Michel Thomas Method START Spanish Language Course Review

An independent language advantage course review by Andy Dunhill – Huddersfield, UK

michel thomas method start spanish language courseI wanted to learn Spanish to be able to speak it on holiday. I have previously tried to study at evening classes and using “teach yourself” books, but with no real success other than picking up a little vocabulary. Using the Michel Thomas Start Spanish CD has certainly improved my ability to speak the language.

The basic principle of this beginner’s Spanish language course is a good one. Michel Thomas Start Spanish teaches the basics of conversational Spanish by starting with some simple sentences and building upon them one step at a time. This allows you to gain confidence by building longer more complicated sentences every time. He does this with a simple technique using demonstration students, who are asked to follow his instructions along with you, the listener.

“The simple repetition technique is effective and easy to follow”

The teaching starts by suggesting that the student can develop a substantial Spanish vocabulary by using English words you already know and making simple changes in pronunciation to create the Spanish equivalent. This works well in general, but occasionally seems to create Spanish equivalents simply because it is easy to do so, rather than because it will be useful in a real conversation. This leads to some stilted sentences and to learning some vocabulary that seems a little odd . Nevertheless, the principle is a good one and the rule for conversion of English to Spanish words is a very useful technique to acquire.

The course also teaches some limited, but useful, basic Spanish vocabulary without the need for the laborious use of the various tenses like in conventional school language teaching. This makes it simpler to pick up the basics of Spanish quickly. The use of these simple techniques mean that your initial progress is rapid and you rapidly gain confidence in your ability to speak the basics of the language. However, there does appear to be a lack of some simple vocabulary that would have been useful at the very beginning. Although some of this is there, I felt more would have been useful. In the later stages of the beginner’s course the sentences become more complex and whilst the examples are good and build meaningfully on the earlier work showing how the Spanish language works, it is at this stage that it would have been useful to have been taught some more general basic Spanish vocabulary rather than simply adapting English words and creating sentences from these. This would make the course a little more user-friendly, particularly for the beginner who is perhaps looking for the ability to use the language in a holiday or leisure setting. However, the focus of this course is primarily to pick up the structure of the Spanish language.

Throughout the course the biggest drawback is Michel Thomas himself. Whilst the quality of his English is good, it is often heavily accented and this can make his instructions difficult to follow in many instances. It is clear that his demonstration students also have this difficulty and I felt the same way on more than one occasion. This heavy accenting also makes the learning of some new Spanish words more difficult than it needs to be. This is because Michel Thomas’ pronunciation is difficult to understand and even when he appears to recognise that this is the case and he tries to help by either speaking very slowly or spelling out the word letter by letter, this can sometimes leave the listener none the wiser. Sometimes several rewinds were required to really get the correct spelling or pronunciation of the word or idea that he was trying to get across.

Whilst the CD transferred onto a laptop with ease, it would not synchronise with the iPad, and eventually I gave up. This did not really detract from the usefulness of the CD, as it played well in a CD player and in the car.

Overall, the course was useful and managed to teach the basics of conversational Spanish in a way that required no writing or use of books and dictionaries. There were some drawbacks, but on the whole these were minor drawbacks other than Michel Thomas’ heavily-accented pronunciation which did make learning difficult at times. If some basic leisure vocabulary was addeded to the course to assist the leisure, holiday or casual business user, then this would be an extremely valuable beginners’ course.

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