Pimselur is one of the most popular language learning programs in the world, and they’re one of the few companies to offer a course that covers European Portuguese (see the course on Pimsleur.com, US residents can get a 7-day free trial of Pimsleur).
If you’ve never tried a Pimsleur audio course before, the course is very straightforward. Although there are some reading lessons later on, the majority of the course is audio-based and there’s no focus on learning grammar or even memorising vocabulary.
A typical lesson involves listening to a short conversation between two people. Any new words and phrases are explained to you and then, using those words and everything you’ve learnt up until then, the instructor will ask you how would you might say something.
For example, if you have just learned how to say “I want a coffee” in Portuguese, you would then be asked how do you say things like “I want a glass of milk,” “I don’t want a coffee,” or “he wants a coffee, but I want a glass of milk.”
At first it can feel a little simplistic as it only covers a limited amount of vocabulary, but it’s amazing how many sentences and phrases you’ll be able to put together. It’s very effective, and it really builds your confidence as well.
Building confidence in your abilities to speak Portuguese is definitely a pro but, like everything else, there are both pros and cons to the Pimsleur approach to learning Portuguese.
Note: I’ve written a big article about learning Portuguese. It contains a lot of resources like websites, apps, books, and courses so, if you haven’t already read it, be sure to give it a read.
Easy to listen to (pro)
The course is easy to listen to while you’re doing something else like driving to work, walking, or even going to the gym. It’s perfect for when you have some dead time.
Would be helpful to see words written down (con)
The audio-only approach, or at least mainly audio-only approach, has its upsides and downsides. One downside is that it can be hard to remember a word without having seen it written down. This issue could be solved by being able to see a transcription of the dialogue at the end of the lesson.
It also means that you will leave the course without really knowing how to write Portuguese, and how to to spell a lot of the words you’ve learned. You’ll know how to say them, and you may even be able to read them, but you won’t have practiced writing them.
Use of Você (con)
The Pimsleur course heavily relies on the word “você” for you (formal) rather than the more formal, and more commonly used, “o senhor/a senhora.” In fact, a lot of Portuguese teachers will tell you not to use você in Portugal and to use “o senhor/a senhora” instead.
It also doesn’t teach the informal “tu,” which is something that anyone living in Portugal is going to need to use hopefully just as much as the formal.
Weird English translations (con)
For some reason, certain things like place names are translated into English which is just bizarre. For example, you might hear the instructor say something like “let’s say you’re in Lisbon, how would you say I want to go to Liberty Avenue?”
This is, of course, Avenida da Liberdade, but nobody has it translated in their heads as Liberty Avenue. It’s not a big issue, but it is a bit odd.
Don’t know what level you reach (con)
Pimsleur’s course is good, and it teaches you a lot, but it’s very different to most other Portuguese courses. It doesn’t cover a lot of grammar that’s normally covered at beginner level, and there’s probably a lot of vocabulary that’s not covered as well.
Unfortunately, this means that when you’re done with the course, you won’t know what level you’re at. Are you A1-level? What level course should you go for next? Pimsleur doesn’t do a level 2 for European Portuguese, so you’re going to have to move onto something else.
The reality is that you’ll have a good level of basic Portuguese, but there will be quite a few things that are covered in a more traditional beginner’s course that you won’t know. It’ll definitely be worth your while getting a textbook or A1 Portuguese course and skimming through it before moving on to the A2-level. On the plus side, though, you’ll probably have more confidence in speaking Portuguese, and you may even be better at speaking Portuguese, than someone who has just taken an A1 course. So, swings and roundabouts.
If you’re trying to avoid anything academic, there are a few other courses, like Carla’s Babies or the Practice Portuguese Podcast, that aren’t really tied to an academic level and are a good next step. There are also plenty of free resources for learning Portuguese that are going to be helpful as well.
Some people like to be able to stick with one system from start to finish. If that’s you, have a look at their Portuguese Lab (medium academic) or Michel Thomas’ Portuguese courses (less academic). Portuguese Lab will take you to B2 while Michel Thomas’ Portuguese courses go from “Foundation Portuguese” to “Intermediate Portuguese.”
At a normal price of $119.95, Pimsleur’s European Portuguese is quite expensive – especially considering where it leaves you. While I do like the approach, it’s not enough on it’s own so you would have to buy this and later buy a more complete beginner’s course as well.
If you’re happy to spend the money, it’ll definitely get you speaking basic Portuguese confidently. It’s also very easy-going and natural, and it’s nice to avoid the grammar books.
For the same money, however, you can get a more complete beginner’s course. It might be a little drier, and it may not get you speaking as confidently, but it’ll feel like better value for money.
So, is it worth it?
Overall, I really liked Pimsleur’s European Portuguese. It taught me a lot, gave me confidence, and got me speaking. I also like the way I can learn it while I’m doing something else like driving.
My biggest gripes, as mentioned above, are price and where it leaves you. If you can get past those two things, it’s definitely worth heading over to Pimsleur and picking up a copy.