Published: January 4, 2024

Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone - Which is Best?

Believe it or not, the hardest part of learning a new language is not memorizing vocabulary, learning new grammar or developing new forms of pronunciation. In fact, it's finding the most effective way to learn with a resource that brings you clear results.

Whilst consistency makes your progression almost always inevitable, it's important to use the right language tools that suit your learning style. If you don't, you'll lose interest fairly quickly.

Recently, we were granted access to the premium subscription models of both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. These are two veteran language software companies with plenty of years of experience leading the field.

In this review of both, we'll take you through:

  • Which type of learner each app suits best and why this is
  • The visual & auditory elements of the apps, as well as their effectiveness
  • Lessons & course structure, as well as cost and value for money

How we did this review

In order to make this review as broad as possible, language learners Matt and James tested out both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone on their own, before sharing their findings. Matt used Rosetta Stone Spanish, whilst James used Pimsleur Japanese.

The opinions that you read throughout this review are results of the process that both learners have undergone with free and premium versions.

The overall score you see above is determined based on the following factors:

  • Effectiveness - This is measured by the progress we were able to make during the 30 consecutive days that we used each platform, as well as the progress we’d expect to make with a longer timeframe.
  • Value for money - We compare the cost of the service with other competitor language learning apps, platforms and courses.
  • Ease of use - As language learners, user experience plays a large part in whether we keep coming back, resulting in progress. A poor user experience usually leads to a lack of progress.
  • Languages Available - Offering multiple languages by no means makes an app or language platform better. However, it usually means they’re more popular and capture a wider audience. This makes them more able to invest in the factors above.

You'll find our scores for each of these elements per product further down in the review.

So, what did Matt and James have to say about their experience with each?

“As someone who relies on pictures to learn new words, I liked Rosetta Stone. It's interactive, so it pretty much just feels like you're playing a game when you're using it. The reading exercises are good as you can search individual words. It's a great app to learn vocabulary. It gets a bit repetitive after a while, though. I'd like to see more natural conversation instead of fixed phrases and expressions. It can feel a bit robotic at times.”

“Unlike Matt, I don't rely on visual resources to learn. I prefer listening, so Pimsleur was perfect for me. The app gets you speaking the language quickly, straight from the first lesson. After 30 lessons, I feel I can say a lot in Japanese. Although, I'm not sure how confident I'd feel having a conversation with a native speaker. I'd like to see Pimsleur courses offer grammar explanations. The word games after each audio lesson provide some variation."

What is Pimsleur?

Pimsleur is an audio focused language courses created and developed by the company Pimsleur. Each of its language courses follow the same style and format. They contain 5 levels, starting at complete beginner level and ending at an advanced stage.

Each Pimsleur course comprises 150 audio lessons, each of which is 30 minutes in length. Pimsleur courses require a great deal of passive listening. However, listeners are prompted to respond and participate at certain stages throughout the lessons.

Despite the fact that Pimsleur courses include word and grammar games, there is a lack of cultural education and visual learning elements. For this reason, Pimsleur courses are less engaging than many competitors.

The main aim of Pimsleur courses is to improve your pronunciation and overall comprehension of a foreign language through is own method. The Pimsleur method is a scientifically proven method which has helped hundreds of thousands of people to learn a language through spaced repetition.

What is Rosetta Stone?

Rosetta Stone language courses teach learners a new language by adopting the methods we use to learn a language at childhood. It does this through associating words — both written and spoken — with objects, actions and ideas that convey meaning.

Each Rosetta Stone language course relies heavily on pictures to establish the meaning of words and phrases. There is no direct translation provided. This means that as a language learner, you start to learn a new language without the use of your native English.

Despite the fact that Rosetta Stone is one of the oldest and most successful companies in this field, some consider its method outdated and in need of moderizing.

Whilst they have done this through the incorporation of an app and great user experience, there could be less dependence on pictures and a greater variety of exercises.

Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone - A Quick Background

You've probably come across Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone before. Both companies have been around for several decades and brought results to millions of language learners.

