Which Language Course Is Best: Michel Thomas Or Pimsleur?

I finally got around to checking out the Michel Thomas course for Spanish after getting many recommendations from readers. The audio course is a recorded classroom instruction done by the late Michel Thomas, a Polish borne linguist and World War 2 adventurer.

His talent comes in breaking down the language into component parts and then providing simple rules and mnemonics to help you remember. For example, his “nose rule” for Spanish tells you that you should stress the second-to-last syllable in Spanish words that end with n, s, or a vowel. I’ve been studying Spanish for a while and never was taught a rule to remember the stress. His course is like an audio version of Madrigals Key To Spanish book, which I found to be extremely  intuitive and practical.

I was initially skeptical to learn Spanish from Michel since he’s not a native speaker, but his insistence on mastering pronunciation helped me more than learning from actual native speakers. His method strongly focuses on clarity, something I desperately needed as women have often told me that my Spanish sounds “robotic” because of not enunciating the vowels. I quickly got used to Thomas’ accent and enjoyed his soothing, paternal coo.

The Thomas course is a mixture of instruction and call-and-response, unlike Pimsleur which is solely call-and-response. I understand the Pimsleur argument that if little kids don’t need to be taught grammar rules then you don’t either, but we’re not little kids. Telling an adult a rule can make him understand the language a lot faster, so I’ll have to give Thomas’ course an edge in helping you understand the nuts and bolts of the language.

Pimsleur courses aim to burn the rules into your head unconsciously, but it kills you not to know the rules. Adults need to know the why. Thomas helped me clarify the basic rules of Spanish that I should’ve already known.

Pimsleur does have an advantage in that it teaches you more touristy phrases that help you get by in a country from day one while Thomas focuses on casual conversation. Another positive with Pimsleur is that it gives you a lot more vocabulary, especially verbs (Thomas focuses only on a dozen verbs). While the Thomas course gives you a better understanding of the words you do know, it was much too limited to speak at length. I also liked the more structured approach to Pimsleur that forced you to stay alert the entire time. Sometimes during a long-winded Thomas soliloquy I lost attention and dozed off until I was forced to come up with an answer.

From this point on I’m going to recommend you do Pimsleur first in order to get around in the language (in taxis, restaurants, ticket offices, etc), and then Michel Thomas to aid you in real conversation with women. Since both courses are extremely helpful, I don’t see them as competitors but synergistic tools when learning a language through audio. If your goal is to master a language in the shortest amount of time, doing both is the way to go.

Read Next: This May Be The Fastest Way To Learn A Language 

27 thoughts on “Which Language Course Is Best: Michel Thomas Or Pimsleur?”

  1. Roosh – what kind of time commitment is needed for these courses? Is there an iPad app for both?

    1. Both can be found in MP3. You can load the files on your phone.
      One unit of Pimsleur is 15 hours. The major languages have three units (45 hours total). You will likely have to do each lesson twice, so that’s a 100 hour time commitment. If you’re a newbie language learner, you may have each lesson 3 or 4 times.
      Michel Thomas is much shorter. Their entire Polish course is 12 hours. Again, you have to repeat each lesson at least once.
      Don’t be mistaken: these aren’t shortcuts, but they do give you a good language foundation to supplement notecards and other book resources.

  2. Neither. srs like anki and native materials as well as watching and listening to native content is what you need.

    1. And how much speaking practice do those give you? Zero. Great strategy if you plan on reading instead of talking.

      1. Speaking comes naturally when you’ve listened to enough native materials. Look up antimoon.com. Bunch of polish dudes learned English to fluency and you can even hear then speak with no accent (which if you know polish people you would think would be an impossibility)

  3. Do you have any input on Rosetta stone? I have downloaded it for free but I keep hearing mixed reviews.

    1. I was coming out of one of my local Apple stores and there was a kiosk for Rosetta. I got hooked up on the Spanish program and stood there for about 20 minutes, listening to the situation and then speaking it into the mic. There was a voice analyzer right there on the screen and my the feedback on my pronunciation was immediate! I never felt like a fool or like I was boring someone! Also, as the conversation went on, I “instinctively” began to grasp the whole of the conversation; not by understanding each word, but by taking in all the non-verbal clues, as well as recognizing the similarities between English and Spanish. After 20 minutes I didn’t wan to quit!
      So why didn’t I buy the Spanish Set? One, like most Americans, I don’t really NEED to learn a foreign language. Second, at between $400-$600, it’s kinda expensive. And three, I probably will some day, just for fun!
      I have lived in several foreign countries and learned conversational Japanese, German and Hindi, but none very well. I can order food and find my way around. None however was as fun as those 20 minutes with Rosetta.
      Thomas Kaye was not compensated for this endorsement. Your results may vary.

