December 15, 2011 | Hebrew

Rosetta Stone Skepticism

I find a poor correlation between marketing dollars and learning efficacy.

Since I began this project in the summer of 2009, I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me whether I am using Rosetta Stone. Well done, Rosetta Stone! Everyone seems to have heard of you.

Rosetta Stone at Time Warner Center

Rosetta Stone at Time Warner Center

Far fewer people I encounter seem to have actually tried out the product, however.

As for me, I have benefited from many materials over the past two and a half years. Although I have logged a lot of Rosetta Stone hours, by far the most significant tool I have used has been Pimsleur.

Hardly anyone has heard of that. When I say the name “Pimsleur,” the response in most cases is, “Huh?”

I then spell the name, but I can see they aren’t processing it. I have to write it down before they register what I am saying. That name—which is, by the way, the surname of the originator of the Pimsleur method—is a marketing challenge in itself. 

Rosetta Stone has done a monster marketing job. In New York alone, it is all over the place: I’ve seen Rosetta Stone kiosks at airports, malls, Grand Central, and more. I see a lot of salespeople giving demos, though I don’t think I have ever intersected with someone who was actually making a purchase.

The Originator of the Pimsleur Learning Method

The Originator of the Pimsleur Learning Method

Despite Rosetta Stone’s fame, I find the program merely mediocre as a way to advance my actual practical, usable language skills.

Out of 5 points, I would give Rosetta Stone only a 2.5.

I would give Pimsleur a 5.

So I have decided not to use Rosetta Stone for Hebrew, or for future languages. I feel as though I tend to turn to it when I am being lazy. Pimsleur is fun, but it can be hard work. Rosetta Stone requires less brainpower. But when you use less brainpower for something, you have crappier results. (Compulsively multitasking people should keep that in mind.)

With Pimsleur, I feel as though each little piece of knowledge is carefully selected to advance your skills in whatever language you are studying. With Rosetta Stone, I feel that many elements are repetitious and only marginally useful.

What Rosetta Stone gives me is familiarity and handholding. With its inviting, colorful screens, it seems friendly, and it helps a language seem less strange, which can be especially helpful for languages with different writing systems. I found it kind of comforting for Japanese, for example. Also for Hindi, though I was often confused navigating their writing lessons for that language.

However, I would never consider using Rosetta Stone for a popular European language such as Spanish, German, French, or Italian. For major European languages there is Pimsleur, as well as tons of grammar books one can buy, and other comprehensive programs with which I am unfamiliar (in at least one case, because they didn’t respond to my request for a review copy).

Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone are, as far as I know, the only really comprehensive learning programs with offerings across many languages from different language families. I would guess there are not all that many people in the world who have spent as many hours on Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone in multiple languages as I have at this point. I think my impressions are pretty sound.

Rosetta Stone at Grand Central

Rosetta Stone at Grand Central

Here are some of the many ways I find Pimsleur superior to Rosetta Stone:

1. Conversational skills. Pimsleur dances. It prompts, cajoles, teases, prods you into saying stuff. It is witty. It keeps you constantly on your toes, getting you to think how to use parts of one sentence you’ve learned in combination with parts of another sentence. It translates into legitimate conversational skills. Over and over I have been able to use what I have learned from Pimsleur in conversation in real life. And to build on what I have learned through Pimsleur with grammar books and other materials. That is my preferred method: Pimsleur plus grammar books plus real-life practice.

2. Accent. If you have a good ear for language, Pimsleur can help you develop an exquisitely good accent. You get to repeat words, phrases, and sentences, listening between each repetition to careful, correct pronunciations. You are on your own in terms of comparing what you say with what the Pimsleur native speakers say, so if you are language-deaf, you will face challenges.

Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, often relies on a language-recognition software that—while a nice idea—I found very far from perfect. You are asked to say things, and Rosetta Stone tells you whether you did it right. Although you can alter the setting of the voice-recognition software to make it fussier or less fussy (something that took me months to realize, by the way), there were many times I would end up screaming at my laptop because the software wouldn’t accept something I said that was really, really close to what it was supposed to sound like. And many times where it weirdly accepted sentences I said that sounded nothing like the correct answer.

Rosetta Stone Shopping Bag

Rosetta Stone Shopping Bag

3. Confidence. By the time I get past around lesson 45 of Pimsleur for a given language, I start to feel really happy—confident that I am getting somewhere. And I can say some really useful things. And people ooh and ah about how far I’ve gotten. After a similar amount of Rosetta Stone time, I remain pretty much useless. No oohing. No ahing.

4. Retention. I remember better the languages for which I did a lot of Pimsleur. A profound understanding of how language-learning memory works informs every detail of the Pimsleur training. You return to words, phrases, etc., at intervals that are calibrated to maximize retention benefits. My Rosetta Stone skills were always tenuous and rarely lingered long in my brain, unless they overlapped conveniently with something Pimsleur or a grammar book had been teaching me. 

5. Customization. Pimsleur seems more customized to language variations—tailored based on the idiosyncrasies of the individual languages. Rosetta Stone has a massive amount of computer programming that is deployed across languages in a way that strikes me as inflexible and sometimes inappropriate. For example, certain concepts seem to get the same amount of time in different languages, even when they are supremely easy in one language and supremely difficult in another. 

6. Variety. I felt as if I kept doing the same things over and over again in Rosetta Stone. It was kind of boring, and often felt mindless and not very useful.

7. Simplicity. In Rosetta Stone I found it difficult to understand where I was and where I was going and why I was seeing the same damned picture with the same damned vocabulary that I had already seen five gazillion times. This is largely a consequence of repetition across the grammar, writing, reading, and other units. They just don’t always seem all that different from one another.

In addition, the software takes over your language-learning life in a way that I find unpleasant and perplexing. For example, it decides for you that you need to repeat certain lessons if your score is too low the first time, and then forces them on you unexpectedly again in the future. The problem: it usually wasn’t clear to me when this was happening. Often it just seemed as though Rosetta Stone was incorrectly taking me back to an earlier stage in my language-learning travels. Not knowing where I was, or why I was where I was, made me feel less confident that the software itself knew where it was.

