Advantages A unique approach to language learning
Disadvantages Random sentences, and no reading/writing practice
|Price||70p / 3 weeks from a library|
|Type of Book||Practical|
|Quality of Text||Average|
|Logical Layout?||Chapters not in a useful order|
|Level of Difficulty||Simple|
I've never used a Michel Thomas course before, but I had heard of him, of course. In fact, I defy any frequent European flyer and Sunday Times reader to say they haven't heard of the guy, since adverts for his language packs seem to appear in almost all in-flight magazines at some point or another. My preconceived ideas were that he looked a bit odd (old, but not in a kind granddad way, more in a grumpy bloke next door who won't give you back your tennis ball way) and was something of a Nutty Professor. I knew he had these new fangled ideas about language learning that went against everything I'd ever been taught - no books, no reading or writing, no memorising. However, I also knew that he had had 'great success' (even if he did say so himself) and was popular with the rich and famous, to whom he provided private lessons.This starter pack is 2 hours long, on 2 CDs, and is taken from the full, basic language course of his which is 8 hours in total. The front cover reiterates the promises I'd heard before 'No books, no writing, just confidence in hours'. The back contains a list of 'impressive' clients that should make any potential purchaser go 'wow!' but somehow fail to deliver unless you are the type to be impressed by Princess Grace, Emma Thompson, Eddie Izzard or American Express.
The course starts with some instructions on how to use it (pause and repeat sentences at various points, don't think too much, don't write down) and then begins with a 'class' for 2 pupils who are 'learning' Spanish with Michel. One pupil is considerably better than the other and the weaker one is infuriating to listen to as he makes so many mistakes, and you have to wait for Michel to correct them before you can continue. This is annoying if you have already paused the CD to decide the answer yourself and just want to know whether you got it right. It is further complicated by the fact that Mr Thomas says 'No!' for 2 different reasons - when the grammar is incorrect but also when the pronunciation is. At several points when the student had the same answer as me, but was still reprimanded, I was confused as to why until talk of pronunciation took over. Michel uses the word "push" to mean "stress" or "emphasis", saying things like 'Only one push per word" which sounds odd to me and still irritates me a bit even though I now know exactly what he means by it. Even worse, his own English is a bit dubious at times (he has claimed to come from various countries in the past, but never from England: see http://www.michelthomas.org/default2.asp?section=law_suit ). In the end you have 3 people speaking Spanish, none of them native speakers, and the same 3 people interspersing their dialogue with mutterings in English. A reviewer on Amazon but it nicely when he said "This is Spanish spoken with a British accent. A British accent is lovely if you're speaking English in England. It doesn't fly well if one is making a real effort to learn to speak Spanish correctly and well."Something that surprised me about the course was the amount of English that was spoken. I've studied languages in England and in the countries in which they are spoken, and have had classes where only the foreign language is spoken and classes where it's a mix, but without doubt I learnt more when English was banned and absolutely everything had to be said auf Deutsch or en Francais. Being the 'super dooper' language teacher he claims to be, I assumed Mr Thomas would favour this approach, but this wasn't the case. Lots of English was spoken by both him and the 'pupils'.
Annoying pronunciation and mistakes aside, is the CD any good? I was surprised with how much I learnt, sceptical as I was beforehand. It is language learning like none I've experienced before, but it does seem to work though the sentences and structures you learn are a dubious mix of the quasi-useful to the down-right improbable. Michel teaches a few words such as 'acceptable' and 'possible' and then drills these through the use of sentences:
Every few minutes a new word or two is introduced and the whole process begins again, for example:· Is it acceptable for me/you that way?
I think the reason you end up picking it up is simply because it is said so much, over and over until you can't possibly forget it. The rate at which new words are introduced is also gradual, and on a need-to-know basis, so it's not until Michel asks you to say "I need it now" that he'll add, "And by the way, 'now' is 'ahora' in Spanish'. The language you learn seems to be very ad hoc as though it's whatever has just popped into his head, but by the end of the 2 hours I could say things such as:· Do you have it? I (don't) have it.
· It is (not) urgent.
· I want it but I don't need it now.
· There's no difference that way but I prefer it.· I want to eat something now because I am hungry.
· I want to see it / I cannot see it.· Which restaurant do you have a preference for for tonight?
