Meet the language learning method of Michel Thomas, which has a cult following, mainly among celebrities.
His approach is one of a kind, where students are encouraged not to learn, not to practice the language, and not to memorize the vocabulary.
Wait ! What?
We admit it’s a pretty controversial idea, especially in the school environment.
Reading this article will give you a clue whether Micheal Thomas’s audio course in French, is the right choice for you.
Stick around if you are interested in finding out more about this unorthodox method.
The heroic story of Michel Thomas
What probably made Michelle Thomas’ learning methods popular was his personal war story. Born in Poland, in a Jewish family, he had an important role in Nazi resistance and interrogation in WWII.
After serving in the French Resistance, he survived several Nazi concentration camps and worked with the U.S. Army Counterintelligence.
When he moved to the United States, he developed a system of language teaching known as the “Michel Thomas Method”. He claims, that the method allows students to become proficient in conversation after only a few days of study.
He soon opened a language school in Beverly Hills that’s today known as “Michelle Thomas Language Center”. Thomas’ clients included diplomats, industrialists, and celebrities, which made his method quite popular at the time.
When he died in 2005, Thomas’ tapes, CDs, and books were the primary method of recorded language learning in the UK.
The Peculiar Learning Environment
In Michel Thomas’ classrooms, everything is under the teacher’s control. He believed there is no such a thing as a student with learning difficulties, only teachers with teaching difficulties.
In his method, the complete responsibility is being transferred from student to teacher. While we all know how badly explained content can be an obstacle to learning, believing that the student doesn’t have any responsibility in the process is pretty one-sided.
In contrast to a contemporary language classroom that follows a communicative approach and allows students to move about, form groups, and make mistakes, the MT setting is more controlled.
Michel Thomas strives to create an environment in the classroom where students feel completely calm and free from expectations. In his class, he establishes the ground rule that the students are not to remember anything.
While this may seem like a perfect stress-free learning environment, the stress isn’t all bad. Sometimes, it motivates us to perform better.
The Teaching Method
Taking into account the teacher’s responsibilities, Michael placed great emphasis on achieving a flawless teaching style.
3 key elements make his perfect teaching method
- analyzing the material to be covered. Analysis simplifies teaching, resulting in easier learning for students.
- isolating the most pertinent information to teach so that skills, knowledge, and concepts are taught logically. Learning easier skills comes before learning harder ones, and learning useful information comes before learning less useful information.
- finding the best way to present concepts, skills, and knowledge to students so that learning can be facilitated
This method introduces the target language by combining old and new material, teaching generalization from language principles, contextual diversity, and teaching self-correction in an environment that attempts to be stress-free, as it is the teacher who is responsible for learning, not the student.
There are some peculiar ground rules to follow, and here they are. Many students will actually love them.
Don’t try to remember
As Michel primarily studied psychology at the university of Wienna, he implemented some psychological tricks into his teaching methods.
First, he understood many students see the classroom as a place of anxiety and stress. We know how anxiety can negatively impact performance, self-esteem, and overall achievement.
Michel Thomas has aimed to create an atmosphere in the classroom where students feel completely calm and without any expectations.
To achieve this, he sets the ground rule “don’t try to remember”.
However, while some students may benefit from reduced pressure, we should know that the stress isn’t always bad. Pressure can sometimes be a good thing because it encourages us to strive harder.
Definitely, there isn’t one size fits all students, and that is the case with this course as well.
Another ground-rule, that allligns with the previous one, is no homework, no writing, no taking notes. He tried to completely take of the pressure from remembering words and grammar.
The atmosphere of enjoyment is the one that replaces the hard work. It’s almost like the student has no intention of learning, but that’s the reason he will learn at the end of the day.
This is basically an oral learning method, and it relies entirely on the oral comprehension and expression.
You are Corrected All the Time
Each time a student makes a mistake, the teacher is immediately correcting him/her. Of course, this was only the case in live classes. This is where most language teachers would argue against these days.
While correcting errors is helpful and necessary, stopping students every time can sometimes impact motivation and undermine self-esteem. Luckily, when following the audio course, you won’t be disturbed in this way.
Audio French Course
There are eight hours of audio lessons available for you to work through in the Michel Thomas French foundation course – either on CD or as an audiobook.
At first, this method was primarily oral, nowadays, you get also the notes attached to each lesson, although that’s not where the focus goes. You won’t find reading or writing exercises, though, nor will you find lessons that focus solely on grammar and vocabulary.
Each lesson teaches you the structure and basic elements of the language effectively. This method breaks down the language into building blocks that you then learn how to use without even realizing it, unlike some other courses which require memorizing grammar points, verbs, and conjugations.
What do you Hear in the Michel Thomas Course?
You hear four people in Michel Thomas’ recordings: a native English speaker, a native speaker of the target language, and two students.
It’s called a virtual classroom because you can virtually put yourself in the place of the students and learn from their mistakes and subsequent error corrections.
The lessons build on one another, and you can pause the audio as often as you need, allowing you to actively formulate your answer rather than reflexively offering up a memorized response.
Sadly, English makes up the majority of the course. The native English speaker probably takes up about 85% of the time during the entire audio course, the students 10%, and the native Arabic speaker the remaining 5%.
Who are Michel Thomas Courses for?
Michel Thomas courses are designed for absolute beginners. They purposely avoid great depth and instead focus on providing a variety of simple conversations, for example, while on holiday or at the restaurant.
The course teaches you French pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary in a supposedly natural way without you having to study, memorize or write anything down.
Michel Thomas French courses are all in audio, and you learn by pausing the audio and translating the teacher’s spoken phrases into the target language. In time, you’ll be encouraged to build longer sentences using the phrases you’ve learned.
Learning How to Make a Sentence
This approach teaches “this”, “that” and “it”, so you at least know how to point to an object and describe it without knowing its name. It avoids teaching a lot of specific vocabulary, which you can eventually learn on your own.
In the audio, you hear two other students in a virtual classroom. During the lesson, you listen and complete simple language challenges with the students. Whenever the other students ask you to translate a phrase, you should pause the playback and translate it yourself first. As you hear the students’ responses, you learn from their mistakes and answers at the same time.
The lessons are short and to the point, lasting between five and ten minutes. However, if you don’t participate in answering the questions and don’t use the lesson as intended, you won’t learn much. When you’re constantly asked questions, you must engage and concentrate on the material.
Learn in Michel Thomas Method in 4 days Challenge
Online, you can even find Micheal Thomas Method Challenge, and see first-hand how these polyglots find the course. One of the students who participated in the challenge is Olly Richardson, known as a speaker of 8 languages and a creator of the story learning method.
Is this the right French course for me?
When it comes to French learning courses, there is no one-size-fits-all. And there shouldn’t be one at all!
Language learning is a complex endeavor, and we all approach it differently.
This peculiar Michel Thomson French course is definitely for beginners, who want to learn French by listening only. At least at first.
This is the most natural and childlike way of learning, according to Michel Thomson. In this course, you’ll learn the mechanics of the French language, and you’ll be able to construct any sentence on your own.
On a final note, if you don’t require visual stimulation or if you aren’t a writing type of student, then perhaps you could opt for another course.