I think the Michel Thomas method is brilliant. Of course I’m talking about the CDs and not the live course.
No, you will not be fluent after listening to the course. No, you will not have native speaker like pronunciation. No, you will not be able to handle native speakers talking to you at their normal speed. No, you won’t be able to express every thought that comes into your head and I have no idea why people expect that kind of thing. That’s never going to happen in the real world. Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur and all the teach yourself books in the world won’t get you there. What you really need is to be listening to and reading content in (interacting with) the native language. I think most people here would agree with that.
But when you’re a beginner and you look at authentic content there’s nothing there that you can identify with or get meaning from. You don’t even know the words for “I,” “you,” or “and.” So you need something to get you started. I would go into a comparison of the other methods I tried here, but that would take a long time. It suffices to say that I either spent a long time working out what a word meant in the foreign language by instinctually translating it into English myself, rather than it arriving in my brain with meaning attached directly to the foreign word, which ruled out the immersion method for me, or I learnt a bunch of nifty phrases.
Then I tried Michel Thomas, and he explained the language to me. He showed me how to work with verbs, and basically, and I know a lot of people don’t like the word, gave me the grammar of the language. Not perfectly, but enough. He starts with simple words, then he lets you build them into phrases, then he shows you how to manipulate the words and the phrases to make new ones, and then shows you how you can do the same thing with other words and where these words fall into, or differ from, the standard pattern. So far it probably doesn’t sound great… and yes the whole time he’s talking in a non-native accent (which I don’t think matters at all)… but the thing is, when you’re trying to come up with the phrase he’s asking for you’re remembering something you learned moments ago. You’re reactivating that memory and setting it deeper into your mind. You’re building on things you know and therefore reinforcing those foundations. I think that’s why he gets the students to speak early. It’s like writing things down to help remember things. (Some people seem to hate the students on the recordings because of the mistakes they make, but I think if you’re like me and make some of those yourself the following explanations are helpful, and if you don’t make the mistakes, being pained as someone else does almost guarantees you never will yourself.)
So by the end of the the course, especially the advanced course, you have all the basic tourist knowledge someone looking for a quick fix in the language is looking for, but you have more than that, because you’ve been shown how to use, and even better, how to recognise every tense of the language… and that, for me, is where the brilliance comes in. At the end of the advanced course (for French anyway) Michel Thomas says something like this… and I’m sure some people reading this will recognise some of these thoughts:
–I’ve given you a bunch of tools, and an open door to walk into the language which will be an enjoyable experience. It also opens the door to reading, and it will be important for you to start reading, and you’ll be amazed at how well you’re doing. It would be good to read magazines, or things like that because there you get interviews, you get the spoken language. And you should read every day, even for a short time, 10 minutes a day, even if you don’t seem to get anything, because the continuity will be useful, in fact more useful than reading for a few hours once a week. Read things that you’re interested in, don’t force yourself to read things that will bore you. Keep reading and you’ll get the gist of it and that’s good enough. The more you read the more everything will fall in to place. Don’t look up every word in the dictionary except if the word is the key to understanding the whole paragraph, but if you see a word that reappears a lot you’ll know it’s in common usage and you’ll have a rough idea what it means and that’s when it will be useful to look it up. Otherwise you might be looking up something that you’ll never see again and isn’t in common usage.–
So after I’d listened to all that I came back to LingQ and started reading Steve’s book in French, and I was amazed at how much I could read, and more importantly how quickly new words became obvious to me, that seemed incomprehensible before. Suddenly I recognised what tense the paragraph was in, why the verbs changed the way they did. I knew “will” and “would” despite the fact that in French they’re tagged on as a suffix to the verb… and so on. I listened to the audio of it at work, and pretty soon I couldn’t remember Michel Thomas’s pronunciation, only the native speaker from the audiobook. Pretty soon after that things I’d have had to quickly deconstruct and reconstruct in my brain to translate and understand like “aura” being “would have” appeared in my brain in the full form, so I wasn’t stuck thinking through Michel Thomas’s descriptions forever to arrive at the right word… but knowing what it meant and why, in my case anyway, helped cement it in my mind quicker than I otherwise would have if I was just reading and trying to work out what tense it was on my own, or from a grammar book, or dictionary. I could see a new verb in one form and immediately have a good idea of it in every other tense. Sure there are exceptions to the rules but I’m sure if I said one incorrectly to a native speaker it’d be close enough to right for them to work out what I meant to say.
And I’m going to stop there because I type too much and that’s a bit long and preachy… but there you go, excellent beginner’s springboard into the real language. That’s what I think of Michel Thomas, and I think, for me at least, his method and LingQ go hand in hand.