8. Explanations. There is no English whatsoever in Rosetta Stone, and sometimes a simple little explanation would have made my life a whole lot easier. Pimsleur doesn’t stop a lot for explanations, but it inserts them appropriately, and until you get to a certain level, many prompts are in English, which I find helpful.

Rosetta Stone Has Pretty Pictures

Rosetta Stone Has Pretty Pictures

8. What’s the opposite of unwieldiness? Rosetta Stone is a sprawling package with many elements. It was too much for me. I never even got to a number of TOTALe elements, including the online language lessons with an actual native speaker. I just really didn’t want to take a language lesson via computer with other people. That would have required scheduling, and planning, and being on a computer instead of on the streets of New York City. And, by the way, I also found the Rosetta Stone setup to be a pain in the butt. Not horrible, but there are discs to install, and it was nowhere near as easy as downloading an MP3 file and pressing Play, which is what I get to do with Pimsleur.

9. Price. Hmm, I was going to say how much more expensive Rosetta Stone is, but it appears they have slashed their prices dramatically since I last looked, from $999ish to less than half that. Self-help language learning is definitely getting cheaper! Since I began this project in 2009, Pimsleur prices have dropped a lot, too. You can now get 90 Pimsleur lessons for $335. So the pricing between the two offerings does not appear to be radically different, but the benefit per dollar is in my opinion way higher with Pimsleur.

10. Portability. Rosetta Stone really ties you to the computer. The company has clearly tried to get more mobile, but fundamentally, its meat-and-potatoes elements are computer-based and require constant clicking. I hate that. Pimsleur is primarily audio and travels everywhere around the city with me. I hope Pimsleur doesn’t succumb to the pressure of a video-game universe where everything needs graphics. I don’t need graphics. I don’t want graphics. I want to close my eyes and be one with a language.

11. Humor. Pimsleur is often sly and funny. Rosetta Stone has games (which I confess I never tried; I hate that kind of thing), but the main content is dead serious.

12. Consistent difficulty. Sometimes I found Rosetta Stone too easy, and sometimes it was way, way too hard. In multiple languages, certain modules were phenomenally difficult. Normally I would get between 95% and 100% in most modules, but then in their writing modules and in review units called Milestones I would get scores like 25%. It was extremely irritating.

Me with Rosetta Stone, 2010

Me with Rosetta Stone, 2010

The program simply didn’t prepare you for those modules. The Milestones were poorly constructed. In them you would follow a series of photos illustrating a narrative (one involved people riding a bus, for example) and have to guess at what the people depicted were saying. The voice recognition software would tell you if you succeeded. However, it just wasn’t possible to anticipate and say what would come out of their mouths quickly enough or correctly enough. I can’t anticipate what people are going to say in English, much less Hindi or Japanese!

I would be very interested to see data on how other users performed on those units. They can’t have done well relative to the other lessons. For me this kind of unnevenness was a massive flaw that really damaged my confidence in the product. It suggested a lack of attention to language-learning efficacy and an inability to respond quickly to and change problem areas in the program, perhaps because it had been set up across a gazillion languages already in precisely that way.

A caveat: Pimsleur is difficult, and I would not recommend it for the linguistically faint of heart, but it is reliable and consistent in its pacing.

One of Rosetta Stone’s great virtues is that it shows up to the party, and in a pretty party dress, while Pimsleur sometimes doesn’t show up at all.

What I mean is that for less popular languages, Pimsleur sometimes has minimal offerings. For Polish, for example, Rosetta Stone offers a full three levels of their language-learning approach, while Pimsleur has available only 30 half-hour Polish lessons—just their first level. For other, more popular languages, Pimsleur offers 90 to 100 lessons (three to four levels).

My key problem in my Polish studies was that there were not enough Pimsleur lessons to get me to my desired skill level. I tried replacing it with more Rosetta Stone work, but it just didn’t help at anywhere close to the same rate that Pimsleur would have. I suspect that those 30 Pimsleur lessons got me more conversational skills than triple the Rosetta Stone time did.

Me Working Hard on Pimsleur

Me Working Hard on Pimsleur

And that is why I am spending so much time on Pimsleur now. I hate to bash a language-learning product such as Rosetta Stone, because I think the idea that a company would have a focus such as theirs is amazing and exciting. I mean, how much better a corporate mission is that than making millions of Americans fat on cheeseburgers?

But I think it is time that more people took a hard look at whether Rosetta Stone really works the way it should, or whether its sexy public image has more to do with pretty packaging and ubiquitousness than hard-core skills. People feel excited when they buy something like Rosetta Stone. It is the cool girl at the prom. Pimsleur is more of a wallflower, kind of nerdy and unfashionable, but with substance and depth.

The people at Rosetta Stone have been very nice to me during this project, and I am grateful for that, but after many, many, many hours, and much careful thought, this is where I stand on these two language-learning giants.

Comments (54)

Stephan • Posted on Tue, December 20, 2011 - 12:14 pm EST

Having used both products for Spanish I have to agree with you, Ellen. Rosetta Stone was complicated to use, even for a regular computer user and geek like me :-/  Pimsleur has no distractions such as images and MCQ; I can happily sit and stare out the window and focus on the spoken language.

I’m currently using the Mandarin Pimsleur and I used the French to get a feel for the language before a recent holiday to Lyon.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, December 20, 2011 - 3:05 pm EST

First a question, Stephan: is MCQ multiple-choice questions?

It is interesting to hear the impressions of a computer-friendly person. I could have said a lot more about the technological aspects and attendant complexity of Rosetta Stone. I am somewhere between low-tech and high-tech (yep, just confirmed with my husband that I qualify as medium-tech), and in my early experiences with Rosetta Stone I was often confused about how it worked. My analysis above is grounded primarily in my more recent Rosetta Stone experiences, by which point I knew my way around a bit better and was spending less time cursing the computer screen…but it took a while to reach that greater level of comfort.

