five months.

As explained so far, Pimsleur’s programs are built around conversations, which are almost always organized into questions and answers. In each unit, there is an English narrator and two or more native speakers.

Each lesson begins with the narrator setting the scene for the conversation. The narrator then describes the location and the details of what is taking place, and then asks you to picture yourself in it.

After that, you hear the full conversation in your target language twice. Then, the conversation is broken down into parts, from phrases to words, and even down to the syllables of the words.

The narrator tells you what words means, then the native speaker says those specific words or phrases again, followed by a period of silence in which you are requested to repeat what has been said.

As you work through the lessons and levels, the narrator uses less and less English: it starts asking questions in English and you are required to respond in the target language, but it ends up asking questions in your target language and without any translation.

Sometimes, the narrator points out something about grammar or pronunciation, but the majority of each lesson is centered on the conversation.

The Pimsleur’s App

I only use MP3 files, but many casual learners find apps more entertaining. The app has the same learning content as the desktop version, but it misses features that pair well with the software’s repeat-aloud philosophy, like voice recording and a speech recognition tool to help you improve your pronunciation.

I was impressed with how well-designed the app is: it is smooth, easy to use, it has lots of beautiful pictures, and the premium version includes a few extra features.

So far, everything I’ve talked about in this review is available in the basic version for $14.95 per month, but you can get the premium one for an extra $5.

Tips to use Pimsleur Italian

Be Disciplined

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How to Learn Languages Fast

The best way to use Pimsleur Italian is the way it itself recommends: listening to a single 30-minute lesson a day, each day. Remember that the lessons are designed to introduce you to a language gradually but consistently over time.

Favor consistency over quantity: don not try to rush through lessons by listening to 4 or 5 lessons a day. This will overload your process and slow down the learning path.

Also, if you miss a day, don’t let the missed day turn into a missed week.

Be Patient

There are a lot of reviews out there of people who tried a level 1 package for a few weeks and then complain they didn’t learn much in their target language.

To see significant results with Pimsleur Italian, you have to work through at least a couple of levels of a language. As most things: trust the process.

All foreign languages take time and consistent practice to learn, regardless of the method you use to learn them.

Make it fun

If you just sit in a chair and work through Pimsleur Italian, you might get bored. When I listen to language classes, I do it while walking, cleaning the house, or commuting.

italian pimsleur app review

Also, if you associate the practice of learning the language to something you do daily, it is more likely that you will be consistent in studying.

It’s always great if you can figure out how to do two useful things at the same time, like learning a foreign language and exercising.

Pimsleur Italian: Pros and Cons


  • Native-spoken pronunciations: Crucial aspect, especially if you want to learn a language that is phonetically very far from your native language. In a reading-focused course, this is not provided.
  • Focus on natural language production: Although they might seem a little fake sometimes, Pimsleur provides contexts and creates a mini-story each time.
  • Non-technical explanations: The course makes sure that, by the end of the lesson, you have understood all components of the conversation you were provided. This way, you get the basic gist of some grammatical concepts, as well as the vocabulary itself.
  • Active participation: The short time you have to respond pressures you to think and speak quickly in your target language, which prevents you from getting distracted. You feel genuinely disappointed if you don’t answer correctly, and this encourages you to try harder later.
  • Use of context and imagery: You are taught words in the context of a conversation immerged in a well-described scene, so that you can get a vivid picture of what’s happening.
  • Use of context for grammar: In standard textbooks or classes, you’re taught a grammar rule and then you’re given a list of unrelated example sentences. Pimsleur contextualized those sentences and ties them together through a story or event.
  • Emphasis on pronunciation: In my experience, being able to pronounce words correctly makes it easier to hear and understand them in speech. Pimsleur’s early focus on correct pronunciation helps you improve both production and reception, aspects that don’t often appear in other language courses.
  • Convenience: Pimsleur Italian is designed so that you can practice at your pace thanks to the fact that each lesson is 30 minutes long, allowing you to find random gaps of time throughout the day to practice.


