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How to best use 2-3 hours a day for study

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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United States
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 Message 9 of 16
13 April 2008 at 6:07pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Smith, I am glad to hear that, lack of time notwithstanding, it sounds as if you have maintained full control over the learning process over German, Spanish, and French. Well done! I hope, come May, you are able to give more of your energies to your languages, including Chinese, but I would strongly recommend against using Michel Thomas (or Pimsleur or any all audio course) for Mandarin or any language that you seriously want to learn. You are much too sophisticated a language student to need or benefit from that kind of course. They may be good for getting one’s feet wet in the pool of language learning, but you already know how to swim.
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United States
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Speaks: English*, Spanish, Yiddish, Modern Hebrew
Studies: Esperanto

 Message 10 of 16
14 April 2008 at 1:31pm | IP Logged 
Hi, Lleweilun
Hi, Dr. Arguelles

I am so happy that you have both mentioned the Michel Thomas Mandarin course of which I am the author. I
studied with Michel Thomas for close to ten years to learn his approach to teaching and learning.

Dr. Arguelles, I have the greatest respect for your work in teaching and learning languages. You are incredibly
generous in sharing what you know and helping others succeed in language learning. I have read most of your
posts and watched your videos on youtube which are wonderful. As of yet I have not had the pleasure of
examining your dictionary or text to help with Korean but I would be surprised, knowing your rigorous
standards of scholarship and teaching, if they were not exemplary.

The work of Michel Thomas is also worthy of examination. He succeeds in teaching people to speak a language
without homework, memorization, and, most importantly, anxiety. The proof is in the pudding. Go to or and read the reviews of his courses.

When I ran across his work in 1994 I found it unbelievable that such an approach could be successful in getting
people proficient in a language much less result in long term retention. I interviewed some of his students and
then connected with him. I am now even more convinced that his approach is very powerful. If I wanted to learn
to speak a language I would definitely consider a Michel Thomas course.

As a result of my work with him and other factors I was approached to create a Mandarin course by Hodder and
Stoughton, the UK publishers of his CDs. The result is a course in several parts ( Foundation - in the US it's
called Beginner and put out by McGraw-Hill, Advanced- not accurate but that's what the publisher chose and
who am I to argue with the one who runs the show, and soon to be Vocabulary -again not accurate but that's
their template).

Besides having our students able to actually communicate their own thoughts in Mandarin in record time I have
created a method to not only teach the tones but also to make sure that they are forever embedded and
associated with the proper related words. It works like a charm according to the feedback.

Since I have never used your publications, Dr. Arguelles, I would be loathe to comment about their efficacy. I
certainly would never write that ' I would strongly recommend against using Michel Thomas ( or Pimsleur or
any all audio course) for Mandarin or any language that you seriously want to learn,' about any of your work.

I can only assume that you have had an unhelpful personal experience with the MT Mandarin course for you to
'strongly recommend against using' it. I would be curious to know what you found wanting.

According to my personal experience, there is no comparison between Pimsleur Mandarin and the MT
Mandarin course except that they are audio. Our results are totally different.

Lleweilun , I would recommend that you further consider your options and definitely check out the feedback on
the Michel Thomas Mandarin course. At the very least, you will learn to communicate in Mandarin which is not
such a terrible way to begin your studies.

Here are some sources of student feedback:

1) tion/dp/0340957263/ref=sr_1_1?

2)   On the Michel Thomas Fan Forum you may find the thread Mandarin Feedback of interest. There are others
as well. I have posted a lot there in response to queries.

Click on the Fan link on the upper right or the link in the center of the page.

3)   There is also a thread on this site: ID=8027&KW=michel+thomas+mandarin

We all have a lot to learn about what options are available for us to learn languages.

In my wildest imagination I would never have come up with the essential insight and its implementation in
teaching and course design that powers the success behind the Michel Thomas approach. I consider him to be
one of the true geniuses in teaching and learning. He totally changed the way I approach learning anything. For
me, now, learning is pre-MT and post-MT. I invite you to find if this is relevant in your learning as well.

I wish everyone success in your learning.

