Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Learning with Michel Thomas

After finishing my meagre set of two Lingaphone CD's, I have now moved on to a new language series by Michel Thomas, a Polish polyglot whose incredible linguistic feats funnily enough pale in comparison to the extraordinary events of his life. As a Jewish prisoner of war, he lost all of his family, was tortured and arrested numerous times, and had many close calls with German Gestapo. Since he was a "stateless" Jew, he often had to fly from country to country within Europe to escape capture and, of course, what would inevidably follow. However, his statelessness in fact gave him the greatest gift - the gift of multiple languages, without which he could not have tricked a German officer into believing he was a French painter, nor could he have gathered German combat intelligence for the French and American armies.

Michel's approach to language learning is simple: do not memorize, simply INTERNALIZE. This is achieved through participating in a classroom lesson consisting of two students, Michel, and you. Michel presents his students with different components of the target language, using which you learn to productively build simple sentences. Whenever Michel asks "How do you say X in Italian?" the students will attempt to answer. However, before they do, Michel requests that you, as the third student, press the pause button and try to answer yourself before the other students do. This way, you learn not to memorize the structures by simply listening to the student's response, but to internalize them by thinking through what the answer might be yourself.

It is an excellent system, and I am now, after only three weeks, able to say the equivolent of "must, should, can, want, would like to + verb" using past, present and future in Italian with a fair bit of fluency. That's a year's worth of classroom learning, just to put it into perspective! Not to mention that it is enjoyable since you can always pause whenever you start to feel restless or tired. Now wouldn't it have been nice if we could have done that in grade 9 French....!

To visit Michel's Thomas' site and read his full biography, just click this link! If you are thinking of trying out his product, he has a CD set for French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic were also produced after he passed away, and are thus conducted by different teachers.

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