Why I Don’t Recommend Michel Thomas (Review)
- Written byDonovan Nagel
- Read time12 mins
- Simplifies various language concepts well
- Good range of languages
- Way too much English
- No listening comprehension
- Teacher is held solely responsible for outcome
- Explicit grammar instruction
- A-list celebrity endorsements without educational endorsements
Michel Thomas' focus on functional building blocks is great, but the course is in no way worthy of its household name in language education. The excessive use of English to 'explain' the target language and a complete lack of listening comprehension deprive learners of any substance.
MT has a cult following and A-list celebrity endorsements but no strong support from linguists or educators.
NOTE: I’ve recommended a far better, more user-friendly (and less expensive) alternative to Michel Thomas recently.
Select a language here:
Make sure to check out my Essential Language Learning Tools page as well for other resources and recommendations.
I was recently sent a few copies of the Michel Thomas Total Arabic and Perfect Arabic courses from the good folks over at Hodder Education in exchange for an honest review.
This is a product that I’ve wanted to look at for a long time as MT is still a very popular course among language learners.
Michel Thomas is a popular household name that most of us are familiar with and it’s certainly a course that I get asked about quite often (particularly the Arabic edition).
I’ve spent the last few weeks meticulously going through the content and researching its method.
Unfortunately, I wanted to include some Q&A with Hodder Education along with this review (I always like to fire off challenging questions to content creators and publishers to get some substantive answers) but Hodder never followed up on my request for additonal information.
Not sure why that is but it’s a shame.
So no Q&A on this one! 😐
However I will provide my in-depth and brutal assessment of the Michel Thomas Method anyway.
Make sure to share your own experience and thoughts in the comment section below.
The Michel Thomas Method has been around for a long time but age is not a reliable indicator of quality
Like so many other products that I’ve taken the time to write about, decent reviews on the Michel Thomas Method are virtually non-existent.
What I have seen first of all is an assumption by many that age = high quality.
As I pointed out in my Assimil, Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone reviews, the fact that something has been around for a long time does not bestow authority.
This is *especially* true in the realm of language education.**
Consensus on effective methods changes dramatically over time, and approaches that were extremely popular decades ago (like that of Michel Thomas) may have been rendered obsolete by contemporary research.
Or it may just be that MT was pioneering and innovative back in the day though it would probably struggle to stand out in today’s market.
I should also add that although Michel Thomas’ famous war story (his Nazi resistance and role in interrogation in WW2) is an incredible tale that’s well documented (there’s even a good biographical account on it), this does not warrant conferring extra weight to his teaching methodology which was developed many years later.
Yes, his story is heroic and inspiring.
No, this did not necessarily make him a good teacher nor did it say it anything about the development of his method.
UPDATE: Shortly after writing this review, I was contacted by an investigative journalist from the LA Times who debunked Michel Thomas’ war story (see his points here).
Ever asked yourself why Michel Thomas is endorsed by so many A-list celebrities?
Before we even get into the substance of the MT Method, there’s one thing that’s always had me curious.
The Michel Thomas Method came out of his Polyglot Institute in Beverley Hills, and seemed to rely heavily on celebrity endorsements rather than letting the method’s results speak for themselves unlike other big name competitors.
It’s a course that’s marketed primarily for and by the rich and famous.
By the way, if there’s anything the recent US election has taught me, it’s that Hollywood endorsements aren’t worth much! (see here and here) 🙂
The Michel Thomas Total course sitting in front of me has a dozen A-list celebrities’ names written on it under the heading, “The method chosen by the stars”.
The first thing you see on the Michel Thomas website as soon as you land on it is a big bold quote from Stephen Fry:
“A unique and perfectly brilliant way of teaching languages.”
Then there’s another quote displayed by Woody Allen:
“You learn a language effortlessly. It is amazing. Michel had me speaking French and I learned it in a way I’ve never forgotten, and it was painless. A tremendous experience.”
I should add – Woody’s testimony doesn’t quite match up with this recent interview in France:
I see these A-list endorsements in Michel Thomas advertising, on other reviews and videos and what it says to me is that somebody somewhere probably got paid good money to say very nice things.
These aren’t linguists or teachers making recommendations.
And they make a living by doing and saying things that aren’t necessarily true.
You are responsible for your own learning
“Before starting, I’m going to set up a very important rule, a very important ground rule and that rule is:
For you never to worry about remembering, never to worry about remembering anything and therefore not to try, never to try to remember anything from one moment to the next.
This is a method with a responsibility for your remembering and for learning… [inaudible]. So if at any point there’s something you don’t remember, this is not your problem.
It will be up to me to know why you don’t remember individually and what to do about it.”
– Michel Thomas, The Language Master 1997
One thing that I find particularly at odds with everything I’ve learned as a language educator is the Michel Thomas emphasis on full teacher responsibility.
The teacher – not the student – is the one responsible for the learning outcome.
In fact, the Michel Thomas website even states:
“There’s no such thing as a poor student, only a poor teacher.”
I can’t disagree with this statement enough and I actually think it’s a very detrimental thing to imply as it leads learners to forever blame teachers for their failures.
While it’s absolutely true that there are some terrible teachers out there who don’t know what they’re doing in the classroom and/or use ineffective teaching methodologies, the responsibility for learning ultimately rests on the learner.
Even as children we can’t be forced to acquire knowledge. We can only be guided.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink! 🙂
The Michel Thomas classroom is 100% teacher-controlled.
Unlike a contemporary language classroom that uses a communicative approach and allows students to move around, form groups and have the freedom to interact and make mistakes, the MT setting is like a psychiatrist’s couch where the students’ hands are held through every single step of the session.
There are constant error corrections by the teacher.
One main feature of the MT Method is that the teacher maintains flow until a student makes a mistake in which case they’re instantly corrected on the spot before moving on.
While it’s still a contentious issue for some, most language teachers these days would argue against this.
The general consensus in second language teaching these days is to correct errors if there’s a miscommunication in meaning but that stopping students every single time they make a grammar mistake is detrimental to self-esteem and motivation.
Whatever your view or preference is on this issue, it’s worth bearing in mind that the MT classroom is not student-led.
Strong emphasis on the learner not feeling any pressure or stress
“It is very important for you when you walk out not to practice, not to try to remember, not to review mentally and not to test yourself…”
There has been a lot of study on psychological factors relating to language learning and much of it has centered on stress and anxiety.
Without doubt, high anxiety can negatively affect performance, self-esteem and overall acquisition.
So what Michel Thomas has tried to do is to create an atmosphere in the classroom where students feel completely calm with no burden of expectation.
He does this by setting a ground rule where the students are “not to try to remember”.
Now, this may have a positive effect on some students with reduced pressure to perform but I should also note that pressure isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes we benefit from being under pressure as it pushes us to try harder.
Language is a cognitive skill after all and skills require hard work to improve at.
I also find it really troubling to hear a teacher say “don’t practice” and “don’t review mentally”.
This is terrible advice.
I can’t see any real practical benefit to telling students to do this other than possible stress reduction.
The teacher talks so much English that it feels more like an English lesson
In the Michel Thomas recordings, you hear four people:
The native English-speaking host, a native speaker of the target language (in my case Arabic) and two students.
They call it a virtual classroom where you’re able to put yourself in the students’ place and learn through their mistakes and subsequent error corrections.
Unfortunately the course is almost entirely taken up by English.
If I were to estimate percentages of how much time each person takes up throughout the entire audio course, I’d say the native English speaker is probably about 85%, the students 10% and the native Arabic speaker the remaining 5%.
As I was listening to the Egyptian Arabic course, I found myself constantly thinking in frustration:
“Would you just shut up and let Mahmood (the native Arabic speaker) talk please?”
The British woman who hosts and teaches the course is, as Michel Thomas was himself, very much in charge of the lesson.
Mahmood plays a complimentary role and apart from a few cultural notes that he dictates, his primary purpose appears to be to demonstrate correct pronunciation. The British woman teaches the course and periodically refers to him to demonstrate.
Now, I can understand how this may be desirable for some learners.
Some people do find they get a better grasp on concepts when they hear them explained by a speaker of their own language.
And that really is something that she does well admittedly – breaking grammar down into easily digestible concepts.
For example, when she’s talking about mumkin (ممكن) and laazim (لازم) in Egyptian Arabic and the way they’re both used when combined with verbs, in my opinion she does a pretty good job of turning it into a simple concept to grasp for a totally new learner.
But the main issue for me is that her accent is awful.
She continues to teach Arabic using dreadful pronunciation even though there’s a native speaker sitting right beside her. It’s painful at times to listen to.
And in my opinion, you should be learning from native speakers anyway (unless it’s not an option).
This gets me to my next point.
What about listening comprehension in Michel Thomas?
This is by far the biggest problem with the Michel Thomas Method (in my opinion).
The course does not – in any way whatsoever – train listening comprehension skills.
It is in fact 100% devoid of any authentic listening opportunities.
As I always say, listening comprehension is the most difficult part of learning a new language and it takes the longest time to train. You can learn to speak a language very quickly in fact but being able to understand what people are saying when they reply back to you is a skill that takes a lot of time to hone.
I actually find the course to be disingenuous in this regard.
The reason why I say it’s disingenuous is because for the entire duration of the course, the students are being asked questions primarily in English to give a target language response.
Over the duration of the course, they’re learning how to give certain responses when prompted and various mnemonic techniques for remembering words but they’re never really thrown into an actual conversation where they have to apply listening skills.
The course encourages them to think in English the whole time but respond in Arabic.
Naturally, this “no pressure” method does not equip anyone for real-world interaction.
It would be very easy after a week of Michel Thomas classes to think that you’ve learned the target language to a proficient level, then step outside and quickly discover how little you actually know.
The focus on function words, structure and building blocks
If there’s one thing I think that Michel Thomas actually does right, it’s this.
As I said above, the English-speaking teacher does a very good job of breaking grammar down into easily digestible concepts or blocks.
So instead of going into a big spiel about verb conjugation for example, she gives a verb form and then demonstrates how to plug that verb form into a sentence pattern.
This is basically along the same lines as a method I call chunking.
It gets you away from burdensome grammar memorization and focuses more on piecing building blocks together to form coherent and natural sentences.
I explain this in detail here.
For the Arabic edition that I sampled, it does a very good job at this and explains to a degree why MT was able to assure a functional command of the language within days.
NOTE: The levelling of the Michel Thomas Total and Perfect courses are totally incorrect (they suggest Total = Beginner to Intermediate and Perfect = Intermediate to Advanced).
In reality, the short and sparse nature of the content wouldn’t take you beyond an Elementary level at all.
Overall, Michel Thomas is not a course that I’d honestly recommend
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the total lack of listening comprehension and the excessive amount of English, I would be happy to recommend the Michel Thomas Method.
But as it stands, I cannot and will not.
The focus on functional building blocks is excellent and indeed good.
Also, as far as the Arabic edition goes, it’s good to see another product that teaches a spoken dialect (Egyptian) rather than Modern Standard.
But the fact that they have a native speaker present only in a complimentary role, while a non-native English speaker with horrid pronunciation does most of the talking is just baffling to me.
It makes no sense and reduces the overall quality of the course.
I’m also wary of advertising that relies heavily on A-list celebrity endorsement while the founder, Michel Thomas, was evasive about how he developed his method.
If you’re able to pick up a cheap copy then it might help you get started, but in my opinion there are many other courses and products more worthy of the full cost of this program.
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I have to disagree with your overall assessment. I used MTM for Spanish and I basically have learned the language from that course only. It gave me the basic grammatical structure of the entire language in my head without having to refer to books. I then travelled to Spain and used it to speak to people and it was extremely empowering. The main thing I did after of the course is to learn more vocab and read a bit further into particular grammatical concepts such as indirect object pronouns. However the course has basically taught me Spanish and I am grateful for that. The vocab builder was by a different woman and I found her accent highly annoying so I can understand your point about the Arabic pronunciation. Also I feel (though this is just my personal opinion) that the course works better for European languages, or related languages rather than completely different ones like Arabic. I have never tried any of the ones that Michel didn’t do himself - but my use of German one and Italian have also been positive.
I think different methods work for different people, as different people learn languages differently. So as an applied linguistics graduate you shouldn’t just be saying X language method is the best. It really depends on the individual.
Its all free on internet archives. I wouldn’t pay for it or use it if it wasn’t free. The students are fake as well in the lessons. I know a guy who was hired to play the role of the student. He was 100% fluent in said language.
So you didn’t post my comment. You seem to think it’s fine to attempt to discredit Michel Thomas and his teaching styles in more than 3000 words, which I find somewhat unnecessary but it’s not ok for other people to defend him. It’s very unprofessional to go to the lengths you have in order to bring him into some sort of disrepute, slagging off his methods and accusing him of not being truthful about his past. More than likely Hodder & Stoughton used that information as a back story for the man himself. What’s the harm in that if it’s the truth? The best thing you could do is delete the whole Michel Thomas review and concentrate on what’s positive for your website. After reading through the comments you’re really not doing yourself any favours.
Wow, you’ve certainly got it in for Michel Thomas. 99% negativity to 1% praise.
I’ve used 2 Michel Thomas courses, Spanish and German and found them very effective in teaching the building blocks of a language to get you communicating in that language very quickly. There isn’t a course on the market that teaches you absolutely everything effectively and you should always use different mediums for different aspects of the language. e.g. Duolingo is one of the most popular online learning courses in the world (because it’s free) and I found it useful to begin with, however, it doesn’t explain anything whereas MT and SpanishDict explain everything very well, in English of course, it would be ludicrous to try and explain it in Spanish to a beginner. Duolingo does have endless Podcast stories for listening comprehension and the main course gives you points and stars as you learn more, something a lot of people would need as encouragement to continue. SpanishDict (free or paid for) has videos with native Spanish speakers to help with listening and also has vocabulary lists which I continue to find very useful. Using all three helped me in several (not all) aspects of learning Spanish as there is no substitute for living in a Spanish speaking country.
You relate to MT’s A-List celebrity students as a bunch of imbeciles that don’t know what they’re talking about and reviews should only be by trained linguists. Learning Spanish Like Crazy have reviews by their students, is that also unacceptable? Actors will always need to learn new skills very quickly and MT has served them well in using a new language for professional purposes, hence the positives reviews by them but you do want us to listen to Woody Allen’s negative review, somewhat a contradiction in terms. I must confess, I didn’t watch it.
I can only assume that you want to discredit his courses as they’re a threat to sales of other courses you want to push, why else put a “other courses I recommend” drop down menu? I believe that MT’s courses will continue to sell and be popular as he really does have a knack of helping adults to translate English into a new language, something that is unavoidable as a beginner.
MT made a living and a good name for himself as a successful language teacher. As MT says himself at the end of the Spanish course “I have helped you build a house, now it’s up to you to decorate it” I couldn’t agree more and would highly recommend it.
I have done Michel Thomas Spanish, and as you did not in fact point out, you become so engrossed in the course that you fail to realize whet he is not teaching you, and that is as you say normal conversation. You do remember what you have learned, he is very good that way, but this and the fact that after doing the course and the advanced course, vocabulary builder, I hardly knew any vocabulary at all.In fact I was trying to think what vocabulary I did know and it was virtually nothing plus I could not understand a word when listening to conversation.
I thereupon turned to Duolingo to cover the above points. Great fun but that, like all these courses, will not make you fluent. You have to live there or have total immersion like with Berlitz.
There is a vocabulary builder there but it mainly shows you how many words are similar in Spanish. Nowhere near good enough.
I totally disagree with you. Disclaimer: I have never made it through more than a couple of CDs, but that’s totally down to me having no real incentive to learn the languages (ie started italian because was meant to be moving there, then stopped when no longer moving there). I learned French to degree level and spent a year studying and working in France, so although I wouldn’t call myself a linguist, I spent 11 years of my life studying languages, and got relatively fluent in French.
What I love about Michel Thomas is that he makes it fun. Sure, learning the rules of grammer is important, but not as important as enjoying speaking the language. I once met a polish guy whose english grammer was appalling and who spoke a wierd combination of different languages, but he was understandable because he loved speaking english and so could get his point across. If you don’t love speaking the language, you’re unlikely to get far enough to learn grammer rules.
Also you spoke about listening comprehension (aka the most dull and tedious paet of learning a foreign language). Again I disagree. A child doesn’t learn their mother tongue by being forced to try and comprehend every word their mother says. She speaks to the baby/child in words they can understand, and that’s what Michel Thomas does. Of course listening comprehension plays a part, and of course grammer rules play a part, but you are not going to become fluent by doing a michel thomas course (or indeed any single course). There is plenty of time for grammer and dull tedium (aka listening comprehensions) once you’ve finished the course and you’ve gained a love of the language.
I’ve loved every second of doing Michel Thomas courses, and for me, that’s the most important thing.
