Why I Don’t Recommend Michel Thomas (Review)

If not for the total lack of listening comprehension and the excessive amount of English, I might have a more favorable opinion of the Michel Thomas Method.
See Michel Thomas
Michel Thomas

Michel Thomas
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Positives
  • Simplifies various language concepts well
  • Good range of languages
Negatives
  • Way too much English
  • No listening comprehension
  • Teacher is held solely responsible for outcome
  • Explicit grammar instruction
  • A-list celebrity endorsements without educational endorsements

Summary

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.

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UPDATE: For a quality alternative to Michel Thomas, I recommend this audio course.

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”.

Michel Thomas Celebrities

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.

They’re actors.

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…”

-Michel Thomas

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%.

Ludicrous!

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.

Used MT before? Did it help you?

Comment below!

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Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic

COMMENTS

Comment Policy: I love comments and feedback (positive and negative) but I have my limits. You're in my home here so act accordingly.
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William

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.

Donovan Nagel

Thanks for your input, William!

Mike

Hi Donovan.
Love your take on language learning and agree with the
chunking method. But about MTM it is a known thing that the further one moves from European languages with MT the worse it gets. I did the Russian one both plus vocabulary. I did not like it, but the prof was a native Russian speaker and passed all the phony hype regarding proficiency , for someone whom does not know anything it is a rather useful as a jump off point to get acquainted with the language...And yep the "total and perfect" lack of listening comprehension is a huge minus! Best.

Ed Barnes

Hi Donovan
I have read your review and agree with some of your sentiments
However I would like to share with you my experiences as a user of MT learning materials
I studied the MT French course, on audio CD, for a couple of weeks before a visit to Morocco
I was able to make myself understood and understand many of the responses I got
I was able to engage In conversation with ex-pat French people I met
They were amazed that I had only been studying for two weeks
The thing I like about the MT method is that you are given the tools to begin thinking in the target language from the outset
There are a great many positive reviewers here who I agree with, about the effectiveness of MT's courses especially those taught by Michel Thomas himself
Given that, I think it is a little unfair to entitle your review "Why I don't recommend Michel Thomas"
Your review does not cover all of the MT products,focussing solely on the Arabic course
Perhaps it would be more accurate if your review were entitled "Why I don't recommend the Michel Thomas Arabic course"
I think it would be a shame if prospective students were discouraged from trying the Michel Thomas taught
European language courses
I have enjoyed learning both French and Spanish by his method and would encourage anyone who wants an easy introduction to understanding a new language to try these courses
Others on here have commented that other MT courses for languages without close relationship to European languages are not as good as those taught by Michel Thomas
himself
These all seem reasonable criticisms from people with personal experiences as students of these courses
However it seems unreasonable for you to condemn Michel Thomas on the basis of a review as a non-student,
(I believe you are already an Arabic speaker) of only one of the courses they offer
I also detect some bias on your part as, as far as I can see, you only respond to posts that share your viewpoint
Perhaps there can be an exception to that rule and you will respond to my post
Ed Barnes

Donovan Nagel

Hi Ed,
They sent me the Greek version after this review to give it a second chance.
While I found it 'slightly' better than the Arabic one, my opinion hasn't changed.
I have a theory as to why so many people here (yourself included) are defending Michel Thomas: https://youtu.be/yY8_TAOfok4

Ed Barnes

Hi
Sorry to accuse you of bias I have seen some of your replies to posts that don't share your view
Ed

Grant Beresford

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.

Cheers
Grant

Al

I started to learn French using the MT CDs and I also feel that it gave me a fundamental grasp on grammar, verb conjugation, and sentence formation. It also gave me a feeling of accomplishment as I was speaking sentences in French.

I tried other language programs in the past for Spanish and they never stuck. I tried Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone and a couple others whose names escape me. I just didn't get the same motivation or confidence to continue the programs.
I have since tried the Michel Thomas Spanish CDs and I have had a similar experience to my experience with the French CDs. Meaning, they gave me a feeling of having a basic fundamental understanding of the formation of sentences, correct grammar, and verb conjugation.

I also agree that the there is no writing or reading, which could be a problem. The students, especially the male student in the Spanish CDs, can be irritating and distracting. There isn't a ton of vocabulary either.
Lastly, I listened to an advanced French lesson and another Spanish CD (I don't remember if it was advanced or something else), which didn't feature Michel Thomas and I agree that the impact just wasn't the same.
However, I don't know if that is really needed in an introductory sort of approach to a new language. For me, the CDs served their purpose, which is to get me excited and motivated to continue my journey. I still have to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I have to work on increasing my vocabulary. But, I'm very much a fan of the method.

JimG

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.
Thanks,
Jim

peter

I cannot comment on the MS Arabic courses ( I suspect few Americans can), but I can tell you that for me the 8 basic Spanish CDs and the 4 Adanced Course
CDs were a joy to learn from and interact with. Of course this is not a replacement for more traditional Spanish courses, but it gave me not only confidence to pursue classroom learning, but also an overview that made parts of traditional classroom and laboratory (including online) learning much easier to comprehend.
Mr. Degan's criticism regarding self esteem is completely unfounded. I found the humor and almost always present patience extremely helpful in developing confidence. Furthermore, anyone who has self esteem problems when listening to a CD alone with no one to pass judgement has a problem more difficult than learning a new language. Anyone taking Spanish for the first time would benefit tremendously from listening to the Introductory tapes before starting the first day in the classroom. And the advanced CDs would be of great benefit to the second semester of high school or college courses.

To list just two examples: take the "NOSE RULE" introduced on CD 2 of the introductory course. This rule makes understanding where accents belong and don't belong so simple that it is amazing that the courses I've taken do not use it.
Second, MT's teaching of the different verb tenses is so much more intuitive than the traditional memorization methods. Sure the traditional methods are necessary, but they are so much easier to learn if you've listened to MT's cds first.
Finally, as a linguist MT brings a "heightened awareness" of one's own language" to the learner. And most importantly MT imbues a sense of joy and accomplishment to his students.

Sincerely,
PeterD

Kay Wiggins

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 . . .

Lolu

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.

Donovan Nagel

Wise words, Lolu.

Agree completely.

Alex

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.

Alex

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.

Donovan Nagel

Good analogy.

Looks like I'm not the only one who found it painful to listen to.

Adam

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.

Denise Stambaugh

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.

Celine

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.

Donovan Nagel

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.

Mex

I am on the MT course for Mandarin. The first cd is slow to get going.. But it helps you grasp the tones and structure of a sentence well. I get what you mean about understanding the spoken words as in the advanced cd (cd 11 of 12) the native speaker says the Chinese slow then at normal speed (seems like bullet speed). But I think for grasping the basic understanding it is not all bad. I'm off to China in a few weeks and I'm hoping it'll help me at least find my hotel, toilets, food and transport. Admittedly I repeated lessons too in blocks of 3.. 1-3 then 3-5 then 4-6 etc.. Found I leant one time them tested myself the 2nd time. :) me x

Ann

I studied Chinese for 4 years. My teacher was native chinese. I had a lot of difficulty with hearing and speaking. During this time I stumbled over the MT course online and just tried it. Both my hearing and speaking improved quite dramatically. Especially the sentence structure of my spoken chinese improved, according to my teacher. Inspite of the no memorising method, the words would pop-up in my head when I thought of what I wanted to say.
I consider the amount of English used not obstructive, rather it helped me "think" the language, binding it to my first language. What I also loved was the slow sentence and grammar growing, without having to learn a lot of new vocab at the same time. I was able to incorporate new vocab I leant in class without much effort. For me it resulted in a greater confidence when speaking Chinese.

JAmes

Hi, I used MTM for Mandarin, and I loved it. I had no idea what I was getting into, but had a trip to China and found the app online and a) enjoyed it and b) could speak mandarin by the end.
I am a real advocate of MTM now and am listening to the Spanish course at the moment in anticipation of my Spanish friend visiting me. I am determined to get my wife to listen to the French one with me (I already speak French as my dad lived there).
However I have to say that I am pretty cross about how I was taught languages at school (mid 90s) and maybe I will now discover that there are more ways of learning languages,I want to match my Portugueese friends 8.
Anywa interesting review and has opened my eyes that there is a new way of learning languages and maybe MTM is just one of them, thanks!

Dave

I now have a MSc in Chinese Language, Business and International Relations. The brilliant MTM Mandarin courses (Foundation/Advanced/Vocabulary) were the perfect introduction and a great help to fall back on. Michel Thomas Method is great at chunking and playing a limited and specific role in language acquisition. The issue is more to do with the marketing of promises of fluency etc. In terms of listening comprehension, I agree as a languages teacher that other methodologies are needed

Rhonda

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.

Donovan Nagel

Great to hear a different take on MT, Rhonda.

Thanks a lot for sharing.

Pilks

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...)

Carl W.

I just want to clarify, since I did not realize this myself at first, but Michel Thomas is Polish and not German. Though he teaches the German course himself, his own German speaking is heavily Polish-accented (not that this stops him from correcting his students accents so that they more closely resemble his own.) All of his courses (other than presumably the Polish one, if there is one) would be much better if they just trained a single native speaker with good English skills to conduct them instead of Michel himself, or the host/native speaker set-up.

Brian T.

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.

Linas

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?

Donovan Nagel

> 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.

Atticus

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.

Donovan Nagel

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.

Lana

Hi. Donovan

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.

Donovan Nagel

Thanks for your input, Lana.

Robin Ashe

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.

Rachel

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.

Rachel

*Donovan haha sorry

Donovan Nagel

Hi Rachel!

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.

Thanks. :)

Lovie

Im not the original commenter, but please update when you have finished checking out language transfer. It's a completely free audio based course somewhat similar to MTM.

Would love to hear your thoughts

James

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.

Gabrielle

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"!

Donovan Nagel

Exactly.

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. :)

Siobhan

"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.

Claude Tremblay

I agree 100% with you, I have taken German in the past (many classes) and in very short time on Michel Thomas I understood better the way the language worked and improved greatly in a short period of time! I had a friend who recommended me this course said his spanish is at a level where he is near proficiency so I think you should not judge a language program on one language and second I do like the way he teaches and the short audio makes it less more palatable.

SUSANNE HOWARD

I agree with you .ITS WONDERFUL !!! I could understand immediately . Absolutely love it .Love the philosophy behind it also I am so glad i came across it .i Think learning German is a lot easier than Arabic or Chinese though ......they would be entirely more complex ...
Of course learning a language is ongoing . ...never ending and has to be put into practice constantly ....but I actually love it and I love how he teaches . It reminds me oif the Suzuki method of music where you internalize things and where the teacher says there are no bad students and to make the seemingly worst student your best student is the motto ...HIS PHILOSOPHY IS SIMILAR ...A MARVELLOUS COURSE CANNOT SPEAK HIGHLY ENOUGH OF IT..

Mike

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.

Jay

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 :)

Donovan Nagel

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on MT, Jay.

Ari

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?

Tara

Hi Ari,
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.

Stone Forest

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.

Andrew bennett

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?

Jacinda Smith

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!

Alp Kuscu

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.

Andrew

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.

Dave

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).

Andrew

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.

Cheers

Liga

Hi,

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.
Best,
Liga

Loralee

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.

Haya

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).

Haya

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.

Haya

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.

Haya

Sorry messed up again - considerably more than 10 hours.