13 October 2011

The effects of Michel Thomas in the wider teaching world

It seems like every other post I mention the excellent lecture by Wilfried Decoo On the mortality of language learning methods.  So I suppose it's not a surprise to see me bring it up again.

One of Decoo's central points was :
A new method draws its originality and its force from a concept that is stressed above all others. Usually it is an easy to understand concept that speaks to the imagination.
As more and more people bring out products inspired to some degree by Michel Thomas's work and the mist starts to clear, we're starting to see what concepts have been taken from MT to drive the next batch of teaching styles.

There's quite a few floating about now, but as I'm now a professional teacher, I don't feel comfortable discussing them by name.

The general notion that we're getting from all of them suggests that the soundbite for the next generation is something along the lines of:
Learn to form sentences, instead of parroting phrases.
This is a good start.  I agree with it 100%.  However, once we reduce the whole teaching philosophy to an eight-word phrase, we're in danger of slipping further away from Thomas again.

If you think about it, it's a very broad and vague phrase.  It's very easy indeed for anyone to rebrnd their materials to demonstrate how they fulfill this criterion without actually changing anything.

By definition, any tables-and-rules grammar course can claim straight off that it's all about sentence building.  But we know that the strict table-based methods are pretty ineffective.

And the phrase-based courses will reassert that they only use the phrases to show you how to form sentences.  Changing je voudrais acheter un croissant to je voudrais acheter un stilo is, at least superficially, a form of sentence building.

What I predict happening is that there will be a few more of these "upstart" entries into the market, but that within a few years, all the major publishers will be looking to knock the wind out of their sales by taking the rhetoric of this new movement and applying it to the latest iteration of their material.  What we'll be left with won't be much different from what we've had over the last 100 years, but with luck, it will be slightly better.

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