Just one thing I disagree with - ‘you should be learning a language with native speakers anyway’. I think this is both misguided and a bit discriminatory. Other than that, I think you make some good points.
I have experienced the MT German, French and Spanish courses. My main problem is that MT states that the student doesn’t need to memorise anything. This is completely incorrect. When I have finished a module and try to continue to the next later I can’t remember much of what I have learned previously. There is no vocabulary book to refer to.
It really doesn’t suit my mental capacity for recollection.
Can’t disagree with this review more.
I found Michel’s course to be brilliant.
I hated the way languages were taught in school - I took French and now can’t speak a word.
I learnt Spanish from scratch with the MT method and I am now fluent enough to hold conversations.
Each to their own I suppose, but for me MT was a revelation and ignited a love of languages for me as well as the belief that I could, indeed learn them..
I needed some strong review in Spanish since the last time I went to a Spanish country was a few years ago. So basically, I already had the basis. I knew already how to pronounce most of the letters of the alphabet, and I have been using Google translate to chat with the many friends I have in South & North Americas and Spain, so someone recommended me the MT method. I said alright, let’s give it a try.
Utter disappointment, sorry but anyone here who claim that they can hold a fluent conversation after listening to this course is either lying, hold on to important additional steps they did to reach an acceptable level of fluency, or they have been paid by the company selling those CDs or both, to come and give a positive comment about that method. There is no way someone can reach proper fluency with such a method. I am not saying that it wouldn’t work for anyone, but the premise is highly improbable. I was suggested that method to review what I already know and to practice. MT has a very horrible Spanish accent; I can vouch for it as I now speak fluently in Spanish as I used to, and it’s no thanks to MT. The MT method does not teach the cultural aspect of the language, which is an important step to consider when learning a new language.
Spanish, for example, Colombian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Argentinian, all have different ways of pronouncing certain words or letters. Let us take the letter V & B; in Spain, V & B are pronounced the same way, but not in South America; in Most South American countries, V is pronounced just like “venture” in English. Another example the famous “LL,” now that’s an interesting one because there are three ways to pronounce it, in Spain the double L is pronounced like “j,” in Mexico and some regions of Colombia, they would alternate between the “Y” or the “J “ sounds, and in Argentina, it’s pronounced like “sh,” and guess what, it’s all correct. But you wouldn’t find that particular detail in the advanced lessons from MT.
Of course, I couldn’t just stop at one language, I needed to verify a few others, so I sampled the French course. I am francophone, French is my mother tongue, and I speak three different French, French Canadian, Parisian French and Belgium French. I’m not even mentioning the south of France dialects such as the French spoken in Corse and Marseille. So those claiming that they can hold a conversation in French after listening to those DVDs, I dare them to go to Corsica and Marseille and try their luck with the native speakers there. I am 100% certain that they will feel a little less confident when they find out that the accent isn’t the same and the expressions are weird. Furthermore, in Paris, anyone is familiar with the way Parisians speak, it’s not your usual conventional French, they used so many colloquial expressions in their day to day communication without ever noticing when they use it and claim that they are 100% bilingual or polyglot after listening to those DVDs, you’re lying.
The MT method is not for everyone; I am mostly visual; therefore, I need pictures, videos, and other media to help assimilate the language. There are officially seven learnings styles:
1. Visual (spatial) - (Visual learners prefer learning by observing things.)
2. Aural (auditory) - (This is mostly what the MT method is targeting)
3. Verbal (linguistic)
4. Physical (kinesthetic)
5. Logical (mathematical)
5. Social (interpersonal)
5. Solitary (intrapersonal)
It is essential to know your learning style, to acknowledge what works for you as a person. Your teacher will adapt to your learning style. It is not your teacher’s responsibility to find what type of learner you are, but yours to tell him/her what works for you. There are no bad students, only bad teachers; that statement comes from someone who doesn’t know the pedagogical concept of teaching, Yes, there are bad teachers, but there are also bad students, a student that doesn’t practice on his own and then blame the teacher is bad.
Don’t memorize, don’t practice, sit, listen and relax. Sorry that concept doesn’t work. First, one has to understand how the brain works. The brain is like a computer hard drive. Its sole purpose is to store information; therefore, memorizing and telling someone not to memorize is practically telling someone to eat but don’t swallow. When learning a new language, you can’t just listen to a tape and not memorizing; it doesn’t work that way. Everything a person learns is memorizing; the way you walk, sleep, talk, eat, everything is stored by your brain and release when you act; your brain memorizes it.
Celebrity endorsement, seriously, that part annoys me the most are celebrities better because they have national or international coverage? The example you gave with Woody Allen proves how much you should not base a decision on because a celebrity is endorsing a product or service; most likely, that person was paid to endorse it. A celebrity does not have better skill than the average person, and guess what, they can ingest flowers, but their poop will still stink.
War hero. It still does not make him a good teacher.
As someone who has assimilated a basic amount of German, Italian and Spanish from Michel Thomas’ recordings, as well as refreshing my French to an advanced level, I find the excessive criticism on this website surprising and hypercritical. I’ve tried other methods, but the MTM works best for me.
I do have some criticisms of the MTM, but I could never score it less than 4/5 on the basis of my experiences. I have also learned basic Polish using the MTM from a different teacher.
One of the devices MT uses for the other 4 main Western European languages is to find similarities to English, which gives the learner a quick way to feel that they are making progress. One of the key aspects in engaging a new student is to build confidence quickly, and with those language courses, MT definitely does that. The lack of rote, pressure and homework also helps to engage the new learner.
The flip side is that with (say) Asian and African languages, the commonality with English simply does not exist. I accept that the MTM will not work so well in those cases.
My conclusion is that the MTM does work well, but only with (Western) European languages. In my opinion, if one is to be fair in one’s assessment, a distinction needs to be drawn before claiming that the MTM is not effective.
Haha you are so right mate! “ It would be very easy after a week of Michel Thomas classes to think that you’ve learned the target language to a proficient level, then step outside and quickly discover how little you actually know.”
I did his whole spanish course (Disc 1-8), taught by ‘the man himself’ as some people are saying, and once I started speaking to a spanish friend I realised I had ZERO comprehension and ZERO vocabulary and felt useless. It was so de-motivating that after a few weeks of trying to converse I actually gave up on spanish.
I have now started learning again and realise that while MT is a tool to get started, it is just that, a tool (and also made by a tool, who could lie about stuff like that) and I need proper teachers and proper effort put into vocab and comprehension before getting past the level of ‘complete beginner’.
I couldn’t agree more with all your points. And how learning ‘about’ a language is very different to learning a language. MT’s chunking and concept explanation is not bad, but there is so much english (and always one super idiotic student who gets corrected every 2 seconds) that it is very frustrating and left me in the lurch when I tried to actually use it and listen to someone.
I just listened to your review of MT Arabic, entitled “Why I don’t recommend Michel Thomas”. It was a 16 minute long audio review, but I really felt like the only bit which talked about the course content and its effectiveness in a meaningful way was from minute 14 onwards, where you reiterated your summary, found at the top of your written article above.
”Michel Thomas’ focus on functional building blocks is great, but the course is in no way worthy of its household name in language education. The excessive use of English to ‘explain’ the target language and a complete lack of listening comprehension deprive learners of any substance.”
I have used MT to learn German and found that the speed of learning the grammar through his fast paced Q&A approach, following the explaining of a new rule, was a revelation to me as someone new to the language. I was very quickly able to speak and understand, “holiday German”. This ties in with your comments above about building blocks. I also agree with you, that outside of the teacher-led environment, you cannot progress to being fluent in the real world without taking the time and effort to learn vocabulary and that this is a shortcoming if the MT method. I think a more nuanced review would have been fairer, acknowledging (for Europpean languages, at least) that his method is a great way to start learning a language and set up a framework, on which subsequent practical knowledge and vocabulary can be built, if the student puts in time at a later date.
What really riled me with your review though, was that you spent the first 13 minutes of a 16 minute interview rambling on about how his wartime service was an irrelevance and how any celebrity who endorsed him was presumably being paid to do so. e.g. Woody Allen, having said he would never forget the French he learned from MT, then had an interpreter in a French language interview. Unless Woody Allen said he had become a fluent speaker, rather than implying he could now take a holiday in France and order dinner or ask for directions to the Metro station, I think your ridiculing him was completely disingenuous and pretty arrogant, which is a great shame if you have a following of people who value your opinion.
It is loved by many polyglots. Not just celebrities. Some examples of polyglots that like to use Michel Thomas with their language routine include Olly Richards, John Fotheringham, Richard Simcott, and many more that are not in any way associated with you.
And what makes you so sure they’re not associated with me? 🤣
I used MT for Spanish and I was away to Spain and speaking with locals just 6 weeks after I began. I agree not much comprehension practice but in terms of giving the entire structure of the language in your head so that you feel confident enough to say any sentence you like, it’s absolutely amazing.
However I would say it probably only works for European languages close to English and I wouldn’t do one that want taught by Michel Thomas himself. I am 100% a fan even if the man was a bit full of himself and made up a heroic past.
Hi. I read your review about the Michel Thomas approach and I have to agree with every criticism you make of it.
However, I have one little problem in saying that. I used it to learn Spanish (I must admit I studied Spanish in school and returned to it after 30 years!) and I found it helped me retrieve a grip on the language that I never previously had. The big issues are all there in your review but my take away was the ease with which I grasped the use of verbs especially the tenses. I’ve never had a problem with them since. The big BUT is that once you get a grasp of the basics you have to quickly move on to other resources. Like you say listening comprehension is a huge issue as is being teacher guided and expected to respond to a question in English through he new language - not good. But he did say in one of the course that he is the architect and you yourself must be the Interior decorator, that is you have to go and learn the stuff that interests you and that you need or want. That IS your responsibility. I would not dismiss this out of hand.
I was interested to read the review of the MT method and share some of the concerns. I find that I need to write things down and see the written word, versus the spoken word to help to reinforce my learning. I supplement my MT lessons with Duolingo and various written material. Also I would like to be able to download my MT CDs onto an iPod so I am not constrained to having to use the CD player in the car. Can this be done?
Michel Thomas Spanish certainly worked for me to get me under way before moving to Spain 10 years ago. The main downside is that it is South American Spanish which uses the far more formal usted mostly and thus if you don’t know this, you’ll end up speaking rather too prim and proper for Spain (and you may get confused by some verb conjugations if you don’t know this detail). Otherwise, the method itself worked very well for me.
As for the celebrity endorsements, I neither knew, nor would have cared either way. But then I don’t judge things by celebrity, so even mentioning that in a review seems a little pointless.
simon j wood
Hi Donovan, just wondering who you think is the better linguist, you or Michel Thomas?
Not sure about Arabic and the rest of it. But when I begun studying French, i did exactly as MT said, and I have seen no progress until a few months later while on a trip to Paris, in the hotel room while unpacking the suitcase, I caught myself on the fact that I simply listen to the local channel TV news and understand it the way I understand my mother tongue in a subconscious way, without translating anything in my head. It’s my experience and you can say whatever you want, but this approach of constant listening does work, maybe not on every language, e.g. Chinese, but works. Just don’t be lazy and stick with it listening for more than once or twice. Then add to it the reverse courses such as the Harrap’s Michel Thomas Anglais débutant designed for french speakers who learn English and it will take you from understanding but not speaking the language like a dog to actually speaking it. So, sorry mate, but it works, if you put effort in it, just like any other language course or thing in life.
I have just watched your 15 minute video. After 12 minutes you got to the point which had prompted me to type into Google, “ Disadvantages of the MT language method”. I bought his French Language Builder about ten years ago. Due to the current covin lock-down in the UK, I recovered it and decided to brush up my rusty french. It quickly brought back to me what I had found frustrating about it when I first tried it. I was listening to my English speaking teacher, Michel, respond to me in French! Why not a native french speaker with Michel as course moderator? No disrespects towards Michel but again I found myself wanting to hear (and understand!) French spoken as I would hear it in France.
You make the same valid point in your video regarding the non-native arabic speaker.
The Michel Thomas method has much to recommend it and it has serious flaws. The ludicrous advice never to practice would be very damaging if taken seriously, for example, and seem to me to be an attempt to mystify his course and make it appear vaguely magical.
It is misleading as well: listening to these beginners put complex sentences together is very impressive until your realise something. If you were to ask them a question in the target language they would have two big problems. First, they probably wouldn’t understand the question. Secondly, they probably would have trouble selecting the words they need from their memory. In other words if you say in English what they should say in Spanish and you choose words that they have learned, they will probably be able to answer. For example, you’re discussing hobbies and you ask them to say “I like football because it’s fun and I can be with my friends” they can do it. However if you say “Tell me why you like football” many of them are completely stumped. They have enough vocabulary to answer the question but instead they’re trying to say something too complex like “Football gives me the opportunity to relax and hang with my pals.” It’s very difficult for most students to simply select from the words they have in their memory. I have experience of this as a language learner - I speak five languages - and as a teacher.
Despite all this I find this method very useful in giving students a sense of the structure of a language and would recommend it provides they understand that they do have to practice a lot and work on listening comprehension and actual conversation.
Ok here’s my take on it . I’m Scottish lived in France for 35 years speak fluent French , can join in any conversation , have a good laugh and joke with my French friends , often as not have them rolling around with translated Brit humour, but still make the grammatical errors I took on when learning the language on the street.
Having travelled to Egypt many times ,I recently spent a couple of weeks trekking in Sinai, just myself and a guide. Nasser spoke very good English , but I really chided myself that over the years I had made no attempt to learn basic Arabic and imagined what my life would be like in France if I didn’t speak French. So I got into MT. First thing I found was that I was learning the language correctly, not the extensive vocabulary and lack of grammar that has hindered me speaking French. I was thinking my way through the conjugation more like a maths lesson than a language course. The English accent is so distinct that it doesn’t bother me , I listen to Mahmood for the correct pronunciation , the English lady is the teacher using the students and Mahmood in a way that an editor editing film is watching the screen concentrating on the moment to cut and not pushing the keys, the engineer is doing that. I like the fact that the lesson appears genuine , the students really do make mistakes , at one point she gets frustrated with one of them and her frustration is clear in her voice and not edited out. I like that. I take note of words that I find difficult to remember and purposely don’t note those that I do. There are things like the constant reference to the dentist that I find weird, but that’s her way and as I absorb the language and am aware that I really am learning , who am I to question her methods , when they obviously are working for me. That said I have not your experience in comparing courses so I can’t really make a comparison with others. I do find myself constructing conversation with Nasser and missing only vocabulary, which is great. I’m looking forward to returning to Sinai and speaking directly with some of the bedouin we meet when hiking. We came over a mountain pass one day, Nasser was just in front of me , two kids appeared with a donkey , which had a generator strapped to it . I looked up and said half under my breath , mmm an electric donkey , Nasser , who was very quick, caught it and started laughing , he then had to explain to the kids , they got it , we all sat and had tea, but the conversation soon reverted to the three of them , I would have loved to get involved , but language barrier kicked in and I had to sit back and take in the view, which from the top of a mountain deep in Sinai in spring is not a bad way to pass a couple of hours. I didn’t select this course I was given it , I’m not an intellectual I left education at 15 , hated it and have kept well away from any type of school since , though in recent years I admit I would like to go into a classroom again just to experience what I didn’t as a child.
I have a very average English speaking skills but MT introductory French CD course for English learners (which I learned a week before the descent to France) saved my life during three years surviving there because French people do not like speak English even when they can speak. But they agree to speak French slowly so listening skills came soon to me based on grammar basis of MT course.
I advise to consider MT courses as a great emergency first aid, life vest.
I mean original Michel Thomas recordings only, can say nothing about his successors.
I think the MT courses are fantastic. You have to condition yourself to ignore the mistakes that the students make and the frustration of listening to the same lessons over and over again, but if you persist, it works. You have to listen to each ‘CD’ until you can play it back and repeat all of the parts before you move onto the next for it to work. But it works. I have looked at other courses and had no success. I have done the MT Italian, German, Spanish and French courses and found that I was able to communicate at a reasonable level in each of those languages. We visit those countries on holiday and I am able to converse at a decent level. The way he teaches gets you speaking and understanding incredibly quickly and he gently eases you into the grammar, so by the end of it you can express yourself in many tenses. There are some bits in the recordings that could be improved or areas that could do with a little more detail but all in all they are superb and I have found nothing that comes close.
This comment is less about the review than your posting a supposed “debunk” of Michel’s life. The article in question is dealt with in a postscript to Christopher Robbins’ The Test Of Courage, explaining how much of a hatchet job this staff writer carried out. The fact he is still contacting you about it long after Michel’s death, shows just how vindictive he is.
Michel is a proven Holocaust survivor whose whole family were murdered, and he fought for the French resistance and US army. Forget the movie stars, he went into poor schools and helped impoverished kids learn languages, and, more importantly, feel good about the process of learning.
It’s your right to link to the LA Times article, but it is an alleged “debunk”. And I would urge you to compare the experience of the journalist (a staff writer for 18 years, editor of a satirical website for 3 years) with the many decorated war veterans whose testimony supported Michel’s account of his own life.
With regards Woody Allen, his language lessons were as a young man and in that interview he was in his 70s. He also has documented hearing loss, and it is a professional interview. So, I think it is a disingenuous comment, and I don’t see how it is relevant to your own experience with the CDs.
Ben, it’s not about being “vindictive.” It’s about setting the record straight. Michel Thomas did some interesting things during the war, but he fabricated some stories and stole credit that rightfully belonged to others, such as his claim to have rescued Nazi party membership files from destruction. Military records and newspaper articles from 1945 disprove much of Thomas’ story (he even backtracked on several claims in a sworn court affidavit) and make clear that Hans Huber, an anti-Nazi German, saved the documents from destruction and brought them to the attention of Allied troops.
I disagree with the premise of your argument. Teachers are accountable for student learning. Incompetent ones blame the learner. This is grounded in current educational research. I used MT for Spanish. I’ve tried many others but his method suited my learning style. Others with a different learning styles may opt for something different. The article lack critical analysis and assumes learning is absolute. I tried to read it with an open mind but the subjectivity and negativity was overbearing. The only thing I got from it was how much you hate MT.
In reviewing the comments of your recommendation NOT to use MT, I have found a rock solid endorsement of the MTM from your reviewers, especially where MT taught the major European languages himself. Your diatribe against MT and the “lack of positive reviews” has produced a plethora of reviews which are an advertisement for MTM better than any MT could have wished for. I tried many Spanish courses before eventually trying MT who in a matter of weeks gave me the ability to speak Spanish and taught me the grammar I needed to know to speak with confidence. I learned this effortlessly. However, no one will become proficient in a foreign language without complementary material and commitment: and MT does himself a disservice with his statement on teacher responsibility. I recommend the MT Method where MT is the teacher in Spanish, Italian, and French. His accent never bothered me and I was not interested in anything about him other than his ability to make me understand and speak. I don’t know the other language courses (Arabic, Chinese, etc.) and can’t comment on them, but a blanket negative review on all MTM courses? ... in line with the house rules I will say only that you say more about the man than his courses, and that I admire your courage in asking for comments.
”Language is a cognitive skill after all and skills require hard work to improve at.”
Learning a language is not JUST a cognitive exercise. It IS possible to learn a language with just your head, but it is incredibly hard work.
If you learn something because you love it, love the process and have enthusiasm, then you learn it much faster and easier, because you are learning with other parts of your self (your heart for example). This is why children learn much faster, that is why you found it easier to learn a language when a girl was involved. That is what Michel Thomas is picking up on - reducing dependency on the mind.
You know this instinctively already - (a girl does not NEED to be involved!!) - but to make it conscious requires your mind to respect your mind less. It is not so easy!
To learn a language with just your head is like trying to quench your horse’s thirst with a teaspoon. It is the wrong tool for the job. :)
This review of the Michel Thomas course in Arabic completely misses the point of his method. I speak as someone who sent right through both the MT beginners and advanced courses in German, not knowing a word of German before I started. I found it highly helpful and very interesting to do, whether at home or whilst travelling in a car, train or plane. As he promised in his intro, I was able to speak very simple sentences extraordinarily quickly.
Thomas died a number of years ago. At that point he offered only 4 European languages, I believe German, French, Italian & Spanish. If there are now other languages then that sounds like the publishers Hodder & Stoughton trying to take advantage of a system that was unique to its original teacher. From your description and observations of the Arabic course, it’s not even clear whether you did the course, or completed it. Perhaps you just dipped in. The important point is that I do not think that anyone but Michel Thomas could deliver a Michel Thomas course. His style is simply too unique, and his sense of when to move on with his students. On the German course, he even got grumpy stone point and this, to me, added tremendous realism.
Personally I completely believe the comments of those ‘movie stars’ whom you are slightly dismissive of. After doing my course, I recommended Thomas’s courses to several people who all found them as stimulating as I did. I really think your criticism should be with the publishers for trying to perpetuate a system which depended on the unique personality and insight of one man and which actually should have been allowed to die with him. Now, I would still emphatically recommend the four original recordings to anyone wishing to gain a grasp of the languages involved.
Of course you’re right. I have never understood the popularity of the MT courses. I have tried various languages. None of them were any good. The two students are just an embarrassment. Who wants to hear poorly pronounced language. I personally managed to complete the Japanese course. But only by spending many hours with my MD recorder erasing the students contributions and leaving only the English sentences and the Japanese equivalents. This amounted to a mini Glossika course. Alas, the MD player/recorders are no longer manufactured.
OK. What’s better? What do you recommend?
Which language are you learning and what are your goals?
I have listened to the Spanish version taught by MT himself and found it quite good. Do you have any recommendations for Malay? I can’t seem to find any good options, most of the time, it is just flashcards or they just ask you to keep repeating words.
A rather poor review littered with unsubstantiated assertions, and many of them superlatives. The only useful way of reviewing a course is to study it in it’s entirety and why would this largely negative review be any better than a positive one made by a celebrity. An essential component of learning anything is the level of aptitude and attitude of the learner at the start and throughout the learning process. In my opinion it would be better to review the language course yourself and reach your own conclusion.
Interesting read. Im not sure I disagree with any of your points but perhaps your perspective.
I’ve only listened to the Arabic course so my view on the MTM is limited.
I think the statements by MT set some unrealistic expectations for how much of the language you can learn by only using their method but I think it’s naive for anyone to think they can truly learn a language by using strictly one method.
I think the MTM is very effective if you think of it as a tool to use in your language learning journey. Of course it’s annoying that you don’t get to hear the native speaker talk more or get to build your listening skills but the understanding of how to build sentences and questions to enquire about the language is brilliant.
Personally I listen to a whole tape once, then listen a second time and write everything down (I’m learning to read and write Arabic as well), then i copy everything I’ve written into a second book without listening to the tape. Whilst doing this I talk with my partner (who is Arabic and the rrson I’m learning), and she corrects me on things I still haven’t grasped and confirms things I have. We then have mini conversations where I use the skills I’ve learned from the MTM to ask her questions and respond when she talks with me. This builds my listening skills (which I also think has been the hardest part of learning).
I also play games like duolingo, read children’s Arabic books and watch some shows in Arabic. I tweak things here and there to adjust my learning to be most effective.
My point in explaining all of that is to illustrate the idea that when it comes to learning, I think it’s best to be maliable and think of teachers/courses/methods etc. As tools that you can use to find the most effective way that works for you.
Like I said I don’t think I disagree with any of your critiques on the MTM, it just comes across as if you got fixated on the claims MT made rather than thinking how good it can be as part of the language learning experience.
I have learned more from listening to Michel Thomas over three days (8 hours), than I have done in my entire life from learning at school, passing GCE French (‘A’ grade for written, ‘E’ grade for speaking, equivalent to a ‘C’ overall), going to evening classes for two years, reading various text books with answers and listening to DuoLingo. With none of this could I confidently speak in sentences. I now can. You may be right in some of the comments you have made but for me, if he were here today, I would write and thank him.
So after reading reviews on the Michel Thomas method (I’m trying to learn French) I like his method enormously, because it allows me to quickly talk in sentences. I am interested in an alternative because I understand some of the comments regarding no response guage. What is recommended, moving forward with a similar learning style? I’ve been trying to learn French and the only way for me is a non c;lassroom situation (Ie Michel Thomas method).
I have never heard so much rubbish. Twenty two years ago I asked a language teacher friend of mine if he could recommend a teach yourself course in Spanish. We had just bought a house in Spain. He immediately recommended Michel Thomas. I asked him if i did the course diligently would my Spanish be fairly good. He said yes and i would probably be at the old GCE O-level standard. I did the course and my Spanish was extremely helpful to me in communicating with my Spanish neighbours and the general Spanish public. It was an excellent grounding to allow me to improve my Spanish over the years I spent living in Spain. My wife and i attended a Spanish night class at our local school in England for a year, and i found it a complete waste of my time, it basically consisted of learning standard phrases.Learning a new language is essentially about commitment, the MT course gives you a good quick introduction to a new language and if you commit to it you will learn the language to an acceptable level. I found his technique unique and and very helpful. I often play the cd’s just to revise if i feel the urge. When I was at school I would say our language teacher spoke English the vast majority of the time. I did Italian at school not French. I am 79 years old and i am considering doing French by the MT method. I will let you know how I go on. To try and improve my Spanush I spent a year in a Spanish class in Spain and although I found it helpful I found if quite difficult to follow sometimes. I think you are being too critical with your comments, you must remember a language is to allow people to communicate and understand each other and the MT method assists in this. I never expected to be a professional lilinguist after I completed the course, just to be able to communicate and understand people in a new language. Thanks and regards.
Thanks Peter, great feedback. Kind regards, Natalie
I disagree with almost everything you’ve said, I’m afraid. I’ve found the Michel Thomas method to be absolutely wonderful - quite the best way of learning a language. I have a degree in Spanish and have found that using Thomas’s method to learn Italian, and to brush up on my French, has been a tremendous experience. In my view it has no parallel in terms of competitive language-learning products on the market. Thank you!
tried various language learning course in spanish while on the basic spanish
course i was fine but as soon as i went on to the intermediate level i got totally lost and gave up a friend gave me the michel thomas spanish cds and all i can say is amazing i cannot put the cds down and i will be going on to the advance level soon for some reason it works for me at school i was in a class for slow learners and was told i would not be learning a foreign language because i would have enough with english i can only speak as i have found personaly.
Having no prior French skills my partner and I did the Michel Thomas method for two months together before moving to France and we were absolutely rocking it by the time we got there. I started a french language course and was boosted up several levels because of how much I’d learned with MT, and it’s one of the only things I enthusiastically recommend on a regular basis.
It really comes down to how you learn. For me, Michel Thomas worked. I had taken lots of Spanish classes, dated a Peruvian and was immersed in Spanish on several occasions, and am an avid salsa dancer, but I couldn’t learn Spanish. I learned more Spanish using the Michel Thomas method than I did in years of Spanish classes. For me, it worked wonders and I love it. I know others who have had success with it, and none with classes or other methods. So, it will vary from person to person. It just depends on how you learn. Michel Thomas teaches in a way that works for me.
I am a retired language teacher who has used the Total and Perfect Greek courses to gain a working knowledge of the language upon which. I can build. I find the method adopted - teacher and two students - congenial and effective. The claims - Total and Perfect - are of course misleading but it is difficult to find accurate level indicators when only one skill - speaking - is addressed. To clarify, I feel that I have acquired a good working knowledge of how the language works and that I can cope with reasonably advanced structures. Attention to the sparse booklets which contain all the language practised has imparted an ability to read and reproduce in writing what I have learned, although admittedly this flies in the face of the advice, implicit and explicit, not to spend time on study outside the confines of the course. As you say, not good advice. As a linguist I was perhaps hoping for more than a mere ‘language indispensable for a visit to Greece’ course, and this I got, although it would have been good to get this as well. Although skills other than speaking are not well covered, and although this skill needs a lot of reinforcement with vocabulary post-course - preferably using similar methods to impart - I feel that I got more than I hoped for from the course, my expectations fairly low having tried other courses which do provide the missing practice in functional language but neglect the structures which allow one to build confidently, courses therefore which are fiddly and unsatisfying. I would happily buy an ‘Even More Perfect Greek’ course, but hope for a better title! Perhaps I want too much from a course. On the basis of my experience of the Greek course, and my wife’s on the Perfect Italian course, I will certainly buy a Michel Thomas Total Spanish course (if I can find one at a fraction of the new cost).
I find your review a little harsh while sharing some of your caveats - total teacher responsibility, for example - but, as an ex teacher, I would, wouldn’t I?
By the way, in the UK at least, it’s not ‘complimentary’, (as in a cost-free glass of raki after your Cretan restaurant meal), but ‘complementary’ in your use of the word to describe the function of the not-too-active native speaker whose role is to top up and flesh out that of the real teacher. Sorry......the pedant in me!
I used the Spanish Method and went through every course ever made in Spanish. I loved it and recommend it. It really helped me a ton with grammar and vocabulary. I also went through all the Pimsleur’s, Learning Spanish Like Crazy and several of the Practice Makes Perfect books. Today I can speak Spanish pretty well, but I still have a problem understanding people talk unless they slow down for me. I read and write Spanish really well also, but I’ve had a lot of Spanish speaking friends and we texted in Spanish for years.
Firstly, I need to thank you for your review as the responses to it have been some of the best endorsements I’ve read about Michel Thomas Method courses, and it was heartwarming! But also, because some of your comments truly resonated and addressed issues I have been concerned about for a while - like the over-reliance on celebrity endorsements, many of which have become outdated. And also, some of the unclear claims about the method.
This year we relaunched the product - putting it in eco-friendly packaging, as well as putting it online, but also, being more specific about what the product does and does not do. We have removed the celebrity endorsements. Your review was helpful in giving me the ammunition to make this update. So thank you.
I think it’s clear that the Michel Thomas Method is NOT for you. Indeed, it’s not for everyone.
And it’s certainly not intended to be the silver bullet of language learning. It’s but one resource among countless that a learner would need to become proficient in a foreign language. But for many people, it’s the ideal start. Why? For the reason that you make at the end of your review for why it is not effective!
You wrote: ‘Nobody learns to play an instrument by having its mechanics explained to them. They play it.’
We often use similar analogies to describe our courses. Akshay Bakaya, author of the Hindi Michel Thomas course explained the method with:
‘It’s always been clear to me, as it was to Michel Thomas himself, that learning to speak a new language is like learning to swim or dance – you don’t start with books and notes on swimming or dance. You get into the water, or on the dance floor, with a good coach, and get on with it.’
I will not argue that it didn’t work for you. And, cards on the table, I was dubious of it when I first took on the role of Publishing Director for Hodder. Its claims were counter to what I learned as a student of Applied Linguistics. It was not how I taught languages as a French and ESL teacher. ‘No such thing as a bad student?!’ I’ve seen plenty in my days! And Its approach was far different to that which I used to develop English courses as Cambridge University Press. But once I got past the hype and marketing and started using the course, understanding the method, looking at the research and trials that went into their development, attending recordings, speaking with real-life users, I realised that it works better than anything I had ever seen for a self-study learner to get past the initial hurdle of learning a language.
Because you start speaking immediately and thus USING a new language. You are figuring out a language and producing it by thinking through answers. By hearing your own progress, you are motivated to continue. And motivation is often the key ingredient in successful language learning that should not be overlooked.
They do not teach you ‘about’ language. They don’t even use metalanguage, or if they do, it’s very minimal and only when necessary. Instead, they teach you the underlying structure of a language. And by structure, I mean grammar! They teach very little vocabulary, but go through most of the verb tenses in a language.
Michel Thomas compared this to an architect: ‘I build the house, but it’s up to you to decorate it.’
These courses were only ever intended to be a very solid foundation for further learning. The first step that makes the rest of the journey a little bit easier.
Yes, there is a lot of English. This is for the benefit of the self-study learner, but also because the whole method is about revealing what you already know about a new language and relying on English as a base for cognates, mnemonics and also to reduce stress. Not everyone wants to walk into an immersion classroom on day 1!
It seems to me you are criticising the method for things it does not even claim to do. It does not teach comprehension. It does not deal with reading or writing. It doesn’t teach by topics. But that’s OK. We don’t blame the dentist when she can’t fix our back ache.
Listening comprehension is important, usage is important. Authentic practice – very necessary! But these are step two. First you need input – language to use and a base upon which you can start to comprehend. Michel Thomas Method courses are simply step 1.
As the publisher for Michel Thomas Method courses for the past eight years, I have had countless emails and phone calls from people telling me how it has worked for them, even changed their lives. And they all say how it helped them COMMUNICATE and SPEAK. To put words together and USE the language. We have run pilots in schools that quantitatively show a significant improvement in speaking and confidence in language learning when using Michel Thomas Method courses.
Anecdotally, after sitting in on a 4-hour Michel Thomas Greek course in Thessaloniki, I was able to go to a Greek restaurant and tell the waiter ‘I was waiting for a friend, I wanted an Ouzo, and I would order dinner later.’ None of these were explicitly taught in the course. But I was able to put it all the words together to say what I wanted. The waiter never responded to me in English.
I would not dismiss the comments of 80% of your reviewers who disagree with you as a ‘religious’ devotion. Like them, I have experienced how it works. I wholeheartedly recommend Michel Thomas courses to anyone I speak to as the absolute best way to start learning and using a new language.
If you are interested still in the Q&A and understanding a bit more of the background of the method, I’d be very happy to speak to you, although I don’t intend to try to change your opinion. Alas, they’re simply not for everyone.