Despite their success, Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone have always been known for providing some of the most expensive language courses around.

Furthermore, they still carry a reputation (which is now starting to shift) for being quite 'old school'. For example, both companies still sell CD versions of their courses, charging hundreds of dollars for the luxury! This is far more expensive than modern day competitor apps.

However, fortunately for us, both companies have entered the 21st century and adapted their offerings to suit modern day language learners.

Today, both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone have slick, user-friendly apps on both mobile and desktop. In addition to this, both have introduced one-time purchase and subscription model options.

Answering which is best depends on whether you are a visual learner or an auditory learner. As we've highlighted in the review summaries, Pimsleur is a mostly audio course, whilst Rosetta Stone relies on imagery.

List of Rosetta Stone languages available

Which Languages Can You Learn with Both?

Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone offer courses in a wide range of popular languages. Pimsleur provides you with over 50 languages from which to choose, whilst Rosetta Stone teaches 25 languages.

It's likely you'll find the language you are learning through either of the two. However, if it is a less commonly spoken language, you'll almost certainly find it through Pimsleur.

An interesting point to note is that Pimsleur teaches each language in a variety of forms. This may not seem relevant to you, but it actually tells us a great deal about the software. The approach to teaching they take is based on the user's native language.

As an example, if you are Spanish and using Pimsleur to study English, you may learn differently as a Spanish speaker than somebody who speaks Russian or Japanese as a first language.

Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone: How Are They Similar?

All language companies have certain similarities at their core. There are a number of proven methods which work, such as spaced repetition and flashcard usage. So, it's only natural to find these methods in almost every language learning resource on the market.

It’s often easier to talk about how services differ, and we’ll get to that shortly. However, there are some notable similarities between the companies that you should consider before deciding which to sign up for.

Lesson Structure

Both companies provide an excellent, organized lesson structure. Not only is the level of difficulty increased gradually, but there are plenty of opportunities to review what you’ve learned in previous lessons. As a result, you are able to monitor your progress.

Whilst this is positive, neither Pimsleur nor Rosetta Stone provide a holistic package that covers listening, reading, writing and speaking in their lessons. You will need to find other resources accordingly depending on where you see most gaps.

Non-Grammatical Focus

Neither Pimsleur nor Rosetta Stone focus too much on grammar. When you see both resources in action, this is unsurprising. Rosetta Stone teaches vocabulary through pictures, whilst Pimsleur helps you to memorize words and phrases through spaced audio repetition.

Anybody who has learned a language through an academic route will likely tell you that a limited focus on grammar can be an issue if you want to achieve fluency. Without knowing the most foundational elements of grammar (verb conjugations, adjective noun agreements, gender...) it can be difficult to hold an errorless conversation.

However, it is simply untrue to suggest that grammar must be the focal point of beginner and intermediate language learning. Both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone will introduce you to the fundamentals of the languages they teach. They are suitable for anybody who wants to avoid the grammar route at this stage.

Repetitive Lessons

We'd be lying if we said that neither of these apps felt boring after 30 consecutive days of usage. Both systems provide very repetitive lessons. While repetition is often boring and can make learning feel a bit tedious, it’s important to remember that this method plays an essential role in learning.

Most people don’t remember something long-term the first time they hear it. In fact, experts believe it usually takes seven repetitions to make something stick.

We all learn languages so that we can speak it, first and foremost. Both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone provide plenty of speaking practice through their methods, which does make the approach less tedious.

With both companies, lessons are structured near-identically at all levels. Many Rosetta Stone lessons consist of dragging pictures and captions to connect ideas. Initially, this is definitely engaging, but by the time you’re a few hundred hours in, you might look elsewhere for a little variety!

On the other hand, the visual learning tools provided by Pimsleur are minimal. Instead, the focus is almost entirely on listening. The speaker engages with you and pushes you to respond to questions. Whilst this is also quite repetitive after the completion of several levels, it does require you to form your own sentences, rather than just repeat them.

