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January 2014

Education Review: The Michel Thomas Method

Michel Thomas was a man with a distinguished life. Born in 1914 in Poland, the polyglot linguist and decorated war veteran served in the Marquis of the French Resistance, endured the Nazi concentration camps and subsequently worked with the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps after World War II. After emigrating to the United States, Thomas developed his language-teaching system, the Michel Thomas Method.

According to Thomas, his method can help students “achieve in three days what is not achieved in two to three years at any college.” The system is simply a series of recordings featuring Thomas and a small group of students. Thomas poses sentences for translation and the students attempt to translate them in response. When they make a mistake, Thomas corrects them. For the home listener, Thomas emphasizes the need to not take notes or force memorization. There is “no homework... not even mental homework,” he explains in the beginning of each series. The goal is to be relaxed. Indeed, even Thomas’s speaking voice is calm and soothing.

Sample the first part of the Michel Thomas Method for German to see what his system is like.

The benefit of the Michel Thomas Method is that it requires little from listeners. You do not need to take notes, use a textbook or even have a computer handy; all you have to do is listen. This makes the series accessible even on the road. The pacing of the language series is also set that advanced students looking to brush up on their language skills can benefit from the courses as well (a familiarity with the target language helps greatly with following along).

How does the Michel Thomas Method compare to the Pimsleur Method, the other audio-based language learning system? Both are simple methods that require little work on the part of the listener. Spaced repetition is utilized in both so you retain the lessons you learn. Pimsleur lessons run a bit longer than those of the Michel Thomas Method, and the vocabulary in the former skews somewhat towards business learners. Both will get you an understanding of the basic elements of a new language, however you will likely still need to work your way up to understanding native speakers. As they offer similar systems but with slightly different focuses, both methods are complementary, and the learner can benefit from using both together.

Before his passing in 2005, Thomas recorded a series each for Spanish, French, Italian and German. Since then, subsequent series have been released for Russian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Greek, Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch and Polish.

Are you an audio learner or is there another language learning system you prefer? Let us know on our Facebook Page and be sure to “like” TELC English to stay updated on more language learning tips and product reviews!