Publishing Director, John Murray Learning
Michel Thomas and Teach Yourself
PS - Thankfully before Michel Thomas Passed away in 2005, he was awarded the Silver Star in 2004.
In May 2004, after investigation and recommendations from veterans with whom he fought, former members of the CIC, and Senator John McCain and New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the US Army granted Thomas the Silver Star, the third highest medal for combat valour. He was awarded this at a ceremony at the new second world war memorial in Washington. Thomas was also recognised at the US Holocaust Memorial in a ceremony honouring the liberators of the camps.
I agree with the folks who say your review was poorly titled, since you only reviewed the Arabic language version. Not fair to what is actually a huge expanse of products.
But my personal opinion is that a lot of language learning (and really any type of learning) is what works for you, is good. I have lived in multiple countries, and always tried to learn some of the language. And over decades I have tried many different programs, free and paid, online and CDs and books and even classrooms. Some I’ve learned more from than others, and some more has stuck with me than others. But to me, personally, the MT German program I took was the most effective of the entire bunch.
I actually think it’s because I’m an analytic person, and MT not only teaches you the language but EXPLAINS it. There’s nothing I find more irritating than being taught a phrase, then being taught what seems like a similar phrase but with slightly different words or conjugations or meaning, with NO explanation as to why they were so similar or different. The one thing I really liked about MT is he explained as he went, never just expected you to memorize things as if they were immutable nuggets of wisdom. That allowed me to start feeling the structure of the language, which led to starting to think in the language.
My wife took 4 years of high school German, while I did the MT beginner course. At the end people say I speak better German than she does, and are amazed at how little time it took me. And as to the assertion that people think it is good because they know it’s been around a long time, I had literally never heard of it when I tried it. So I had no preconceptions.
I am not sure about the Michel Thomas Arab course - you might have a point there. However I used his method (together with Pimsleur) for learning Spanish and French and found it really useful. I did not learn the languages in a week but after a couple of weeks with focus it helped me a lot.
I really like how he explains the Grammar and has a clear system. Right now I am learning Czech and there is unfortunately no System like that so its much more complicated.
”UPDATE: Shortly after writing this review, I was contacted by an investigative journalist from the LA Times who debunked Michel Thomas’ war story (see his points here).”
This was the 2001 article, no?
And then Michel Thomas was awarded the Silver Star after that report was refuted. See http://www.michelthomas.org/default2.asp?section=law_suit
The article you linked to says the courts threw MT’s defamation case out. I’m not defending the journalist by any means (I can’t personally verify any of it) but I haven’t seen any strong refutation either to suggest it was all lies.
The Silver Star was bestowed for accomplishments that weren’t discussed in the L.A. Times article. It did not in any way refute or undermine the Times story, which is backed by military records and 1945 press accounts.
I could not continue with MT beyond the first few CD’s. I find Pimsleur way better. It gave me a great headstart with my Spanish and Italian which I could successfully continue acquiring after listening to Pimsleur courses. As for Michel Thomas, bless him, he was a nice sounding old man, who had a rather pleasant voice, but his accent was terrible. Apart from no or little input by native speakers, I also took issue with his insistence that I should always know grammar rules (“even if you guess correctly, it is still a wrong answer as far as I’m concerned, because you do not know the RULE”). For goodness sake, how many rules do we know when we speak our native language (or a second one which we have a really good command of)? That seems to me a classical example of an old-school mid 20th century grammar-translation method, which only remains popular because of a clever marketing campaign involving all those celebrities.
Can’t say I agree with much of your review mate.
I’m using the MTM to learn Russian after having tried other courses. I’ve found it brilliant and it helped me enormously during my three and a half months in Russia this past twelve months.
Yes, you have to invest time to learn. I would have thought that obvious. And you do get reward for effort. I like very much the conceptual building blocks that it assembles as a way of assisting one to learn. And I’m told that I’m picking up the language more quickly than others that have been learning for a comparative period of time.
The issue with the teacher correcting the students and hurting their self-esteem is garbage. If you are worried about that I would suggest that everyone go and swallow some toughen up pills. Too much emphasis in these days on everyone being offended instead of getting on with things.
I found that when I was in Russia I was able to think in Russian. And I like the focus on getting things grammatically correct. If you know how to speak things in a correct grammatical sense then people will understand you once you tweak with the accent, etc.
I have tried all the main and some of the online German courses and none of them gets the mind to work as it should do to be able to create an understandable sentence by compounding words quite like MT’s method. I did find Paul Daniel’s Magic Language course (in tapes) for French allowed me to now to remember words and gender that I learned 20 years ago. I found this is an extremely good vocabulary learning method but not good for creating sentences. Most of the most up to date methods of learning language incorporate pictures but these pictures aren’t as compelling as the pictures you create in your mind via Daniel’s audio tapes. Visual hooks as they are termed, need to be created in conjunction with the words to be fully effective. As MT states, we are no longer children and therefore we cannot learn as they can.
I do sense a little professional jealousy among others with regard to MT’s teaching methods. As a psychologist, I would agree that there is no such thing as a bad student but a poor teacher is the centre of all our educational drawbacks. Not because they are incapable of teaching, but that the structure of teaching is simply wrong. Montesori teaching methods work, but are not recognised by teaching autorities and governments. The authorities are right and everything else that is different is wrong.
MT states very clearly that learning is to be a stress-free as possible so that the direction he gives can be absorbed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he allows the student to self teach but to correct when needed.
Many students, even those at school, will find an excuse for not learning. It’s in our nature to do so as we have been allowed those excuses. I have heard those holding business seminars and writing on chalkboards and the like, state that they are dyslexic when they are not. They just can’t spell and can’t be bothered to learn to spell. The USA have met their students half way and simplified the spelling of words so that they are logical such as theater instead of theatre and use liter instead of litre. Most of the ‘ou’ vowel combinations have been replaced with ‘o’ as in labor and neighbor. I guess that the students are saying...why make it difficult when it sounds the same?
When I was told about the MT method of learning, I was sceptical. The reason for my sceptisism is that it isn’t the latest method of learning. However, that is a typical modern day wy of thinking. I think we all tend to want the latest most up-to-date language teaching method, that has been scrutinised by psychologists and teaching professionals and hopefully a little magic comes out of it. That is a pipe dream, and an expensive one at that. The top language learning tapes do not match the hype and the misleading adverts that sell them. Would that you could follow a trail through a park and as people and things are met with your eye, that a label comes up with the word association. However, the reality is that yes, you have pictures but they are a series of repeat still pictures. You will eventually learn the words but you still have to find a way to memorise them. It isn’t natural any more than it is permanent. It requires the student to apply themselves to the task of memorising. That isn’t absorbsion its the same old same old school test of how much you can remember of a subject prior to an exam. This is the measure of what you can store and recall and has nothing to do with learning. Why do I know this? Beacuse I am a psychologist and that is not how the mind works. The most brilliant 20 century mathmatician Srinivasa Ramanujan whos work is still used today was not formally educated. He was not taught to work in any particular way. He saw the patterns of mathematics in his head and translated this to pen and paper. His biggest problem was to prove his answers. He had no workings out in the margins of his text book. he was labled a sharlitan at Cambridge University by other mathmatic scholars. Because he didn’t do things the way they understood them. The truth is he took days to create a theory that took them years. He didn’t keep going down blind alleys, but visualised a form of clarity within the maize that led him directly to the centre. To those taught by regular methods, his was an incomplete peice of work. They needed to see how he worked it out. He couldn’t tell them because he didn’t work by a series of lists in chronological order as they had been taught. His was a natural, cerebral, connection of mathematic patterns that fitted like a puzzle. Music, language and mathematics are all things that should be allowed to naturally form in the confines of our minds to eventually be realised by communication of those thoughts. If Srinivasa Ramanujan’s work is still being used today to solve complex mathematical equations such as black holes, then we should never arrigantly state that because something is old it is no longer relevant.
Too much emphasis is placed on a person’s learning ability and application than the method of teaching. Too much emphasis is placed on the method of testing the ability to recall and remember facts. If a history exam can be passed by remembering dates and a physics exam by remembering Archimedes principal or Boyle’s law then we have learned nothing useful. If we fill a bath to the brim, get in and weigh the water that overflows, then we experience the phenominon.
Michel Thomas invites the student who has a desire or need to learn a new language. His method is logical and therefore useful to those who can benefit most by this method. It may not be for everyone. Most of us carry some sort of scepticism and as such will create a barrier to learning. If you retain that barrier it can be guaranteed you will get nowhere with it. Most will find an excuse for giving up. The only thing that MT does not mention is to make time each day to listen and learn. That requires a discipline we are not used to. In fact I would say that it is a discipline we thought we had left behind when we left school. Much has been said about actors and actresses being used as marketing tools for MT’s language course. Just because Woody Allen failed to be able to speak fluent French, does not mean he did not enjoy the course or had an opportunity within the US to practice it. I grew up speaking German but after I was 5 I spoke nothing but English. I forgot all my German. This wasn’t because I did not learn it properly, it was because English became my first form of communication. A necessity for everyday life. If you learn a new language, you need to be I a position where its use is compulsory or communication will falter very quickly.
Of course Michel Thomas is no longer around to argue his case, so it is easy to snipe at his methods when he can no longer defend them. Of course, the earning method is still being sold by the publishers or whomever holds copywright. Today, if you are not taking full advantage of marketing aids then you will not compete with the wild calims of others. I am surprised that MT’s biggest critics ave not said “where is his qualification in linguistics” but will remark that his qualification as a war hero doesn’t apply. Its called life experience and life experience relates to a professorship in any language. I certainly would not trust a BSc in mechanical engineering, with no practical experience to show me how to service my car rather than an experienced grease-monkey who does it every day.
If you need to learn a new language (not necessarily just want to learn a new languge) then I recommend this type of language course above all others.
Incidentally, actors spend a considerable amount of time learning lines and therefore are very self disciplined. Those who study the Stanislavski acting will attach an emotion and motivation behind the lines that make them more real and therefore much easier to recall as written (or near enough).
Whether they are ideal candidates for learning languages is debatable. But if the studio is paying for them to do so, why not? If they are using German within a film, they would want to be able to express Stanivlaski’s method acting by wanting to know what they are saying and with the right conviction. My guess is, if he has any success with actors then ordinary people will be a breeze. as we don’t carry the ego and the need to convince the audience at that moment we are German. That in itself will invariably interfere with learning. This kind of student is not a good example of a typical language learner but why not mention them if it helps sell copies. You would not necessarily respond if you were told Lena Bakover of Leicester say’s “The most extraordinary learning experience of my life”
Thanks for the almost personal slating review of Michel Thomas Donovan. I am not really interested in the debunking of Michel Thomas only the experience of using his work.
For me the question always is does it work. I play in a band and we go to Europe to play in Germany and France. One summer it was France so I got the first 8 hours of French. Eventually Found myself with a few of my band colleagues in a French Bar/Cafe surrounded by Frenchmen/women. I turned to a lady near to me who was eying up my trumpet. And asked in French would she like to play it for me because I am too tired after playing all afternoon.
Nowhere on that eight hour stack of lessons from Michel Thomas did it contain that phrase - I made it up in French based on what I had heard on those CDs.. And Immediately the response in French No no monsieur I can not play it. Her boyfriend - Ah! l’écossais parle francais!!!! Excuse my spelling but I am severely dyslexic.
That little conversation - no matter how good nor how bad broke the ice and the whole band was on free beer and free wine for four days plus I heard and learned a hell of lot more French than any language course ‘ including your Rocket stuff, could teach me.
So imagine years later - I hear a band APU from Peru in Edinburgh playing in Spanish. ) I think they actually settled in Newcastle= Cant understand a word of APU song but I like them - my interest in Spanish in set aflame so how do I learn it? No it was not a Michel Thomas course ‘ I tried Teach Yourself and bored myself stupid for a week - so I did not complete it.. You see you need to be able to read to do the course and I am - yes severely dyslexic.
So I left it and the teach yourself book is sitting here right in formt of me in my book rack - apart from the first few pages it is brand spanking new.
A good two years later I played the CD of APU again and remebered my French experience form years earlier and thought i will give MT a go. I bought the 8 hour CD and was hooked. did the whole lot from Foundation to advanced and then the Rose Lee Hayden ones - )those last ones I did not like.
So how did it work out? Well after doing all the courses over a 5 month period - I started to read El Pais and El Confidencial.
Plus I started a East Lothian Council Beginners Spanish course and within two weeks teacher moved me to Post beginners and within two weeks that teacher told me I was too advance for her class and moved me to intermediate - commenting that my accent was really good. So I stayed there for a year and moved on to advanced.
For the last two years i have been Skyping a friend in Zaragoza in Spain and we speak in Spanish and English for an hour a week. And yes we still split our sides over the mistakes we make.
So can I speak Spanish perfectly - hell no but my learning journey started with a stress free introduction to the language by Michel Thomas -(there was no such thing as dyslexia when I was at school in the 50s- it was just another day same shit - I could never get enough of the final school bell) Oh and I always rembered my French form school what was it now - le chien - the dog. After fours years of French that is what I learned.)
I enrolled for En Rumbo Open University in 2015 a first year university Course which takes you from A2 to B2 Spanish CERF passed 78% (very good).
I dont know where it says in any literature or promotion that Michel Thomas says that you dont have to work to start learning a lanuage with his method.
no idea about Arabic - never had an incling to learn it - I am more interested in Latin America and Spain.
Does Michel Thomas claim to teach you to be fluent in the language - No. he does claim to teach you the backbone of the language - the spine.
Of course with my short term memory problems I expected to be havin to keep playing the CDs over and over again to learn the stuff - actually no. I would learn say 8 lessons - then on my nest session I would repeat the last two and add six that way I got through the whole course.
Do I have trouble with some aspects of grammar. Of Course but not with verbs!!! For example I can not always remember what the verb alcanzar means but hell, I can tell you every one of its conjugations in every aspect of past, present, future of indicative and subjunctive. Every Spanish verb whether i know its meaning or not I can conjugate and use correctly in every grammatical situation (barring one) - because Michel Thomas taught me how to.
So where does it fall down -
a) (this is the barring one) he teaches Latin American Spanish which totally misses out second person plural informal - I had to learn that conjugation on my own - how did I find that out. I had employed two nurses who had trained in Spain and Spanish was their “lengua materna” they told me that when I spoke to them in Spanish I sounded very formal. I asked does that mean you can not understand me. (¿Significa que no me comprenden?). no it didnt, they said that they understand me perfectly. So i got that information form speaking spanish with spaniards in the way that michel taught me - interesting?
b) Vocabulario - its minimal vocabulary. So Michel says that you have to start to read in Spanish from the end of the course - which i did and that is how I was able to learn to communicate more effectively.
So that’s my story - probably wont even be posted.
For me Michel Thomas isnt about learning a language its about learning to communicate in a language that is not your own. The first part again for me was his course. The second was the hard work that I have put in to improve and to learn about other people and culture. the Third is the most important - you have to keep using it or that brain plasticity that everyone posses will start to shrink and you will lose it.
My learning has been slow by comparision with the likes of the polyglots that I have seen on you tube and it continues.
The final point is that Michel can be found on the internet you can watch him in action on the BBC spending a few weeks teaching kids who hate French.
I’ve just read your review, and I think I will probably agree with you. I can’t be completely objective because from now I have just tried the CD1 and CD2 of the “German Foundation” but :
Sure, you learn quite “a lot” in only two hours, but what annoyed me from the begining is that the teacher isn’t a native speaker. And it’s a BIG problem. I am not German, but for example one of the student was pronouncing “nicht” (which means “not”...) the wrong by saying “nikt” during the WHOLE foundation CD1, and the teacher was always saying “yes! perfect!”, it’s just after a while (on CD2..) that the student realised by herself that she was wrong. When the teacher finally decided with his weird accent to explain how to pronounce “ch” in German.
I mean, I have started German for only one week and even I noticed it immediately! Not the teacher.
And here’s the second problem : I think it’s bad to hear several time in a row other students making mistakes, because it’s not good to hear something wrong to learn (I mean for me).
German is actually the 4th language I am learning, and I can also say from my personnal experience that this “way of thinking” (MT way, block by block) isn’t very efficient. It is better to directly think in the language you are learning.
”Speak. Like google. Translate. Isn’t a good way. Of speaking. Because you will. Be stuck. Like this. For a long time.” Basically, this method teach you how to speak like Stevie in Malcolm in the Middle.
I think I will finish “the Foundation” anyway, to give it a shot. But I will use it as a tool only.
Interesting point of wiew. I would like to nuance it a bit, on the basis of my experience.
First of all, I have a diplom as teacher in french language for foreigners, and comparing the methods was part of what I learned, so I can see wich are the good and week points of a method.
I’ve tried 3 different languages through the MT method. Here are the results:
- I learned german and russian during my scolarity, and never practiced again since like 25 years ago. But french teaching of foreign languages is wordly famous for being awful, leading people to think that french people themselves are awful at languages ;)
- I needed to learn a bit of nederlands to spend a year in Belgium, but never learned a word of it before.
