I’ve been teaching myself Spanish for the past 2 years, and I’ve tried Platiquemos (basically FSI Spanish), Pimsleur, Rocket Spanish, Learning Spanish Like Crazy, and Michel Thomas. By a close margin, I would say my personal favorite is Platiquemos IF you already are at an intermediate level AND you want to get to complete fluency AND you don’t mind doing an hour or so of work per day with the program for the next 6-8 months (all of which fit me, they may not for you). My second favorite, and the best for most beginners and intermediates, in my opinion, is Learning Spanish Like Crazy.
If you know a little (or even more than a little) Spanish already, this is definitely the program I’d most recommend. Like Rocket Spanish, it is available as a moderately-priced download (I think it costs $97), or you can get it on CD’s in a more expensive version. The multiple speakers have a variety of Latin American accents. They speak clearly but at a normal conversational speed. The 30+ lessons are accompanied by pdf transcripts of the entire lesson, so you can read what you’re hearing if you wish. You also get some written grammar lessons. When I bought the download program, I was also able to download at no additional cost levels 3 and 4 of the FSI Spanish course (FSI is Foreign Service Institute, the government institute that trains diplomats for the State Department). Oh, two more things:
1) Like Rocket Spanish, Learning Spanish Like Crazy has a very useful web forum where you can ask questions and discuss things in Spanish or English.
2) Also, Level 2 has already come out, I have it and am very impressed–it’s a perfect addition to the first one and picks up right where Level 1 leaves off. It focuses on things like the subjunctive and more advanced sentence structure and grammar, getting you ever closer to being able to hold a conversation with a native at a normal rate of speed.
By the time I finished Level 1 of Learning Spanish Like Crazy, I was way ahead of where Pimsleur is at the end of its Level 3! Pimsleur is probably the best known of the five programs I mentioned. It’s also far and away the most expensive (about $300 PER LEVEL–so $1200 for all 4 levels of Spanish), but it’s also available for free at many public libraries. That’s how I got it. By the time I tried Pimsleur, I had already finished Learning Spanish Like Crazy. I found Pimsleur somewhat disappointing. I thought it would be more challenging than it turned out to be. The people speak surprisingly slowly, even on Level 3. You don’t get to hear a conversation at normal conversational speed. That’s fine when you’re starting out, but by Level 3, the speed should be faster, and the vocabulary and grammar more varied. I had reached a more advanced level just from Level 1 of Learning Spanish Like Crazy.
Another thing I didn’t like about Pimsleur is that there are almost no written materials. If you don’t know what someone is saying, there’s no transcript to which you can refer. You also get no sense of what Spanish words look like on paper, so your ability to read doesn’t develop as well. However, Pimsleur does do an effective job of drilling Spanish into you. It makes good use of repetition. You’ll definitely learn some Spanish with Pimsleur, and if you can get it for free at your library, it’s worth a try.