Thanks for the responses. The Pimsleur course is totally audio, with an emphasis on getting the student up and running quickly on "conversational" Italian. No reading or writing involved. I am almost done with the intro course, and find it to be a reasonably well done course. The Rosetta Stone DVD program also includes voice recognition components, which is appealing.
Re: Japanese. I believe you! I was born and raised in Japan, and the language is tough to learn, and extremely tough for a Westerner to read and write. Immersion in any language is a great way to learn quickly.
Any one else with any specific experience with these courses?