Let me be quite clear – at school I was a complete dunce at French. I wasn’t the model school child anyway and, being a child of the eighties, I didn’t see how learning the language was relevant to me. After all we holidayed in the New Forest in a tent. My dad used to get up at 6am whilst we where there so he could go to our little corner shop and open it up.
Side note: it’s amazing looking back what your parents do for you isn’t it?
Anyway, as soon as I could I dropped French. C’etait assez pour moi! Fast forward to free movement within the EU and here I am dreaming of working towards moving there.
When I first mentioned my dream of moving to the French countryside my husband exclaimed – ‘We don’t even know the language!’ I should have foreseen that really. Le Marie is not good with change. He actually has a preferred cup order and if I deviate from it I swear his bottom lip juts out! On the other hand, he should have foreseen how determined I would be – I actually started to learn French! Within six months I could hold my own, albeit like a toddler talking, in French on diverse topics and declared ‘We can go now!’
Then he had the cheek to bring up jobs!!
One of the key things to this transformation was Michel Thomas’ teaching method. My parents had found some copies in a second hand shop and had started doing them to prepare to move to France. When my husband and I were over there visiting them in their new home for the first time they put them on and we suddenly found ourselves joining in and we were quickly converted. So if you haven’t heard of Michel, or you have and your wondering whether to buy any of his CDs, here is my review of this set of CDs as a learning method.
These two titles refer to the same set of CDs they are just named and packaged differently so be careful not to buy both sets. Also each set of CDs – Foundation/Total French, Language Builder/Masterclass, Advanced/Perfect French and Vocabulary courses – all need to be reviewed separately as they have varying levels of assistance in learning French.
Considering my previous school record when Michel said this I was in! No drills, no textbooks, no notes and no homework. By drills I think Michel meant those CDs and books you buy were verbs are repeated in all their different conjugations and he’s right, you don’t do that here. You don’t learn by rote and it’s a real bonus. However you can’t just listen to the CDs once and move on either. You have to repeatedly listen and engage with them. With this set I listened to the CDs over a week on my hourly commute to and from work as well to learn each one thoroughly prior to moving on to the next.
These are word that have the same origin and therefore are virtually the same in different languages with perhaps a slight variation in accent. Michel begins by explaining that over 60% of English has a basis similar to French cognates. Therefore words ending in ible and able as well as ent and ant and ion can be transformed with a different accent so you can expand your French vocabulary quickly (he gives the three exceptions to the ion rule). As Michel points out that’s incredibly helpful when you consider that for the majority of us our active vocabulary is 500-1500 words.
Grammar and Sentence Construction
One of the reasons that Michel’s method means that you are able to start speaking conversationally straight away is that the approach doesn’t focus on the topic alone. Although, for example, in the first section. Michel focus on having dinner his approach differs from other on the market. Another series that I’ve attempted to learn from, the BBC French Experience, you are taught to recite key phrases such as asking for a table, ordering food etc. The course allows you to expand on the phrases taught only by the food you order or a slight change of expression. However Michel’s course starts you with a verb. For instance he tells you the infinitive of the verb to want – vouloir. He then starts to conjugate the verb simply, for instance;
I want – Je veux
Then you build this to a simple sentence;
He continues to develop this to a more complicated sentence;
I want it now if thats possible – Je le veux maintenant si c’est possible.
Michel then continues by introducing other verbs and develops them in the same way. Then throughout the course he goes back to verb previously introduced and prompts you to remember the verbs already given before reintroducing and developing them into more complicated grammar and meaning. As a result you begin immediately to utilise the language as a tool to adapt rather than a stock of key phrases. This is important because, as Michel says, if you know how to use the verbs you know how to use the language as they are the backbone of any language.
Grammar points introduced in this basic course are:
- Conjugations for key verbs – not including the tu form.
- The consonant at the end of the word in French is not pronounced unless it is followed by an ‘e’. He also gives the exceptions to this rule.
- If a word ends in ‘s’ and the next word starts with a vowel the ‘s’ can be pushed into the vowel and pronounced as a ‘z’ (so that’s where our stereotype of the French ‘z’ comes from).
- How to ask questions.
- The concept of masculine and feminine nouns.
- How to use ‘lui’ and ‘leur’ as well as ‘il’, ‘elle’ and ‘eux’ when talking about giving/telling people things.
- Where to position the subject in a sentence.
- How to use the negatives not, no more, never, nothing.
- The future tense.
- How to communicate thirst, hunger etc.
- Reflexive verbs
Quite impressive huh? You could pass a GCSE with this box set!
Michel appears to be the type of person who does not suffer fools gladly! He states at the begining of the cd that anyone who can’t learnt a foreign language shouldn’t blame themselves but their teacher. I think he takes back that statement at the end of these sessions!
The CDs are in the format of a lesson to two students – one Englishman and an Amercian woman. The Englishman does ok, however I couldn’t help but feeling the woman was an actress who wanted airtime at first she was so poor. Michel does become frustrated with her, so you’re kind of left cringing at his sharp tone!
However his later CDs also have a female, American student who does a lot better!
This is by far the best purchase I’ve made to learn french and I’d recommend it to anyone!