12 January 2008

Howdy folks! Anyone who knows me will be familiar with the way I rave about Michel Thomas language courses. My only complaint was that there were so few: if you didn't want to learn German, French, Spanish or Italian... well stuff you, sort of thing.

I must say, I never quite worked out why a man with his rich cultural/linguistic background hadn't released courses in Polish, Hebrew or Yiddish; and I also think he squandered his talent on his ridiculously expensive private lessons when he could have learnt another few languages and put the courses on CD for the benefit of the world, and a handsome profit.

Anyway, now his posthumous publishers have commissioned new language courses using his methods. Are they any good? Well, that is the question isn't it. So, to answer it, I went to the official site, where you can order a free trial of most of their stuff.

I got the disc I had ordered, the mixed trial of Arabic, Russian and Mandarin (the three new courses currently available -- more are due in a few months). I had a listen and my reactions were a bit mixed, although I must admit to coming to this with some preconceived notions, which may have tainted my views somewhat. So, despite the effort I've gone to in writing this, I'd advise you to stop reading, follow the link and order all the free trial CDs available and have a listen for yourself, then come back and we'll compare notes.

Done that? Good.

The pair doing the Arabic lessons sound like they've never done this before.  They sound as though they're fumbling about a bit, and there's a few awkward pleasantries while the English woman tries to ask the Egyptian to say the answer.  They also started with too many nouns, and nouns with very little structural similarities, where Thomas himself lets the learner play around with verbs and pronouns.

The woman's introduction seemed a bit waffly and unconvinced, and I just don't feel like she believed what she was saying -- was this any more than just a quick buck for her.

The Russian was a bit better.   The woman sounds like she has been using the technique actively for a while and is comfortable with it.  Also, her non-native English accent helped me accept some of the contrived ways she, like Michel, used to prompt "proper" Russian from the learners.  Not quite Michel himself, but I want to wind up a friend who's been learning Russian for years, so I bought it in the sales.

Chinese -- well, the man definitely bought into it and new his way round the technique, having been taught by Thomas, but there was something about the stateside accent that rankled with me, like too many televangelists and motivational speakers. Also, we had a native Chinese speaker in the class, and while the switchover wasn't clumsy like on the Arabic course, it still didn't feel quite natural.  Thomas may have been teaching languages without a native accent, but it felt like a natural class nonetheless -- I find this relay approach a bit disorientating.

Anyway, I've now got the Russian, so I'll write a thorough review of that soon, and revisit the other two on the sample CD.

No comments: