Michel Thomas Method
Thomas claimed that his students could "achieve in three days what is not achieved in two to three years at any college" ("three days" meaning sessions as long as eight or ten hours per day, although students claimed not to experience the lessons as over-intensive, but actually enjoyable and exciting), and that the students would be conversationally proficient.
Thomas was initially hired by celebrities and other public figures, such as Raquel Welch, Barbra Streisand, Emma Thompson, and Woody Allen, as well as by Grace Kelly following her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco to meet her need to learn French rapidly.
The method first rose to prominence in Britain following a BBC television science documentary The Language Master, in which Thomas was shown teaching French to sixth form students for five days at a further education college in London in 1997. As a result of the interest generated by this documentary, UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton commissioned Thomas to produce commercial versions of his courses.
With Thomas's method, the teacher cautions students to avoid making notes and to refrain from making conscious attempts to memorise, promising that the teacher will "be taking full responsibility" for their learning. Thomas stated that keeping the students relaxed, focused, and stretched with a feeling of mounting successful achievement lies at the heart of the method. The removal of the stress and anxiety of "being put on the spot" of conventional language learning, especially school language learning, is a key advantage of the method.
Interviewed for the documentary The Language Master, Margaret Thompson, headmistress of the school in which the documentary was filmed, commented that in general, teachers "try and ... capture their [the students'] interest by finding them interesting materials that are supposedly related to their interests" but that what Thomas had demonstrated to her was that "it's the learning process itself that motivates these kids", not the material used.
The teacher then introduces short words and phrases in the target language. Meaning is usually conveyed via the student's mother tongue. The students are asked how they would say a phrase in the target language, starting with simple sentences and gradually building up to more advanced constructions. The phrases are chosen as common building blocks of the language's structure. When a student gives a correct answer, the teacher repeats the entire sentence with correct pronunciation. When the student's answer is incorrect, the teacher helps the student to understand their mistake and to correct it.
The most important words and phrases are reviewed repeatedly during the course. The method does not insist on perfect pronunciation from the beginning, instead providing progressive feedback and continual improvement by the process of shaping student response over the course of these repetitions.
In the courses recorded by Thomas himself (Spanish, French, Italian, and German), the teaching focuses on verb conjugations and modal verb constructions such as "I want to go". The vocabulary used in the course is fairly small, with function words being emphasized in preference to lexical words. Grammar rules are introduced gradually, and grammatical terminology is generally avoided. In this way, the course builds complexity quickly, building the skills required to translate sentences like "I want to know why you don't have it for me now, because it is very important for me and I need it", while avoiding much of the vocabulary and fixed-phrases presented in most mainstream courses. For example, in his recorded courses, Thomas does not teach counting, days of the week, or months of the year (though the method may involve in due course the introduction of such items one at a time and inserting them into familiar text).
Michel Thomas often links cognates in the target language with their equivalents in the student's home language, and in his courses in the Romance languages, many of the Latinate borrowings in English are highlighted to allow the student to incorporate their existing vocabulary into the target language.
Recorded courses and patent
In Thomas's schools, students would start their study listening to programmed courses recorded on tape by Thomas himself. The exact content of these courses is not public knowledge, but this approach formed the basis of the commercial audio courses. The commercial recordings are simply a recording of a live class with two students (one male and one female). The listener is required to pause the recording in order to respond to Thomas's prompt, then resume the recording to listen to the other students' responses, after which they will hear Thomas repeat the correct answer. Thomas urges the listener to take the time to think out how to say the phrase in the target language, rather than answering quickly. The recorded method became U.S. Patent 6,565,358 in 2003.
The patent only covers the basic surface format of the audio courses—that is, the alternation between teacher's prompt, student 1's response, student 2's response, and teacher's reinforcement. (Although in the courses it was actually usually only one student responding per prompt, the responding student alternating quite regularly between 1 and 2 from one prompt to the next.)
After the death of Michel Thomas, Hodder and Stoughton published courses in languages other than those for which Thomas made recordings, claiming to use his method. The first courses published (2007) were Russian by Natasha Bershadski, Arabic by Jane Wightwick, and Mandarin Chinese by Harold David Goodman. Goodman studied with Thomas for 10 years. These and subsequent courses in Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, and Greek are live recordings of the teaching sessions. Unlike the original courses by Michel Thomas himself, these were edited before release, removing a lot of correction of the students' errors.
A series of vocabulary courses were also released for both the new languages and the original languages taught by Thomas. "Michel Thomas Method: Spanish Vocabulary Course" was created by Rose Lee Hayden, who, it is claimed, previously taught with Michel Thomas at his school in New York City. These vocabulary courses used native speakers as the additional "learners" and featured no error correction.
These lists do not include the Introductory courses where available; these are simply the first two discs of the Foundation course.
French, German, Italian, and Spanish
These language courses were recorded by Michel Thomas or under his supervision, with the exception of some of the Vocabulary courses.
- Foundation: ~8 hrs
- Language Builder: ~2 hrs (mostly revision)
- Advanced: ~5 hrs (follows on from the Foundation course)
- Vocabulary: ~6 hrs
- Start: ~1 hr of useful phrases
- This is the first hour of the Total course.
- Total: ~10 hrs (Foundation course plus first half of Vocabulary)
- The Total course is what Michel was famous for. It includes most of the verb conjugations. It excludes "you all plural" and "they". This course achieves A1-A2 level proficiency in grammar.
- Perfect: ~8 hrs (Advanced course plus second half of Vocabulary)
- The Perfect course completes the grammar and verb conjugations of the language. This course achieves B1-B2 level proficiency in grammar.
- Masterclass ~2 hrs (previously entitled Language Builder)
- Now advertised as the course for "True language lovers", this course is revision as well as common and useful phrases in the language. This course achieves A2 level in vocabulary.
- Vocabulary Builder + with the MTM
- This course is designed to build vocabulary. You can purchase this course as the "Revised" edition, thus the "+" in its name. It also includes (like all the Michel Thomas courses) a CD-ROM for testing and revision. This course is not done by Michel himself, but does achieve B1-B2 level vocabulary.
- Insider's ~ Not yet released in all markets. Time unknown
- 10 conversational exercises to boost one's speaking confidence. This course is not done by Michel Thomas himself, but does achieve B1-B2 level in speaking proficiency. This course has not been released in all markets yet; and is only currently available for Italian and Spanish. However a French course has been confirmed via the Michel Thomas Facebook page for release in 2015.
Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese
Greek, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Polish, Korean and Hindi
- Woodsmall, Marilyne; Woodsmall, Wyatt (2008), The Future of Learning: The Michel Thomas Method, Next Step Press, p. 142, ISBN 978-1892876119
- The Language Master at the British Film Institute Film & TV Database
- Flintoff, John-Paul (March 27, 2004), "The Man Who'd Like to Teach the World to Talk", Financial Times
- Campbell, Sophie (February 5, 2005), "Now Repeat After Me", The Daily Telegraph
- Solity, Jonathan (2008), The Learning Revolution, Revealed: Secrets of the Michel Thomas Method, Hodder Education, p. 147, ISBN 978-0-340-92833-2
- Woodsmall, Marilyne; Woodsmall, Wyatt (2008), The Future of Learning: The Michel Thomas Method, Next Step Press, p. 148, ISBN 978-1892876119