Pimsleur Language Learning System

The Pimsleur language learning system is a language acquisition method developed by Paul Pimsleur. The system is based on four main ideas: anticipation, graduated interval recall, core vocabulary, and organic learning. The Pimsleur method is an audio-based system, in which the listener constructs phrases or repeats from memory along with a recording. The program literature stresses that student learns through active participation versus passive "listen and repeat only" rote memorization. A series of audiobooks based on the Pimsleur method has been developed by Pimsleur Language Programs and published by Simon & Schuster. The system, as currently packaged by Simon & Schuster, is made up of multiple thirty-minute lessons delivered on tapes, CDs, SD-Cards, and as digital downloads. The Pimsleur website claims that because the lessons repeat themselves and add new material, they do not demand 100% mastery before moving on. Pimsleur courses focus on proficiency in speaking as well as reading proficiency.

    The student listens to a recording on which native speakers speak phrases in both the foreign language and the language used for teaching (usually English).
    At varying intervals, the student is prompted to repeat a phrase after the speaker finishes it
    The student is then introduced to a new phrase and the meaning is explained.
    After repeating several times, the student is asked to repeat a previous phrase, along with integrating vocabulary from the new one.
    More new phrases are introduced, while old phrases are prompted at ever-increasing intervals.

Pimsleur learning principles
Pimsleur developed his system using four principles he regarded as important to forming memory associations and language recall.

        Language courses commonly require a student to repeat after an instructor, which Pimsleur argued was a passive way of learning. Pimsleur developed a "challenge and response" technique, where a student was prompted to translate a phrase into the target language, which was then confirmed. This technique is intended to be a more active way of learning, requiring the student to think before responding. Pimsleur said the principle of anticipation reflected real-life conversations in which a speaker must recall a phrase quickly.

    Graduated-interval recall
        Graduated interval recall is a method of reviewing learned vocabulary at increasingly longer intervals. It is a version of retention through spaced repetition. For example, if a student learns the word deux (French for two), then deux is tested every few seconds in the beginning, then every few minutes, then every few hours, and then every few days. The goal of this spaced recall is to help the student move vocabulary into long-term memory.
        Pimsleur's 1967 memory schedule was as follows: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, 2 years.

   Core vocabulary
        The Pimsleur method focuses on teaching commonly used words in order to build up understanding of a "core vocabulary". In the typical Simon & Schuster 60 cassette/CD course (four modules of 15 cassette/CDs each) this does not provide a large breadth of vocabulary. Word-frequency text analyses indicate that a relatively small core vocabulary accounts for the majority of words spoken in a particular language. For example, in English, a set of 2000 words composes about 80% of the total printed words. In other words, an understanding of these 2000 words would lead to approximately an 80% word comprehension rate. Even the most advanced Pimsleur courses fall well short of this, with an average of around 500 words per level (most popular languages have 3 levels, some only one).
        The Pimsleur method never teaches grammar explicitly, instead leaving the student to infer the grammar through common patterns and phrases repeated over and over. Pimsleur claimed this inductive method is precisely how native speakers learn grammar when they are children; only in schools is it "taught" on the blackboard.

    Organic learning
        The program uses an audio format because Pimsleur argued that the majority of students wanted first and foremost to learn to speak and understand. He suggested that this auditory skill, learned through their ears and mouths, is a very different skill to the visual one of reading and writing and believed that audition and vision should not be confused. He referred to his auditory system as "organic learning," which entails studying grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation simultaneously. Learning by listening is also intended to teach the proper accent.