- The support language for the german lessons is french, while the support language for russian and nederlands is (british) english, but quite easy to understand with a B1 level in english, actually.
-learning anew german and russian was incredibly easy for me, and I caught up quickly with my forgotten abilities, and do better than before, because I already had good basis in those languages, and what I lacked was the oral practice and confidence to speak. The french way of teaching langague is mainly focused on written languages, and that’s why we are terrible at speaking (+we’re taugh not to even try until we are able to speak perfectly, which naturally never will occur if we don’t try it).
I’ve try my newly acquired russian actually speaking with russian and ukrainian people and it went really great. And now I’m back at university, to learn languages and translations, with specialization in russian and german and I can say this method was a major help in preparation for this.
- for nederlands: the problem is that the method doen’ts exist via french language, and it’s only available with english as a support language. And thats the point: I was unable to remind a new language, while the support language is really close to the new language. So I kept answering in english. And finally stopped to go back to less oral methods, using french as support, which worked better for me. This wasn’t a problem with russian, due to the fact that I already knew the language and due to the distance between english and russian.
I will actually give a try later to MT method for another language that I don’t know, just to see what will be the result but this time using my own language as support, maybe italian or chinese.
So for the moment, I’d say that it’s an excellent method for rewieving a language that you have already learn previously, or if you lack and the results were really +++ for me.
But the effectiveness is yet to prove for a totally new language. and I’m quite sure that it won’t be that great, considering for example chinese, you may be able to speak it quite basic chinese quickly, but it can only be ok if completed by some written chinese. Or you won’t be able to just read a menu in a restaurant not knowing a single hanzi. A good side method but that should not be the single one you use.
And I really want to point this :pay attention to the closeness between the support language and the learned language, it can be a difficulty (and I’m pretty sure that learning german from zero through english would have been quite difficult too)
And also, I didn’t respected the deal, working on my own, listening severaltimes, reading newspapers, using other sources.
A good, and, actually, very good method for rewieving acquired knowledge, maybe not that great for starting something new.
sorry, that was a long post!
Thanks for your review!
I actually like the MT courses I used (Italian, Spanish and French and even a bit of German, even though that’s my mother tongue), but I never considered them real language courses, for the same reasons you give. I used them alongside real courses at my university, because I liked how they only required you to listen and pay attention (I used to take long walks with them) without using other material and I was very pleased by how they managed to get through most of the important aspects of a languages grammar, even giving some historical context and connecting concepts of those languages to English.
I see them as a useful tool to very quickly understand the workings of the languages grammar, allowing you to use it correctly without much effort, but without learning the language in some other, more profound way, the MT courses are pointless.
hello, Donovan how are you, I hope you doing fine.
My name is Hasan and I live in Iraq and I notice that you’re learning Arabic, so if you want any help I will be more than happy to help you.
my skype is hasan hasan feel free to call any time.
I am sorry, but I disagree! (To a point)
I did his Total German course and loved it. I felt so much more confident in speaking. I was working as a tour guide at the time and met Germans daily and this course really helped. I will say though that this course was not my grounding in German, I did duolingo German up to the genitive case stage and stopped for some reason I can’t remember. Michel Thomas is definitely not wonderful for learning a massive vocabulary but he teaches you how to learn. I would say his course alone is not enough, he does not even get into der, die, das, den, dem, des, etc, but if you buy a dictionary and a grammar book to the side and get a penpal, then he is great. I started his begin French course and had similar results until I had my radio taken away...
There are really only four Michel Thomas courses. French, Italian, Spanish, and German. The rest were made up after he died.
I have to say I found the French course extraordinary. I made more progress in a couple of days than I did studying Spanish in school for five years. MT just makes the grammar so effortless.
Dude, you should change your article to read -- Why I don’t recommend MT Arabic language. MT works great in many languages, and what you are writing is complete misleading political bullshit! Yes! And for the sake of argument, what do you recommend? Have you tried a lot of courses out there? How great did Rosetta Stone help you?
Everybody is different in learning and by posting this bullshit article with your personal shortcomings you are spreading the wrong news about the fantastic method that helped millions. I can’t believe someone would attack MT method--this is insane.... As an educator, you should know that.
I have used, and enjoyed, MT courses for German, Spanish (both taught by MT himself), and Russian. I concur that there is virtually no comprehension, but I find the explanations a great assist in understanding any of the ‘natural’ learning styles (e.g. Pimsleur, which is always my starting point). If there’s a serious shortcoming with that combination, it’s one that is shared by most resources I find - they top out at a very basic conversational level.
I’d agree. I tried MT method French, and it was just a guy with a French accent shouting the English and then the French, without any real flow or structure. It was like he’d been told to say all the phrases he knew in both languages, as he thought of them. I don’t rate this method at all, plus I can’t easily go and find relevant phrases or vocab, as I can in virtually every other course. This was just random.
I think the review was fairly meaningless in the end - from the point of view of someone wanting to choose a language course (like me, for instance).
Because it missed the main and only real point: does it work?
Instead of debating his opinions about how language should be taught and what claims should be made and what today’s fashions are he needs to point to studies and comparative results.
Something tangible, kinda scientific, believable, repeatable.
So better than the review is simply reading these comments.
It is obvious that the MT method works for some and not for others.
i.e. there’s clearly a dynamic of some sort whereby methods of teaching need to match the student. And very probably, looking at the comments again, this matching process would need to be repeated for each different language.
i.e. a method that works for this person with this language might well not work for another language.
We need to know what works best for us, for ourselves, that’s what we’re looking for.
And I’d say after considering all this that no one can tell us until after we’ve discovered something for ourselves.
i.e. if we can say I learned French the MT way very well and easily then maybe someone could advise us on the strength of that. Maybe. But remember what seems apparent about things needing to be reassessed with each new language.
Too many variables: student, teacher, method, language.
And another: requirement. Just what do you want? Complete fluency undetectable from a native? Or just enough to get by on a quick visit?
So that’s just simply too many variables.
If there were a scientifically presented and analysed database of language methods, teachers, students and results then maybe we could say something but prior to that we simply, as students, first time students, need to jump in anywhere whim dictates and see what happens.
It’s all up to us. I was in China for instance and I discovered what I needed from a language was first of all the simple ability to get things, buy things, find things.
So I needed to be able to say ‘how much?’ and I needed to know the words for the things I wanted: foodstuffs in the main and I needed to understand when they told me the price.
Never forgot that. Main things: names of foods, ‘how much?’ and ability to count (especially money).
I’ve said so much here I might as well go the whole hog and say one more. Doing MT Russian I repeatedly notice they go on about how this or that English phrase is said this or that way in Russian: and it frequently takes fewer words. Like big deal, a plus, Russian is great because it takes fewer words.
Fine. I don’t mind. But it seems to me they get it wrong. They say Russian for something like maybe ‘where can i buy cigarettes’ is whatever it is. And point out there’s no little particles of speech. So it comes out like like: where possible buy cigarette?
i.e. short. Unfussy.
So that’s how Russians speak. They just say ‘want food’ or something like that, you know? They don’t say : I am interested to know where can I buy food’ they just say ‘interyesna buy food’.
I’m not explaining myself very well. I’m trying to say they never tell us that Russians DON’T say these English phrases. They give us the translation as though the Russian HAS said it. But Russian just doesn’t talk like that.
Same as the English don’t say ‘he table like she ship’ but the French do, with their ‘le’ and ‘la’. See what I mean?
Like if you look at Pidgin, New Guinea Pidgin, there’s no pretense there that they’re saying the same thing. It is not ‘This thing is exactly the same as that thing’ it is something like ‘Dispella allsame datpella’ and that’s the end of it.
I think this feature should be much considered in teaching languages: that they just don’t say the same things.
I tried the Spanish course about 8 years ago.
What I feel is important when one picks up MTM is to have clear expectations (and I do agree that the marketing blows those expectations out of proportion, as you said yourself - I picked it up on a friend’s recommendation, so I had a much clearer idea of what to expect). The course will definitely not help with listening comprehension. It does not really give you a whole lot of vocabulary to work with (I later supplemented MTM with the entire Duolingo course just to learn more vocab in a convenient way). It will not make you a fluent or even decent speaker. It will give you basic understanding of sentence structure and how to build sentences in a variety of tences, as well as how to make use of some common structures and expressions.
While MTM does not do much for you on its own, as *one* of the tools that you use as you start learning it can be quite effective, I think.
I found that even after all these years, I remember the grammar I learned with MTM much better than a lot of things from other languages learned through other methods.
A month ago, I had a chance to put my memory to test during my five-day stay in Spain where I spoke almost exclusively Spanish (I have to emphasize that I did not learn Spanish in any other way than MTM and Duolingo, for lack of time and need). Surprisingly, I was able to succeed with day-to-day interactions without much difficulty, and I attribute at least part of that ease to MTM.
Having used all the app options as well as Rosetta Stone to learn languages Michel Thomas turned out to be one of the limited options to learn European Portuguese (as opposed to Brazilian). When I read how the course worked I approached it with a lot of scepticism about how effective they would be. But I have to say that I have never experienced a language learning experience before that so effectively locked in so much of the content. I would definitely recommend the process to anyone trying to learn a language.
I have to add that Michel Thomas’ personal history and endorsements from celebrities completely are irrelevant to how effective the learning process is.
I found the beginner course at a used bookstore and I have to say I have learned a lot. I am constructing my own sentences from the get started kit. I love watching Arabic television and hearing words I just learned. We all learn in different ways. I heard this ted talk by a young boy whom speaks fluently 5 languages. He said have fun. Don’t get bogged down in the alphabet. What words out phonetically how you hear them and get to communication. There is where the fun will motivate you. He also said, “ If you are not making mistakes, you are not learning.”
I also have to defend the Michel Thomas method. It taught me Arabic to a level beyond my expectation. I am also learning Spanish now and there is no match in other courses in the attention to detail in explaining grammar in a really painless manner. Also the focus on correct pronunciation is crucial I believe. It made me start to understand other language courses better. I think MT courses are best combined with a more vocabulary focussed course. Everyone has different learning styles, but for me this is by far the most accessible way to learn a language, at least for me it is.
Well, if there is a focus on “correct” pronunciation, then we should only be hearing native pronunciation in a self-teaching course. Hearing other students respond is an unavoidable part of a group classroom, but even this is gets in the way of developing native-like pronunciation.
I was a language teaching professional for almost 40 years, and now I study languages as a hobby. When I encountered the Michel Thomas Italian recordings, I was shocked by the lack of cultural and situational cohesiveness. The utterances seem to be occurring in some kind of semantic, cultural and social void. I certainly did not want to be exposed to so much non-native pronunciation, and I took the discs back to the library ASAP.
The recordings reminded me of a very bad language class that I once took as an undergraduate. We had to take turns translating English sentences into German in order to show our knowledge of vocabulary and grammatical structures. I learned a lot in this class, but only because I was a highly motivated lover of language study. If you had a positive learning experience with the MT courses, you are probably a good self-teacher. Bad teachers can‘t stop “language freaks” (apologies - there‘s no other name for us!) from learning, no matter how untalented they, nor how wrongheaded their methods!
As a native English speaker with 8 years of study in Latin and half a lifetime studying French (and keeping up with it via podcast) who’s done “7-week crash-studies for travel” in Spanish and Italian, and as someone who NEVER looks at a new language when first studying it (I’m great with the written part -- it’s my fluid-pronunciation handicap I need to immerse myself in), I decided to try Michel Thomas for Portuguese because all my old favorite audio-only standbys (Instant Immersion 2000-era casettes with the “Ann Johnson” narrative, the Rush Hour singalong series, etc.) weren’t available in Portuguese. I’m about an hour into the 1st CD of an 8-CD set and I love it. But that’s for my very specific situation already knowing all the grammar, and merely wanting an easily-memorizeable way to transfer that knowledge to new words and pronunciation. After an hour of listening as I fell asleep, with a quick 1-minute listen to my last bit where I left off in the morning, I was able to spend my trip into work writing “illiterate pronunciation keys” of words & phrases I remembered learning into a notebook and come up with a sentence to show off to my Brazilian friend at the office (“It is not important to you, but I want it now, because it is very urgent to me.”) [I apologized that I only knew confrontational sentences because, with the method’s initial focus on rearranging the same 20 words into 40 permutations, I’d mostly learned conversation-turning words like “no,” “but,” “why,” “because,” etc! But I knew she’d get a kick out of the sentence since she works in customer service, and indeed she understood me.] So anyway, so far so good when it comes to picking up a spare Romance language when you already know many others. The whole “start w/ cognates and pronounce them right in small sentences” thing is really working for me in this context.
I don’t think I could use MT for a completely foreign language -- I think I’d have to “put in the work” like I did as a child w/ French and Latin doing years upon years of homework and drills to make those sentence structures feel fluent.
HOWEVER, I don’t think I could use ANY audio-only method for that. I tried and failed to learn German that way before a trip. Even my tried-and-true “Ann Johnson” tapes and “In-Flight” CD quickly overwhelmed me. The sentence construction was just too hard to remember at the pace it was presented when I hadn’t “put in the work” to make it subconscious.
Anyway, for me, so far, it’s been good in its niche (using audio-only products to crash-course pronunciation, vocabulary, and subtle variations in a language I’ve already “done the homework” to learn the “hard parts” of).
When giving a thorough critical review of a product it might be worth mentioning to state current alternative products you prefer to use when learning Arabic.
All you have done is put a microscope on MT and haven’t offered anything of value. This is pretty much the political situation in the Middle East and their viewpoint of western societies. Israel is the most advanced economy in the Middle East with incredible technology startups meanwhile the deranged countries next door are too busy being critical of Israel (as you are with MT) to offer any real value to the world.
Hi, I just have to say I love MT method (and I don’t work for any companies involved in it in any way!). I’m always recommending it to people who are looking to learn a language. The one thing I would say though is that I’ve only learned European languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Portuguese) and I think a lot of the less flattering comments seem to be about the non-european languages, perhaps it doesn’t work so well for these? I did try the MT Polish and didn’t get very far with it (it was really hard!). But I would reiterate, I love learning languages and for the French and Spanish in particular it’s the best I’ve found for me personally. But I guess we are all different and different styles suit different people?
I loved the Michel Thomas Spanish CDs. A friend had raved about them about four years ago when I didn’t speak a word of the langauge. I listened to them several times over and they were a great launchpad for learning Spanish. I then started attending a class for beginners at the Latin America Institute here in Vienna and the tapes were an incredible advantage for me - allowing to grasp grammar concepts a lot more easily than the others in the class. I now read novels and newspapers in Spanish, listen to Spanish radio and chat with Spanish-speaking friends. Sure Michel Thomas isn’t going to make you fluent but it’s definitely a great way to learn some holiday Spanish and (more importantly) to lay the groundwork for the real learning if you really want to speak the language well. I imagine that’s true of all these language methods. I recommend the tapes to all my friends who talk about learning a language from scratch. P.S. I don’t work for the Thomas organisation. :-)
I have experience with both the Japanese and Italian programs for MT:
The Japanese program was fantastic. I’d started and stopped many different language programs, even dropping out of a class I’d signed up for, because none of them were really working for me. But the MT program really worked in getting the language to make sense to me. I still remember the day that Japanese sentence structure clicked in my head - I suddenly understood how to mesh different sentences together, and it all made sense to me. I think this was due in big part to how in-depth the woman on the program explained everything. It was amazing.
The Italian version was done by Michele himself, and it didn’t work as well for me. It may have been the heavy accent, I’m not sure but I couldn’t get into it like I had the Japanese program.
I think it’s pretty heavy-handed to say that the program shouldn’t be suggested for anyone - people learn in different ways, and this program rocked for the way I learned the Japanese language.
I tried the MT app on iTunes for Greek. I’m a bit of an app maven... I try everything, duolingo, LingQ, Mondly, MosaLingua, 50 Languages, Babbel, Udemy Courses, ad nauseam. My absolute favorite at this point is hands down Language Transfer. Go straight to YouTube, forget the website (except to donate through Patreon). Same technique as MT, BUT the depth is amazing, one little step at a time,for 120 lessons. It’s not extensive for vocabulary, but 50 Languages is also free, and drills on vocabulary. LingQ is great for reading and listening. Italki of course for conversation. MT was okay, but I learn more for the time spent with LT. Χαρά, the MT teacher, was a Greek speaker, so that helped.
I’ve tried German before, and am hopeful that when I try LT German, it will finally click. LT even has Swahili!
I married into an Italian family, though my husband has grown up in the UK but his extended family live in Italy. I’m on lesson 70 of the beginners package and soon to move on to the intermediate.
While I don’t agree with the “good teacher, poor student” claim for this method, or the celebrity endorsements, I do think this method is good. No method is perfect.
