Pimsleur Japanese Review

Back when I first started learning Japanese, I stumbled upon the Pimsleur language learning materials. I’ll always be grateful for the solid foundation I received from them, and that’s why today I’m doing a Pimsleur Japanese review.

Originally when I took the course, there were only 3 levels with 30 lessons per level, for a total of 90 lessons. However, nowadays there are a total of 5 Japanese levels and 150 lessons.

That means that there is new information in the overall course, but the format and language learning philosophies have remained constant.

I recently signed up to their website for a free trial to see how they are utilizing today’s technology to deliver their content, so you will see screenshots of it throughout this post.

Language Learning Philosophy

The Japanese course is built around the language learning philosophies of the late Dr. Paul Pimsleur. This is also where the name “Pimsleur” comes from.

I’ve bolded several of these philosophies that are explained in the handbooks that you can download off their website, and also embedded within the structure of each lesson.

The first one is conversations with native speakers. All of the courses are audio-based and center around a conversation between two people entirely in Japanese.

The lesson then takes time to break down each word and grammar point, along with any pertinent cultural information so that you can understand exactly what was said.

By the end of each lesson, you should be able to fully comprehend the native conversation.

This brings us to the next point: respond aloud when the tutor instructs you to.

As you go through each lesson, the tutor will ask you to answer questions like “how do you say ‘understand’ in Japanese?” and you are expected to actively participate by trying to say the correct word out loud.

Thankfully you don’t need to get everything right, as the quest for perfection is actually detrimental when you are in the beginner or intermediate stages of learning a language. Instead, your goal is to keep moving forward as long as you can understand 80% or more of the material.

If you can’t, then all you need to do is repeat the lesson a second time. This can be on the same day, or the following day as long as you do one lesson per day and get continual exposure to the new language.

This is a pretty easy thing to do since each lesson is approximately 30 minutes long which is based on the optimal time for concentrated learning tasks.

Since these are intended to be self-instructional materials, you can do them whenever you have some time alone such as at home after work, at the gym exercising, or in the car driving.

Finally, don’t take notes! The reason is to keep your mind engaged in the present conversation and on recalling the information from a speaking-perspective.

It also helps avoid bad pronunciation, since you won’t be relying on the English alphabet in your notes for speaking the Japanese language.

Dr. Pimsleur’s Unique Methods

Dr. Pimsleur invented his own unique method for teaching and learning a new language. It is aptly called “The Pimsleur Method” and has some unique elements to it that set it apart from other learning methodologies.

The first one is the “Principle of Anticipation.” This is based on the fact that our brains are pattern-seeking and pattern-recognizing mechanisms.

If I were to ask you to fill in the blanks, I’m sure you would have no problem:

“The apple doesn’t ____ far from the ____.”

In this case, you probably guessed “fall” for the first blank and “tree” for the second, both of which are correct.

The reason why most English natives find this exercise easy is because we’ve heard that saying so often, we don’t need to hear all of it to know what comes next.

This is actually how language works on a much grander scheme. If you know the right patterns, then you can correctly anticipate which word should come next.

The Pimsleur courses are designed in a unique way to stimulate this part of your brain while learning, so that the questions they ask you during the lesson allow you to naturally anticipate which word should be used.

Having used it myself, I can say that it’s super cool and a little bit scary how well it works.

The second element of The Pimsleur Method is a scientific principle of memory training that he called “Graduated Interval Recall.”

Most people know this as “Space Repetition System (SRS)” but the basic explanation of it is that your brain naturally forgets information that it doesn’t re-encounter soon enough.

However, if it does run into the new information again before it forgets, then it actually prolongs the memory time frame for an even greater length.

That means that you can strategically review old information at the optimal time so that you never forget it with minimal time spent.

Information In The Course

The course primarily focuses on teaching people conversational Japanese. The very first lesson assumes that you are brand new to the language, so it slowly introduces each aspect of the language such as the unique grammar, word order, etc.

If you log into the web-based portal or use it through the smartphone app, then you can actually see the written Japanese on things like flash cards and vocabulary sections.