Jeff Altman • Posted on Tue, December 20, 2011 - 5:21 pm EST

Great post. I agree with you Pimsleur has been great for me. I have bought the CD disc and love that. It sounds like you like the other option better. I really liked your posts and hope many people read it. Thank you again and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, December 20, 2011 - 6:18 pm EST

Thank you, Jeff!

I like the MP3s because they offer instant gratification in the form of instant downloads. (And New York City is kind of all about instant gratification!)

The MP3s are also cheaper. I am looking at the website right now ( and see that the pricing for 100 German lessons is $375 in MP3 format and $795 in CD format.

HOWEVER, I also see that they are having a sale through December 24 giving customers 40% off CDs plus free shipping, which comes out to $477 for 100 lessons. Still, a noticeable difference between pricing for the two technologies…

I think Pimsleur makes a FABULOUS holiday gift, particularly for people who are on the verge of, say, taking a vacation abroad or starting a new job overseas.

Note: I am NOT, I repeat NOT, working on commission here. ;) I am merely an enthusiast, and pretty sure that there are a lot of people out there who would prefer Pimsleur to a toaster or blender.

Michael • Posted on Tue, December 20, 2011 - 7:16 pm EST

Hmm, about “variety” and repetition. I am trying to use Pimsleur, and I find it hard to keep on doing it, because it keeps repeating the same “Hi, sir, you/I understand a bit Italian blah blah, where is blah blah, I am American blah blah”, over and over. It irritates me.
Have you any experience with Fluenz?
I tried the intro demo and I remember the things it taught me better than any other “lesson” I took. Even though I found the “instructor” to be talking too slowly.
Im also using Berlitz Premium, which has a variety of tools that are really nice for building a vocabulary and spelling, since you can hear, read and write, hover your mouse over the words to get explanations, etc.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, December 21, 2011 - 12:06 am EST

Michael, thank you for your post. I guess everyone has different preferences!

The repetition only occasionally irritates me in Pimsleur, as I usually feel I need it in order to remember things. You always get new stuff in every lesson…and in harder languages, it is usually more than I can remember without redoing the lesson anyway. Maybe you retain things faster?

I am not familiar with either Fluenz or Berlitz Premium, but will take a look! Thanks!

Charles • Posted on Wed, December 21, 2011 - 3:52 am EST

Interesting to read your opinions of RS.  I like Pimsleur a lot too.  My local library (here in Seattle) carries most of the titles and so I borrow them to work on my languages.  A lot cheaper than buying them—although, I guess I should if I want the company to stay in business.

The only other programs that I would recommend are the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) language courses that were developed for the State Department back in the 60s. They’re in the public domain and there is a website that provides all the files (audio and text) for free.  There are also some Defense Language Institute (DLI—that impressive language school at Monterey) available on the web as well, also public domain.  And, for a popular course that’s a little pricey but less than either Pimsleur or RS you should check out Assimil. Its French.  They have a few courses available in English but many, many more available in French. There are a lot of people who really like them (I among them) and they’re reviewed on YouTube by a polyglot (Alexander Arguelles) who, I believe, is featured in the new book on polyglots coming out in January, Babel No More. The Assimil courses are built around 100 or so short, often humorous, dialogues. If you look at the French packaging they promise that one course will take you to B2.  The American packages don’t say that, but that might because the A1-C2 system is not used here. Well, I’ve been long-winded.  Just want to say hi and thanks for keeping the blog going. I really enjoy reading about your language adventures.

Ron • Posted on Wed, December 21, 2011 - 5:26 pm EST

Wow, Ellen, well done! I’ve never used RS nor do I intend to. You may be interested in seeing what one of your colleagues, Benny Lewis of wrote about the program- .

I am currently learning Portuguese. I speak Spanish as a second language, so that’s a big help. I’ve completed all 90 Pimsleur lessons and am also studying with a public domain course Defense Language Institute- DLI- your taxpayer’s dollars at work. The basic course is free and legally downloadable in pdf format and primarily in the target language. There is a ton of mp3 audio and drills basic courses/Portuguese/ There is little to no militray specific dialog in the Portuguese course.

Many people on the How To Learn Any Language forum recommend Assimil. It is very affordable, under $100, and will get you to an intermediate level. Their offerings using a French base are quite extensive but their offerings using an English base are more limited.

I’m looking forward to following your adventures in the New Year and, someday, I’d love to read any book you may write. You write very well, indeed.

Katherine • Posted on Thu, December 22, 2011 - 12:06 pm EST

Thank you for this post!! As a compulsive language studier I get asked the same question all the time and get the same response regarding Pimsleur (I once ordered a Pimsleur at a bar instead of a Pilsner, that’s how much I love Pimsleur.)  I agree with everything you said 100%!!

Jordan • Posted on Thu, December 22, 2011 - 10:49 pm EST

Excellent post Ellen. A very good analysis of Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. I also have use them both and find Pimsleur to be the best audio program available. I also have tried others from various libraries, but none top Pimsleur.
  Not to say that Pimsleur is perfect however. They need to finish many languages to the full 90 lessons. (10+ years for Cantonese II?) Some of the dialog is questionable in the later units. (Mandarin III- flower smelling, tennis, bowling? Get back to basics). Some lessons have too few new words, and the conversations beginning a unit could be far more useful.  And they can all seem very robotic. Every language is exactly the same. All in all though, its still the best.
  Regarding the cost: check out They sell both new and used editions. All new comprehensive courses are 159.95/ea. Buy all three levels together for 469.95. In addition, they will buy back your new courses and give you 100.00 toward the purchase of any other comprehensive course.
They sell used courses also. Comprehensive courses are 109.95.

