The Language Master – Michel Thomas


February 17, 2015 by gemmalunn

I have just started learning German and decided to start with my favourite language teacher – ‘the language master’, polyglot and war veteran – Michel Thomas (MT). I previously used his CDs for Spanish but once I already had an intermediate-ish level of the language. With German the CDs were my first port of call. He has CDs for all levels and I feel like they are all extremely effective (no I am not sponsored by MT inc!). Contrary to what Michel states, I do feel they need to be supplemented with additional learning but they are still a really valuable tool.


I’d like to briefly explore the first ground rule he gives –

1 – Never to worry about remembering and never to try to remember, “because this is a method where the responsibility for your remembering is in the teaching and not with the learner”. But what about learner autonomy MT? He goes on to say – “it is very important not to review what you’ve learnt not even mentally.” But what about my brand new note book I‘ve bought and divided into sections ready to write down everything I need in different colours? – “let it be absorbed and internalised and what you know you will not forget”. Now you’re really pushing it MT! However, I have actually found that I can remember (without trying of course!) a large amount of what I learn from the CDs even before I have written it down. Thus, the approach of breaking the language down then re-constructing it yourself has been very useful for me.

I’m afraid I broke MT’s first rule straight away. Maybe it was because I couldn’t let go of these ingrained learning habits, but more likely it was that I needed more than just one source of input and that I need to see things written down to really internalise them. I have redeemed myself though by sticking to his second and final rule:

2 – You must pause the CD and give your answer out loud once he has introduced a concept and shown you how to formulate and express thoughts in sentences. This will give you “a constant sense of progression, learning that you will find exciting, stimulating and self-rewarding”. (Disclaimer – it may also lead to a few near misses so I recommend not doing this whilst driving!).

Despite not following all the rules I do find MT’s methodology extremely effective and when listening to his CDs I’m reminded of some teaching strategies I should re-visit. These are namely:

  •  He is extremely strict with errors by stopping the learner with a sharp “no!” as soon as they make an error with grammar or punctuation. Whilst I don’t think this would be a particularly pleasant approach to have in the classroom, it did remind me I need to be stricter at correcting errors and that as language learners we often want a lot of correction.
  • He stops students when they are “allowing sounds not rules” to formulate sentences. Thus, teaching you how to be a good language learner as well as language speaker (metacognition). I think this is a very effective strategy as it will shape the students approach to learning the language and also promote autonomous learning.
  • He sets the bar very high, he doesn’t spend a week on colours and the next on countries, you start building sentences straight away and as a result you feel like you are progressing rapidly.
  • He does not give praise where praise is not due and only gives it sparingly when it is deserved just a reserved “uh huh” or “yes”.

A further point that this methodology reinforces for me is the belief that it is so much more beneficial to use L1 when you are a total beginner. I remember sitting through hours of Spanish classes as a beginner understanding about 10% and maybe practicing two expressions in an hour. Whereas, having basic grammar and vocabulary structures and rules explained to me in English allows me to apply these much more quickly and accurately.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite MT quotes that I always try to keep in mind when practicing a language:

“Why don’t you think it out? If you give yourself that little time to think it through you will say it correctly, if you let the first thing come out that hits your ear it will be wrong”


MT Links


9 thoughts on “The Language Master – Michel Thomas

  1. Rose Bard says:

    Hallo Gemma, Ich liebe diese Reflexionen. 😀

    Deutsch ist a language Ich hatte the opportunity to sit in a class before. Almost a decade ago though, Ich worked for a language institute that used a kinda of audiolingual (listening and speaking) through translation and drilling. Ich hatte nicht all that time to come up with the sentences as class hatte to move fast. I would leave the class und go home. In my way home Ich would rehearse the sentences in my head und try to create new sentences, personalising. Last year (don’t remember when) Ich tried it through Duolingo. Ich did the same lesson about two or three times and Ich found that Ich made a lot of mistakes in spelling. Funny enough few days ago, Ich started them again. To my surprise, Ich moved through the lessons with easy.