This is purely a method to learn speaking and how to become understood. No, it does not equip you well for listening to natives. I always ask people in Italy to speak slower, but that is because learning a language doesn’t end with completing a course and everyone speaks quite rapid in their native language. You have to immerse yourself! Use what you have learnt to practice with people.
I really enjoy this course. It is good that they have a male and female sudent so I can spot the differences for masculine and feminine words. I have learnt far more Italian via this course than I did in my 5 years of French and Welsh in secondary school and by any other app, program or youtube video. I often look up the conjugations and spelling.
I do think if you had tried a new language you may see the benefits of this method. Sure it doesn’t offer a “complete” introduction to the language. In the introduction it says it’s aim is to get you speaking with confidence. I think if you are serious about a language then you wouldn’t rely solely on one method for learning.
Honestly, my grammar in Italian is actually better than my husbands now. His understanding of natives is better having grown up listening to it, but he never took Italian academically and rather picked up what he knew from staying in Italy in the summers and from his father who spoke it when he was very young, but he never took it seriously to become fluent like his sister did.
I think your personal criticisms of him are harsh and have no bearing on this method. I know MT is Polish, so he has an accident and so do the students, but he does correct the pronunciations of the students and to be honest, it doesn’t affect me. I find his teaching of the pronunciations adequate.
I used the Polish course and found it fine, it gave me the backbone I needed for a running start. The massive criticism is that once you’ve gone through it once, you’ll never want to repeat the 8 hours of the two students struggling and the teacher (a polish lady, fluent in English) explaining things. It seems like poor value for them not to include a condensed version, with only the English sentences followed by the native polish translation - with everything else cut out, it would probably only be an hour long! They do provide a document/pdf that covers the words in each section, which helps, but it just felt lazy that they couldn’t edit down a revision version.
Still, I would recommend the Polish foundation and advanced, in conjunction with something that focuses on everyday, classic tourist scenarios like pimsleur
I honestly couldn’t disagree more with almost everything you’ve written here. I’ve followed multiple of these courses and find them *by far* the best way to get up to speed with the basics of a language I’ve ever found, getting to stage where I feel I can mostly learn pure vocab from then on and improve organically.
As one example, I recently went on holiday to Portugal and after having only listened to the 8 basic level Portuguese CDs in a very compressed period of time (~2 weeks) was able to reasonably comfortably interact with people who spoke little to no English.
I’ve yet to find any other courses which teach the structure/grammar of a language so well, getting you to give numerous different forms and constructions which you have to think about and which I find really beds things in. To each their own I guess...
While I can’t comment on the Arabic courses, I can however comment on how the Japanese lessons were. They are definitely effective than most lessons I’ve tried, including Pimsleur.
MTM teaches you proper grammar and sentence construction, when others just asks you to memorise phrases without explaining in detail how those phrases or sentences were constructed.
I’m a spanish language learner, and before trying to learn any other language than english, I was unaware of MT method, when I decided to learn french, i found Michel Thomas and Pimsleur methods. In my own opinion bro, the only certain thing in this universe is that everything is relative, it doesn’t matter my reasons to express that I found Michel Thomas method EXCELENT and very accurate at the time of my french learning journey, it simply worked for me, the learning was simply effortless, but it’s just me, if this course is useless for other people, great, then go find the course that fits your personality and your way of learning, but there’s no such thing as right or wrong, just diversity of methods, that’s why there’s pimsleur, Rosetta, Fluenz, earworms, and the traditional way, that is going with some teacher and having the pressure of doing a bunch of homework and exercises from some book, and all of them are OK and WRONG at the same time, but it depends on the learning approach of each person. “Know yourself”, know what works best for you, and stick to it, what doesn’t, just let it go, and keep searching. My final thought: I found MYSELF MT excelent, I learned so fucking fast with this method, why?, that’s the way my brain was able to grasp the grammar and the language. I would recommend it? Hell no!, I’m just saying there’s the posibility that you fit in the kind of audience for this product, and if you are, believe me, you’ll find it awesome, if not, that’s ok, then keep searching, If Rosetta Stone makes you learn, excelent!, If the earworms approach makes you learn..terrific!, great!, if not...then-keep-searching.....Just know yourself, and be conscious that everyfuckingthing is RELATIVE....
Peace language learners....
I find the Michel Thomas Method courses an excellent place to start when embarking on the process of learning a new language. I find the method efficient in getting me off the starting block. I think this is important because a sense of making progress breeds faster further progress. I also think the method is quite effective in starting to push structures over into long-term memory due to the repetition and recall elements. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a complete course because attacking from all angles, and over and over again, is par for the course with what will ultimately be the lifetime endeavour of learning and maintaining a language. So, I’m not too concerned that, yes, I will have to buy other materials like a grammar and seek out TV programmes in the target language etc. I do wish they were cheaper, but then, I wish everything were cheaper!
I have noticed that, as a teacher, I have the tendency to take the comment about the responsibility for learning being the teacher’s and not the student’s rather too personally!
I found the MTM helpful, mainly in learning to speak French, not so much in comprehension. However, there was a limit to how much it could teach me. I think it is a great resource to use along side other things. For example, I’m following the MTM, learning on Duolingo, and taking French lessons three times a week. I would definitely recommend taking other steps to learn a language as well, but the MTM was, for me at least, a great stepping stone.
I’ve just been speaking Arabic with a Parisian greengrocer and a Parisian taxi driver. This is after using MTM for three months. Not a brilliant conversation but enough to get a big smile and a look of surprise. I really like MTM. I do not like the ones with MT himself as the teacher. I find him extremely irritating and lose my train when he interrupts the students but the Arabic method with Jane and Mahmoud is great. Unlike you, Donovan, I love the way that Jane speaks Arabic because she’s English like me and she pronounces Arabic well enough to be understood and she’s good at explaining HOW to get your speech organs around a word. And if she can do it then I possibly can too. I also like the fact that you learn about your own language (internal and external plurals for example) and the fact that if you do the equivalent in Arabic of pluralising incorrectly and you say ‘mouses’ instead of mice, you will be understood. I also like the building blocks approach and the way in which you soon get a vocabulary that you can use and fit in to the basic syntactic patterns you’ve acquired. And the way the 3 consonant root thing works and learning about the English words that have come via Arabic. It’s very do-able. So I get what you are saying but would have to disagree.
You should probably update this article.
Thomas’s claims were verified by the government. He was awarded a Silver Star. Those aren’t easy to get, and definitely require verification and proof. I’d trust this over a journalist.
Also, I’m using this language for French, and I’m amazed at how well it’s working. A beloved French-speaking...”it’s complicated” of mine recommended the French course. He used the English one to learn English, and has attained fluency without ever sitting on a French class through this method and English movies and books. I don’t think this method, or any method, should be used on their own, but rather that a few ways should be used together. In addition to this, I’m going into week 4 of an accelerated, total-immersion French class, and am surprised to find myself understanding a lot because of Thomas’s French course, and I just finished the first disk of the first set!!
Martyn Richard Jones
Well stated. Michel is a hero for me. I love his language courses too.
His claims were not “verified by the government.” The actions for which he received a Silver Star had nothing to do with the wartime claims that were challenged by the Los Angeles Times (and others), based on military records and 1945 articles in the New York Times and London Express that contradict Thomas.
MT is very good.
I studied Portuguese with books, various courses before discovering MT - It took me 4-5 years to grasp what learning a language is all about.
MT breaks it down in a matter of 20+ hours.
I do recommend get 2-3 supplementary courses - I have never stuck with 1 course or 1 method -
I used PM for Spanish, teach yourself & MT, as well as a very high end expensive course from a school in Cape Town South Africa but the courses are very expensive - in the £250+ range.
For me, MT is the fastest way to get a handle, a grasp without months, years of language learning. Its true what you say about listening skills. When I started YouTube was not available - now it is, you can simply watch a few minutes a day of programs in the language you are learning to help facilitate your learning.
For me, I have even taken the transcripts of all the MT courses, combined them, removed the duplicates and any language I want to learn, I pay someone overseas to read them and repeat the sentence.
The combined foundation courses, Spanish, French, German & Italian are about 2,500 sentences when you remove the duplicates. I use these basic grammar sentences & then pay someone to record the 6,000 most common English words - I get them to translate & record this.
Those 2,500 sentences + the 6,000 sentences will get you very far. If you listen to a podcasts, radio, television in that language - you will learn a lot.
I then do the same for his language builder & advanced course in the language & get the person to record another 6,000 words.
By this stage, you know how to conjugate verbs, you have 12,000 words you are learning, you have combined the beginner + advanced stuff.
I must preface that when I learn a language, I am not learning it to be 100% fluent. Achieving fluency is a pipe dream. I am a native English speaker and do not know every English word.
I do not know every English grammar rule.
What I look to do is be able to make myself understood & try to understand 80% of the language when listening to people, radio, television.
With 12,000 words (most common English words) you will understand about 95% of what you hear. The goal is to get to the 15,000 - 20,000 words. If you have grammar + a vocabulary of about 15,000-20,000 words, you will be considered fluent.
The MT method is by far the fastest way to get speaking. In my earlier years I jumped too fast from one language to the other. Now I will work on one language for 24-36 months.
That is to learn 15,000-20,000 words.
Get the grammar down
Learn to read
Learn to listen.
I also combine this with the most common phrases, sentences in that language.
Just my take but the above works.
I never set foot in France ever, I was in India & there was an Indian who grew up in France & could not speak a word of English. For two weeks all we spoke was French, I accredit that to MT & the above.
Hello. I have to say, I take strong issue with this review. I’m hesitant to write so much here, because I don’t want to seem callous or dismissive (which is all too common on the internet). I do admit that regarding the MT method, I basically have anecdotal evidence: myself. I’m the only person I know who has learned a language (Spanish) well, by starting with MT. That doesn’t mean I know people who learned nothing from MT. What I mean is that MT is not well-known apparently, and I have met nobody else who even knows who he is, never mind have learnt an entire language starting with him.
But, I do have a lot of experience with people learning languages via other methods, particularly group and one-to-one classes and particularly English (although I also have knowledge/experience of people learning other languages and via other specific methods). I’ve been an English teacher for 10 years and I have met and worked with a lot of people, not just those working on English.
I’ll try to keep the main part of this comment (the retort?) brief and, I hope, respectful. In my opinion, most people critical of MT’s method don’t understand what the aim was. The MT courses are meant to teach grammar and how to structure a sentence (including the pronunciation and other language tools necessary) in order to gain “the open door” (which is what MT says at the end of his courses). Why should they include listening comprehension? A language learner can do as much listening comprehension as they want in their own time, and a teacher is not necessary. Especially now with the internet and YouTube. The student can “tailor” (if that’s what they want to call it) a comprehension course for them self, free of charge! The foundation of a language is its structure.
Regarding pronunciation, I haven’t heard the Arabic course, so perhaps the teacher’s accent really is atrocious. In my humble opinion, pronunciation at the first stages should be clear, but not necessarily perfect. Babies and toddlers are, arguably, the best learners in life. But learning English, how many babies cannot immediately pronounce the “th” in three? In my experience, basically none of them. In my personal experience, I couldn’t pronounce the Spanish “j” (similar to the “ch” in Scottish loch) correctly for 2 years after I had my first experience in Spanish. Pronunciation is a long process, and after the first introduction (where it must be clear and distinct), the rest is mostly unconscious in my experience - just like natural acquisition of a new local accent. I had to live with Brummies for a good year before I could make a decent approximation of it. So, again in my humble opinion, I don’t think having a native speaker is really necessary - a bonus, yes, and clear, absolutely - for the teaching of the foundation, which is to say the structure.
As for why so many celebrity endorsements? That was never a mystery to me. MT was a savvy guy, and not to mention a little unscrupulous at times, as can be seen with his exaggerated wartime stories, or just plain fabrications - he was a storyteller. And you can see in his courses where his imagination and little stories to help the new language points stick came from. It seems to me that he went to Hollywood because that’s where the money was for language teaching/learning. And for 50 years he basically only taught the rich, and so that was and still is his niche market. When he tried to introduce it to education systems, the educators wanted him to explain his method first, which he was reluctant to do as he was very protective of it (perhaps, again, he was worried about the money? I can’t say for sure). In the end, they refused to work with him without his divulging his method, and he refused to work with them for that. So he was left with his school, teaching celebrities.
I know it is basically anecdotal, as I have a survey sample size of one (me!), but from my experience, the course was an eye-opener. My personal language learning theory and “method” (I don’t like using this word) is: language teachers are not supposed to teach the language, they are supposed to teach HOW to learn the language. Then the student takes this skill and continues to learn the language, or another language, or perhaps any other subject. In my experience most language teachers don’t do this, and so the student imitates and learns by rote, and when the class or course is over, the student leaves and learns almost nothing else, ever. MT’s Spanish course taught me HOW to learn a language. I finished Spanish not terribly fluent, but it gave me the confidence and the tools to go and finish the job myself.
In my experience as a teacher, almost the whole industry is based around the idea of making the student happy. Language classes are basically an endless stream of different sensory stimuli, where you have to keep the student entertained, happy and distracted. If the student doesn’t get what he/she expects from a class, they will leave and find another teacher who does provide it. I’m always exasperated how everyone thinks that a student who has no knowledge of learning methods, never mind the language, is supposed to team up with the teacher and design the class alongside the teacher.
I speak as someone with at least reasonable experience in teaching a language, and experiencing how people learn. Perhaps I am a special case, and I already had a talent for languages (I would love to hear that!) and correlation does not necessarily imply causation. But in my humble opinion, MT’s course was very very good. I could write a lot more on this, as there is a lot of nuance, but I don’t want this comment to drag any more.
Regards, and my apologies for the long comment.
Thanks, a really good in-depth post. Personally, I found MT really good for instilling confidence, alas in the real World that confidence soon came crashing down. However, I would say that I love his approach to generalizing verb endings (French and Spanish courses) and although they are only generalizations they’ve helped me pick out tenses when listening and reading. One final point, Language Transfer Complete Spanish provides a very similar course to MT Spanish and has two great advantages:
1. There is only one student, so less annoying.
2. It’s FREE!
Thanks again - great blog and loved your post regarding chunking.
I tried Spanish, French and Mandarin and first of all, i have to say that i tried Madarin for 5 mins and quit because it was very slow. Wayyy too slow for me to focus. I lost what i’m trying to learn.
For Spanish and French, for me as an Asian, I think it’s very convenient and quite useful for a start. After I finished the first whole lesson I wanted to learn more. I think that is the use of it. It gets you hooked up and able to hold on to something. I feel confident when telling people that I am learning French because i’m not scared to show them a few sentences from the top of my head without even thinking. This I have never felt with the conventional way of learning languages.
I’d say try it first just for you to feel comfortable speaking other languages that you are not familiar with. Then you can move onto something with more coverage.
Can anyone let me know how far they have gone with the Advanced French? I haven’t tried it but all the examples I listened to seems a bit boring for me. It would be so nice if anyone here can recommend me which audio lesson I should go for after MTM.
Like many of the above users, I have found MT courses an excellent introduction.
I already speak fluent French and Japanese gained from studying (not MT) and living in those countries.
I have tried to MT Spanish, German, Mandarin and Arabic courses over the years.
I think that the original European languages taught by MT are of a very different standard.
He quickly builds the students’ confidence by showing how (in the European languages) we already know thousands of words.
The constant correction of the students is something I found to be quite clever. He’s not criticising you, but correcting the students (on the recording) with common mistakes that most people will make.
Also, the stress in listening and not reading/writing helps steer people away from mispronouncing things like many English students studying French may do with the pronounciation or “r”.
Up to 10 years on, I can still remember his lessons and sentences.
I found the mandarin one to be pretty useful in demystifying the tones, and moved on to Pimsleur from there.
I found the Arabic one to be a little dry, and didn’t give it the effort it deserved.
However, being multilingual, and having learnt in classrooms, self study and in situ, I highly rate these courses as a good introduction and foundation into a language, from which point you can build via other study methods.
MT method is brillant. I have learned easily english, spanish and german with michel thomas in one year . Im a french native speaker and today im able to speak three languages thanks to his method. MT method is one of the greatest ever. i have learned with it, what i have not been able to learn during many high scool year. I dont know how good it is at arabic , russian and chinese, but for french, english, spanish and german its just wonderful. it is Far better than the crappy language learning in the “modern” classroom or other methods like ( rosetta stone, tell me more, Assimil....). I hope all that resentment is not because because a publisher did not answer your request. Or you just want to promote rocketlanguages ? Not recommanding Michel thomas ? Are you kidding me ? There are so many good testimonies about it everywhere around the world. what you learn in 15 hours with michel thomas, you cant learn it even if you live with a native speaker during 2 weeks. He is building the Core of the language, he gives you the keys to master the language. Dude you really got a problem. You can say its not 100% perfect, of course, by not recommanding this awesome method is really really bad. Thumb down.