· Do you have the confirmation of my reservation for tonight?
· Why don't you have a reservation for me?
I could go on - you pick up a lot in the 2 hours but it's not all useful or usable - a lot of the questions above are all very well, but without the answers you're not going to understand the response you get. And, the way he presents the course, it's hard for a beginner to know where and how you can shorten things to the length they would be in English. After all if someone said 'why don't you want to eat something now?' I would never answer with a full 'I do not want to eat something now because I am not hungry'. I assume in this case I could just respond 'no tengo hambre' but not all examples are as easy as this.I listened to the course in 2 goes, and took different approaches to the 2 CDs. With the first one, I found it really strange not to be writing things down, especially things I wanted to remember, so after a few tracks I decided to do it anyway, and grabbed pen and pencil. The second time through I decided to do as I was told to see if it really did work, and therefore did nothing but listen and repeat. Which was more effective? It's hard to say because I can remember structures and vocabulary from both CDs, so I would say if you feel you really must make notes as you listen, go ahead and do so. I don't think it results in any less language learning than doing it the proper Michel Thomas was.
- there's no accompanying book, or guide of any kind, so you really don't know what you're going to learn until you listen.
Things I don't like about this course:
- The course jumps right in with generic sentences without the usual 'my name is….', 'I am ….. years old', 'I live in ….' which are the first things I've always learnt in a language before. I know how to say them in Spanish, but not thanks to this course even though it is supposed to be a beginners one.- Things such as numbers, days of the week, place names and usual nouns are not included as the emphasis is very much on verb forms.
- Without writing I have no idea of spelling although he does spell a few words out. Also, he'll say 'with an accent on the I' without saying what sort of accent, things like that. My opinion is that this will make it harder for me to use these sentences and phrases in written work and that I'll end up learning them all again. As it was, when I started writing for a bit I ended up flicking through a grammar book constantly to make sure I was getting things right.- The emphasis on pronunciation is annoying simply because even the teacher is not Spanish, so though he corrects others I wonder whether he himself is as spot on as he thinks. I learnt Spanish while working in Spain and my memory of the time does not involve people who sounded like him.
- The pace is so s-l-o-w. I could have repeated the sentence, correctly, half a dozen times in the time it took one of the students to generate it incorrectly, and I ended up getting impatient. I fail to see the value added by 'students' on this course unless you make exactly the same mistakes as them, which is unlikely. I would have preferred either just the one, good, student, or simply to have Michel talking on his own.- Mr Thomas's personality began to grate after a while - he seemed to like the sound of his own voice and made 'jokes' that just made me cringe. I could imagine we wouldn't get on well in person, so it's a good thing we'll never meet (he died in 2005 I believe).
Did the course deliver? In some ways, yes. I am confident to some extent, with Spanish now, but I don't think it is good that they have split these CDs away from the main pack as I feel slightly stranded in mid-air now, and I feel the full course (had they had it in the library) would have been a much better option. I would not recommend buying this course since if you wanted to top it up you would have to re-buy the first 2 CDs in the full pack, so would recommend trying to borrow it from a friend or a library first, and if you like it, then consider investing in the full course. It doesn't come cheap: the sets retail at £70 for the full 8 hour course and £15 for the short 2 hour one, though Amazon has them at half price at the moment. If you get hooked Advanced Spanish courses are also available.I'm giving this half marks because it is different and somewhat effective, but not right for me. I can use it as a revision tool quite happily, but won't be trying to learn from a similar course again as I prefer the complete package of reading and writing as well as speaking and listening. For a quick course prior to a holiday in Spain, however, it might be just the ticket as long as you don't want to ask where things are and how to get there, when things open and close, what time it is, how to buy a train or bus ticket or how to order a drink or something to eat…then again, maybe not. It's a strange course because it doesn't teach anything useful like that, at least in the first 2 CDs, and without a supplementary sheet or book it's hard to know what you would learn in the full pack without spending all that money to find out. I'm sure it fills some gap in the language learning market, but I'm not exactly sure what gap that is, or who would benefit from it.
Attention, this is the first review from this author
Instead of giving a negative rating, consider:
Help this member by giving your advice
Report fraud (for example plagiarism) or other issue with the review to the Ciao support team
Add your comment