Lesson Length

All levels within the Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone courses comprise lessons that last about 30 minutes each.

Pimsleur's lesson lengths are precise due to the nature of its setup. Lessons comprise a recorded audio followed by visual, interactive exercises.

Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, requires more interaction from you throughout the lesson. If you are passive, it's unlikely you'll be able to advance. So, the pace at which you progress is likely to vary.

Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone: How Are They Different?

woman holding a phone with a smile in her face

By now, we know that these language products are similar in many aspects. In addition, plenty of the teaching methods Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone employ are not exclusive to them. We'll now provide a review of the features which are unique to each platform.

Use of language

In many ways, use of language is the greatest difference when comparing Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone.

Rosetta Stone is written entirely in your target language, utilizing imagery and pictures throughout the courses. This heavily-visual approach has some advantages, especially with regards to learning vocabulary. The brain processes images faster than it can process text.

This mix of aural and visual elements offers language learners more benefits than disadvantages. However, there are drawbacks to this approach. Memorizing vocabulary and grammar does not mean you'll be able to formulate sentences at will.

The Pimsleur approach is completely different. The lessons are less immersive than Rosetta Stone's, as they prompt and direct the user in English.

Lesson Format

Rosetta Stone is a visual learning platform which provides an abundance of pictures and visual cues. It also features a more extensive focus on the written language, which is good if you want to learn to read the language as well as speak it.

Pimsleur, on the other hand, is an aural resource which requires you to listen throughout. It’s a great way to learn a language on the go (in your car, for example), but does require plenty of concentration. We often found ourselves zoning out and needing to rewind the audio.

Whilst there are reading exercises in Pimsleur lessons (after each 30 minute audio), they are not the focal point of the course. In fact, they can be considered more of an afterthought. Rosetta stone is likely to help you be able to read text in a foreign language much more quickly than Pimsleur.

Finally, unlike Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur requires you to think for yourself. It prompts you to repeat certain words or phrases, but also to formulate new sentences with complex structures.

For this reason, we believe Pimsleur is a much better option for anybody who wants to learn to understand and speak a foreign language in a range of contexts.

Cultural Focus

Rosetta Stone provides very little insight on the culture of the target language. We've tried dozens of language apps and we realise this is not uncommon. In fact, most language resources disregard cultural elements. After all, omitting them doesn't actually jeopardize the language learning process.

However, courses that do include cultural studies tend to be more interesting. Rosetta Stone uses what appear to be Stock photos and probably does so for every language. This means that the classes can sometimes feel a little formulaic. As a learner, you feel a bit robotic.

Pimsleur is much better than Rosetta Stone in this particular aspect. Most of its lessons include a small, written cultural segment that explains some aspect of the history and general customs of native speakers. This helps to provide better context for the terms.

In Pimsleur Japanese, several Japanese cities, cultural landmarks, traditions and customs are referenced in as early as Level 1. Given that Pimsleur Levels 1-5 comprise 150 lessons, this is a lot of cultural information.

We are firm believers that learning a language means learning about new cultures. Pimsleur is a much better resource than Rosetta Stone in this aspect.

Mental Effort

Generally speaking, Pimsleur requires more mental effort than Rosetta Stone because you progress at a less controllable pace. In addition, a lapse of concentration will likely mean you need to rewind before being able to progress.

As you can be more passive with Rosetta Stone, you'll probably find yourself able to use it for extended periods of time. Just bear in mind that this does not make it more effective!

Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone: Pricing

When determining which language program is best, value for money obviously an important factor. In many cases, the actual cost of learning a new language depends on how much time you can spend on it each day.

If you can afford to spend four hours a day, you’ll be able to reach your preferred proficiency much faster than someone who can't. This will make a big difference with regards to the total cost of learning.

All prices are accurate as of the time of writing this review. However, companies can obviously change their pricing for new customers at any time. Make sure to double-check the prices on their websites before you subscribe to any service.