DAtsa • Posted on Mon, January 02, 2012 - 5:52 pm EST

Thanks for putting up such a wonderful blog. I admit that I’ve always been a wee bit jealous of people who are “naturally” good at learning languages, especially those who grew up in bilingual households so they have the proper accent.  As a hopeful polyglot of the future, I have struggled with learning foreign languages with relatively little success. I tried French in high school, then Japanese, and now I am working on Latin American Spanish. Of the three, I have had the most success with Spanish; living in an area with many Spanish-speakers and being close to the U.S.-Mexico border helps.  The main problem I am having right now is how to not translate between my native English and Spanish; I wish I could just speak and THINK in Spanish like a native speaker. Any ideas?

DAtsa • Posted on Mon, January 02, 2012 - 5:53 pm EST

Oh, I forgot to say.  I was considering getting Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish, but based on your experiences, I think I will get Pimsleur Spanish series instead.  Which program should I get (there seem to be so many of them from which to choose) and where is the best place to get them?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, January 05, 2012 - 8:17 pm EST

Thank you, all, for the many helpful posts above. DAtsa, you ask a good question about how not to translate…and unfortunately, I don’t know the answer.

What I can do is tell you my impressions of how I operate—and I say “impressions” because I think certain kinds of self-assessment are difficult. But anyway, this is my impression of what goes on in my head: once I get some language basics in there, I guess I would describe my mental activities as kind of rodent-like, like a mouse in a maze trying to get to cheese at the end. I don’t generally feel as though I am translating when I try to speak; rather, I often start with a concept in my head, an impulse that I want to express, and I am poised for a moment in a kind of language-free state where English doesn’t interfere (not much anyway). From there I go straight to the language (Spanish, or Hebrew, or whatever I am working on) and just start trying to express it.

I don’t actually try to do this; it is just what I feel happens in my head.

Also, sometimes the outcome is good, sometimes not. For example, when I try to express concepts early on in the language-learning process, I hit dead ends all the time, and therefore have to try alternate routes to express those ideas. Often I fail entirely and realize I am just not yet ready for a particular sentence (which motivates me and reminds me of what I need to learn). Alternatively, I might get through the subject of the sentence but then realize I don’t know the verb I want in the target language, and so, like a mouse in a maze, I go a different direction and feel my way towards a different verb that might work instead.

An alternate route to an at least similar idea, in other words.

With some sentences I hit multiple dead ends and have to reroute multiple times. If I don’t know how to say “tall” but I do know how to say “short,” I might say “not short.” That kind of thing.

So, “I noticed a tall man on the beach” could, depending on my vocabulary limitations, become “I saw a not-short man by the ocean.”

This process makes for some pretty funny-sounding sentences, but feels like an important part of the language-acquisition process for me: like learning to make my way through a forest by wandering along a bunch of unfamiliar paths, getting lost a bunch of times, then finally coming to know the best routes.

Having said all that, though, I absolutely love translation exercises, where I am given the English and am asked to translate into the target language. It is one of my favorite language-learning activities. I think translation is a great, great way to refine grammar skills and vocabulary.

In the end, I am not very knowledgeable about different theories of language-learning, or how different people learn best. I pick my approaches mostly by instinct, and based on what seems to work for me and what gives me pleasure (since if I were not enjoying this, I would never keep doing it). I do think a key to all this stuff is figuring out one’s own unique strengths and limitations—and then figuring out how to take advantage of the strengths while outmaneuvering those limitations.

In answer to your Pimsleur question, I don’t know of more than one key option for Spanish via Pimsleur. They have MP3s and CDs, so you would just pick what you want of those two formats, and then decide how many lessons you want.

I see that they actually have a full 120 lessons of Spanish, which I did not realize before. If you are highly motivated, you could go for all 120 at once and get a volume discount. If you are not sure you will make your way through 60 hours of audio lessons (each of these is half an hour), you could get one level at a time (30 lessons each) and pay a bit more per level.

Since I am starting to sound like a salesperson here, I would just like to repeat that I am not being paid by Pimsleur, though perhaps I should note that as of this writing there is now a link off their home page to this blog entry!

Datsa • Posted on Mon, January 09, 2012 - 10:02 pm EST

Thanks, Ellen.  I will take your advice on Pimsleur. Based on your reply, it appears that you bought your programs from the website, rather than a third party website.  I’ll check that site out. 

What do you recommend for grammar books? I am using Dos Mundos, which is from a college course in Spanish.  Do you recommend the Practice Makes Perfect series?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, January 10, 2012 - 12:02 pm EST

I get review copies for Pimsleur, as was also true for Rosetta Stone, so I didn’t have to buy them. But yes, I was looking at Pimsleur’s own website.

I really like the Practice Makes Perfect series for multiple languages. One reason is the ratio of exercises to explanation: very high. I believe they include “vosotros” forms in at least some of the books for Spanish, though, and I found that distracting, since I never learned those verb forms and am not going to incorporate them into my speech at this point.

While looking online just now, I noticed McGraw-Hill is releasing at least two Practice Makes Perfect books for Arabic this year. That is an exciting development; I could really have benefited from those for Arabic, and I wish there were something from this series for Hebrew (there isn’t). In fact, I still haven’t found a grammar book I love for Hebrew…which is slowing me down!

Katherine • Posted on Tue, January 10, 2012 - 12:13 pm EST

That is great news about the Practice Makes Perfect books for Arabic!!  The ‘Al-Kitaab’ series are definitely the worst I have ever seen for any language, but there is not that much out there for Arabic. This is long over due! Thanks for the heads up!!!

Eric • Posted on Mon, January 16, 2012 - 12:54 pm EST

I have to completely concur. I’ve never had a personal bias for or against any company’s products, but Pimsleur has just done the trick for me in ways that Rosetta Stone never has. Everyone learns differently, and for me the best way to start a new language quickly has always been with Pimsleur. Since doing the 100 lessons for German several years ago, I have not only been complimented on my ability with the language but also my accent. Of course I followed up my Pimsleur experience with many other resources, but only with Pimsleur have I ever been able to get so far so quickly with such fantastic success.

