Michel Thomas Review
Michel Thomas is an unorthodox yet effective method of learning the fundamentals of a language. The classroom situation may not appeal to everyone but it is relaxed and friendly and you can gauge your progress along with the other two students. Grammar and vocabulary is introduced and discussed effectively and you slowly learn to use different pronouns and tenses without realising what you are doing. The initial learning of words that are similar to English stocks you up early with enough vocabulary to form sentences, and then new words and vocabulary are brought in and used to form new sentences around them—you can make full sentences from the very beginning.
One of the downsides of the Michel Thomas course is that there is not a native speaker in sight. Michel can speak Spanish certainly and he teaches how to ‘push’ the tone and stresses on the words, but you can’t get away from the fact that he has a Polish accent and doesn’t sound Spanish in the slightest. Add to that the fact that his Polish accented English never really inspires and it could be said that he may not be the perfect man for the job (Although I never doubt his knowledge or his teaching skills).
It should be noted that the Michel Thomas group have recently brought out updated language courses in more languages, with different teachers. I will try and get copies of them to review soon but from what I have read they are supposed to be very good.
Michel Thomas is a stand-alone audio course that places you in a classroom with Michel Thomas and two of his other students. Michel teaches you vocabulary and sentence structure through asking for translated responses to his English. This technique works but may not appeal to everybody. A lot of vocabulary is learned especially through his fondness for teaching words that are similar in English and the foreign language .
The audio files are simple to put onto CD, mp3 player or computer, and can be listened to anywhere at any time. Responses should be spoken aloud with the other students.
Michel Thomas’s unashamed use of word similarity probably means you learn more words in this course than any other, for example there are literally hundreds of words in English that end in ‘tion’ that in Spanish are the same but end in ‘cion’. This means that you could learn many words just while reading this review, however, what is important is how many of the words will be useful for you in general conversation.
Michel Thomas does discuss tones and stresses (e.g most words have the penultimate syllable stressed) and pushes his students (and you) to pronounce the words correctly. One major flaw with this is that, although Michel Thomas is an extremely gifted linguist, he is not a native speaker. It is obvious he can speak Spanish fluently but he does so with a relatively heavy Polish accent. I have to say that although this is not ideal for learning a language perfectly I did not really find it a hindrance and found his Spanish quite easy to follow and learn. What i found more of a hindrance was his accented English. After a while I found his voice became a little monotonous and boring, and although he seemed nice and extremely patient, he didn’t seem extremely dynamic.
As you are counted as part of a trio of students in this course you are not given any pause time to think of an answer and respond. Michel says a sentence in English and you have the same time as the other students to respond. Thankfully most of the time this is not much of a problem as they do not tend to answer especially fast (especially the guy) and often get the translation wrong and have to do it again. There are occasions, however, when more time would be preferable and the pause button must be used—this is obviously not possible while driving or jogging though. For the majority of the time though the group session concept works just fine and it is actually quite satisfying when you see your progress next to the other students.
Spelling & grammar
Although Michel Thomas does do a a good job of reintroducing previous vocabulary as he progresses through his lessons, and he often uses word association to help you remember new vocabulary easily, I am not sure I can agree with his claim of ‘no memorisation required’; I think I understand what he means, but to me memorisation is committing something to memory, and if you don’t do that it is very unlikely that you will learn anything. That said, Michel does do a very good job of making life easy to remember things without ever having to write them down; he even spells words out so you can visualise them (in the Spanish course at least), and addresses grammar gradually as he goes along, even to the extent of showing how verbs are conjugated for each personal pronoun. He does all of this through conversation only, telling the students the rules and then putting them into practice sentences. This does work to a degree, and that degree will depend on what kind of learner you are. I liked it and found it surprisingly effective although not as engaging or memorable as the situation conversations in Pimsleur. The grammar and spelling of vocabulary is probably better in Michel Thomas than Pimsleur but if you want to just learn how to speak a language then I think Pimsleur edges it—although only just.
I think Michel Thomas is a great introduction to a language, and the realisation that you already know hundreds of words in the language is a great morale boost for your studies. It is an excellent course to give yourself a foundation of vocabulary and grammar and probably the word recognition and pronunciation skills to get by, but if you want to get further in a language you will certainly need to progress past this. I am sure the advanced courses will take you somewhere along the way (I haven’t tried them) but if they use the same technique they will never give you everything.
Michel Thomas will give you an excellent all-round introduction to a language—but that is all.
As with most audio courses it couldn’t be easier to use. Once the CD is in or the files have been downloaded just double click the lesson and you’re off. There is no writing or reading, just listening to Michel and translating the sentences he gives you. Learning the many Spanish words that are similar to English words was so easy that it’s a pity I cannot give it 6 stars.
Michel Thomas is a very reasonable price for the 8 hour course [actually 10 hours now with the bonus review hours] especially if you buy it as a download. The official websites for Michel Thomas promote CD delivery only and (on the UK site) at a cost of £70 (about $100) for the Spanish foundation course. If you choose to go with Michel Thomas then I would definitely advise to download. It is of course also much easier to load onto an ipod or a phone or other mobile device as mp3s than the wav files of a CD. As a download you can get the course for much cheaper as well (about half the price of the official CDs) and yes they are perfectly legal. Excellent value for money for 10 hours of solid material.