Why did Michel Thomas neglect the woman student on his Total French course?
by Gerri Barnes-Hampton
(Gold Coast, Australia)
Before I criticise Michel Thomas, I would like to emphasise how much I learned from his latest "Total French" course for beginners.
Thomas had an amazing system for making complexities simple, eg. how to avoid getting le/la, un/une wrong in spoken French, how to use contractions to help with the phrasing of spoken French, and how to quickly construct and use (his) "auxiliary verbs" as "handles" to avoid conjugating verbs you don't know how to conjugate.
I also gained a lot of confidence to speak out loud in French. And I would recommend them as a great starting point.
That said, I spent most of CDs 5, 6 & 7 distressed and wondering what happened to the woman student he was teaching. He hardly gave her a chance to reply to any of his "How would you say..." questions from CD5 onwards. Yet Thomas told her, in the very first lesson, that she did not have to memorise each new sentence, that it was his job to teach her; all she had to do was "relax, take it slowly, and think it through".
But he abandonned her on CD5.
She tried to ask a question about half way through, but he talked over her and did not give her another chance to speak for several lessons.
It was obvious by the end of CD#7 (the last one) that she hadn't, in fact, learnt anything much since CD#4.
It's just not true that his (Socratic?) method means you don't have to memorise if you want to finish the course successfully.
In regard to the written word and native accents:
The new Michel Thomas "Total French" course for beginners does come with a booklet of every sentence and phrase spoken on all 7 CDs, as well as Thomas' key rules and tips.
There are two additional Vocabulary CDs which use the same method as Thomas and the teacher/facilitator is a (non-native) female who is very easy to understand.
However, she is "teaching" two adult, native French speakers, whom she talks to patronisingly as if they are learning French ("Well done!" she says at one point). And she praises Thomas and his Method constantly, even using some of her praises as phrases to be translated by the "students". These two Vocab CDs were quite sickening for me to listen to ... and they didn't introduce many practical every-day words. It was mostly focused on what Thomas had already told us - about how to work the French word from the English word.
But all in all, I'd recommend it as a good start for beginners who have, at least, a little basic knowledge of French already.