I wish there were 500 lessons for every language offered! :-)

Will Fuqua • Posted on Fri, February 03, 2012 - 3:47 am EST

I completely agree with everything you just said in the article.  Rosetta Stone has way too much hype behind it but doesn’t carry through with the expectations.  Pimsleur is a much better method to learn verbal languages skills.  Also why would someone play the price for Rosetta Stone when is much cheaper, a better product, and has a social media aspect to it to meet native speaker to practice with?  For me, I use Pimsleur for verbal practice, a textbook for grammar, and LiveMocha for gernal practice as well as to pratice with those who speak it natively.  Oh, and if anyone is interested, there’s a great audio series for Spanish called Learning Spanish Like Crazy.  It’s right up there with Pimsleur in my opinion, but focuses on more informal Spanish than what’s in Pimsleur’s course.

Kendi • Posted on Fri, March 23, 2012 - 11:01 am EST

Right now, I’m working through Le Breton sans peine and L’Espagnol sans peine from Assimil. The Breton has a bunch of country folk who hang around the cafe/tobacco shop. The Spanish has amusing conversations and lots to say about tapas, the food culture, etc. When I did Using French while living in France, not only did the language make more sense; the people did too.With Rosetta Stone, it seems like you get a similar batch of pictures, regardless of the language, and they’re all rooted in giving a little vocabulary and illustrating structures. There’s no connection between the language and the culture of the people who speak it. It’s not just that hello and how are you are missing. It’s that the language seems to exist as a way of pointing to things over there, not communicating with another human being.I’ve never gotten far enough with Rosetta Stone to know the full content, and maybe there’s something there I’ve missed. But for the money, I think there are a lot of better ways to go. You can get the Teach Yourself and the Routledge Colloquial   with audio!  plus a dictionary, a grammar book and one or two music CDs for the language you’re studying and still have money left for a nice dinner, compared to Rosetta Stone. (And, if you’re lucky, you can find a discounted Assimil on Amazon to go with it.)You can add me to the list of people who aren’t impressed with Rosetta Stone.

Sarah • Posted on Sun, April 08, 2012 - 1:37 am EST

My experience has been so backwards: I tried Pimsleur for Hebrew, which was a terrible experience for me. (Somewhere past “How are you?” conversations I couldn’t keep up.) It was a complete turn-off.

Rosetta Stone I could keep up and had more retention, but as pointed out, it doesn’t teach useful language first and it can be incredibly picky about pronunciation no matter how similar you get. Live Mocha wasn’t that awesome either.

I’m going to Ecuador this summer, so hopefully I’ll pick Spanish up anyway, but I’m getting Pimsleur instead of Rosetta Stone, because I need something portable that can be played through an MP3 player. I’m hoping my experience with Pimsleur in the past was simply because it wasn’t Phases 1-4 - it was the conversational introduction.

Mostly I feel like no language programs other than immersion live up to their hype - no one I know has lived in a country where almost no one speaks their native language for more than a year or two and not pick up some major conversational skills in the new language. Maybe I’ll be surprised with the ‘Unlimited’ Pimsleur program - if so, I have a few other languages I want to learn.

Phil • Posted on Wed, April 11, 2012 - 10:40 am EST

I wholeheartedly agree about Rosetta Stone, and I’m very happy to see a review like yours. Rosetta could be drastically improved by looking to Pimsleur for inspiration, however in some respects the same could be said for Pimsleur.

Pimsleur often prioritises quite strangely - “I speak a little bit of French” was repeated ad nauseam - at least twenty times a half-hour lesson - and “How are you?” came up thrice or so in the first four hours. Pimsleur is also starting to show its age in some respects, often assuming the speaker is male and American. It’s a tad jarring being corrected because I gave the wrong ‘correct answer’ to the question “Est-ce que vous ĂȘtes amĂ©ricain?”

The lack of text is in some respects a huge barrier preventing widespread appeal of Pimsleur - like it or not the bulk of the foreign languages the average English speaker will run into overseas will be written, not spoken. In parts of Europe it’s quite difficult convincing folk to even switch out of English.

Lastly, Pimsleur lessons - thirty minutes each - are far too long to replay for review. And there are no other materials on which to practice your skills, really. Pimsleur, for all its advantages over RS, is still sorely lacking in a huge number of respects imho.

bob McCullough • Posted on Sat, April 21, 2012 - 10:03 pm EST

The Defense Language Institute URL has moved.

Neat Info.

Steph • Posted on Thu, April 26, 2012 - 11:34 pm EST

Hi I bought the RS TotalE mainly for my 8 year old, now 9. Her sister was adopted to France and they are Haitian. I want her to be able to speak to her when we visit one day. Can you comment at all about a child doing Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone? I am sort of learning by proxy. I know French somewhat but am very rusty. I am going to get her a once a week tutor to just supplement what we are doing in RS through play and conversation. But I would add Pimsleur to the mix too if you thought it was a good idea for a child. Lying around and listening to mp3’s though, is that going to work for a child? She likes the tech and graphics of RS. But then she also likes audiobooks too, so…. my daughter gets most of the right answers in the RS lessons but i notice when we take it outside of the program into real life, she has a lot of trouble…we were sitting outside a cafe and i asked her to just look around and tell me stuff about what was around us based on what she knew from Level one Unit one in RS….she had a very hard time coming up with stuff even though there was tons of stuff she knew the words for all around us.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, April 27, 2012 - 2:05 am EST

Steph, what an amazing story. Wow.

I’m afraid I have no expertise in teaching foreign languages to children, but Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur both seem like pretty adult products to me. I can’t really imagine a child doing the Pimsleur lessons. There is a Little Pim product (, but I am pretty sure that’s for children younger than your daughter. I found Rosetta Stone difficult to apply in real life, so I am not surprised to hear of your experience with it. Still, it seems a lot more kid-friendly to me (given the pictures and multimedia) than Pimsleur would be.

Did you consider classes at all? Is that an option? I loved the kids’ French class I went to here in New York City, and classes are how I learned Spanish as a child. I suppose I am partial to the presence of a supportive teacher for foreign-language training for children.

