Michel Thomas Review

michel thomas language

Have you ever put off learning a language because it seemed too hard or you thought you could not do it? If so, the Michel Thomas language-learning program is designed for you. This audio-based program uses a relaxed teaching method in a low-stress setting. You listen to recordings of an instructor who teaches two students. Your role is to become the third student and follow along. There is no homework or rote memorization. There are not even any written materials, except for an optional e-booklet. The program is great for beginners who want to develop a basic level of comfort in speaking a new language and earn some confidence, too. Whether Michel Thomas is one of the best language-learning programs for you largely depends on what kind of experience you want or need.
If it sounds too rudimentary for you, better options are Rosetta Stone ($36 for three months) and Duolingo (free). Those programs are better at teaching reading, writing, spelling, and grammar. They are also suitable for anyone who is already at an intermediate or advanced level but still needs to practice their skills. Another good option for more advanced students is Yabla, which is kind of like a YouTube for language learning.

About the Name

Michel Thomas is named for the man who developed the program. His biography spans multiple countries and multiple wars. He is something of a legend in the world of language learning. He was born in 1914, died in 2005, spoke multiple languages, survived imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps, and was a decorated war veteran in part for his linguistic ability to collect information in various languages. That said, some details of his military past have been called into question.
He later developed the Michel Thomas Method of teaching languages and opened a private school in 1947, teaching some of the biggest celebrities of the time. Eventually, his method became an audio-based program, which is what you can buy today.
In many of the language courses, Thomas himself is the instructor. He has an easily identifiable voice. You can learn more about him and hear his voice in a BBC video profiling his language instruction.

Languages Offered and Availability on Mobile

Michel Thomas offers programs in 18 languages. They are Arabic (Egyptian), Arabic (Modern Standard), Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.
To make sure you can access the programs you buy on both the website and the mobile apps, you need to download the right app. It is called Michel Thomas Language Library for Android or Apple mobile devices.
Hachette formerly had separate mobile apps for each language; do not download them. They have not been updated in ages, and they are not available for every language. Additionally, watch out for knockoffs, as they seem to come and go on the app stores. One way to make sure you are getting the right app is to check the developer name. Hachette UK owns the Apple app and the Android version is offered by Trellisys.net.

Michel Thomas Pricing

When you buy one of the Michel Thomas language learning programs, you can spend about $7 for one lesson or $100 for a full course, which is about eight hours. Michel Thomas courses used to be sold as tapes and CDs, and you can still find some used CDs sold second-hand. Some languages have additional courses at varying prices, such as Insider’s French ($75), Italian Vocabulary ($75), Intermediate German ($90), and so forth.
There are two ways you can buy a digital version of the courses. The first way is through the Michel Thomas website. You create a login for that site, buy the programs you want, and then you can either play the lessons on the site or use the same login on the mobile apps to download them to your device.
The second option is to buy lessons on Audible. If you are familiar with Audible and use it for audiobooks, this might be slightly easier and more convenient. As with any other audiobook you buy on Audible, you can download them or play them wherever you use Audible. When you purchase the lessons through Audible.com, they are more expensive. They cost between $11 and $16 for each one-hour lesson, with no option to buy the full course at once. That means you end up paying as much as $128 for the eight-hour course.

Testing the Michel Thomas Method

To try the Michel Thomas courses, we went through the Foundation Arabic course. We also did the free introductory lesson in Italian and Hindi to see how the teaching differs from one language to another.
The program is audio based, so you do not learn to read or spell. You spend all your time listening, thinking, and speaking.
Each audio program has at least one instructor and two students. Thomas himself teaches Italian. In the Arabic course, you have one qualified teacher who is not a native speaker, Jane Wightwick, plus a second instructor who is a native speaker, Mahmoud Gaafar. Wightwick drives the course and Gaafar clarifies pronunciation and sometimes chimes in with helpful suggestions.
The students, who during the recording were physically in a room with their instructors, are complete beginners. You are the third student. You listen and are meant to respond any time the instructor asks a student to pronounce or come up with a word or phrase. You can always pause the audio while you try to answer aloud. Then you resume and listen as the student responds. The instructor sometimes offers corrections or clarifications. Finally, you hear one of the instructors say the answer correctly.
A real example in the Arabic course is, “In Arabic, how would you ask a man, ‘Can you see my son?'” Arabic uses gender in the language, so word endings change slightly when you speak to males versus females. At this point in the program, you have learned to say each word in this sentence, but you have never heard them or said them in this order before. You pause the app and try to say it. When you unpause, you hear the student make an attempt. Then you hear the instructor say the phrase in Arabic with a native pronunciation.

Learning With Michel Thomas

The Michel Thomas Method has unique aspects that make it completely different from any other teaching approach. When you start a new course, you get schooled in two rules before you even learn a single word of the new language. One has to do with using the pause button and speaking aloud. The other explains Thomas’ philosophy of your role as a student.
Your job is to be completely relaxed and to not try and force memorization. The course will not give you any homework, and you are not supposed to review the material in between lessons either. “Let it be absorbed and internalized,” says Thomas.
What is missing here is some guidance on how often you should listen to the audio files. Should I do one per day or several per day? Should I repeat a lesson if I am struggling to answer all the prompts? A different audio-based language program, Simon & Schuster’s Pimsleur, has precise instructions for how often to do the lessons (exactly one per day) and when to repeat a lesson (if you didn’t answer correctly at least 80 percent of the time). Pimsleur is also audio-based, but there are no students on the audio recordings, the way there are in Michel Thomas.

