After completing Michel Thomas’ Foundation, Builder, Advanced and Vocabulary courses for Spanish, I think I can explain what the “secret” of this method is. In the last 2 decades, a complex brand has been created behind the name Michel Thomas (who died in 2005). Only the courses for French, Italian, Spanish and German are held by Michel Thomas himself, the rest are held by other teachers.
The structure is as follows: There is one teacher and two students. As a rule, the two students are absolute beginners, although in the case of the Spanish Vocabulary course the two are native speakers of Spanish, one from Spain and one from Mexico.
The Michel Thomas Foundation courses have 8 hours, the Advanced ones 4-6 hours, the Vocabulary ones 4-6 hours and the Builder ones around 2 hours. However, they advise you to pause after each word, structure or sentence, repeat it aloud and then press the play button back. For this reason, the official site states that the duration of the course is twice as long as the actual duration.
But besides the very good marketing of Michel Thomas and the high prices, do the courses have a well-defined structure?
- Everything revolves around the idea of being calm and relaxed. You are advised to leave the anxiety of learning a foreign language aside and be as relaxed as possible, because you will learn without making any effort.
- I have to make a thing clear: with Michel Thomas you will not learn a foreign language. You will have a very good introduction, but that’s it. You will learn some essential structures, but almost no vocabulary. Michel Thomas should not be the only resource used. It might be the first, but not the only one.
- Michel Thomas was old. It’s not an offense, it’s a characterization. This, combined with the audio quality of the 2000s, may lead to a possible misunderstanding of what he says.
- It teaches you some very important structures for the learning process. With a good and logical system, you put in memory these structures, which you can use as you wish.
- Michel Thomas’s pronunciation is a little fuzzy. I do not want to accuse him of not knowing the languages he teaches, but his pronunciation does not even come close to that of a fluent speaker. Although he teaches you the practical pronunciation, most of the times Michel does not have a proper pronunciation. Probably when he learned German, Spanish, French etc. there were no audio courses, only textbooks.
- His calm voice urges you to procrastinate rather than to learn. Although you are told to relax, do not relax too much! You risk falling asleep (as happened to me once).
- The courses seem to me relatively expensive for what they teach. Even though the structures taught by Michel Thomas are essential for a thorough learning of a foreign language, other audio courses such as Pimsleur or FSI take many more hours and teach you more words and structures.
- There is no phone app, just a poorly made website. When you buy the courses, you get some MP3s. An MP3 has between 4 and 12 minutes.
- I can still recommend Foundation and Advanced courses, but not Builder and Vocabulary. The latter two are quite expensive for their efficiency.
- Although it is repeated not to write down your words and to write your new words and sentences anywhere, I warmly recommend you to do so. Michel Thomas only teaches you to speak and listen to the language, but you still need to know how to read and write it.