An independent language course review by Andrea Martins
French is still one of the most popular languages to learn in the UK today. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t really like French at school and didn’t use any French until a few months ago when I met my French boyfriend’s parents for the first time! My almost forgotten bits of ‘school’ French from all those years ago, were just not enough to hold a conversation with them. So I set myself the task of learning some French phrases, using the Michel Thomas French 2-hour Introductory language pack. It is available on CDs and on cassette.
My pack is made up of two tapes – it’s a two hour introductory course to the longer 8-hour Michel Thomas French course. It prides itself upon its mantra of ‘no books, no writing’ and ‘just confidence – in hours’. Having always learnt languages the academic way, by going to classes and studying grammar books until dawn, I was very curious to know how you could learn a language using this seemingly very unacademic way!
The first side of tape one begins with Michel Thomas talking about how languages are ordinarily learnt (via studying books with grammar and verbs and so on). Michel claims that you can build up your knowledge of a language just by breaking things down and thinking everything out step by step. He also encourages us to listen and learn whilst in a relaxed state, as stress or outside influences will detract from our learning.
So I spent the two hours listening to the course and making my own notes now and again. Although you are not encouraged to memorise anything or write anything down, I felt inspired to write down interesting comments or ideas that Michel mentioned during the tape.
After Michel’s introduction we are then introduced to his two learners who are both at the same level as us: the beginner. As the tape went on I felt that I was there with Michel and the other two learners, which made me feel more involved in the learning process.
Michel teaches us words and then phrases by building on them step by step. He treats the words as building blocks to phrases. Before you know it you are saying an incredibly long sentence purely based on the words that you have learnt and built on. On the first side of the first tape, we are encouraged to pause the tape after a bleep. This is so that we have sufficient time in the early stages to repeat the words and phrases at our own pace. Later though, the bleeps are gone and we are left to pause it if we want to.
What I found particularly helpful was the way that Michel associated many French words with English words. Throughout the course, he would use sound and cultural recognitions to help us remember certain endings or words. For example, English words ending in ‘ance’ or ‘ence’, he says, come from French, such as ‘difference’ or ‘importance’. By changing the pronunciation we are suddenly speaking French! How easy is that?!
Or he would use French words that are currently in our everyday English such as ‘soirée’, ‘alley’ (from aller – to go), ‘encore’, or ‘au revoir’ which helped build up my confidence because I realised that I actually knew a lot of French without even knowing it!! This word association really helped me to remember the French words. It would also help me in the future to recognise the similarities between English and French. I thought this was a particularly useful way of learning a language.
Throughout the course, there is a gradual introduction of verbs and verb endings, as well as pronouns, adjectives, word gender and question words. However, Michel does not want to bog us down with the grammatical side to French. He is more interested in ensuring that we build phrases and understand the links between English and French words.
Everything is broken down into bite-size pieces which make it a lot easier to understand and to build long sentences. I learnt how to ask for a glass of wine or coffee to suddenly asking ‘what impression do you have of the political and economic situation in France today?’. How impressive is this for a beginner?! Nothing is forced and nothing is really difficult to remember because all the word and phrase learning flows really well and that’s why you find yourself saying long sentences without much difficulty.
After having completed the two hour tapes, I felt that I had learnt an awful lot of French and would be happy to continue studying French as I now feel quite confident in what I have learnt so far. Even my French boyfriend was impressed by how much French I had learnt in such a short space of time. The Michel Thomas 2-hour introductory course is just that: an introduction to the language. It’s great for complete novices or beginners who want to get a feel for the language.