Michel Thomas Method: Polish Introductory Course Review!

An independent language advantage course review by Imelda Michalczyk –Surbiton,  UK 

michel thomas method polish introductory courseI’ve wanted to study Polish for years and much of my hesitation stemmed from not enjoying my experience of learning other languages at school. Despite passing my French exams, I always felt like lessons were such a struggle and that I never fully understood what was going on. I’ve even bought a ‘teach yourself’ style programme for Polish in the past, with a CD and book, but just felt daunted and never quite made a start. So, I was very intrigued by the Michel Thomas Method, which claims to teach a new language “the way you learnt your own”.

The entire focus of the programme is on speaking rather than writing or listening. This premise was an enormous advantage in encouraging me to give it a go and I think it would appeal to a lot of people with any kind of anxiety about learning a new language.

The teacher, Jolanta Cecula, offers a clear introduction to how the course will work and her soft, friendly voice and explanation of the method helps the nervous student to relax at the beginning of the first of two CDs. She teaches words and short sentences, cleverly using a lot of vocabulary that is similar to English. For instance, in the first section she uses the Polish words for ‘bank’, ‘club’ and ‘bar’, which are either the same or pronounced only slightly differently. This takes the pressure off learning entire phrases that are alien by enabling you to recognise some words, thus allowing you to remember the Polish terms, which is the point of each particular exercise.

Each CD is split into a number of sections that can run continuously. This helps you to choose how much you want to learn each time, or can provide a useful framework of short lessons of between roughly three and ten minutes. I found this bite-size format really useful as it helped me to concentrate on learning just a little at a time. It also allowed me to feel a sense of achievement whilst avoiding getting overwhelmed by long lessons.

“She teaches words and short sentences, cleverly using a lot of vocabulary that is similar to English”

Jolanta has two students – one male and one female – who repeat the words and phrases she teaches. Sometimes she asks them to work out the ending of a word based on a previous pattern. The idea is for the listener to speak the repetition or guess the answer before the student (pressing the pause button if necessary). I thought this was a good idea at first as you get to hear different voices saying the words, especially as Jolanta’s voice is very soft and sometimes I missed the exact pronunciation on first listen. However, as the CD progressed, I sometimes found this format annoying, especially on repeated listenings when the students get it wrong. On first listen, the correction of the student is useful, offering extra reasons why things are said a certain way and illuminating common mistakes or comparisons with English. But when replaying the CD, I just wanted to concentrate on the ‘right’ version and didn’t want to keep hearing the ‘wrong’ version as it would emphasise the mistake in my mind.

I liked the way Jolanta came up with ways to remember certain words – often these were amusing references to a phrase that was slightly related and generally quirky. She also peppered the teaching of words and phrases with useful information about grammar and common changes to how and when different words are used in normal speech.

On the second CD, the pace picks up a bit and Jolanta speaks more quickly when repeating phrases, which is useful in hearing how it’s more likely to sound in real life when people speak less slowly and carefully!

The sole focus on speaking definitely made this course more accessible than having to learn to listen and write too, but this did mean that there was no opportunity to try out a question and answer or conversation, which I think would have been useful towards the end of the two-hour programme. It would have been good just to get a feel for how these phrases might be used and what the corresponding questions or answers might sound like. Jolanta also made occasional references to spellings and that reminded me how I now know a whole raft of words and phrases but have no idea how they are spelled! So I think I’d now like to look at some written Polish too, but overall I liked learning to speak these words first, as it will give me confidence in approaching learning the written words and phrases in the future.

Considering that the course is only two hours in total, I did finish feeling like I’d learned quite a bit and in a way that was relatively easy, fun and broken down into digestible chunks. It has enthused me with a desire to learn more Polish. But, much more importantly, it has made me believe that I really can learn a completely new language, since I’m now able to speak a little without feeling like I’ve sat down to study it. For this, I’m very grateful and rather excited! I’d be very intrigued to see how the next stages of this course progress.

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