There may be other teach-yourself types of products that are good, but I just am not knowledgeable about them.

In any case, I am making a note about your question for the product review section I am putting together right now for this site. Maybe I could have a children’s section in there…

In the meantime, if any readers have suggestions for kids’ offerings, I would love to hear about them here!

Sam • Posted on Thu, July 19, 2012 - 2:14 pm EST

You wrote THE best report on the two language learning products. I have often spent time telling my friends the differences between the two. And this blog is SPOT ON.

I have personally done both for Chinese. After I explain to my friends that Chinese actually IS possible to speak, I always speak glowingly of Pimsluer. And for good reason, Pimsluer simply works better, faster, funner, deeper, more useful phrases, etc. Pimsluer is also easier to learn (for me, it’s almost as if the language is being downloaded straight into my mind).

Pimsluer is the only course I have done that makes me feel confident to speak to Chinese locals. Pimsluer makes communication come effortlessly. While Rosetta Stone only teaches the language, Pimsluer teaches how to USE it.

I enjoyed reading every bit of your blog, I’m actually going to email the URL to some of my friends. Thank you for putting it up.

Patrick • Posted on Wed, August 15, 2012 - 12:13 am EST

I completed level three of Rosetta Stone Portuguese, then I went on to complete three levels of Pimsleur Portuguese.  I still fill
the need to go back to level two and three of each, and do a complete review, which will take me about four months. 

Each, by themselves, has a weakness. Together, one’s strength is the other’s weakness, so they compliment each other, as a whole, together, they make a complete course. By themselves, each are lacking in something:  Rosetta teaches you to read it better, but it
gives you a broader vocabulary, and teaches grammar better.  Pimsleur teaches to you speak it better, it really gets you talking. It also teaches yuo grammar, not by rules ,  but by repetiton so often that you start to feel when it “sounds right”, like you do in you native language, which I like.  I will say this, I’m really glad I did Rosetta first, and the vocabulary Rosetta taught me covered a lot more territory than Pimsleur, which was focused on the working professional person. Pimsleur was so much easier to do as the result of having finished Rosetta.

That being said, I’m far from speaking fluently. If fluency is a house, these two course are the slab, the foundation. If I were
planted in Brazil, I could function, get around, ask directions, order stuff in restaurants, and make small talk, that’s about it.  Now, my next step is more interaction with Portuguese speaking people,  and I am doing chat rooms with Brazilians, it’s a lot of fun. And, vocabulary building.  Pimsleur doesn’t get too much in into the subjunctive , conditional, and future tenses, so i need to work on that. I wouldn’t get bogged down in
grammer to much, Brazilians are very forgiving, and it you utter somethoing ungrammatical, they will know what you are trying to say. Still, you do want to learn it correctly. 

No matter how one slices it, especially for an older fellow like me where the brain was not as sponge-like as it was when I was a kid,  it’s a heavy lift.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, August 15, 2012 - 8:04 pm EST

Patrick, I am interested/glad to hear from someone who completed three whole levels of Rosetta Stone. I just couldn’t do it. (Tried with more than one language.) I know multiple people who make their way through all the levels of Pimsleur, but people I have encountered who use Rosetta Stone don’t seem to get that far with it. I am impressed by your dedication.

By coincidence, I am currently redoing the second and third levels of Portuguese Pimsleur, because I didn’t find they stuck well enough the first time around.

Talita • Posted on Mon, September 10, 2012 - 3:46 am EST

It’s called Pimsleur not Pimsleur Approach.  Pimsleur Approach are only a rleesler of the courses and their learn a language in 10 days ads are kind of absurd.  I’ve never seen Pimsleur actually claim that.  Sure after 10 days (10 lessons) you’ll be talking and understanding some, but to say that you’ll have learned a language altogether is laughable. I usually recommend Pimsleur to beginner students. If you want a method that focuses on conversational skills, Pimsleur is the reference imo. It’s a real confidence builder, which is essential for new students. You will learn to train your ear to understand natives (an essential part of early learning often overlooked by other methods), develop very good pronunciation and acquire the core structures and grammar of your new language (exactly what RS fails to do.) It’s also almost half the price of RS (check Amazon or even iTunes Store.)  Regarding Rosetta, most people have no idea what they are actually buying. Yes, Rosetta has an amazing marketing machine yet most people know little about the product. Rosetta doesn’t teach you the language. It teaches vocabulary. There’s a big distinction. Rosetta is certainly not the method I would recommend to a beginner that hopes to SPEAK the language (I assume that’s your goal?). Rosetta Stone uses a flashcard method and like all other flashcard methods, it helps expand your vocabulary base but it will not teach you the core of the language or conversational skills. Knowing many words doesn’t mean you can speak the language.  Once you are finished with Pimsleur, that’s when a vocabulary builder method such as Rosetta (there are cheaper alternatives though like BYKI, Babble, etc.) has its place. Daily conversation in the language after completing Pimsleur is really ideal. Good luck.  I hope this helps.

Michelle • Posted on Mon, September 10, 2012 - 5:45 pm EST

Our daughter attended a national free language program called or .org and it offers children a chance to learn their home language and culture in a deeper way. Check online to see if and when they offer a program in your area. It’s for children ages 7-24 years old.

Brewster Morgan • Posted on Fri, October 19, 2012 - 5:55 pm EST

Pimsler is the best because it is not easy, it challeges your brain. For all of the hard work to get through the lessons, the pay off is, you will know how to speak as native speakers do… Believe me, im 56 years old, if i can do it, you can.. Aloha…

Claudia • Posted on Mon, October 22, 2012 - 12:49 pm EST

I just found this site because I became curious about the Pimsleur Method ad which I see frequently. That led to downloading a 1/2 hour sample French lesson from the Pimsleur site.

