Michel Thomas worked for the French Resistance during World War II, was arrested several times, tortured and sent to concentration camps, but somehow managed to bluff his way into being released at least twice.
He later joined the U.S. Army, played a role in capturing numerous Nazi war criminals after the war, and eventually received the Silver Star medal for this and other achievements. The details of this period of his life are so incredible that many people prefer to take them with a pinch of salt.
What isn’t in doubt, though, is that he opened his first language school soon after emigrating to America and later became the world’s highest-paid language teacher, taking on diplomats, movie stars and millionaires as clients. Later, having already mastered a dozen or so languages himself, he started offering his courses in a format more suited to retail sales and began focusing on teaching his educational technique to others.
This approach to language learning basically requires you only to listen to him explain how sentences are put together. The fundamental principle is that mental stress is the enemy of understanding: by calmly and logically explaining the fundamentals of grammar and pronunciation, a student is capable of absorbing and remembering much more. You won’t be required to chant conjugations or know what a preterite tense is – technical terms that are only for talking about languages, rather than actually speaking them, aren’t used at all.
No fewer than 17 languages are covered, ranging from Spanish to Mandarin to Hindi, and the price compares well to that of classroom lessons or less sophisticated courses. If you plan to travel abroad, it’s actually possible to pick up the rudiments of a language in only about 20 hours of study.
However, there’s a big “but” involved. While they do say: “There’s no such thing as a poor student, only a poor teacher,” this sounds better than it works. Getting through a Michel Thomas course, even at an advanced level, is pretty easy and enjoyable, and it does provide you with a solid, rational grammatical framework – something many other courses suck at badly.
It does not, however, enable you to speak that language. Things like understanding different accents and actually feeling comfortable in a second language only come with practice – if you’re not willing to put in some effort and risk embarrassment a few times, you’ll remain stuck in linguistic limbo forever. If you can’t find a native speaker to help you gain this kind of experience, we recommend that you follow up this course with one from Rosetta Stone, which is equally easy to use and much better at building up vocabulary and listening skills.