Similarly, companies may have special offers for corporate, student, or military buyers. Getting these discounts may require going through your organization.

Pimsleur Cost

Pimsleur charges $19.95/month for access to their premium subscription tier. Despite the name, this is the only real tier they offer, so the name is somewhat of a marketing gimmick.

They also offer a 7-day free trial, but this is only useful for testing the app to see if you like it. Before we signed up to premium, we only had access to one lesson (30 minutes) within the free trial.

The Pimsleur subscription plan includes access to all lessons on multiple devices, as well as additional reading resources and visual games. Unusually, Pimsleur also allows you to share a subscription account with up to three household members. This makes it a robust option for the family.

This standard plan includes a driving mode for car use, flashcards for a vocabulary review and various quiz games.

Pimsleur also sells lesson packages for each of their language levels at various price points, both as MP3s and as CDs. These are primarily audio courses, so they’re not as useful for learning to read or write languages as they are for speaking them.

Pricing for secondary products usually hovers around $120 for a thirty-lesson pack or $550 for the complete 150-lesson pack. Pricing may vary slightly between languages, depending on the complexity and number of lessons required. Strangely, CDs tend to be more expensive...

Rosetta Stone Cost

Rosetta Stone has several different pricing models, with costs varying depending on how long your subscription tier is. Their shortest pack is three months for $11.99/month, which is an upfront cost of $35.97.

The next tier is a one-year subscription for $7.99/month, which is an up-front total cost of $95.88. This is a little pricey, but it’s not bad for a whole year of access. Notably, this also provides access to all of Rosetta Stone’s languages.

The Lifetime subscription plan is a one-time fee of $179 for permanent access to their system. They also have a Lifetime Plus plan for $299, which includes 12 months of unlimited group coaching with a tutor.

In general, Rosetta Stone is more affordable than Pimsleur, whether you’re looking at monthly or yearly costs. In fact, even at their most expensive tier, Rosetta Stone is a cheaper option than Pimsleur.

Pimsleur’s downloads are also effectively lifetime subscriptions, although those are limited to one language instead of Rosetta Stone’s multiple languages.

a smartphone with the Rosetta feature

Final Verdict - Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone

While Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone are seemingly similar at first glance, they function differently. Ultimately, both have distinct strengths and weaknesses when it comes to language learning.

In terms of overall quality, we think Pimsleur is a better system. It provides more context and more engagement, while also being possible to use in more areas.

With a focus on listening and speaking, Pimsleur will help you to converse with people in the language you’re learning much more quickly than Rosetta Stone.

Since this is probably the main reason you are learning a language, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this point.

Despite this, Rosetta Stone is likely the better option for anybody dependent on visual elements when it comes to memorizing information, vocabulary or symbols.

If you’re learning a language like Chinese or Japanese, (where you have absolutely no chance of working out unlearned words) then Rosetta Stone is more suitable than Pimsleur.

Our Personal Final Thoughts on Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone

Overall, we were impressed with the user experience of both platforms and enjoyed our experience testing them on desktop and tablet. The concept and execution for both apps is great and we can understand why they've been so successful. However, a criticism would be that we'd like to see a broader range of exercises available on each platform. This would plug the gaps which exist in both.

"Pimsleur is a great way to improve overall understanding of a language. After only a few hours of Japanese, I was able to ask for directions, talk about the weather and introduce myself as an American (despite the fact I'm English!) I was impressed with the cultural content and the volume of audio lessons available. I'd like to see Pimsleur introduce more reading exercises and a greater variety of visual elements. If it did, for me it would be better than Rosetta Stone in every aspect." - James

"I enjoyed using Rosetta Stone to learn beginner level Spanish. The use of imagery definitely helped me. It would be better if words were taught with a bit more context; they're pretty useless on their own. I'd also appreciate some speaking practice with a speaker that sounds a bit less robotic. If you're already an an intermediate or advanced learner than I definitely wouldn't recommend Rosetta Stone, but it's a pretty good tool for beginners like me". - Matt