I have to disagree. I learnt Italian, Greek and am now learning French with MT. It is utterly brilliant. My friends here are astounded I have picked up the language so quickly. I agree that there needs to be other methods at play for comprehension and listening, but I am a huge fan of MT. He explains things simply and has a way of helping you recall things which is excellent. His method of teaching grammar and complex rules is brilliant because I hate “grammar”. With him I find I am learning it without even realising until afterwards. Genius!
I’ve found the MTM to be excellent on teaching otherwise complex grammar, and I’ve personally really enjoyed doing the MTM courses.
I spend a lot of time in the Netherlands, and the MTM Dutch has helped me to get to a basic level of Dutch much faster.
I’ve found that the best results though come from combining MTM with some other course (personally found Pimsleur good), and then just making the effort to practice every day in every situation, asking native speakers, so you learn things in context.
I took up the Dutch courses as a “false beginner”. I found the Michel Thomas courses very suitable, because what they actually do is teach grammar and syntax, without frightening anyone off by using technical terms. I know of no other course that enables students to construct quite complex sentences of their own so quickly. The MT courses openly state that they don’t teach much vocabulary, but that they aim to provide you with the structure of the language so that you can then go on, using other materials, to build your vocabulary. Suffice to say that I passed a Dutch A2 (on the CEFR scale) examination. Of course I had to do extra work to learn a suitable amount of words and phrases, but I was happy with what the MT course had given me.
I’ve got a similar experience with the Dutch MT course. It also helps a lot that the teacher is a native Dutch speaker. It seems that with regard to Dutch pragmatism, we’ve been quite lucky!
I stumbled onto your site while searching for a decent Egyptian Arabic course. Although I see your points, and agree with many, it’s dependent on the way you’re looking at the MT courses, and your expectations. I actually do recommend MT for the courses I’ve used: French, Japanese.
Caveat: Use the course for what it is, and don’t expect any one course, no-matter which, to make you a language master. You will always have to do the work, learn further vocabulary, practice listening to different conversations, radio programs, and accents etc. No course will give you all the vocabulary you personally need for your way of life, job, interactions etc. Also remember: you didn’t learn to write by writing a letter or word just once, you can’t learn the piano by playing a note or chord just once. Sure, relax-listen-repeat-absorb, and then do it again, and again..........
I completed the MT French Foundation and up to the 2nd CD of the Advanced, and then decided to go to a Language school in my City (company paid). I sat a face-to-face placement interview. This was the first time actually conversing with someone in French, having only used MT. We covered a number of topics to gauge my competence, and I was then placed in the Intermediate class. I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to communicate with the interviewer as I hadn’t previously put my French to use.
I did the same with the Japanese. I was taking a trip to Japan and had a few months to prepare. I only did 2/3rds of the Foundation course, learned the Hiragana and Katagana in a weekend with a book (not difficult if you find the right book), and then contacted a private Japanese language teacher who used to teach for the Foreign Service. She was very pleased with my ability to have a basic conversation. Learning the Hiragana/Katakana was instrumental in making further classes much easier also.
I do agree that the leveling is not correct, but you will be able to communicate with others. Again, it comes down to expectations. I also greatly agree that the comprehension part is severely lacking, but I find that is something you will work on for quite a while with any course and depending on where you go, different accents, etc.
After these experiences, I do believe that the original MT courses are a good start. But they are just that....a starting point. No-one should believe you’ll master the language simply using these courses. Yes, they used to use the term “Advanced” course etc. but if you’re an adult, I’m sure you understand the marketing aspect of any commercial product. A little research is required, and a realistic expectation. Did you really think any one course would cover everything you would ever need to master a language?
MT is useful and I can recommend the two courses I’ve used personally, but again, use them as a starting point, a very good one, but a starting point none-the-less.
How curious! I’ve brushed up on 4 Euro languages using MT, and learned basic Italian from scratch. I found him superb! Not perfect, but superb.
I’ve also explored some of the more exotic languages, and found them a delight. My Shanghai born fluent Japanese speaking friend said my Mandarin tones were fine, and the basics of Japanese were relatively easy.
I’m not discounting the points in this excellent article, only suggesting that even so, I’ve found MT hugely useful.
I don’t agree that MT is rubbish, I did the German MT and it’s far better than Duolingo, Memrise or other apps/methods.
- It really enables you talk and to engage with natives;
- you get a lot of fun when MT is correcting the students, I was able to almost always be better than them. I believe this gives a satisfaction;
- it is really engaging and keep you there;
- I like a lot this audio method of language learning where you need to translate. I used the same method a lot for learning Spanish with Pimsleur and other such courses (“Learning Spanish like crazy” if I rememeber correct).
- you don’t learn only words, you learn structures which are more prone to stick to your memory than plain words with no context;
- I guess the only pitfall is that you don’t get grammar with this course, you need to have a solid level of grammar to grasp the concepts presented. There are people saying that you don’t need grammar, but I truly believe you need it in order to have a logical system in place.
I recommend this method to all language enthusiasts!
Martyn Richard Jones
I like his French and German courses. I think he was great. I learned a lot with Michel. I am very happy to have been a student of his.
I used the earlier versions of the Arabic. I thought it was good. I noticed straight away that Jane Wightwick’s pronunciation was weird (but her English pronunciation is quite weird too - she says ‘tomaaarrroe’ for ‘tomorrow’ for example. I had taken classes before moving to Cairo and the MT really helped me put sentences together when speaking. A friend who had lived in Egypt for a while but basically used the point and say a noun method of communication found it incredibly helpful to learn to construct sentences. She played it to an Egyptian friend who said there was nothing wrong with Jane Wightwick’s accent! (She has been involved in a lot of learning arabic courses not just MT and not just Egyptian). Anyway, thank goodness Mahmoud was there.
Other friends also found it useful for learning to create sentences.
(I also learned to read arabic script and so forth, obviously not from MT, but a lot of foreigners really don’t want to learn the arabic script, just speaking, as I found out).
I also tried the Italian one. I don’t recommend that one. The teacher was obviously getting very frustrated with the learners. I think you have to suck them and see, not every teacher or method works for every learner.
PPS - sorry! Wish I could edit a comment:
I used what were formerly known as the Foundation, Advanced and Vocabulary courses of the MT Arabic - a total of about 10 hours.
I’m a huge fan of the MT method. I had been trying to learn German for 20 years when I used the MT cds. It was my a-ha moment. I have completed the first German program and can read pretty well and can get by conversationally.
I also used the Spanish course and got most of the way through that one. I can read a lot, but have trouble with conversation. I have a great base though.
I used the mandarin program for about an hour before going to China and just with the few words and understanding I knew I was able to get us out of a sticky situation with a cab driver while we were travelling.
I recommend MT to anyone that I hear talking about learning language.
I will not go into much detail but I am quite happy with the Total Spanish course because of the simplicity and easiness it creates for learning the Spanish language. I only bought it in April this year and was listening while driving my car in the morning. It gives the necessary skill to form the basic sentences and understand elementary concepts. After a few months I realised that I could read Spanish texts with ease and write my own sentences.
Listening and conversational skills may take years to practice in any language and it is due to various aspects such as clarity of language, pronunciation, speed, dialects etc.
I did not expect this course to be equal to a classroom-based learning, and it does exactly what it is designed for - to give the basic understanding of that language. The rest is up to you what you wanna do with it and how you wanna master...
The Total Spanish course is taught by MT himself and I like his simple way of building up the vocabulary and grammar skills. I cannot comment on other courses though.
I am a linguist, translator and language teacher by my background and I know several other languages already. I think this was the easiest way of acquiring another language without putting too much effort.
Hope this helps.
I just discovered this website after spending ten minutes with the MT Italian course which had been recommended to me, and having just started listening to it and being utterly incredulous, want to find out whether others found his courses as ridiculous as I do, or whether I’m being overly harsh. I confess I’m relieved to find
After being entreated to “lorn ze stracture av ze langvijj”, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps he ought to have spent a few minutes learning correct pronunciation as well, certainly of the English Language at any rate; I found that I had to listen very carefully to catch what he was actually saying. Whilst I realise close attention is beneficial to the learning experience, I don’t feel that should extend to trying to understand the instruction given in my own language, and it certainly doesn’t conform to his professed teaching methodology. For me, he fails as a language teacher on an epic scale.
As a keen Italian cook, with an interest in Italian cinema and having spent time in Italy in the past, I already have a feel for Italian pronunciation. This is why, as Michel continues (promiscuously dropping both definite and indefinite articles as he goes), thoroughly mispronouncing the first Italian words he introduces with a thick German accent, it just seemed horribly wrong; a beautiful, musical language mashed into guttural, sibilant grunts. Then came the loud and annoying PEEEEP followed by a student answering his basic questions, always in their own horrible accent with no attempt to sound Italian, and often mispronounced. It was a genuinely painful aural assault. PEEEEP, PEEEEP, PEEEEEEEP! Aaaaaargh!
Considering the preamble about being as relaxed as possible, I found it utterly frustrating and stress inducing to listen to, so much so that my instinct was to throw my CD player out of the window due to the internal scream of “Make it stop! Make it stop!” which, fortunately, drowned out the sound of the CD itself. This was after less than ten minutes. I scrambled to hit stop on my CD player and instantly felt a sense of relief.
Why would anyone want to use this as an introduction to a foreign language? I want to learn the language properly, with correct pronunciation, in a way that will be easily understood and appreciated by native speakers. I can’t see that happening with this course. This course is a joke, one that I felt the butt of for having invested in. Incidentally, I’m returning it on the basis that it is simply not fit for purpose.
Hey, Andrew. It’s a real shame you had such a bad experience with the MTM. I understand and speak italian today thanks to MT. I knew his accent and pronunciation weren’t good enough, so I simply didn’t focus on those. I focused on learning the grammar with him, and it worked great for me. Therefore, what I did was to start listening to native speakers through the internet with movies and videos, and that provided me the input I needed to acquire correct pronunciation. Right now, I actually teach languages with his methodology and have thousands of students on the internet. It’s really sad you couldn’t ignore his bad pronunciation, so you could get what also matters (grammar, structure).
That should read “ I confess I’m relieved to find I’m not the only one”.
Would be nice to have the ability to edit my own post on the page once posted.
Hey! I believe MT is the best method out there in that it teaches a lot considering the short amount of study time. I don’t know any method that can teach as much as MT does in such a limited time. However, the course itself is not the best. It is too short which renders it uselless unless you continue your studies with other materials.
Bottom line, I believe it’s the fastest and the most effective way of learning a new language; however, it’s just too short and fails to cover the basics of a language.
I ran into your article while searching for “learning European Portuguese”. I spend tons of commute time and would like a verbal / audio based program to learn simple Portuguese. I’m hoping to travel to Lisbon again in December. While I appreciate your review, for me, I would have appreciated that you left out the personal “bashing” of his background, etc. How is that relevant? I do have to say, after listening to the MT “sample” lesson, I picked up way more that I have on other intro lessons. But, I’m slow to pull the trigger on a program yet. Apps, courses, youtube....it’s confusing which courses really work! Does anyone have any suggestions for a great audio / verbal based program for European Portuguese? I’d really appreciate it!
I used the MT course to learn Chinese. After 2 months I started speaking to my local Chinese friends. Basic conversations, yes but Chinese. I also speak some Norwegian, which I learnt at a school in Oslo Norway. The MT system is great. Okay I can’t read or write Chinese but for people who just want to speak a language, it works for me. I can’t understand why you don’t rate it?
I must agree with you on this.
I purchased MT Total Polish on the basis of a freebie trial lesson. At first it was good, but the ‘teacher - bright student - poor student’ roleplaying chit-chat soon became distracting, and I lost interest. What is the point of including acted out errors and silly little jokes in a language course?
The WORST MT course I sampled was the Mandarin Chinese course, which began with some guy ranting on about making shapes with your hands to memorise the tones. That lasted less than 5 Minutes!
“There’s no such thing as a poor student, only a poor teacher.” I’d like to thank Michel Thomas for his honest admission of the inherent fallibility of his own method. Woody Allen is living proof of this.
The MT ‘method’ is not a patch on the Pimsleur ‘listen-and-repeat’ (and learn words and phrases in reverse) approach, which is professional, businesslike, does not allow for mistakes, and for me, is instantly engaging; not to forget the inclusion of very useful cultural notes in some of the courses, and of course, the NATIVE language speakers.
Where with Pimsleur I start learning, and thinking in the language immediately, with MT, I had to recapitulate on the previous lesson every time.
I would not recommend MT to anyone.
My situation is a bit more difficult, since I can only rely mostly on audio programs, being totally blind, combined with the fact that not much foreign language learning books get put in braille here.
I seem to find Pimsleur useful, but the big problem I have is when I finish it, I don’t know how to find some sort of program to teach me more everyday vocabulary and maybe more advanced audio-only courses.
Michel Thomas, I definitely couldn’t recommend it on its own. For example, you do it in nearly any language, you don’t learn things that you really should know, such as greetings, numbers, much foods. I think if you do Pimsleur and you suddenly listen to a radio station in another language, you will have an easier job of hearing a word and knowing what they’re talking about. The MT courses, often they are not sentences you’ll say everyday to your friends, just really long sentences that somehow feel heavy.
I would like to know though, what other audio programs have you found useful? Are there any that you don’t have to use the book?
I’m blind too, and I also like learning languages. I agree that the MT method does have some shortcomings, in particular some of the sentences being too long. I’ve checked out several of the MT courses, I particularly like the Greek and Dutch ones, but I just like the teachers I think. If you want some good audio courses, check out the get talking and keep talking series from Teach Yourself. They give you a lot of useful vocabulary. You can access the ebook through iBooks on an iOS device. These books have audio which you can play, and you can read the text too. As the teach yourself courses get more advanced, verb tables and noun declensions are rendered as images, but at least these books give you structured learning, and you can look up case and verb endings online if you want to. If you want a way to improve your writing and your grammar, you should check out Babbel.com. Check their website out, since their app on iOS doesn’t work with screen readers, I don’t know about apps for Android when it comes to screen reader accessibility, as I don’t use it. Also check out pod101, their PDFs on Windows can be read with Google Chrome and the NVDA screen reader, and a lot of their courses will take you up to an advanced level. I don’t know about stuff for mac OSX either. Babbel and Pod101 are paid subscriptions. Hope that helps.
Hello, I’ve studied Spanish using MT method, I just downloaded the .mp3’s and for just around 2 days, I think I could speak decent dialogue with spanish people (not serious talks). I think what I can say is that it really depends on how you comprehend something and as what MT said: “Never ever try to memories words.” This reflects on how we learn our own language. We don’t memorize, we just listen and understand, and for a course of time you suddenly exercise your tongue into speaking it nicely.
My advice is to just listen to the lesson and again and again listen to it even though your not paying attention ;)
Hope this helps :)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on MT, Jay.
I’m a French teacher and I just met a student who swore only by this method, and had been learning for almost a year, only she could not even answer my most basic questions (What is your name, Where are you from?) I had never heard of this method before but now that I’ve met this student and listened to the samples on the website, I can say it is a disgrace to language learning. Also, the website is so focused on blaming the teacher, like you said, saying that if you tried to learn before it was because the method was wrong, that I felt my student was pressuring me to adapt my lesson to her “learning” style. Well, needless to say, she will have some surprises when she gets to France and starts “speaking”!
It’s great to hear your input as a native French teacher on this. Just the kind of thing people need to hear.
Really appreciate you chiming in. Thanks Gabrielle. :)
”a disgrace to language learning”? That’s a bit strong isn’t it?
I personally love the Michel Thomas method. I used the older versions to learn French and Spanish, to a level where I could make myself understood, obviously I wan’y fluent, who would be after 15-20 hours? But I knew way more than I had learned in a college course of 2 years. MT makes the structure of the language make sense, it puts it in a way that you can digest and it sticks in your head. I also tried the Japanese one, which is a later one produced after Michel’s death. It was ok once I got over the irritation of the teacher’s voice and helped me with a trip to Kyoto; and I also tried the Russian one and got a lot further than I had ever got with Russian before. Enough to cope with a week in Ukraine anyway. I just wish I could find a similar style course for Bulgarian.
This is silly. I did the Spanish course and one thing I am quite sure of is that the French course like the Spanish would take you through these simplest levels more than adequately. I went through MT Spanish Cds over the course of a few weeks in the way he suggested and I could get by quite well in conversation when I went to Peru after that for 4 weeks.
Hi Donogan, longtime reader but first-time poster here. I was wondering if you have listened through any of the Language Transfer courses yet. The method, as far as I can tell, is very similar to MT but mostly it’s superior because it’s free. There’s an Intro Arabic course. I’ve heard wonderful things about the Spanish course, and I myself got a lot out of the Intro Turkish course.