  4. I’ve never tried Michel Thomas, but I have tried Pimsleur for Mandarin, Italian and Greek. I don’t know if it’s because I learned two language at a young age, or just the way my brain is wired, but I can learn the rules of the language just from following the Pimsleur lessons. This worked for Mandarin and Greek quite well. It’s not fair to compare Italian because one of my first languages, Spanish, is very similar to Italian, so I was able to figure out Italian very easily.
    Without knowing more about Thomas, I would have to recommend starting with Pimsleur and then moving on to Thomas if you don’t seem to be able to pick up the rules or maybe even another teaching method. I’d be interested to hear about other people’s experiences and what worked best for them, especially in the context of their previous language experience.

  5. I just got the full 5 disc set of Rosetta Stone. Not sure how it measures up, but it was free, so I’ll take it.
    I love Spanish, and wish to master it. I’d like to think that any of these programs, combined with immersion, would help a guy make a lot of progress. If I could just get to a proficient level, I think I could read Spanish material in general in order to complete the process.
    If I can accomplish the immersion part, I’ll be having fun either way

  6. I tried Pimsleur Eastern Arabic Level 1. To this monolingual English speaker Arabic seemed a strange and difficult language, but I was reasonably pleased at how much of it I was able to pick up. While hardly fluent, I’m off to a decent start.

  7. I used Pimsleur Mandarin and Vietnamese. Highly recommended. Astonishes natives when you use even a little on them.
    Struggled also with “Modern Spoken Cambodian”, which I think is free now on the web. Often I think natives just don’t expect you to speak their language. When I left Cambodia the last time I left the book in a hotel, having defaced it to say “Modern Broken Cambodian”. Not unusual to meet uneducated people in border areas who speak 4 languages, Viet, Khmer, Chinese, and English while educated western guys like me can’t even order a bowl of noodles. In “Hue” I was at a viet-only restaurant and they struggled to take my order, then brought me a whole fucking chicken. I ate it like that is what I wanted.
    At my wife’s home they produced a Khmer woman and I spoke to her in Khmer. She smiled politely and left. Later they tole me she said she did not understand what I was saying. Really I should practice viet with my wife, who herself studies English diligently every day. Eventually we will move back there and I should have some ability, but difficult for a flat-toned midwesterner to get those tones right for them to understand. Anyway, thanks to Pimsleur I can say “I speak a little Vietnamese, but not very well”. Always good for a hearty laugh.
    Also my wife says the Foreign Service Vietnamese is too “northern” and won’t help me with it.
    Sir Richard Francis Burton said the best place to learn a language was in bed with a woman.

    1. You do realize that Huffman’s “Modern Spoken Cambodian” is not intended to instruct the reader how to properly use Cambodian grammar, right?
      The text is intended solely for learning the writing system and how to pronounce the written symbols.
      If you had actually read the text you would have known that. I bet you put it down after 5 pages after throwing your hands up from seeing words like ‘alveolar’ and ‘fricative’. The actual core of the book is only 80 pages long.
      This text is still the foremost way to learn how to read written Khmer, over 40 years after its publication. I learned how to read written Khmer script with the aid of a dictionary and the tables provided after putting about 6 hours into this book. Use wikipedia if you don’t understand the linguistic terminology. And if you don’t understand IPA (which is crucial to this book’s success), spend a couple hours learning it and you’ll be golden.

      1. I believe you’re thinking of Huffman’s Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader, which meets the description you’re giving.
        Modern Spoken Cambodian (which is sitting next to me as I type this) is 400 pages long, focuses on grammar and the differences between sounds, and does not include *any* of the written language (or at least so little that I don’t spot it as I’m flipping through the book).

  8. Michel Thomas method seems like a well kept secret at times. I’m surprised it took me so long to discover it.
    It’s the only system that has really worked for me, after trying 4 or 5 others, including classes – all of which I usually gave up due to waning motivation. MT always keeps me excited to be learning and making progress.
    I hate memorising phrases and words, exam studying style. There is something more natural about MT.

  9. I recommend Assimil courses. They are a great introduction to form a solid base (pronunciation,1000-2000 words, main grammatical points, etc) . Each course has around 100 lessons, so you can complete it in 3 months on a normal pace. After that you can move to bilingual texts (Internet is great for this), subtitled video material , songs, etc and try your first conversations with native speakers since you have the basics well drilled.
    A very rough guideline to reach a decent level in 6 months would be:
    2 months Assimil (Or FSI which is free) to get an excellent foundation.
    2 months of using native material (read 3-4 novels, watch 40 movies, read newspapers articles daily)
    2 months of active use of the language (chat, forums, phone, picking up chicks)

    1. Watch 40 movies in 2 months (not to mention reading 3-4 novels and reading articles)? That’s 2 movies in one day at times. At an early level, how would you really be able to take in the language being used in these movies you are watching at this pace without stopping to repeat and looking things up etc.? Doesn’t seem very efficient or practical for most people. I suppose though if you have a ton of free time you could totally do this but for most of us this isn’t a realistic timeline.