This is nice as it allows you to practice a little bit of reading as well, but the main skills that are used in the course are listening and speaking.

The topics for the lessons are actually pretty varied across all 5 levels and some of the more common situations that you might find yourself in are ones like:

  • Visiting Japan on vacation
  • Business conversations
  • Talking about hobbies
  • Asking about someone’s family members
  • Ordering drinks and food

And a lot more beyond just those. In addition to the different topics, the course also talks about levels of formality a lot and the different words, or different forms of words, that are appropriate during each situation.

My Personal Thoughts

I think this course is actually a fantastic way to begin learning Japanese. Perhaps I’m biased because it’s what I used, but I feel that their method of teaching you conversational language is incredible for motivation since it allows you to actually talk to natives right away.

That being said, most people will probably want to use it consistently for a month or two before actually holding a 15-minute conversation. The reason I say this is because it takes a little while to build up a big enough vocabulary to have a nice talk.

Since this course doesn’t rely on learning how to read Japanese, it’s not really the best option for people whose goal is to be able to read Japanese novels or manga.

But if you are planning on traveling to Japan within the next 1-5 months, then this course could be a nice fit since it’s just one 30-minute lesson per day for 150 days (assuming you have all 5 levels).

I also found their teaching method to be pretty intuitive and I didn’t feel like I had to strain myself to remember the words.

Instead, it all felt pretty natural when recalling the Japanese phrases needed to have a natural conversation.

Where To Try It

So that’s the basic explanation of Pimsleur Japanese, along with my personal experience and opinion on it.

There are a lot of ways that you can get a hold of this course, but in order to get access to their most updated materials and technologies, I think going directly to their website it the best option.

See Pimsleur Japanese Here

If you’ve tried them out in the past and would like to add your own thoughts to this post, then please feel free to do so by leaving a comment in the section down below.

Or if you had a specific question about anything that I talked about, I’d be happy to address those as well. Thanks!

15 thoughts on “Pimsleur Japanese Review”

  1. These are some great tips. I’ve been looking into Japanese from time to time as a brief hobby, but I’ve never considered some of these methods.

    Some of them you do subconsciously, like you recognise the -masu ending for example and then I guess you start to pay attention to the ending of words. Yet, it’s nice to see methods incorporating these approaches in an active manner.

    Do you have, like, one major tip or way of looking at things that helped you the most when trying to learn?

    I might look into this further actually…

    • Yeah, you actually touched upon it yourself for the tip that I would give. The key word being “subconsciously” that is.

      You see, the human mind is a pattern seeking, and pattern recognizing mechanism, which is perfect when it comes to languages since they are nothing but an extremely large collection of repeating patterns.

      So my tip would be to constantly feed your mind Japanese in some form. This could be reading every day, listening to podcasts everyday, watching anime, and so on and so forth.

      What will start to happen is that you will notice some of the patterns, and then some more, and eventually you’ll know enough to use them yourself in a very natural way. 

      In addition to spending a lot of time with the language like this, I also think it’s really helpful to study the language in an intensive way, which is exactly what books are courses are designed to do, including the Pimsleur courses. They really help you to notice the details when you’re engage with native level stuff. 

  2. It a really tempting course to buy since you explained it so well. I appreciate that you were balanced enough to know that not many people could afford but if they want to go that far then by all means. I do find the japanese language interesting and would like to learn it one day. Actually i find all forms of language and linguistics fascinating and im glad someone like you share that 🙂

    • Yeah, even though it’s certainly not a necessity to learn a foreign language for most people living in the USA (or other countries dominated by a single language) I think that most people would still like to be able to speak one.

      Usually it is a matter of finding the time, good content to learn from, and then staying with it until that end that most people struggle with.

  3. I never heard of learning any language really fast. I think it is not possible. You can learn alright but it takes time and study. But I am a man who listens to someone who has experience at something. Now what I do believe in is the proper training and you state it is a good technique and effective. Is this method available in other languages or just Japanese?

