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Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone: Which Language Mobile App is Better?

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Rosetta Stone vs Pimsleur

Learning a new language?  Either for travel, work, or just for fun?  Technology has made it much easier to do this today than it has been in the past.  The two programs that I use – for different purposes – are available on mobile apps.  Let’s take a look at the differences between Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone mobile apps.

Basic differences between Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur

Rosetta Stone is named after the ancient tablet that was the key to unlocking Egyptian hieroglyphics.  It aims to give you a full comprehension of a language – reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  There is no English at all in any of your lessons.  You learn the new language through process of elimination and word/picture association.

This is much like it was done in the olden days – you hold up a picture of a bowl and the native speaker repeats the word for “bowl”.  Learn a few more words and then you can understand complete sentences strictly through context with the words you do know.

Pimsleur is named after Paul Pimsleur, a researcher who made great advancements in language learning in the mid 20th century.  The Pimsleur approach is based solely on listening and repetition.  A native speaker speaks a sentence and the meaning of the words are broken down for you in English.  You repeat the words and sentences over and over, ingraining them in your memory.  There is no reading or speaking feedback.  You’re more or less just listening to a tape and repeating things.

Pimsleur recommends that you limit your learning to one thirty-minute lesson each day.  Let your brain cells marinate in this new information overnight, increasing retention and comprehension.  Do another 30-minute lesson the next day.  This is the most effective way to learn with this method.

Rosetta Stone in detail

Rosetta Stone is available for 25 of the more common languages spoken around the world.

  • There are between three and five levels depending on your language chosen.  Each level has four units, and each unit is made up of 30 lessons.  Each unit is estimated to take 12 hours, for a total of 250 hours for the long course.  They start with the basics and move towards more advanced grammar and conversational topics.
  • All lessons require you to be looking at your mobile device, and some require you to speak out loud for speech recognition.
  • You may also tailor your lessons to only focus on either reading & writing or speaking & listening, depending on your goals.
  • The program allows you to customize the sensitivity for speech recognition, giving you more room for error if you need it.
  • All lessons may be downloaded for offline use.
  • The Rosetta Stone app contains extras, like a phrasebook for travel, reading materials (like short stories), and an audio companion.
  • Rosetta Stone, however, does not go too in-depth with cultural differences.  It uses stock photos for the entire course.  The sentences you’ll learn are the same from language to language, rather than learning what you might hear in a particular culture.
  • Available on phones & tablets.
  • The app has an appealing interface and is easy to use.

It takes a good amount of time to get to a point where you can have the most basic conversation as a tourist in that country.  The “Travel” unit, for example, isn’t until Unit 5, and that’s 120 lessons (20%) into the course.  You can’t just jump to that unit without completing the first four.

Rosetta Stone will really teach you a language in-depth – but it takes a while to get to that point.

rosetta stone
Rosetta Stone app personal pricing

  • Single language in-app purchase for a single user available for $129 to $199 depending on the language
  • Access to all features for one price
  • Personal native-speaking tutor available for extra

Download for iOS | Download on Google Play

Pimsleur in Detail

Pimsleur lessons are available for many more languages than Rosetta Stone, including more obscure languages like Icelandic which is only spoken by .005% of the world’s population.  There are 51 total languages available for the Pimsleur method.

  • Language lessons vary in length depending on the complexity, popularity, and breadth of the language.  Spanish, for example, has five levels with 30 lessons per level.  This comes out to about 80 hours total.  Icelandic, in contrast, has only 30 lessons for 16 hours total.
  • You can do these lessons anywhere you can listen to headphones.  You do need to give it your full attention but at least you don’t need to be tethered to a screen.  You’ll need to repeat the words and phrases for this method to work – this is non-negotiable, so don’t think you can just listen to it on an airplane, without repeating anything, and expect any learning.  
  • Lessons can be downloaded for offline use.
  • The basic Pimsleur app is a repository for audio lessons that you can listen to over and over.
  • The Pimsleur Unlimited app contains some extras like games and reading.  But this is only available for nine of the most common languages.
  • Pimsleur does do a better job focusing on the culture – both in the basic spoken lessons and in the Pimsleur Unlimited app, which contains pictures and phrases specific to that culture.
  • Because the core Pimsleur lessons are audio only, it may be difficult initially to pick up the words without seeing them written (I had a huge problem with Icelandic at first because of this so I used Google Translate to assist).
  • Available on phones & tablets.
  • The app does feel dated and as of this writing has some problems on the Android platform – I haven’t noticed any on iOS.

Pimsleur app & Pimsleur Unlimited personal pricing

  • Options to purchase small sections of the course, depending on the language
    • Five lessons for $21.95 (smallest chunk for Icelandic, for example)
    • One level for $150 (smallest chunk of Spanish, for example)
    • Larger languages do have “introductory lessons” – first five lessons for $21.95 – like Spanish
  • Pricing for entire course dependent on the language offers best value
    • Five levels of Spanish for $575, for example
    • Entire one-level course of Icelandic for $119.95, for example
  • Pimsleur Unlimited $159 per level for available languages (30 lessons)

Download Pimsleur for iOS | Download Pimsleur on Google Play

So back to our original quesiton – which mobile app is better for learning a language?

Both.  Neither.  It depends.

Why I use both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur

I’ve used Rosetta Stone for a few languages in the past – just for short vacations to non English-speaking countries.  That just never worked out well.

But I’ve been using Rosetta Stone for Latin America Spanish.  I eventually want to reach a professional level of proficiency in that language for work-travel to Central & South America.  It really helps to get feedback on my pronunciation, see the words, and learn the grammar.

I recently used Pimsleur for the first time for a ten-day trip to Iceland.  Rosetta Stone didn’t offer Icelandic – only Pimsleur did – and it was a blessing in disguise for me.  I paid $22 for the first five lessons and that was enough to make me comfortable with basic conversations.  If I had more time to learn I definitely would have continued with the course.

My personal recommendation would be to use the Pimsleur approach if you’re just going to be visiting a country for up to a few weeks and want a basic understanding to get by.

If you want to become proficient in a language, check out Rosetta Stone first to see if that method of learning works for you.  If it doesn’t, check out Pimsleur Unlimited, or even the basic Pimsleur app if it’s not available for Unlimited.

Try them both

All of these apps offer a free trial.  The methods of learning are completely different between the apps.  Every person learns differently, so what works for me may not work for you.  Your only way of knowing is to try.  There’s no reason not to try a lesson on each app to see how you like it.

Rosetta Stone for iOS | Rosetta Stone on Google Play
Pimsleur for iOS | Pimsleur on Google Play

Do you have any different experiences with these apps?  Please leave a comment below!
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Matthew Benton

Thursday 11th of August 2022

Helped so much thank you!

John Peltier

Thursday 11th of August 2022

Awesome. You’re welcome!