Very best wishes,

Harold Goodman
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Senior Member
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Speaks: English*
Studies: French, German, Spanish, Mandarin

 Message 11 of 16
20 April 2008 at 5:26pm | IP Logged 
Professor Arguelles, Dr. Goodman,

I am not personally familiar with Michel Thomas, my thoughts come only from the reviews that I have seen here (many by Dr. Goodman) and elsewhere. My reasoning for trying them is the following:

1) I'm still intimidated by Chinese. I thought I might be a bit intimidated with German, but it doesn't take long to see some resemblances with English; but Chinese really is a foreign tongue. Also I still have some of the worries since Chinese is a heritage language for me. I was thinking perhaps a "gentle" method might help get me moving.

2) I'm worried about the tones. I have read on this forum different people's approaches, some also complain about the tones, some people say that if one shadows enough the tones will come. Dr. Goodman has stated MT teaches students to get the tones correct quickly.

3) I want a "practical" method at some point in my learning. I thoroughly enjoy Assimil, but as you state in your video, it isn't a "practical" method, rather it is a "slice of a language". I still think that having a practical set of patterns is useful to have for me to start in conversations. I had Pimsleur with French, I don't regret using it but it is rather pricey for the amount of vocabulary that you obtain. With Spanish, upon the recommendation of fanatic, I bought "Synergy Spanish", which gave me some basic communication patterns that I could draw upon to start talking quickly. I know that Assimil contains a lot more material than that sort of course, but somehow I have trouble organizing it in my mind when I start conversations. I was hoping that MT or something similar might serve to give me practical patterns for Chinese.

Incidentally, how do you handle this when you start a language? Would you suggest that I just memorize "Hello, my name is Lleweilun. How are you? I am 32 years old" etc. (i.e. get a "script" of some basic conversational phrases so I won't be completely lost the first time I visit a language group). Is a tourist phrase book "enough" for you, or can you simply find these patterns in Assimil/Linguaphone etc.? I will face this with German as well, there is a fairly active German conversational group in Toronto which it might be nice to join in half a year or so.

Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement. Best regards,

Lleweilun Smith
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Senior Member
Joined 6016 days ago

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Speaks: German*, English, Russian, Esperanto, Ukrainian, Mandarin, Cantonese, French
Studies: Italian, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Persian, Hungarian, Kazakh, Swahili, Vietnamese, Polish

 Message 12 of 16
20 April 2008 at 6:24pm | IP Logged 
Fascinating discussion...

I suspect that the Prof. considers that an audio course just wouldn't supply the amount of vocab that is needed to master a language. You do these courses and have some understanding of the language but then if you try to read a book, watch the news, say something other than is scripted in the book and you're lost because of a lack of vocab.

For someone that finds Mandarin daunting, they should just download the first few newbie podcasts from - they are free and they really know how to present Chinese in a fun way - while at the same time covering everything.

Apart from that, Beijing University has just released a couple of readers of which they say there will eventually be 60, in 8 different levels. They come with a cd - of the text read-out - audio book style. Fast and slow (though the slow is actually quite brisk). I've been collecting such readers for years and this is the first one that I've come across that I would say is just right for a beginner.

I've memorised 3 1/2 volumes of a 5 volume set of textbooks... So I know a heap of characters and anything not designed for pretty much a beginner is still quite difficult for me. Chinese is fun, definitely possible... just do it! Don't think you have to have a magic method. chinesepod is free and will get you started. Generally I end up spending money on these expensive courses and I find them too boring and clunky.

There's only one way to learn Chinese (or any other language). Make a start! Maybe you'll find the tones really easy. There seem to be two popular misconceptions when it comes to languages

1. Indonesian is easy.
2. Chinese tones are really difficult.

Both of these statements are generally made by people that haven't tried either of these languages.

