Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Michel Thomas Method for Learning Languages

If you are into language learning, you may have heard of the Michel Thomas method. If you haven't, welcome to a great secret. Like anything, you will find people who hate this, and others who love it. I'm strictly in the love it camp.

Michel Thomas was a jewish guy from Poland, whose talent for language helped him to take on many identities during World War II. Later, he taught languages to many Hollywood A-listers including Emma Thompson, Sofia Loren and Woody Ellen. 

Now, I'm only advocating original 4 Michel Thomas courses which he recorded himself. They are German, French, Spanish and Italian. The rest of the courses are part of Michel Thomas franchise created after his death. I haven't tried these personally, so I'm not sure if the quality is as good as the four originals. 

I have tried his Spanish, Italian and German courses, and now Michel Thomas foundation course is my very first step while learning these languages. It is a method that is done strictly through audio lessons, does not require any note taking or memorising. As Michel Thomas says in the first track of the course, the responsibility to teach lies strictly with the teacher and not the student. His method is to build layers upon layers of structure so it gets embedded in your mind. With this course, you won't learn tons of vocabulary, but you will understand structure of the language, and basics of forming sentences. Vocabulary can be learned easily enough, this course teaches you how to use it. 

In his courses, he uses two English speaking students, and the recording is made of the students learning the language from Thomas. Don't worry about his accent. You are not using this course for perfect pronunciation (there are better things for that). This course is about learning structure quickly and painlessly. Sometimes, one or both students can get annoying if they take too long in what you get easily, or if they consistently make same mistakes, but it is a realistic learning environment as this is what would happen if you were in a class with other students. But from their mistakes, you learn. 

The original courses are Foundation and Advance, and there were accompanying Language Builder and Vocabulary courses. Now they have all been reissued with new titles and shiny new packaging. If you are planning to learn Spanish, French, Italian or German, I would highly recommend his courses. You can get a free sample from the official website. 

If you have tried Michel Thomas method, I would love to hear your views.

P.S. - I'm not associated with any language companies or any commercial item, so all opinions, reviews etc. are my personal views and shared in the hope it might help others. 


  1. I used the Michel Thomas foundation course in German, and I think it really works well. However, I would disagree with him when he says "the responsibility to teach lies strictly with the teacher and not the student", and his statements about not putting stress on the students. There were a couple of occasions when he got seriously impatient with his students, and they got very stressed.

    I also didn't like it when he said to forget what we've learned about the definition of a noun being a person, place or thing. Why? It is easy to recognize nouns. And he tries to simplify the definition of a verb as "any word you can put 'to' in front of." The first thing I thought was that I was going to the park; does that mean that "the park" is a verb? Then there is that nonsense of calling modal verbs "handles", which he never explains. Dozens of times he says, "I call them handles because..." then says something which explains nothing. There are some things which just become worse when you try to simplify them.

    Nevertheless, Michel Thomas' courses do something which no other language course I'm aware of does: drill sentence structures and functions of verbs. For this, he is indispensable.

    1. well, you say in your own sentence 'to THE park'....not, 'to park'. So therefore in that sentence, the park is not a verb, as you've put 'the' in front of it.....
      he completely explains the handles also...the point of calling them handles is because it means the 2nd verb used in the sentence goes at the end, in the infinitive form, hence, 'handle', i.e. the other verbs in the sentence are stuck on the end in the infintive as the modal verb 'opens the way' for this.... he explains it completely.

      the couple of occasions where he gets impatient, it maybe occurs twice in the entire 8 hours of the foundation course, where you can hear him getting annoyed because the students are properly brain dead at times.

    2. One can put words like 'I', 'he', 'she', 'we' or 'they' in place of 'to' in front of a verb, but not 'to' in front of, say, a proper name.

  2. Jeff,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree with all the points you've made. Michel Thomas courses are by no means perfect, but then nothing is. But my philosophy when I use these materials is to take the best from it, and whatever is not sufficient, get from somewhere else.

    Speaking of attempting to simplify - he went on and on about crossing the t in the Spanish Foundation course, which all came down to difference between THIS and THAT. So yes, I agree he can get bit irritating, but as you said for structure and function of verbs he is indispensable.