    I’m trying to work with stories to suplement Duolingo. Children’s story and yesterday I downloaded a book (not for kids) in Audible – Ich Bleibe Hier. There is the audio book in English and in Deutsch und ich also got the ebook. It’s way up my level (total beginner hier) but the story seems to be so interesting und the narrator’s voice in Deutsch ist really pleasant. Ich glaube nicht that I can learn any language, especially without experiencing it like it was in EGypt or England without translating at the beginning. One of the things which ist important to me is to use it just as support. Naturally I move way from it as I go. I mainly use translation for comprehension and use strategies like associate it with an image to create a mental picture.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve checked him out on Audible. I might give him a try. As for the method, any contact with the language where we make effort (the learner) imho it can work. It’s probably more a mattter of time really. From what I noticed in his audio is that he does a good job at giving us good pointers about the language and how it compares to English which for me is pretty helpful. It also works around the input + output, right? You listen, then you do it yourself. etc.


    ps. I used what I know and checked couple of words using google translator. I found this link while checking for auf wiedersehen. 🙂

    ps2: Did you find it annoying to have to read German mixed with English? 🙂

    • gemmalunn says:

      Hallo Rose, dankeschön 

      Ich liebe the mix of English und Deutsch, might start doing this on a daily basis (by myself not publically!) Thanks for the translator tool, I’ll check it out.

      That’s great that you are also learning German! I have all the MT German files if you want me to send them to you just let me know. I have also got some stories, this felt like a next natural progression and the best way to expand my vocabulary. This is the first time I have been 100% in charge of my language learning experience and it’s great to choose whatever tool / direction I fancy next. Back to MT, yes he really does explain all aspects of the language well and helps you develop good links. I have listened to other CDs before which follow the basic listen and repeat format and without these explanations they are much less effective.

      This morning I discovered this app – Wie Geht’s from this Guardian article –, it looks good. However, I still find I prefer good old pen and paper and written gap fills/verb tables to any apps I’ve tried. Nevertheless, they are good for a break and as an additional tool.

      Thanks so much again for taking the time to commenting and sharing my post, much appreciated as always x

      • Rose Bard says:

        Hallo Gemma! Thanks for the offer. I’ll work with Duolingo for now and try to find easy reading in German while working on it.

        I’ll also check Sandy’s suggestion: Memrise. Keep us informed of your progression. I hope I will stick to my plan. Even created a 50 points goal in Duolingo for daily practice. 🙂

        Enjoy it! 🙂

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Gemma,
    Es ist gut your reflections on learning German zu lesen. 🙂
    You and Rose might be interested in these other resources:
    The memrise German courses: particularly ‘Learn basic German’ (I’ve used a few of their courses and really like them)
    The mindsnacks app for building vocabulary if you have a smartphone (I used it for Mandarin and it’s definitely worth the £2-£3 you pay for the full version):
    LyricsTraining has songs in German as well as many other languages. One of my favourite groups is called ‘Ich + Ich’
    Viel Glück!

    • BerLingo says:

      Wow, just popped onto Lyrics Training guiltily in my lunch break – what a fantastic resource! Thanks for the recommendation Sandy 🙂 I might use it to pep up my Italian a bit; they love to sing slushy love songs!

      And great post, Gemma!

    • gemmalunn says:

      Danke Sandy 🙂 und danke fur the other links too I’ll check them out I definitely need something for some more vocab so the mindsnacks sounds good. I used to recommend lyrics training to my students but never tried it myself so will give that a go.

      Thanks again,


  3. Rose Bard says:

    Danke Schön Sandy for the links.

    Lyrics training is awesome, but for a total beginner is daunting. I introduced it to my learners last year and few of them reported back that it was too hard. Then, I tried it myself with German. Without learning a certain amount of language and about the language (especially writing conventions), I found that it was not as useful as I thought it would be. But learners in pre-intermediate level upwards loved it. Especially if they already loved songs. 😀 Even so, I’ll continue share with all learners (teens and adults). It still looks like a great tool to be explored by learners on their own. I loved the group you recommended. Big thanks! I feel my ears are slowly picking up too. The challenge is connect it to the meaning.

    Any tips on how to use Lyrics training?

    Dang! The app is just for appstore. 😦 I’ll check Memrise 🙂 thanks.


    • gemmalunn says:

      hmm yes I think you’re probably right Rose that for a complete beginner lyrics training might be quite hard even though they have different levels. But ]just listening and following the lyrics could still be useful even if you can’t complete the lyrics, I might try it like that and then translate new vocab and structures etc. Well done re your Duolingo goal, I should do that too, sounds like a motivating way to keep using it!

      Keep me updated on your progress too, good to have a study buddy 🙂 x

  4. […] On the same day, Gemma posted her reflections. […]

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