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United States
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609 posts - 2102 votes 

 Message 13 of 16
20 April 2008 at 8:15pm | IP Logged 
Dr. Goodman,

I am very sorry that you read my advice that a certain kind of student not use a certain kind of course as a critical dismissal of the course itself. I assure you that it was not, and I think this is evident from the last two sentences of my brief note to Mr. Smith. However, I understand how it feels to have one’s work slighted, and I assure you that if I had had any idea that you, the author of the course in question, were likely to read my words—let alone that you were a member of this forum—I would have expressed myself more fully by explaining all that I will attempt to explain now.

First and foremost, I would like for you to know that I respect Michel Thomas and his approach to the degree that I not infrequently recommend his courses to the many acquaintances of acquaintances who are forever being referred to me for direction in getting started with language study. I feel that the type of guidance he gives is exactly what a broad spectrum of learners need, a much broader spectrum of learners than participate in “lessons in Poyglottery.”

Second of all, I would like for you to know that I myself often strongly recommend against using the Korean manual that I co-authored with Professor Kim Jongrok, steering would-be students in the direction of other books in preference to it.

The reason for both of these facts is, of course, that there are different kinds of language learners, and what is suitable for one type of learner is, by virtue of that very fact, unsuitable for another type.

Now, there are many types of learners, but I think that they fall into two broad categories:

Broadly, category A foreign language students:
1.     Are interested in learning a specific target language for a specific reason such as a job offer, career development requirement, travel or study abroad opportunity, romantic interest in someone who speaks it, etc.
2.     Either have no prior experience at all in studying foreign languages or have prior experience that has been dry and fruitless, or – worse yet – perhaps even actually negative and demoralizing.
3.     Are increasingly likely to have been dumbed-down to the degree that they are unable to study effectively by such traditional means as a book containing textual matter.

Broadly, category B foreign language students:
1.     Are interested in foreign languages in general, and in their target language in particular, as an object of study in and of itself and/or for broad cultural reasons.
2.     Have prior foreign language learning experience that was positive and fruitful.
3.     Are still able to understand and profit from written explanations.

Of course, other sub-categories exist as well. For example, Category C foreign language students might be those who have A1 motivation combined with B2 experience and/or B3 ability to study, while category D foreign language students might be those who have B1 motivation combined with A2 experience.

Still, as category A probably comprises 80+% of the population of potential language students, it is natural and understandable that more and more courses should be targeted for them and their needs. Unfortunately, however, this process is leaving category B students with fewer and fewer resources.

Returning to Michel Thomas, he is a great language teacher because he succeeds in teaching languages without homework, drills, memorization, drills, or writing. This is wonderful for those who cannot use books or otherwise do these things. However, if you are truly literate, there is no question that you can learn much more, much better, much faster, if you read, write, memorize, and do homework and drills. Michel Thomas is a great language teacher because he succeeds in alleviating anxiety by guiding gently every step of the way. This is wonderful for those who have fears and other issues with language study. However, if you are not anxious and afraid, then there is nothing more infuriating than to have someone hold your hand in an effort to comfort you.

Michel Thomas is clearly an ideal teacher for those learners accurately described by Category A. Category D learners could also probably profit from him, and, by doing so, perhaps eventually turn into category B learners. However, category C learners could probably make better, faster progress using another type of method, while category B learners would most likely be terribly frustrated by being taught in such a fashion.

This and only this is the point that I was trying to make in my original note to Mr. Smith.

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United Kingdom
Joined 6072 days ago

63 posts - 63 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Spanish

 Message 14 of 16
22 April 2008 at 6:29am | IP Logged 
Dear Professor Arguelles,

I have been reading this discussion with great interest and thought I might add my own comment to answer
some of the questions that others have asked regarding the Michel Thomas method and also in relation to your
response to Dr Goodman.

I agree with your comment that Michel Thomas' method is an excellent starting point for someone who has very
little experience in learning languages. This method sparked my interest in studying languages because it is a
method that stimulates the excitement of learning better than anything else I have discovered. It not only is
exciting to participate (something that can't normally be said of language courses) but one retains the structures
covered. In a matter of hours Michel Thomas managed to teach all of the major grammatical structures of a
European language (he taught French, Spanish, Italian and German personally).

