Sputnik Spawns 50 Years of Pimsleur Language Programs

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Pimsleur speaks, directly to its students, and for 50 years, a world of foreign language learners have not only listened, but spoken back.

In that way they have learned countless new languages, and Pimsleur has continued to develop and refine, program after language program,  so that we can now offer the Pimsleur  Method in 50 different  languages.


It’s fitting that a company with Pimsleur’s global perspective should have had its catalyst in the furor  over the launch of the Soviet Union’s Cпутникaka (Sputnik) satellite in the Fall of 1957.    Dr. Pimsleur, along with a number of other renowned linguists and experts in the field of language teaching were called to Washington, D.C.  in 1962  for a discussion on what  could be done  to improve foreign language  teaching in the States.  Math and Science were not the only areas that had been found wanting when the US education system was examined in the wake of Sputnik and the Soviets winning the race to space.

Dr. Pimsleur proposed to create a self-study audio language program based on his own classroom methodology and his experience with students at the Listening Lab, which he had created at Ohio State University.   In order to be able to judge the effectiveness of his approach he was asked to choose a language not familiar to most English speakers.   He chose Greek, which also had the advantage of a non-Romance alphabet.

Pimsleur and his wife Beverly, who served as his field researcher as he produced and recorded the course, went to Greece in March of 1962. They returned in August of that year, and the first Pimsleur Course, Speak & Read Essential Greek, A Tapeway Program,  was published in March of 1963.

We’ll delve further into Dr.  Pimsleur’s method and how it has been applied to develop Speak & Read Essential Greek, and the subsequent languages that were undertaken by Dr. Pimsleur:  French (1964), Spanish (1966),   German (1967),   and Twi (1971).  Then we’ll look at the Pimsleur Programs we produce today and how our pedagogy is rooted in the fundamentals set down by Dr. Pimsleur.

The idea behind Pimsleur Speaks  is to report on the state of language learning today – where technology is adding value, where it’s just window dressing,  who’s learning to speak a new language and why, what the global trends are–for example the overwhelming demand for English language education.  We also hope to bring news of exciting travel innovations and cultural news of interest to linguaphiles.

All this and an in-depth look at Pimsleur’s programs:  the history of the company and events we’re planning for the 50th. Anniversary year.  We’ll profile particular languages, with a focus on what our students have said about them, and other insular topics.

Stay tuned.

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