Anybody can learn a language

I came across an interesting article on Michel Thomas and his methods for teaching languages in the Guardian today.

Thomas believed that “there was no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher” and that with the right teaching method, anybody can learn a language quickly and easily. However was very reluctant to explain his teaching methods with others. He believed that people would only take parts of his ideas if he shared them, which would dilute them and make them much less effective. It was only in the 1990s that Thomas was persuaded to record language lessons by Hodder Education.

In a new book, The Language Revolution, by Jonathan Solity, an educational psychologist, discusses how Thomas taught languages and the psychological prinples that underpin his methods. Solity believes that if such methods were adopted in schools, they could made a huge difference.

The article mentions some of Thomas’ methods, which include breaking down languages and explaining how they work in easy-to-understand ways; teaching relatively small amounts of material at any one time; and going over things until the students really understand them and can use them. There is also a link to a BBC documentary about Michel Thomas on YouTube.

Have you tried any Michel Thomas language courses? How effective have they been?

I haven’t tried any yet, but am thinking of having a go at the Russian course.

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

14 Responses to Anybody can learn a language

  1. Judith says:

    Huh. I haven’t, but I’ve been experimenting with different methods. Looks like the advanced French is in the library, so I’ll give it a go. Granted, I already speak French, so my opinion won’t be that of someone actually learning the language, but I’ll let you know what I think!

  2. Stuart, London says:

    I had a stab at the Michel Thomas Italian course a couple of years ago, and although sceptical before trying it, I was very impressed with the results. It is a very good way of getting an introduction into the language, and it does a huge amount for your confidence when very quickly you are stringing quite complex sentences together.

    One drawback is the lack of vocabulary that you cover, but I believe there are vocabulary builder courses too.

    I’ve just ordered the new Dutch course, which I’ve started to learn. Will see how I get on with it…

  3. Ramses says:

    I never tried it (except for the vocabulary course), but I ordered the book right away from Amazon (think I used you ref. code Simon). I think it’ll be very interesting for a teacher in training like me :).

  4. Eric says:

    I find Michel Thomas courses to be the “poor man’s Pimsleur.” I prefer the courses that don’t have students in the recordings, but I think all of the beginner courses have students while the intermediate ones do not.

  5. Software is software. Its incomplete. I think software are great if used as a tool and not considered the end all answer to language learning.

  6. Ramses says:

    Dude, since when are Michel Thomas’ courses software? It are audio courses with (so far I know) some texts to reinforce the learning.

  7. GeoffB says:

    I won’t say that I speak great Spanish or Italian, but the Italian and Spanish I do speak I owe to Thomas as much as anyone else. It’s true they don’t cover a lot, but what they do cover is done well and clearly. One of the great things with Thomas is his teaching of sentence building and the use of “handles” – things you can grab onto if you’re not sure where to go with a sentence. For example, if you know vorrei, vorrebbe, posso and può, then there are tons of sentence you can make with the infinitive if you’ve forgotten a verb conjugation.

    I’m on the fifth disc of Michel Thomas Mandarin (taught by someone else, but who was trained by Thomas). It teaches you to say things syllable by syllable, less fluidly than I’d like, but it’s great for tones if you’ve got issues there (I do) and for making sure your basic sentences are put together right.

    The curious can try out the opening of the courses by going to, searching for “Michel Thomas” and going to the detail pages.

    I wouldn’t say it’s “poor man’s Pimsleur” because it’s a different approach. Pimsleur focuses more on fluid use of everyday language, Michel Thomas more on structures. For people wanting just enough to enjoy their travel a little more, I’d recommend the Pimsleur conversational with the Michel Thomas Getting Started set.

  8. Ezitis says:

    I’m doing the Russian course now. I’m only on disc 5 (out of 12 — 8 for the foundation course plus 4 for the advanced course), but I already feel I can understand and construct some pretty useful sentences. (Admittedly, I have an advantage, since my wife speaks Russian at home.)