I think learning the Pimsleur audio way is useful, but find I need to be able to see the text as well as hear the words and phrases. Seems to me like Pimsleur could create a hybrid of the two methods for those of us who don’t mind being tied to the computer, i.e. don’t change the lessons but display the text on screen when a word or phrase is first introduced.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, October 22, 2012 - 2:15 pm EST

Claudia, I absolutely need visual reinforcement! I generally get that from non-Pimsleur sources, such as grammar books. However, Pimsleur does have a new product with visual, interactive elements; it is called Pimsleur Unlimited and is available for French, Spanish, German, and Italian. I can’t comment on the quality of this new offering; I have barely looked at it, because I am addicted to their audio programs.

j. • Posted on Wed, November 14, 2012 - 8:05 pm EST

  Thanks so much for this blog…Sharing this challenge of learning a whole new language based on the materials available is just as important as effort to learn the language itself.

Cori Creran • Posted on Fri, November 30, 2012 - 1:17 pm EST

How much did they pay you?  Found Pimsleur a repetitive useless way to learn.  Rosetta stone at least allowed me to gain more vocabulary and conversational language skills through both visual and oral cues and not rely on rote memorization of phrases and words.  Much better approach.  Also customer service with RS much better than PA.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, November 30, 2012 - 7:32 pm EST

Cori, I received comp review copies from both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. I have not been paid by any company for the many products I have written about in the course of this 3-plus-year project. I use Pimsleur because I love it. I tried Rosetta Stone for multiple languages, but in the end it didn’t work for me. If it works for you, great! I won’t even assume that you are being paid for your opinion.

Paulie Myers • Posted on Tue, March 19, 2013 - 1:22 pm EST

Great point of view and write up right here. Congrats!

I personally found this overview very helpful:


farschied • Posted on Sun, May 19, 2013 - 11:22 am EST

I’m not trying to take sides here. Both of these methods have their pros and cons. I believe that the Rosetta Stone immersion for learning new words is perfect from the linguistics point of view. I mean when you learn the new words with pictures, they stick into your mind and when you hear the word the related picture from the Rosetta Stone of that word comes in front of your eyes!
But I do agree that Rosetta Stone isn’t really helpful for boosting conversation skills.
And I think Pimsleur is really good at what it does, and that’s boosting speaking and conversation skills. But the need for something to present visual materials of the language made Pimsleur to release their app recently, just like Rosetta Stone.

Ellen Jovin; Could you please tell me your opinion about my comment?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, May 19, 2013 - 11:45 am EST

I definitely need visual materials to go along with my oral lessons; I am an extremely visual learner. But I don’t feel a need to get them from the same company that makes my oral lessons.

In fact, one of the things I have grown more and more convinced of over the past several years is the importance - if you are going to teach yourself - of using products from different sources simultaneously. Any time I rely to excess on one product, I get frustrated. All Pimsleur and no grammar book? Doesn’t work for me anywhere near as well as doing those two things simultaneously. Even better: three different grammar books!

I think there is a friendliness to the cute pictures Rosetta Stone gives you, but I don’t really know that they help me remember. I mean, if I have a flashcard and one side says “milk” and the other side says “leche,” I picture milk in my head anyway. (Of course, seeing the word “leche” is a visual experience.) Right now I am studying Irish. At the moment I am using three different Irish grammar books, one Irish web application with audio and visual components, and Pimsleur Irish. I believe these resources advance my skills faster than Rosetta can.

Another thing is, the Pimsleur method times the intervals between reminders about vocabulary and grammatical structures in a way that I view as pretty miraculous. They gradually stretch out the intervals between reminders until the stuff is stored in your memory banks.

The timing on Rosetta Stone did not seem great to me. I got bored by the repetitiveness of it. I know some people find Pimsleur repetitive, but the repetition - besides being better timed - is taking place at a much higher intellectual level than with Rosetta. It feels necessary and helpful, and it doesn’t bother me - unless it concerns giving directions, which I have a strange mental block about learning!

Kris L. • Posted on Mon, August 19, 2013 - 8:43 pm EST

As for the last comment you wrote, Ellen, I too am a visual learner and probably why I got the RS first.  I found that I had a lot of words in my head from the RS and I do recognize them when I hear German (for instance), but to speak them prior to Pimsleur was a giant pause and fear of not sounding right.  I am a perfectionist which did deter me from speaking.  The Pimsleur enables me to actually speak and even if it is repetitious at times,, hopefully that means it will stick in my long term memory so that when I have someone throw me a sentence in German, I can throw an answer back longer than just “Ja” or “Nein.”

Kris L. • Posted on Tue, September 17, 2013 - 5:50 pm EST

I probably received a response to this before it was actually posted, but I wanted to comment on the Pimsleur Approach v. Pimsleur.  Totally agree with the fact that the “P-Approach” is a reseller Accept you don’t get 10 intro lessons, but 8 and then you have to wait greater than a month before getting lessons 9-30 of the first unit…which they call the “gold course.”  Quite frustrating when you want to be able to do these in a 30-day period.  I’m electing to do just the first session of the 30 lessons, and then going directly to the Pimsleur website to get the units 2-4.  I am in a tie crunch and had wanted to do all four units (1 per month), but am going to have to settle on just the first 3.  Also, it is cheaper to go directly through Pimsleur than the reseller!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, September 17, 2013 - 6:21 pm EST

I am really bothered by the ads from reseller Pimsleur Approach. They send absolutely the wrong message and also undermine what Pimsleur itself says and demonstrates with its products. I believe Pimsleur’s products have tremendous integrity and intelligence; the Pimsleur Approach ads are just plain tacky. I don’t like when any language ad promises ridiculous results. Language-learning takes work. That’s all there is to it.

chris • Posted on Wed, January 08, 2014 - 3:54 am EST

I like Pimsleur a lot. I have several languages from them. I also like Michel Thomas stuff. I have Dutch and Portuguese from Michel Thomas and prefer those to the older ones where it was actually him, such as the French and Spanish. I do have a MT Vocabulary Builder that is newer and again I prefer it. I also really like the Teach Yourself stuff and especially the “Your Evening Class” sets for French and Spanish. Hugo and Living Language courses are quite good as well, in my opinion. I honestly like anything with audio. This would very much include movies on DVD in foreign languages.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, January 08, 2014 - 3:51 pm EST

Chris, I would like to try more Michel Thomas, but first impression: not ideal for my learning style. I like some of the Teach Yourself books okay, but it is rarely a love relationship; I find them uneven. I don’t know about the “Your Evening Class” sets, though. I will look those up! Thank you for the tip. I use Routledge grammars and McGraw-Hill’s Practice Makes Perfect books more than I use Teach Yourself, by the way.