    • Hey Ronnie, it kind of depends on a few things. For example, if your native language is English then it’s pretty easy to pick up certain languages like Spanish, but harder to pick up others like Japanese.

      But if your native language is Korean, then Japanese actually becomes pretty easy. So you can drastically reduce the time it takes if the language you choose is structured similar to your native one.

      Also, it depends on how you approach the language. Anytime you can get more involved, it will accelerate your results. Talking with actual people in your target language will get you vastly greater results than just studying from a book.

      That’s one of the reasons why The Pimsleur Method is actually a really great way to learn how to speak from day one. Because you use the language, rather than just learn about it.

  4. Fascinating. I hadn’t come across this method before. Two of my children learned Japanese through school and could have really used this. Is the same method applied to European languages like French and Spanish? Thanks for introducing such a great method.

    • Hi Keith, yeah absolutely! The last time I checked out their main website, they had a little over 50 different languages that they taught using their unique Pimsleur Method.

      In fact, they probably have a huge amount of material for both Spanish and French if that’s what you’re aiming for. I was listening to a podcast the other day with the guy who starting the Duolingo app and he said that 50% of English speakers learning a second language are learning Spanish. Also, the next 25% of them are learning French.

      So it makes sense that there would be the most material for those two languages, since they are the top two that native English speakers decide to learn.

      Hope that helps!

  5. I was not aware of the Pimsleur method, and it sounds like a good idea for a beginner like me! Thank you so much for the great suggestion to buy the first ten lessons of the first level (instead of the expensive version) because I am thinking about it a lot. Clearly I do not want to spend a ton of money in order to learn to speak Japanese!
    Best wishes,

    • Hey Rebecca, yeah I totally get that. I also don’t like to spend a whole lot of money on learning material these days. The way I see it, it really comes down to the amount of value that you get out of something when you make a purchase.

      Hundreds of dollars to learn a few hundred words is not really the best way to go about it. But a couple bucks to get started and learn some critical things like pronunciation, basic grammar, and basic vocabulary is a wise decision.

      It’s really hard to just start out with a book. But if you start out actually speaking Japanese and learning how to listen to it, then using a book (or anything) later on becomes a lot more useful.

  6. Excellent review! I was reading that some people were not too stoked about the price, but honestly you get what you pay for these days. So making an investment in your education is not a bad thing.

    As for me, I would love to learn Japanese. I love the Asian culture and it’s one of my favorite places on earth. I have had a few missed opportunities to visit… but this next time I will make sure to visit Japan!

    This product seems like (to me) it is the best way to learn a language. When something is done “naturally”, or “organically”, the results are far superior to when the process is forced.

    This will be my go-to product when I being learning Japanese for sure! Thanks for the excellent review!

    • Hey Justin, it is my pleasure! I’ve tried out countless products, courses, and techniques to learn Japanese over the past few years, so I’m happy to share what I know (and my opinions) with others.

      I think that Pimsleur is by far one of the best ways to learn to speak Japanese, but obviously it’s not going to help with reading at all. That, and its high price, are the two things that really stop me from telling people that they “must get it!”

      Still, their beginner course is dirt cheap! That one I do think is a “must have” for anyone who is serious about learning Japanese. But again, that’s just my thoughts on it.

  7. I have never heard of Pimsleur courses before. I found your post quite interesting. It seems like a great program for learning Japanese based on the methods they use. Not too thrilled about the high price, but I will still look into it. I’m a homeschool mom of many, so it’s an investment that could be easily used for years to come in my home.

    Thanks for the thorough review, it was quite helpful!

    • Hey Michelle, that is awesome! I was home schooled myself all the way through high school! So yeah, I can totally appreciate looking for great materials to help your kids learn and get an excellent education.

      And yeah, if you buy one of their complete levels it’s around $150 (yikes!), but the first 10 lessons of the first level are on Amazon (new) for just a peanut. Something like $16 or so.

      And I’m glad you enjoyed the review! I’m not too surprised that you’ve never heard of Pimsleur. You don’t see them advertised all that often. But their methods of teaching are top notch!


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