I'm not an expert on how the method works, Dr Goodman (as far as I'm aware) is the only person whom Michel
Thomas taught to understand how he was achieving his fantastic results. However, I can state from my own
experience that at the end of his program (literally a few hours) one is able to express one's own thoughts in
another language. This is faster than any other method of which I am aware. After completing the MT course I
was able to breeze through Assimil Spanish because I already understood the grammatical structures that were
being taught. I used Assimil solely to enhance my vocabulary and pronunciation. I have read about and watched
your excellent videos on shadowing and I'm currently trying to incorporate your approach into my learning

I have completed, last year, the Mandarin Foundation course which Dr Goodman authored. Dr Goodman's
approach to learning is wonderful, he incorporates kinesthetic and visual and auditory cues to assist the learning
of each word with it's associated tone. He immediately removed the anxiety I had about learning Mandarin by
showing how each of the tones worked on English words. I have to rate it as one of the best learning experiences
of my life so far and I have written a more detailed account in my review of that course at

Given that you often recommend Assimil to would-be Polyglots I thought that I might share my experience with
you that by getting a 'birds eye view' of the grammatical structure of a language through the MT approach
before starting with Assimil immensely helped the learning process and retention of the material covered by
Assimil. In this respect, the MT approach may be helpful to those who are already very experienced language
learners. However, I suppose that this may not be necessary for someone who already knows a closely related

I have been reading your posts for a good while now and think that your idea of a Polyglot Academy is
wonderful. Imagine if it were possible to use a teaching methodology as powerful as the MT approach in your
academy. As far as I'm aware there was never any scientific investigation of what he achieved as he was afraid
that his work would be plagiarised. I wondered whether someone of your academic standing in the world of
languages would be interested in researching further how he achieved his results? There is something huge in
this method that merits further investigation.

I wanted to thank you for your posts, I look forward to reading them every Monday morning (I live in the UK) I
always find them interesting and I find your self-discipline and devotion to language learning to be inspirational.
Your new website is wonderful and, as I've written before, I'm very much looking forward to reading your
forthcoming book on Polyglottery.

Kind regards

Stephen Picksley

Edited by Languagelover1 on 22 April 2008 at 9:36am

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Senior Member
United States
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 Message 15 of 16
22 April 2008 at 4:13pm | IP Logged 
I have the transcripts of German, French, Mandarin and Spanish. Of these I found the Mandarin course to be the most beneficial because of a native speaker, explanation of tones, and the ease of the strange grammar. It's pretty much a question-answer format type of study:

1. MT asks a question
2. You pause the machine in order to answer
3. You then listen to the wrong or right answers by the 2 students on the tape
4. At the end you get MT's answer.

If you can already translate the main, perfect, progressive and passive voice constructions from English into your targeted language, then you wouldn't need the Michel Thomas courses. This could be a problem if one doesn't even know some of the past participles in English, thus making it downright hopeless in the aim to construct perfect tenses and the passive voice.

Would it be accurate to say that one could, at least ostensibly, create a MT course by running through a list of translation questions that are related to the main, perfect, progressive and passive voice constructs of English? Naturally, one would add or subtract certain tenses to meet the needs of the targeted language. In Assimil, at least in the German program, the passive voice isn't explained in full until lesson 91, which means studying German for about two and half months without even going into detail about the passive voice.       

Edited by Kugel on 22 April 2008 at 4:46pm

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United States
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 Message 16 of 16
29 July 2008 at 5:14pm | IP Logged 
After reviewing this thread, I've gathered that the criticism is mainly directed at the amount of material covered in any particular Michel Thomas course, not the method. If you get down the meat and potatoes of the course, you'll find that it becomes more and more clear that dubbing each course the 'Michel Thomas Method' is a mistake. One could just as easily call it the 'John Locke Method' because of making simple grammar constructions into complex constructions. There is nothing unique about Michel Thomas's method. Any logical science such as Math or Logic use the same techniques.

What if one could prove that a Michel Thomas styled course could not only teach at a faster rate, but teach more material than the courses that were reviewed in the thread 'language learning series reviews?'   

Edited by Kugel on 29 July 2008 at 10:43pm

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