P.S. I am still doing Pimsleur all the time - just finished their Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic sets. Still love them!

Rebecca DeSimone • Posted on Fri, February 21, 2014 - 9:24 pm EST

Ms. Jovin, I found your post compelling, but I was hoping you could go into greater detail re: the caveats.  Pimsleur is more difficult?  Can you specifically tell me how so?  I am intelligent enough to understand virtually anything and I have an ear for accents, but I have two high schoolers and an elementary school child, a husband, a dog, and a full time job.  Pressed for time would be a pleasant Sunday morning!  I need to learn Spanish, and after reading your blog, I’m reconsidering Stone, but I’m wondering how difficult Pimsleur will be.  Any advice would be welcome; thanks.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, February 21, 2014 - 10:10 pm EST

Please call me Ellen, Rebecca!

Thank you for your comment/question. With Rosetta Stone, you can end up on a kind of autopilot where the learning pace slows substantially. You do not have dead space with Pimsleur; you always have to keep your thinking cap on (and on high alert!). Thus, the learning is more constant and efficient. Of course, it all depends on whether you LIKE the product. Pleasure is key. Pimsleur has an Unlimited product now that I haven’t really tried, but that will have some visual components to supplement the oral Pimsleur lessons to which, in 2014, I remain totally addicted. Why don’t you try a sample lesson for free? You can see if it suits you without paying a dime. (There’s a button there for the free lesson.) Rosetta Stone also has a “Try it free” button right on its home page:

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, February 21, 2014 - 10:24 pm EST

By the way, Rebecca, Pimsleur for a language like Spanish is way, way easier than for a language such as Arabic or Chinese. I think you will be fine, but do check out the sample to be sure. Rosetta Stone will also tie you to a computer, so if you are juggling three children, a dog, etc., Pimsleur is going to be a lot more flexible. I do it while I drive, walk, run errands, etc. ;)

Chris • Posted on Sat, February 22, 2014 - 2:14 am EST

I like Pimsleur a lot. I have CD sets in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Danish, and German. I have never tried Rosetta Stone. Neither of them on their own are enough, though. Several tools are necessary to really learn a language. I like the Michel Thomas stuff, Living Language, Teach Yourself, and others. To my knowledge there is no end-all, be-all product to get anybody speaking a language fluently.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, February 22, 2014 - 2:34 am EST

I totally agree, Chris, and I actually think that’s exactly as it should be.

Vincent Jones • Posted on Fri, June 27, 2014 - 6:06 am EST

Dear Ellen,

This is a very useful blog.  Can I make a point, though, please?  The Pimsleur Method is a way of learning a language developed by the eponymous Paul Pimsleur, as you point out, but it’s not clear in the blog that this method is not used exclusively by one company.  I am currently learning Welsh via. the website which uses the P. M. and I find it great fun.

So in terms of comparisons, although there may be disadvantages in the courses run by the Pimsleur company (like the male America-centric assumption noted above, which would drive away a Brit like me), these may very well be avoided in P. M. courses by other providers.

Keep up the good work,


Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, June 27, 2014 - 7:04 pm EST

Vincent, thank you, and I have heard good things about that Welsh site. The post I read there says they actually offer an improvement on the Pimsleur approach. One day…Welsh…I hope.

Cynthia Nevels • Posted on Tue, August 11, 2015 - 8:44 pm EST

Bless you Ellen!! Thank you, thank you.
I just discovered your blog (and the million or so comments since you wrote it) after browsing the web in a fit of desperation when I repeatedly failed my “Milestone” exams on the Rosetta Stone program ... for Chinese! Why am I such a moron, I asked myself? Why can’t I get this? Why am I bashing my head against this (Mandarin) brick wall?
Now I realize I am not alone in my Rosetta Stone frustrations—thank you so much for the encouragement. Misery definitely loves company!!!.
Meanwhile, because I have been trying to attack Chinese from every possible angle, I also have been using the Pimsleur program through the audiobook version available on The version is very easy to use (in case anybody out there has an account)
And you are SO right: Pimsleur is hard, but at least I feel like I am making (a little) progress. And after a very brief trip to Chengdu, China last month, it was PIMSLEUR, not Rosetta Stone, that enabled me to at least to say ... wow! ... three or four intelligible words in Chinese. (haha ... all too true, sigh).
By the way: have you tried learning Chinese (putonghua)?If so, can you recommend any particular books/aides/webistes/programs? Any extra help would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks again for your well-written insights—I only wish I had discovered them BEFORE I sunk wayyyy too much money into Rosetta Stone.

Wally • Posted on Thu, October 22, 2015 - 9:26 pm EST

Ellen, I definitely agree with you on Pimsleur. I prefer them any day over Rosetta Stone. I used the Pimsleur Spanish to learn Spanish and I think they are far more affordale and cost effective for any new learner to use. Thanks for sharing this post!

Jess • Posted on Sat, April 04, 2020 - 11:10 am EST

Found this post after doing phenomenally well in a chapter of Russian from Rosetta Stone, then horribly failing the Milestone. It wasn’t that I did have the vocabulary, it was that I didn’t know what the people on the screen were supposed to be saying. I understand not using English, but a prompt here or there would be nice. I’ll keep working with Rosetta Stone until my subscription runs out, then I’ll have to look into Pimsleur. Thanks for the well written post.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, April 04, 2020 - 1:49 pm EST

Hi Jess, this post is pretty old now, but I still agree with myself and you.

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