In this article we discuss some of the unique strengths and weakness found in Pimsleur Korean courses, and how they relate to anyone looking to learn the language. The typical pros and cons of the Pimsleur method aren’t covered here. You can find that and more in our full Pimsleur review.
Summary of Pimsleur Method
Review of: Pimsleur
Use: Audio courses for learning foreign languages
With Pimsleur you will be able to speak at a functional level
Pimsleur Courses are expensive. Expect to pay $100+ for 1 Level
Each lesson is 30 minutes
Ease of Use
Lesson are simple: just listen and repeat when prompted
Pimsleur courses are well designed and structured to teach you a foreign language
- Actually gets you speaking & listening
- Functional vocabulary
- Emphasizes pronunciation
- Easy to use
I Don't Like
- High price tag
- Very formal language
- Little reading and no writing
Summary: Pimsleur courses are known as some of the best audio courses for learning to speak a foreign language. Their method includes a question/recall/response technique that is very effective for helping you internalize the basics of a new language.
Many people who use Pimsleur cite a marked improvement in their speaking abilities.
Pimsleur is also one of the few language courses that focuses heavily on correct pronunciation. This helps a lot when trying to remember new words in a foreign language.
However Pimsleur courses also have their drawbacks. They're pretty expensive compared to other audio courses. They also tend to use highly formal language that is too respectful for most day to day situations. The courses are also sometimes criticized for teaching limited vocabulary.
Starting at $19.95 for 5 lessons up to $107.95 for 30 Lessons
Big difference between old and new versions
The biggest thing you need to know about Pimsleur Korean is that there is an original older edition made a few decades ago, and newly revamped edition which came out as recently as 2016 (I think).
The newest version is sold on Pimsleur’s website, but if you get Pimsleur from Amazon, ebay, or some other second provider you’re likely to get the older original edition. The differences matter because several shortcomings of the original edition were improved in the second.
Serious flaws in the old edition
Super polite language
The original edition of Pimsleur Korean used extremely polite language. In Korean the politeness level matters a lot.
In English we almost have 2 levels with words like “sir” or “ma’am”, but we’re really closer to one. Languages like Spanish have two levels: one that uses a informal pronoun for “you” (tú), and another that uses a different formal pronoun for “you” (usted).
A little more info on Korean's levels of politeness
In Korean there are 7 levels of politeness! Learning only the most polite level can be problematic to anyone actually planning on speaking with native Koreans on street or in casual settings. You’re more likely to hear more informal Korean than you are formal Korean.
With the old edition of Pimsleur Korean the difference was so extreme that some complained of not being able to understand common informal Korean phrases.
To Pimsleur’s credit at the time of the original edition the Korean language was used more formally, but in recent decades the language has changed rapidly so that older formalities are lesson common.
Choppy sentences and pronunciation
While I haven’t used the 1st edition myself, many complained that at times the pronunciation and overall word order felt choppy. Because of the highly honorific language, the original edition put you in the habit of making sentence constructions that felt unnatural when said in real life.
Corrected 2nd edition
Recently Pimsleur revisited their Korean course to make much need improvements, and the formality issue and choppiness were addressed. Pimsleur still errs on the side of politeness but instead of the top level of formality you’re looking at a more mid level range. This edition will help you speak more naturally with modern Korean speakers, and it will also help you understand what they say.
Only two levels
Other Pimsleur courses like Spanish and French offer 5 course levels, after which Pimsleur claims you’ll have an upper intermediate to advanced proficiency in the language. Unfortunately Pimsleur Korean only comes in 2 levels, so you’ll be hard pressed to get past an upper beginner level with these courses.
Pimsleur Korean gives you a decent introduction to the writing system of Korean. This section is much better than the reading materials for other asian languages like Mandarin and Japanese. After you’re introduced to the writing system you’re given a series of exercises.
In these exercises you’ll read Korean text while listening to a native speaker read the same text out loud. Level 1’s reading exercises deal mostly with single words. Level 2 includes short phrases.
These reading sections are a good start for reading Korean, but if you want to reach a high proficiency in reading then Pimsleur’s two courses will not be enough.
Pimsleur doesn’t provide transcripts for any of their language courses. If you make your own and post them online to share with others, the company will tell you to take them down because of copyright infringement.
I’m not sure why Pimsleur is so stingy with the idea of transcripts. Maybe it’s because they will it doesn’t fit within their method.
Transcripts for the Korean courses would be especially helpful. As a beginning student it’s hard to tell sometimes which words you’re actually learning. Longer phrases tend to bleed together. This is great for your pronunciation, but it would still be nice to read and figure out which words you’re using.
What other people are saying about Pimsleur Korean
"I'm up to unit 20 of Pimsleur's Korean and I enjoy it. This is because it requires you to repeat phrases and recall them on demand; you can't help but feel good when you answer correctly and disappointed when you struggle.
But this is a good disappointment, because you want to learn from it. While I say I enjoy it, I have to admit it's a slow learning process. That being said each lesson teaches you a few new phrases and words that you learn inside out.." -Reddit.com
Pimsleur 1 edition 2 is significantly better than edition 1 imo for the following reasons:
1) Correct (rare) use of pronouns; 선생님 (teacher) is gone. 2) Particles often omitted, which I feel matches common speech better. 3) Response time comparable to other Pimsleur programs.
4) Not nearly as many sound change issues as edition 1, or at least it didn’t seem like they were deliberately trying to confuse the learner. 5) Dropping words and morphing happens less often, and almost always explained.
6) Mostly mid-level politeness (요), and when they used other levels they would point it out. -Reddit.com
Alternatives to Pimsleur Korean
20+ minutes a day
Rocket Korean is built around recorded audio in the form of dialogues. The dialogues have English explanations and usually teach the language in "chunks" or phrases versus individual words (this is great for conversational Korean).
Unlike Pimsleur, Rocket Korean also has a hefty literacy component. Rocket Korean is more comprehensive overall and teaches writing and reading.
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Koreanclass101 features audio lessons in a podcast format. Each lesson is a podcast episode and is built around a recorded conversation between two native Korean speakers. Lessons are great for grammar and vocabulary, and the teachers (aka podcast hosts) do a great job of keeping things engaging.
While it's not as structured as Pimsleur Korean it's still a substantial Japanese learning tool (it's also much cheaper too). The site features lesson transcripts. There is also a flashcard system for learning new words.
Starts at $15 per month
5+ minutes a day
Fluentu is a site that helps you learn a language through native videos. Use in site flashcards, captions, and games to learn new words in context while watching Korean TV shows, movies, commercials, and more. It's a great way to push your listening skills and vocabulary.
The first edition of Pimsleur Korean had some serious flaws that were unique to the language. Just recently Pimsleur revamped their Korean courses and addresses a lot of the problems the older edition had.
Pimsleur only offers 2 Korean courses, so you can’t expect to reach as high level with their method in Korean as you would in some of their other languages. Still, if used right the courses will provide you with a stable (albeit small) foundation in spoken Korean.
You can download the 1 lesson of PImsleur Korean 1 on the company’s site for free (no credit card needed). Feel free to work through the lesson and see what you think of the Pimsleur Method!