    I definitely recommend the Russian course as a way to gain confidence in the language quickly.

    However, I’m not sure that all other Michel Thomas courses are roughly equivalent. A friend of mine is doing the Chinese course, and it seems, from the little I’ve heard, to run a lot slower than the Russian course.

  9. Brian Barker says:

    As far as learning a language is concerned, can I put in a word for Esperanto?

    I suggest not because it has become a living language, but because it has great propaedeutic values as well.

    You can check this at

  10. Farrioth says:

    I’ve used both the Pimsleur and Michel Thomas courses for Russian (although I haven’t got that far through the latter yet).

    I used the Pimsleur course first. When I started on the Michel Thomas course, I was thinking “They’re speaking English all the time, when will they start actually speaking Russian?”. However, once I got into it, I think I prefer the approach to that of Pimsleur.

    It admittedly takes longer to cover material in the Michel Thomas course, but it is worth it as I retain it that much better. Also, it was a struggle sometimes to get through a whole lesson of Pimsleur in one go, but not so with Michel Thomas.

  11. Polly says:

    What if language material re-wrote English scripts (to the extent possible) in the L2 way. It would look funny in English (or your L1) but it would bear a 1:1 correspondence to the way you’d talk in the L2. THEN and only THEN do you begin to apply all the vocab and grammar rules to this template of sorts.

    If you’re learning Spanish for example, the phrase “I like that movie” would be written in English “me it pleases that movie.” Then from there you fill in this Spanglish with actual Spanish words: “me gusta esa pelicula.”

    That’s just an example from my limited Spanglish understanding. I’m sure there are more natural ways to say it in Spanish.

    The point is, other languages don’t express things the same way. It might be a good idea to get the new ways of expressing thoughts. I know most language courses include phrases and constructions. But, in general, a learner is left with an L1 mode of communication, dressed in L2.

  12. GeoffB says:

    To follow up on Ezitis, the Arabic course seems to be at about the same pacing as the original Michel Thomas courses (at least for Italian, German and Spanish). The Chinese course is considerably slower. I’m on disc 5, and while the speed is gradually picking up, I’d say that more material is covered in the typical 2-CD getting started set than has been covered through disc 5. That said, Chinese is a tricky language for Westerners, especially as the inclination is to use tones to convey broader meaning (excitement, questioning, etc) which means that an exuberant English speaker is quite well positioned to horribly mess up Mandarin. If you’ve got a knack for the tones and a good ear for the flow of a language, the Michel Thomas Mandarin is going to be way too slow for you. For someone like me who has a terrible time with the tones, on the other hand, the course is great for learning to say things with a little bit of confidence and some semblance of accuracy.

    If you get to that moment in the Pimsleur course where they ask, “Did your tones match those of the native speaker?” and you have no idea, this is the course for you.

  13. Heather says:

    I have done the Michel Thomas French course with my family and I am sorry to say that I retained very little of it. However, I blame my failure not on the Michel Thomas method, but on my previous negative experiences with French in high school.

    The Italian course, however, has been indispensable to me in my preparations to live in Italy. I can, after a mere month, formulate past, present and future sentences without much pause for thought, and I can comfortably use expressions containing “would like to, should, must, can/could, just about to, in the process of doing.” I agree that there is a lack in vocabulary teaching but this can be learned using seperate flash card programs such as Before You Know It.

    Overall, I have liked Michel Thomas’ better than most, even Pimsleur, because you feel so involved in the classroom setting. Definitely give it a go! (If you live in the UK, by the way, have a look in your local charity shop for it. There should be a section with free CDs/DVDs people have obtained and subsequently thrown away from newspapers such as the Sunday Times. Michel Thomas’ French, Spanish and Italian were all provided as free giveaways from this paper, and should pop up if you look hard enough.)

  14. I know this will going to hurt. But i am learning this language from past 1 year with no success 🙁

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