Michel Thomas Method

The Michel Thomas Method is an original method developed by Michel Thomas for teaching languages. Thomas stated that his students would be conversationally proficient after a few days' study.

Thomas has been hired by notable people such as Raquel Welch, Barbra Streisand, Emma Thompson and Woody Allen. He was hired by Grace Kelly following her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco to meet her need to learn French rapidly. The method first came to prominence in Britain, following a BBC television science documentary The Language Master, in which he taught French to sixth form students for five days at a further education college in London in 1997. As a result of the interest generated by this documentary, UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton commissioned Thomas to produce commercial versions of his courses.

With Thomas's method, the teacher cautions students to avoid making notes and to refrain from making conscious attempts to memorise, promising that the teacher will "be taking full responsibility" for their learning. Thomas stated that keeping the students relaxed, focused and stretched with a feeling of mounting successful achievement, is at the heart of the method. The removal of the stress and anxiety 'of being put on the spot' of conventional language learning, especially school language learning, is a key goal of the method.

Interviewed for the documentary The Language Master, Margaret Thompson, the headmistress of the school in which the documentary was filmed, commented that in general teachers "try and ... capture the students interest by finding them interesting materials that are supposedly related to their interests" but that what Thomas had demonstrated to her was that "it's the learning process itself that motivates these kids", not the material used.

The teacher then introduces short words and phrases in the target language. The students are asked how they would say an English phrase to the target language, starting with simple sentences and gradually building up to more advanced constructions. The phrases are chosen as common building blocks of the language's structure. When a student gives a correct answer, the teacher repeats the whole sentence with correct pronunciation. When the student's answer is wrong, the teacher helps the student to understand their mistake and to correct it. The most important words and phrases are reviewed repeatedly during the course. The method does not insist on perfect pronunciation from the beginning, instead providing progressive feedback and continual improvement by the process of shaping student response over the course of these repetitions.

In the courses recorded by Thomas himself (Spanish, French, Italian and German), the teaching focuses on verb conjugations and modal verb constructions such as "I want to go". The vocabulary used in the course is fairly small, focusing mainly on function words in preference to lexical words. Grammar rules are introduced gradually, and grammatical terminology is generally avoided. In this way, the course builds complexity quickly, focusing on the skills required to translate sentences like "I want to know why you don't have it for me now, because it is very important for me and I need it", while avoiding much of the vocabulary and fixed-phrases presented in most mainstream courses. For example, in his recorded courses Thomas does not teach counting, days of the week or months of the year.

Michel Thomas often links cognates in the target language with their equivalents in the student's home language, and in his courses in the Romance languages, many of the Latinate borrowings in English are highlighted to allow the student to incorporate their existing vocabulary into the target language.

Prerecorded courses
In Thomas's schools, students would start their study listening to programmed courses recorded on tape by Thomas himself. The exact content of these courses is not currently public knowledge, but this approach formed the basis of the commercial audio courses. The commercial recordings are simply a recording of a live class with two students (one male and one female). The listener is required to pause the recording in order to respond to Thomas's prompt, then resume the recording to listen to the other students' responses, after which they will hear Thomas repeat the correct answer. Thomas urges the listener to take the time to think out how to say the phrase in the target language, rather than answering quickly. The recorded method became U.S. Patent 6,565,358 in 2003.

Posthumous publications
After the death of Michel Thomas, Hodder and Stoughton used the method to create courses in languages other than those for which Thomas left recordings. The first courses published (2007) were Russian by Natasha Bershadski, Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mandarin Chinese by Harold David Goodman. Goodman studied with Thomas for 10 years. These and subsequent courses in Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, Polish and Greek are live recordings of the teaching sessions. A series of vocabulary courses were also released for both the new languages and the original languages taught by Thomas. "Michel Thomas Method: Spanish Vocabulary Course" was created by Rose Lee Haydon, who previously taught with Michel Thomas at his school in New York City. Unlike the original Thomas by Michel himself, these were edited before release, removing a lot of correction of the students' errors.