Pimsleur vs Duolingo

Pimsleur vs Duolingo: Which is the Better Language Learning App?

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on July 31, 2023
Pimsleur vs Duolingo

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If you want to learn a new language, you’re probably looking for the best apps to start your journey. Pimsleur and Duolingo are two well-known language apps that you can use for learning new languages from the complete beginner level. But only one of these apps can get you to start speaking your desired language from day one, and that’s Pimsleur.

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Pimsleur Overview

Pimsleur’s podcast-style lessons are an effective way of getting conversational quickly. All the audio used in its language courses is voiced by native speakers, and the lessons break down how to correctly pronounce words and have conversations.
pimsleur logo
Price $14.95/month
Free trial 7 days
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People usually compare Pimsleur and Duolingo for the number of language courses they have available on their platforms. But, don’t let this fool you. These apps are very different in their goals and approach to language learning. In this article, we will break down the pros and cons of each one.

Pimsleur vs Duolingo: A Quick Breakdown

While Duolingo and Pimsleur both have a long list of available languages, they use completely different methods to help you achieve your language goals. Pimsleur offers audio-based lessons and tools to teach your target language from scratch. It uses audio voiced by native speakers to develop your listening, speaking, and pronunciation skills and get you to communicate quickly. Duolingo has lots of free languages that offer a gamified learning experience to make your study time more interesting. However, it’s most useful for complete beginners who want to learn basic vocabulary and phrases.

The table below shows compares Duolingo and Pimsleur based on the languages they have, subscription prices, and free trial offers.  

51 Languages39 languages
7-day free trial14-day free trial
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Duolingo vs Pimsleur: Cost Comparison

On the Pimsleur app, a one-language subscription costs $19.95 per month or $20.95 per month to access all the language courses available. You can also get Lifetime access to the first level of one language for $150, two levels for $300, and five levels for $575. Keep in mind that some languages only have a one-level course. Pimsleur offers a free 7-day trial to test out its features.

Duolingo offers a free version, but if you want to get rid of the ads between lessons and have unlimited mistakes, you need to upgrade to Super Duolingo (previously called Duolingo Plus). A Super Duolingo subscription costs $12.99 per month, but you can also get a Family Plan to share your subscription with family and friends for $119.99 per year ($9.99 per month). Duolingo offers a 14-day free trial for Super Duolingo once you create an account.

Even though Pimsleur is more expensive than Duolingo, I think its value justifies the price. Super Duolingo doesn’t really change the learning experience on the app. The ads don’t come up as often, but you can only take so many quick sessions a day before you start to get tired. On the other hand, Pimsleur’s language courses are very thorough and have a unique study method that can effectively teach you how to converse like a native speaker. If you can afford it, I think that Pimsleur can be a great addition to your study routine.

If you’re not convinced by either of these apps, don’t worry. We still have more recommendations to put you on track. Here are some similar alternatives:

Duolingo and Pimsleur: How The Language Learning Apps Work

Duolingo and Pimsleur both have structured lesson plans, but their approach to language is very different. Duolingo is a free language program that uses game-like features to teach you the basics of the language you want to learn. Pimsleur has podcast-style lessons that tackle word use and grammar, and show you how to pronounce each sound in a word. While Duolingo lessons are short and the app has challenges, quests, and Leaderboards to help make learning fun, Pimsleur has high-quality voice recognition tools and audio voiced by native speakers to make sure you learn to speak the language as accurately as possible. 

Check out the table below to see how both apps rate across the web:

Apple Store4.84.7
Google Play4.14.6
Trust Pilot2.51.6
Average Score3.93.6

How Pimsleur Works

With the Pimsleur language program, the main goal is to get you to speak right from the start. Pimsleur is an audio-based learning method that focuses on teaching you to speak the language the way it is spoken in the real world. The lessons in Pimsleur follow a structured plan, which means that you have to complete them in order before moving on to the next.

main features of a pimsleur lesson

Each lesson lasts between 10-30 minutes and features a conversation between two native speakers. They break down the dialogue, explain the vocabulary and grammar used, and ask you to repeat each sound in a word to improve your pronunciation. To help you review and reinforce what you’ve learned, the app offers helpful tools such as flashcards, speed rounds, and Speak Easy reviews. 

Pimsleur also offers cultural notes that introduce you to the culture of the language you’re learning. You can download all the lessons in your language course through the mobile app to listen to them while you’re offline. If you want to learn more about the app, you can read this complete Pimsleur review.

How Duolingo Works

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps available. It has many language courses that you can complete for free. It has quick study sessions and game-like features like collecting points, challenges, quests, and even a Leaderboard to make learning a language fun. Duolingo gives you five “hearts” for free (five chances to make mistakes), which also makes the app feel like a videogame. 

languages available on duolingo

Each lesson is short and uses different exercises like fill-in-the-blank and mix-and-match to teach you new sets of words like greetings, animals, going shopping, and more. The study sessions also include tools like audio and voice recognition to improve your listening and speaking skills. Depending on the language you’re studying, there are stories and podcasts you can use to practice.