*Donovan haha sorry
This is the first time I’ve heard of Language Transfer. Their website is a bit of a mess - hard to read and navigate - but I’ll check it out shortly and see what it’s about.
Just wondering if you ever got around to checking out language transfer? There’s an app now which makes it v. easy to use. I thought it was brilliant - I used the Spanish and am just making start on intro to Arabic.
Thanks for the review. I have to agree with a few of the other posters. I think if you were new to Arabic you would have written a very different review.
MTM is what I use After Pimsleur. It helps me with pronunciation and being able to think on my feet.
I know a lot of you here are big grammar learners, but that never worked for me. MTM does teach grammar in a more organic way.
True there is a lot of English in the couse, but that tends to help me.
Also I have no problem wit MT saying there are no bad students. I had a terrible teacher years ago and would have quit learning the language. Luckily another teacher came in and got me on track and I stayed on track.
I recommend MTM for anyone who finishes Pimsleur and wants to go to the next level.
The only thing thing I really didn’t like was the students making mistakes on cd. I found it distracting.
Thanks for your input, Lana.
I’m a beginner to Arabic. I looked into MT after being disappointed with the catastrophe that was Pimsleur Arabic (Egyptian was bad, Eastern was worse). I didn’t have the ability to recognise that the teacher had a bad Arabic accent (I didn’t realise that with Pimsleur either), but I did notice something was wrong from the start.
I like courses that have a male and female speaker, the difference in octave means some differences in pronunciation are more apparent. So if I’m listening to a woman, and compare what I say myself, I’ll notice mistakes in my pronunciation that I didn’t when comparing to a man. There’s a male and female student, and the teacher was only correcting the male student, even though the female student was clearly speaking differently from Mahmoud. That means the teacher didn’t notice a particular difference between her speech and the female student’s (I couldn’t either), which suggests that her Arabic is no better than that of someone speaking it for the first time in their life.
Then we get to the method itself, I’ve also looked at French. I’m not a complete beginner, but my level isn’t high. Michel himself teaches it. First warning flag for me is his French accent speaking English, it means the method he used to learn a language himself doesn’t work for pronunciation (which makes perfect sense, relying on cognates is going to guarantee your speech is full of L1 intrusions). He also waxes poetically about how it’s never the student, always the teacher, yet it’s less than 5 minutes in before he’s crying “Noooooo!” in frustration at the student’s mistakes. The Arabic teacher at least had some integrity to try to stick to the premise of the program.
Now compare MT Arabic to Language Transfer Introduction to Arabic. The premise is similar, teacher and student having a conversation. Also a teacher who isn’t a native speaker (he admits that, says he’s not too worried about pronunciation, so at least you know what you’re getting, even if that is a disappointment for me). Also works with the idea of starting with blocks and building up sentences with those blocks and grammatical concepts. What it does very differently though is almost entirely eschews English cognates, and instead explains Arabic’s root system. So you get the 3 roots and some example words with them. You’re encouraged to think of at least one root, and see what others come into mind, and then how you put them together based on gender and number. The basic concept is the same, but it has been highly customised for the language being taught. It’s also free. There’s simply no sense in paying any money for MT, when LT is just plain better, and doesn’t cost any money. And even if LT weren’t available, I wouldn’t see any value in MT.
Michel Thomas courses are for me the most effective way to start learning a new language and build a base, which is echoed in some of these comments.
It feels like you’ve simply reviewed this course against a checklist of current best practices in language learning, many of which are not really relevant for this method or course. But did you actually use the course to learn Arabic and assess it on its effectiveness? I believe you already speak Arabic, so I’m guessing that’s not the case. I think if you picked up this course without speaking any Arabic - a very intimidating language to learn - you would have left a very different review. Let me make my point...
The use of English is part of Michel Thomas’ method as it relies on cognates and relating the new language back to English. Of course nowadays we try to use the target language as much as possible when teaching. But in the self-study scenario where there is no teacher, this is quite reassuring. Second, Michel Thomas courses don’t attempt or claim to teach comprehension. There are other courses for that. Just like there are courses for reading, or writing. So, this is an unfair criticism. It’s like judging a tennis player on how well she is at volleyball, or a romance novelist on crime fiction.
Where I do agree with you is on the one thing it tries to do and succeeds at doing - and that’s building the structure of a language in your head and focusing on grammar. What I’ve learned through these courses I recall more quickly and it sticks with me. I agree it’s a jumping off point for further study and the benefit is you speak right away and can see your progress. This, for me, is what is most motivating and has then propelled me to go on to study a language in more depth.
I haven’t done the Arabic course myself, so perhaps there is more English, but perhaps it’s necessary as Arabic is complex and doesn’t have the similarities that the romance languages do. And it is a shame if the teacher has bad pronunciation, but that’s why the native speaker is there to give a model. Michel Thomas only taught the languages he learned, and none that he spoke natively, I believe.
I do agree the levelling is wrong and that some of the celebrity endorsements undermine it. However, if you watch the BBC Language Master, they seem to be legit. And you can also see him in action. I think it’s the real deal.
Lastly, yes, some of the claims like ‘no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher’ is not necessarily true at face value - we’ve all seen bad students. But the point is that he believed EVERYONE was able to learn a language, even those that were labelled unteachable. And by taking the responsibility off the student, they could relax and try to learn. It was a message he used to his students. And it worked.
Well after writing this review, Hodder did offer to send me a different language - one that I have not learned before - to try that. I may still accept that offer.
But I feel that as an experienced Arabic learner I was better able to assess the strategies they use to explain certain features of the language. The fact is, I don’t think that I’d find this teaching style effective regardles.
I can see why you would be making these points, but I cannot agree with this assessment. I think the Michel Thomas method is great because of at least two reasons:
First, it enables you to reproduce what you learn by having you practice immediately. I think this is extremely rare in language teaching, yet this is one of the most effective ways to get you to remember and use the structures you learn. This makes the difference between active and passive learning, and it is crucial! For example, I recently found a good Slovak course on the Internet (slovake.eu) - it has lots of video, exercises, etc. Having read through big chunks of it, I am able to passively understand quite a few Slovak words. Yet I couldn’t produce a Slovak sentence, even if it’s as simple as ‘I would like to learn this language’ because the course doesn’t encourage reproduction in ways that work for me. Sure, it has lots of exercises, which could perhaps achieve the same as Michel Thomas method does - but that doesn’t quite work for the busy types out there, who are interested in learning, but are not so interested in solving countless drills by trying to fit the correct form with the correct ending somewhere in a web input field, multiplied a thousand times.
Second, Michel Thomas method does not shy away from grammar - rather, it embraces grammar the way that works for most people: breaking it down into manageable chunks and reinforcing with examples. If you complete a Michel Thomas course, you will have a good understanding of how the grammar of the language you’re learning works - that is a great asset. And the rest is... just vocabulary. As a side note, it’s true that the courses don’t reveal the full grammar, but that’s just a criticism about the length of the courses rather than their quality.
I think this is also where your criticism doesn’t quite work. Sure, big parts of the courses are in English, and lots of it is not pronounced in a native accent - but the point of the course is not to teach you vocabulary, nor is it to give you a perfect pronunciation - rather it is to get you to practice the language, and also to help you build the basis of a language, to which you can later add more vocabulary and more advanced structures. And I think the method does that really well.
Plus I can’t really agree with your comments about the fact the courses are seeking to be stress-free somehow being a disadvantage. Surely, if you prefer to stress yourself out as you think that this might increase your performance (or for whatever other reason), you can always find ways to do that? But given the world we live in today, where the reason that most people don’t succeed in languages has lots to do with the fact they are being presented those languages in ineffective ways under unnecessarily stressful classroom environments, one would think that a method striving to make learning as stress-free and as fun as possible would be welcome, wouldn’t one?
> Plus I can’t really agree with your comments about the fact the courses are seeking to be stress-free somehow being a disadvantage.
I didn’t say that.
By all means, if you can create a more stress-free environment then do it. But I made the point that stress isn’t always a bad thing necessarily. We do well to put ourselves under a healthy amount of pressure.
Martyn Richard Jones
I like his French and German courses. I think he was great. I learned a lot with Michel. I am very happy to have been a student of his.
I listened to the first and second levels of German, with Michel Thomas himself doing the teaching, and I found them very useful and learned a lot of basic sentence structure, conjugations, and vocab. I enjoyed listening to it, and got a kick out of how the students responded, and tried to beat them to the answers, like a guessing game. I tried one of the more advanced vocab courses too, but it wasn’t taught by Thomas and I got annoyed with it.
Doubtless the methodology and presentations could be improved for other languages, but I’d recommend the German series done by Thomas himself, to a beginner.
Great to hear a different take on MT, Rhonda.
Thanks a lot for sharing.
My thoughts exactly, you can’t lump all Michel Thomas courses into one; the German one is actually great, as it’s taught solely by a native German, it taught me a lot and basically ingrained in me a strong feel for the difficult German grammar which I’ve never forgotten.
I’ve tried the Japanese and Mandarin and found both a little awkward and, as you say, English heavy, but then you are trying to teach very tricky concepts (like tones and very foreign grammar concepts), so you’re going to have to speak a lot of English to explain things.
The courses in general I think are really great to get your feet off the ground and get you to an A2 level, you shouldn’t buy into a lot of the nonsense (like not practising or using effort etc.), and you SHOULD move onto listening and reading as soon as possible.
In terms of being interrupted, admittedly this probably wasn’t the correct way to teach the two people in the class, but for someone listening and participating from home, this is probably an advantage for you (at their expense).
So if you use the audio course as a tool for your own ends and don’t take the ‘Michel Thomas method’ too seriously, I think it’s a great way to engage and teach a language to people. Just treat it like a quick and easy primer, and remember that the end of the course is the start of the real battle.
(I should add that I have no idea how much these courses cost, so value for money doesn’t enter into my valuation of them at all...)
I bought the MT French course way back in 2003. It cost over a hundred euros, a lot of money for a college student. I bought it because I was about to visit my French girlfriend’s family in Brittany. In the event, however, her family all spoke good English, so I didn’t get to use much of what Michel had taught me (though I did try some phrases on waiters, bus drivers and so on). I abandoned French after that trip; it had been a false start.
A year later I went back to French, and this time stuck with it. This time I used a bog-standard, computer-based course, with clunky graphics and no celebrity endorsements, which I was able to access for free in the language lab of my university. It had a more “tradtional” layout: dialogues, grammar explanations, verb tables, practice exercises and so on. I found that that system worked a lot better for me. (Not saying that it would for everyone, just that it did for me.) After a couple of months of that course I would still have struggled to have a proper conversation in French, but I was able to write a decent-length e-mail to an old friend in France, and that gave me a real feeling of achievement. I’ve kept it up.
I do remember some of MT’s French mnemonics (“I’m going - I’m on my WAY - je vais”) and they have been helpful. I also like the fact that his approach constantly challenges you to translate things from English into your target language. All in all, though, I don’t find it thorough enough. Echoing Lolu, I think you could use it to supplement a more grammar-based course, to allow you to practise actually saying stuff. But don’t imagine that an MT course all by itself will teach you a language. Even if it does say ‘Total’ on the box.
Lastly, I agree with you that that whole “no bad students, only bad teachers” thing is rubbish. “I never succeeded in learning [language] because our teacher at school was awful” is such a common cop-out excuse as things are. Come on, if you *really* wanted to learn the language, you wouldn’t let a mediocre schoolteacher stand in your way! It’s actually kind of ironic, because Michel Thomas himself doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who went through life thinking that his destiny lay in the hands of other people.
My take is, that a course has many flaws as you’ve pointed out does not make it totally useless. If MT fulfils a single L2 language need for an individual, then by all means they can use it. After which they leave it and move on to something else that fulfils another language need. There’s no one-size-fits-all course, heck, there shouldn’t even be! Because language learning is multifaceted. I find things like MT and Pimsleur to be nothing more than primer courses, the one for giving some sense of structure, the other for internalising pronunciation (obviously, it’s best to start with pronunciation first). After which you move on, because language learning doesn’t (and won’t) stop there.
Wise words, Lolu.
I’ve found that Pimsleur is a better primer for the beginner (or someone wanting to start reactivating a dormant language) than MT. With Pimsleur, the English is there but it isn’t (at least it doesn’t seem) as dominant as with MT.
I tried MT French a number of years ago, and just couldn’t get through the first lesson. As you pointed out, the English speaker was in control. He was waffling on so much that it didn’t feel like a language lesson. It was more like someone pontificating about a language at a dinner party.
Looks like I’m not the only one who found it painful to listen to.
Are you sure you listened to Michel Thomas French? In the beginners CDs there is only Michel Thomas and two students. Also it’s not divided into lessons, but is one continuous 8 hour flow. Well... there is a break after 2 hours which separates the 2 hour demo from the expensive 8 hour set, but that’s all.
Can’t comment on the Arabic one, but I agree with what people have been saying that the ones done by Michel Thomas himself seem to be better.
Agree with you Alex. I completed four years of French and wanted to have a refresher (38 years later) as my husband and I were planning a trip to France. Needless to say, I also could not make it through the first lesson. I was quite discouraged. My husband, on the other hand, who has mastered both German, Russian and Polish, completed the fourth lesson and felt he had a good grasp of the French language. Unfortunately, when my husband tried to speak with a French-born acquaintance of ours recently, neither I nor the French native were able to comprehend a single thing my husband was saying. That, I would say, is a stronger testament than an A-list celebrity who was asked to say something nice to earn a few quick bucks.
Hello, I tried the method in mandarin Chinese and let me tell you that I gave up right away and went to find Chinese speaking teacher. Michel Thomas method is such a waste of money.
I’d be curious to hear how they handle Chinese tones, especially if the English speaker is doing all the talking like in the Arabic edition.
I think you are pretty much on the mark. I’ve tried MT in Japanese and Hindi. In neither could I muster up the enthusiasm to progress onto the 2nd CD.
Thanks for your input, William!
While I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.
I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the Arabic course, having never used it. I speak fairly fluent Spanish and Portuguese, and ended up marrying a Brazilian, and I am currently learning Japanese and French. I firmly believe if I had never found the MT Method my language learning journey would have ended before it began.
I have found no other course that gets you up and running with the basics so quickly, and provides a constant feeling of progression. The courses gives you a solid basis for fundamental grammar, common verbs, basic vocabulary, and sentence structure. It helps build confidence in the early stages and provides you with the tools to think in the language and create your own sentences. Another plus, is that his can all be done in your car on the daily commute, using otherwise wasted minutes of the day.
I would say however that courses taught by Michel Thomas (Spanish, French, German, Italian) himself were far more effective than those taught by his students. This is in part because the languages he taught have several similarities with English which he was able to exploit, but also due to his distinctive voice and personality.
I found the Portuguese course (not taught by MT) was in content a carbon copy of the Spanish but did not stick in my head to the same degree. The Japanese course is taught well, but vocabulary learned on the course is far more limited due to the lack of similarities with Japanese.
Another problem with the newer courses is that they lack the review track which the original languages had. This was a brilliant way to drill grammar, basic verbs, vocabulary and sentence structure after completing the course, without all the talking in English.
As you discussed, Michel Thomas has several faults. Lack of listening comprehension, poor pronunciation (MT taught courses only - mitigated with native speakers on newer courses), limited vocabulary, no reading / writing, annoying class mates, etc.
That said, MT should be viewed as just another tool in your arsenal and not something that will take you to an advanced level on its own.
I have found using Michel Thomas Beginner & Advance > Pimsleur (1-3) > MT Review tracks > Assimil along with learning some vocabulary and basic sentences from the Lonely Planet phrasebook gives me enough of a grasp of the language to get by in the vast majority of situations, but I think without that initial hand holding given by MT, I would not have been as successful in language learning as I have been.
Having read your article, all of the comments below and your responses and as someone who has learnt Spanish, and German and speak all three now fluently (luckily having been able to live in all 3 of these countries) may I offer the following:
1. The negative comments seem to be about the extended range of MT courses all of which have been developed by Hodder since MT passed away.
2. Those courses may use (or try to) the MT ‘method’ of language teaching but they were neither created or delivered by the man himself and since starting on the Arabic course, I can see this makes a very big difference.
3. Almost all, including my own, opinions related to the MT created and delivered courses (French, German, Spanish, Italian etc.) seem to be positive.
I purchased the MT course for Italian; downloaded all the CDs and listen to the lessons as I do my morning walk each day. I have eventually given up. My main issue is that I would have preferred the “students” to be using a script. Sometimes they struggle so much by saying every permutation of the answer that I eventually forget what it is they are trying to translate. MT sometimes talks over the students; and goes off onto a tangent.
When I first started I was enthusiastic, and the back and forth between MT and the students was encouraging. (MT did all the teaching and pronunciations; no additional teacher in this boxed set. ) But that soon got lost as the students themselves struggled. Now I think I just won’t be able to learn Italian at all. Which is a shame. Maybe another time . . .