  • Price: I believe Pimsleur is a fantastic product, but it is too expensive and unaffordable by ordinary people. It does provide different options for customers, but in an era of free courses, online dictionaries, and YouTube teachers, its high price tag doesn’t make sense.
  • Lack of reading: Reading is overlooked and writing isn’t covered at all. Pimsleur only focuses on speaking and listening. I do agree that these are the most important levels of a language, but all fields must be analyzed to learn a language.
  • Irrelevant context: Most of the words you learn are not that useful in real life. The original courses were designed for traveling businessman, but now I think it should be updated to meet the modern needs of a language learner.
  • Limited vocabulary: An issue I have experienced is that I can’t skip irrelevant vocabulary. This type of audio product takes away some of that freedom as you must go through it in the right sequence.
  • Overly polite language: The image of the traveling businessman affects the vocabulary and scenarios, where you are almost exclusively put in situations where you are talking to strangers in a very polite and formal way. However, you have to be able to switch registers in your foreign language.
  • Exaggerated marketing claims: Pimsleur advertises that you can learn a new language to an intermediate level in 30 days. This is a marketing lie. Like most language learning resources, it exaggerates about the speed with which you can learn a language.

More Information about the Pimsleur Italian Audio Course

How to buy the Pimsleur Italian Audio Course

The best place to buy Pimsleur Italian is on Pimsleur’s Official Website. Two versions are available: premium (app, more expensive) and audio-only (MP3s, cheaper). Whichever you choose, use the code SAVENOW at checkout to save up to 25%.

There’s also a discount on the monthly package compared with the 5-lesson one, and there’s even a 5-month package with a bigger discount. Since this method works in the long term, it makes sense to go at least for the monthly package right away.

More Pimsleur reviews

I’ve personally used Pimsleur as a language learner. Thus, my review is based on my personal experience. However, there are also other reviews around, and I occasionally drew upon them. Check them out:

Think in Italian vs. Pimsleur

Pimsleur’s method is scientifically proved and tested to work thanks to its focus on audio over text. Its slow but steady pace of learning makes it ideal for total beginners.

For a faster learning pace and more real-life materials, Think in Italian‘s library of audio lessons and readings is an excellent alternative to Pimsleur.

best way to learn italian

If you want to learn a broader range of useful vocabulary at a faster pace, I recommend the audio course Ripeti con me! for self-study. It is based on the same principle of spaced repetition, but it has a different structure: it’s more interesting and challenging.

However, if you’re a total beginner, you might want to start with Pimsleur for a couple of months and then switch to Ripeti con me.

Is Pimsleur Right for you?

Whenever I start learning a new language, I start with Pimsleur. I especially like the fact that the lessons are build upon each other and reinforce previously learned material, and that I am constantly prompted to speak.

Pimsleur courses are good for beginners to upper-intermediate students. You might want to consider them if you’re looking to improve your speaking, listening, or pronunciation skills.

If you already have a high level of the language, then the courses become a lot less useful and probably aren’t worth the money. However, you might still make use of them to improve your pronunciation and to practice listening skills in general.

Pimsleur is a great way to practice a language while doing something else like walking, waiting, or driving (be careful, though!). If you have a busy schedule or mobile lifestyle, these programs could be a godsend.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions


What is Pimsleur good for?

Pimsleur courses are good for beginners to upper-intermediate students. You’ll want to consider them if you’re looking to improve your speaking, listening, or pronunciation skills.

How long does it take to become fluent in Pimsleur?

If you follow the suggestion and have a lesson once a day, you'll finish the entire course in 5 months and become fluent enough for having a normal conversation.

Why people love pimsleur audio course?

Pimsleur audio courses are popular because they use a structured approach to language learning, focusing on conversational skills and repetition. Additionally, the courses use a spaced repetition system to reinforce learning and aid in long-term retention of language skills.

Italian word of the day
Non capivo più niente dal sonno.
I was so tired that I couldn’t think.
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2 Responses

  1. Hi, I’ve just completed Language Transfer’s Introduction to Italian. This uses a very similar system to Pimsleur (and Michael Thomas) but it’s completely free – though donations are requested. I didn’t learn a lot of very useful phrases but I do believe it’s enabled me to start to understand how Italian phrases are structured and some aspects of the grammar. I don’t think it’s a suitable course for casual learners (as they would probably find it a little boring due to the lack of everyday phrases) but if you want to start to learn a language in a natural way it’s a very good place to start as it too gets you actually thinking in Italian.

    1. I’ve used LT to learn other languages as a beginner. It gives the foundations of grammar in a more interactive way than a textbook. However, you need to put that knowledge into practice, ideally speaking with someone.
      Indeed, since it’s free, I don’t see why one would need to pay for Michael Thomas or similar courses. 😉

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