Because Duolingo offers most of its content for free, you will be interrupted by an occasional ad in between lessons. You can get rid of all the ads and make unlimited mistakes once you upgrade to Duolingo’s premium service, Super Duolingo. If you want to learn more about the app works, you can read this complete Duolingo review

Pimsleur: The Good and Bad

Even though Pimsleur’s audio language courses don’t have many interactive exercises, its set lesson plan and high-quality tools ensure that you can easily learn a new language from zero. You start with basics you can use as a beginner, like greetings, asking someone for their name, talking about the weather, etc. Each lesson builds upon what you previously learned and presents different scenarios in which you can use the vocabulary you acquire. In general, the Pimsleur method is a well-established way to learn a language.

Native speakers voice all the audio included in Pimsleur’s language courses so that you can learn the most accurate pronunciation. The vocabulary and phrases used in the conversations are natural language that you can encounter in the real world. In each lesson, the speaker breaks the dialogue down into sounds to give you the chance to closely listen and practice repeating after. 

spanish lesson on pimsleur

Because Pimsleur doesn’t have any written materials, you can only use it to train a couple of the language skills you need to reach fluency. For example, Pimsleur doesn’t teach reading or writing. There are no alphabet charts to help you learn the corresponding letters for the sounds used in the lessons, which can cause a lot of confusion if the language you’re studying isn’t phonetic. For the subscription price, I think it’s disappointing that Pimsleur doesn’t offer more tools to practice reading and writing because that would add a lot more value to its language courses.

Since Pimsleur uses podcast-style lessons, you can enjoy your study time as you go. However, some of the lessons in Pimsleur’s language courses are too in-depth and won’t allow you to listen to them casually. You need to be engaged with the audio in order to make the best use of Pimsleur, which eliminates the possibility of listening while doing tasks like driving. Pimsleur also won’t allow you to skip lessons, so you need to complete the lessons in order even if you’re already familiar with the content.

Duolingo: The Good and Bad

One of the main reasons why people like Duolingo is because of the number of languages they can learn for free. Duolingo also has gamified features and can be addictive to use so it’s not a surprise that users like to use it to explore different languages. It offers 39 languages, including some less common options like Haitian Creole, Zulu, and Navajo. You can also learn fictional languages like High Valyrian and Klingon.

Duolingo has weekly and daily learning challenges, and there are also Tournaments you can participate in once you have collected enough medals on the Leaderboard. Duolingo users can get very competitive, which can motivate you to take more lessons at a time to collect more points. Overall, this gives the app a more interactive feel and encourages you to keep learning.

duolingo japanese question

However, many people have reported finding mistranslations or unnatural phrases in their Duolingo courses. This can be frustrating because, unless you use the words the way Duolingo thinks is right, you will lose hearts and won’t be able to move forward in your course. Unlearning some of the vocabulary Duolingo forces you to use can be just as hard as learning the language itself, and can make the app feel like an unreliable study source.

Duolingo could also improve the frequency at which the vocabulary is repeated. While spaced repetition is a proven language-learning method, some of the phrases and words are used way too often. This can make more advanced students feel like they are wasting time or bore them over time.

Pimsleur or Duolingo: Which is Better to Learn a Language? 

Duolingo and Pimsleur have many language courses available, but they are very different in what they achieve. You can start as a complete beginner and use their set lesson plans to guide you in your learning journey. But one app is clearly more effective in teaching a new language, and Pimsleur is the clear winner.

Duolingo is a good option for more visual learners or people that enjoy learning through game-like exercises, but I wouldn’t recommend it to serious language students. You can learn a lot of vocabulary with Duolingo, but some of the phrases the app uses are not common in conversation and its mistranslation issues can lead to embarrassing mistakes.

Pimsleur is better because it’s a complete language learning program that succeeds in introducing the language using only audio. It has brief grammar notes and uses native speakers to ensure that you learn to say each word and phrase the correct way. You can start using the language you learn as soon as you finish the first lesson. Because it’s better than Duolingo at developing listening and speaking skills, Pimsleur is the winner of this match.

Duolingo or Pimsleur: FAQ

Is Duolingo or Pimsleur better?

Pimsleur can be better than Duolingo if your goal is to get conversational quickly. Pimsleur uses a conversational-focused approach, but Duolingo brings a more modern way to learn a language. Duolingo lessons are much shorter, but you can use Pimsleur to become conversational quicker. However, if you want to learn through trivia exercises and access free language courses, Duolingo is the best choice for you. There are also similar apps like LanguagePod101 and Memrise.

Can you become fluent from Pimsleur?

Pimsleur can teach you to speak like a native speaker, but it doesn’t have any written materials so you need to use other resources if you want to be fluent. You can use authentic language resources like newspapers to practice reading. Language textbooks often have written exercises and more extensive reading comprehension exercises.

Is Pimsleur outdated?

Pimsleur is not outdated. Its method has proven to be effective even in modern times. Pimsleur frequently updates its courses, so you know you’re learning to speak the way native speakers do in the real world.

Is anything better than Duolingo?

Depending on your language goal, many apps can be better for you than Duolingo. Apps like Mondly and Rocket languages have more comprehensive courses that focus on vocabulary and grammar. If you want more guidance in your study routine, you can also hire a tutor on a platform like Preply or italki.

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

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