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”
- I highly recommend Michel’s inspiring biography.
- This documentary of Michel teaching teenagers who “learn as much with Michel in 5 days as they would normally learn in 5 years” is also very interesting.