  10. I really don’t understand these positive comments about the Michel Thomas method because I found it to be the absolutely worst audio language course I’ve ever heard. I already speak Spanish just not totally fluently and someone had given my husband the Michel Thomas cds for learning Spanish and I was curious about them so I started listening to them.
    He starts off almost immediately with having his students over-stress the stressed syllables and at first I thought that this was just to get them to understand where the stress occured and once they understood it, he would have them pronounce things properly. But he kept at it, getting more extreme with each lesson and I felt immensely sorry for the poor students who were trying to learn Spanish and instead were being brow-beaten repeatedly if they didn’ pronounce “puedo” like “puEEEYdo”. Nobody talks like that – in any language. So I skipped ahead to the last lesson thinking perhaps he’d stopped this insane forcing of ridiculous pronounciations but, alas, no he hadn’t he was still harping on about the “push” and making the students pronounce the verbs in this unpleasant and unnatural way. I don’t see how anyone could learn much of anything except how to pronounce verbs in this laughable manner because this makes up about 50% of what the tapes are about.
    There are all sorts of good audio language courses available on the web these days. Don’t make the mistake of trying the Michel Thomas course. If you’re like me, you’ll end up just wanting to slap him and tell him to snap out of it, then throw the cds in the bin.

    1. I think you missed the point with the stress. He exaggerates it ad absurdum as a training aid. He isn’t telling the students that Spaaaaanish speaaaaaakers taaaaalk liiiiiike thiiiis. We would never learn pronunciation and accent if we didn’t mimic and exaggerate those aspects least familiar to us. Do you talk to a baby/toddler in a normal mumble? Or would you exaggerate corrections to aspects of pronunciation/grammar that they get wrong to help highlight the improvements?
      Also, If you already speak Spanish, don’t listen to a beginners Spanish course!

    2. Michel Thomas method is actually very good. It’s the fastest way to grab the basics of a language. From there you only need to add vocabulary. You can learn to converse in a matter of days. He stresses pronunciation a lot to make sure the student understands what they say and how the pronunciation works at its most basic level. Don’t assume you are an expert because you speak the language.

    3. I totally disagree with your conclusion here. He does indeed encourage you to overstress, because that clarifies & exercises the necessary sounds and drums them into you. When I used his courses, I went from zero to simple conversational in 1-2 weeks each for french, spanish and italian. I also noticed that natives didn’t stress as much as he did and it was easy for me to tone it down. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that if I had trained not to use & hear such clear stresses, it would have been harder for me to understand natives & harder to adjust my own accent. In any case, perfecting the accent should not be a new student’s first concern, especially as regional accents vary so much. I absolutely recommend his courses to any beginner.

  11. Three tries for me for Chinese:
    First: 1 year Chinese at university -> no one in China understanding one single word I say.
    Second: half a year Pimsleur for 25 min almost every evening -> people answering me in real (and really fast) sentences I did not understand, then wondering why I didn’t (lacked vocabulary)
    Third: Two two-week holidays on the beach with Assimil book & audio -> giving a speech at friend’s wedding.
    For any language, I recommend reading the basics in Assimil first (the book is like $20), then do Pimsleur (it’s $$$), then do Assimil for the vocabulary (buy mp3!). If you go to a gym anyway, 1 year at the gym will do for a new language linke you learned it in school for 5 years (my Chinese is still a little worse than my English). Be aware: It doesn’t teach you to read/write funny alphabets (well, Assimil does, but badly); and being able to read books improves your language skills greatly. But anyway: Learn Spanish or French. English already gives you half the world, French and Spanish the rest. So: why bother if you don’t plan to live there?

  12. I’ve done French and Greek using both. If you can only afford one or the other, buy MICHEL THOMAS especially if it is himself actually teaching the course, eg: Polish, French, Spanish & Italian. His technique is very good but his own teaching skills are better than his protégés, eg: Greek, Japanese etc.
    Like everyone else said, progress is FAST! but with NO EFFORT with the MT method!
    For me, the secret is to start with the Michel Thomas Method (~14 CDs in all) to learn the grammar and pronunciation with plenty of practice, then switch to Pimsleur (~8CDs) to learn to speed up my listening and speaking skills. Our local library stocks both 🙂
    Don’t worry about vocabulary – everyone’s needs are different (and travel phrases can be picked up from a little phrase book).
    Also very good for travellers, is the Earworm Rapid Learning technique (2CDs) which is fun for learning a few travel phrases, but it is not very thorough, and no grammar.
    Can anyone comment on Rosetta Stone method please?

  13. I loved it when I found Pimsleur for learning spanish, and listened and repeated the files again and again in my car. They were so expensive, so I just had to use them. I became a bit better, but not very much fluent.
    Then I discovered Michel Thomas. And listened to his classes in my car all the time, and at first I thought that this was no good, but he did it very simple also. I also was reading a lot grammatical and had a teacher, and I felt I could read and listen and write – but I could´t speak and respond to people.
    I could´t do that before I discovered Synergy Spanish by Marcus Sanamaria, and after listened to his free lessons on his page and youtube, I wanted to try and after a short while I found myself speaking with people. I live in a spanish speaking country, so it was good for me at least.
    I guess we all are different, but this I found so simple that it was genius – and I can´t tell why it worked so fast for me – maybe because I had done all the other courses from before.

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