Score: 9/10

Pros:
solid way to get immersion-style exposure to the Italian language from native Italian speakers; the conversations are presented in short chunks for you to digest and make associations between words; lots of cues allow you to respond to questions directed at you; plenty of audio practice activities interspersed throughout each lesson; entirely devoted to teaching you how to speak and understand spoken Italian; lessons are really more like long audio exercises, consistently prompting you to think and participate in the language

Cons:
leaves a set amount of time for you to answer questions, which is crucial for the exercises, but those pauses won’t be long enough for some students; you won’t learn to read or write the language; if you’ve already had exposure to beginner Italian, best move up to Pimsleur Italian Level 2


Over the course of 30 lessons, Pimsleur’s Comprehensive Italian covers a lot of ground – from the meaning of words to the structure and grammar of the language – all in context of everyday Italian conversations. If you’re new to Pimsleur, you’ll notice that the method is entirely audio. I’ll explain what that means for you as a language learner.

Pimsleur provides a highly regarded method that’s somewhat different from the other language guides sitting on bookstore shelves. The biggest difference is the audio-only format of these Italian. The course includes a number of CDs, but no course book to complement them.

Books and writings aren’t something the Pimsleur method lacks, since its main goal is to teach you to speak and understand spoken Italian. Writing, both historically and linguistically, is secondary to spoken language. On those grounds, Pimsleur argues that their auditory course isn’t missing written text – if anything, it’s a more natural way to learn Italian.

The lessons engage Italian students directly. In many ways, they’re like one long audio exercise, and the narrator advises you to finish one each day. Every new lesson presents you with new words and phrases, while building on older ones. The lessons don’t go quickly, but spend time dealing with elements of the language. You’ll be consistently prompted with “How do you say …?” or “How do you ask…?”, instead of simply reading through dialogues and expecting you to follow along.

The speakers on the audio CD take the time to repeat new words and phrases. The speakers even break down tougher words and pronunciation points until you can pronounce words together to form longer sentences. You’ll find many pauses that give you time to repeat along and answer questions. Still, if you need time to think, you’ll have to backtrack by rewinding the CDs or tapes. That need is especially acute if you’re a slower auditory learner, or plan to multitask by listening to the course while driving or exercising.

By the end of Pimsleur Comprehensive Italian I, you’ll listen to longer conversations and participate in more complicated exercise drills. If you would like even more practice, Pimsleur offers you the opportunity to move up to Italian level 2 and level 3 courses.

Pimsleur also cuts these thirty lessons down to the first ten in Basic Italian. Comprehensive Italian (don’t get confused – it’s the one reviewed on this page) allows you to progress more smoothly throughout all thirty lessons, and to build progressively and evenly on earlier material. You’ll tackle a wide range of conversations on dozens of everyday topics. More importantly, you’ll have many hours of exposure to spoken Italian under your belt – a huge head start wherever you plan to go from here.

It’s not easy to find such an immersive Italian course, especially if you’re an auditory learner, and you want to learn to speak Italian. At first, the price might seem too high. But know that this program is among the most effective approaches to speaking Italian available. If you’re looking to read and write the language, you can supplement this course with books about grammar, writing and pronunciation.