An independent language course review by Lisa Zealey
The Michel Thomas 8-hour German course really gave me a head start when I tried it a year ago, before spending a week in West Germany on holiday. Michel’s technique of ‘audio only’- i.e. no books, pens or paper – is a far more flexible approach to language learning than most people are used to, simply because you don’t need to have any materials to do your study. I listened to these CDs on the train on my way to work, sitting in the bath and lying in bed! Michel gives the advice right from the beginning that you should be in a completely relaxed situation and have no tension in order to absorb the language taught so this is an ideal way to learn, especially for those like myself who find there are not enough hours in the day – no excuses now!
To someone who is thinking of buying this course, I think it is important to know that it is not like a phrase book and leaves out a lot of the ‘get-by’ vocabulary that you may need in Germany. What it does do though is give you a strong knowledge of the language grammatically so you have a good understanding of the ‘backbone’ of the language on which to build more and more vocabulary. Once you have the basic mechanics, you are over half way to communicating!
So, how does it work? Michel Thomas’ technique is to record himself teaching two complete beginner students and for you to imagine you are the third student in his class. On these CDs he has one male and one female student in a classroom situation and I personally found it a very interesting and successful method. He starts off by introducing the language and usefully focuses on the similarities between English and German right from the beginning, talking about how many of the words we have already in our vocabulary are linked to German so in fact there is a lot we already know – definitely good news to a beginner! I found it a little confusing during the introduction when he started to talk about different sets of ‘pronunciation strings’ because it was hard to retain until put into context. His main point however, was that there are so many ways to ‘work out’ German words from English rather than have to remember them, eg, ‘to give’ is ‘geben’ because a ‘v’ in English often becomes a ‘b’ in German and verbs end in ‘-en’. He mentioned many other similar rules which certainly started to make sense and helped as time went on.
I found I could pick things up quite quickly by listening to him but it was useful to listen to each CD at least a couple of times before moving onto the next one. That way you really feel confident with what you know so far. Sometimes you can have the answer to something before the students and be ready to move on before they are but other times they can rush ahead and leave you feeling a little confused. This isn’t a problem – when you listen again it all becomes clear!
I’m sure your German accent will be much more convincing than that of the two students but Michel does a lot to correct pronunciation and is not happy until he hears each sound of each word! It’s just a case of practice, practice – no cheating allowed!
Michel insists that it is very important that you take time to think of your sentence grammatically and ‘work it out’ without rushing it. So the use of the pause button is essential for thinking it through. After listening to just the first few CDs you realise that you really can start to make your own phrases. His teaching allows grammar to be learned in a flexible way and completely avoids learning phrases by heart.
To assist you with retaining vocabulary, Michel often translates expressions literally into English or makes links through word association to help you remember some things. One example is the German word ‘bald’ meaning ‘soon’ (to be ‘bald soon’) and ‘heute abend’ meaning ‘tonight’ (literally ‘today evening’) – so no surprises there! Breaking expressions and sentences into their components avoids any mystery in the language such as when he introduced the phrase ‘es tut mir leid’ which is the equivalent to ‘I’m sorry’, but literally – ‘it does to me sorrow’.
The word order in German is something that can seem a little confusing at first but with practice becomes second nature and just starts to ‘sound right’. Michel constantly revises grammatical points so if it’s not quite clear immediately there’s no need to keep rewinding – he will come back to it!
By the end of CD 1 (only the first hour) your longest sentence will be “I don’t know where it is, I can’t find it”. Not bad going for the first lesson!
By CD 3 things get a little more tricky grammatically, but it is certainly worth persevering. Michel jokes with the students and talks them through their mistakes. By the end of CD 3 you will move onto expressing the future and make phrases such as “Will you please bring it to me” and (on CD 4) “I am going to stay at home today because I am very tired” covering some crucial German grammar points without you even realising it. By the end of CD 8, however, you will be combining all kinds of points of grammar covered throughout the whole course and you will certainly have achieved a lot, including a variety of different tenses. You can even move on to do a further two hours as a follow up if you are really keen – the Michel Thomas German Language Builder.
As I mentioned at the beginning there is a lot of vocabulary that you may need when visiting Gemany that is not covered in this course. From experience I would recommend combining this course with the Teach Yourself Instant German. They complement each other very well because Michel Thomas is more structure based, while ‘Instant German’ covers a lot of essential vocabulary to give you the confidence you need for your visit. With these two courses fully completed and a small phrasebook and dictionary to take with you for those tricky situations it is the recipe for success in Germany!