Building Blocks

The Foundation courses are meant to teach you functional language. Many language programs start by teaching you simple words such as “hello” and “goodbye.” Those are useful words, but they are not necessarily the best building blocks.
Instead, the Michel Thomas course gives you words that you can use repeatedly in different contexts. In Arabic, you start with words such as “I,” “you,” and a couple of simple verbs. Throw in some borrowed words, such as “cola” and “sandwich,” plus a few high frequency words, like “water” and “tea,” and you can quickly say, “I would like a sandwich and a tea, please.” Because of the way Arabic works, you can also say, “Would you like tea?” and about a dozen other simple sentences by swapping around the words, you already know.
In Italian, it is similar. You learn words for “it is,” “possible,” “to buy,” and more. By the end of the first lesson, you can say, “I want to buy it if it’s not too expensive,” and many other combinations of sentences using your new vocabulary.

How Fun Is the Michel Thomas Method?

In general, we enjoy learning through listening, especially the first time we learning a new language. We much prefer to hear a word and try to repeat it several times before ever see how it’s written, as the spelling can sometimes trip me up. In that sense, we like the Michel Thomas lessons a lot.
We also like that the students are far from perfect. They get things wrong. They forget words that we just learned a few minutes ago. They struggle with some of the Arabic sounds that are unusual for English speakers. In that sense, they are just like we, which puts us at ease.
That said, the first few minutes of the very first lesson are awful. The instructors go on and on about how you need to be relaxed, and if you are not learning it is their fault, not yours. When you finally get into the heart of the lesson, there is a noise whenever you are supposed to pause the audio. It is a blaring beep in the Arabic course and quick tabla drum trill in the Hindi course. It is annoying. Thankfully, the Arabic class drops it after a while.
The cuts for where one lesson ends and the next begins seem arbitrary. It sounds as if the lessons were recorded in one eight-hour session, and then later, a producer sliced it up into parts. Aside from the very first lesson, there are no introductions and no conclusions. It is very rare that you stop and take stock of what you have learned, and when it does happen, it is not necessarily at the end of a lesson. One lesson ends and the next one begins with the next breath. It feels haphazard.
You can download a free PDF booklet to go with your lessons from the Michel Thomas website. If you use the website in combination with the mobile app, you will then have the option to download the booklets to your phone or tablet, too. The booklets contain a brief summary of what you learned in each lesson. For languages that use a non-Roman script, the writing is transliterated, so you will not learn Arabic script or Cyrillic or Chinese characters.

What You Get

The Michel Thomas method has a few benefits. For one, it is great for learning pronunciation. Second, you really have to work to retrieve words and concepts from your mind. Some language-learning programs use multiple-choice exercises extensively. In those programs, you are not being pushed to retrieve the word, but rather to remember something about it, like its first letter or whether it is a short or long word. However, Michel Thomas pushes you to recall each word that you need every time you use it.
We also find that translating is harder when done orally, compared with doing it in writing. Therefore, in this way, the benefit is that the program challenges you in a very specific way. When translating sentences on a screen, you can glance up at each word as often as you need until you translate them all. When translating orally, you do not have that luxury. It takes more active thinking and remembering to get through a multi-part sentence.
The last benefit of Michel Thomas we want to mention is that it is a true confidence booster to people who believe they are incapable of learning a new language. It gets you speaking quickly, even if you are limited in what you can say.
With Michel Thomas, you practice figuring out what you do know how to say using the building blocks you have learned so far. That is an effective strategy for building confidence in your abilities and for developing a foundation for a language. But it will only get you so far.

What is missing

As with any audio-only program, there is no reading, writing, or spelling in Michel Thomas—or almost none, considering you can download a PDF booklet to go with the lessons. Keep in mind that for non-Roman alphabets, the text is transliterated. For a more interactive approach with a wider variety of types of instruction, you might instead (or additionally) try Fluenz, which offers many different ways to study, and includes reading and writing in its instruction.
In the Michel Thomas Foundation course, the instructors never ask you a question in the new language and expect you to hear it, understand it, and respond. We wish there were a little bit of that because hearing and understanding is necessary to be able to reply. However, the method does not use this technique. Instead, you are only coached on putting together new sentences using words you have learned.
In the core program, you do get a little bit of grammar instruction, but not in a written form. For some languages, being able to see verb conjugations or other aspects of grammar can help adults learn it faster.
With Michel Thomas, we did not feel like heard a lot of positive reinforcement from the instructors. We would have preferred a touch more enthusiasm when the students were able to answer prompts correctly.

Listen, Speak, and Boost Your Confidence

With any self-paced language-learning program, it is important to have realistic expectations for what you will and will not learn. Michel Thomas’ Foundation courses can help you develop a base for learning a language. You will acclimate your ear and your tongue, but you will not learn to read or write. While you will learn highly useful words and build confidence in your ability to use them in different contexts, your vocabulary will still be severely limited. If you like this kind of education but want a bit more structure, you might enjoy Pimsleur more, as it gives you clear guidelines for when and how much to study.
Our overall Editors’ Choices for language learning are Rosetta Stone for paid instruction and Duolingo for free courses. When it comes to learning a language, keep in mind that it is often helpful to use a few different resources at the same time. If you are a beginner who needs some confidence, Michel Thomas might be worth a try. However, do not hesitate to add Duolingo or another app to move you along and fill in where Michel Thomas falls short.

PROS
Teaching method forces you to fully recall words
Emphasizes listening and speaking high-frequency words
CONS
Minimal reading and no writing
No interactive materials
Not suited for intermediate or advanced speakers

BOTTOM LINE

Michel Thomas’ language-learning method gives you functional skills and the confidence that you can learn. The audio courses bring you into the world of spoken language, but you do not learn reading or writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: