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I'm now in my final year at university and the pressure on my Spanish and German proficiency is building, as I'm expected to be basically fluent in only a few months time. While these languages are therefore my priority at the moment, I have also tried to learn several other languages as well. After being introduced to the Michel Thomas method I fell in love with it and found it to be a wonderful way to improve languages or learn them from scratch. I found the French Advanced course to be very helpful while doing a Higher equivalence class in my second year and have also used it since then to improve my competence in the language.
I wrote a review of the Italian Foundation course a few months ago, in which I included a brief history and description of Michel Thomas and his method, which I will include below as well. Although it has appeared in a previous review it is still my own work and so my inclusion of it here is not plagiarism or copying.
== Michel Thomas ==
Michel Thomas (1914-2005) was born in Poland but moved to Vienna as a young adult, where the Nazi annexing of Austria in 1938 left him in dire straits as a Jew. His life during WWII was a terrible yet fascinating one, including him joining the French Resistance, and he survived many terrible war experiences largely by 'unearth[ing] the untapped potential of the human mind' (Michelthomas.com) as well as for his natural talent for languages. After the war he moved to the United States and in 1947 set up his own language centre in Los Angeles. He spent many decades teaching languages to the rich and famous before finally making his teaching available to the public in the form of these audio recordings.
=== The Michel Thomas Method ===
Michel Thomas's approach to language learning and teaching is very different to that which you will have experienced either at school or with other language materials. His mantra is 'what you understand, you know, and what you know, you don't forget'. Through these CDs he teaches you 'without memorising, without learning by rote, without drill, without textbooks, without taking notes and without homework'. This is good news for anyone who had trouble learning a language at school and who believes that they're simply not cut out for learning foreign languages, as the method is completely different, and works best when you're relaxed and let go of any anxiety that you associate with traditional learning.
His two main 'ground rules' are 1) "not to worry about remembering, and therefore never to try to remember, because the responsibility for your remembering is in the teaching, and not with the learner", so there's no homework or even mental homework, and it is important to let the teaching be absorbed and internalised and not to try to remember actively; 2) participate with the recording, and when Michel asks 'how do you say....?' in the language, you pause the tape to consider your answer and then respond out loud before pressing play again. Through this method you find a 'constant sense of progression and a constant sense of learning that you will find exciting, stimulating and self-rewarding'.
== Michel Thomas French Advanced ==
The French Advanced course is meant to follow on from the Foundation course, but can also be used by people with a previous knowledge of the language, which is how I came to it. It assumes a basic to intermediate knowledge of French, but as it only focuses on the spoken language, you needn't worry about your spelling or anything to be able to use this CD course. While the Foundation course was eight hours long this Advanced course has a duration of only four.
As with all the other Michel Thomas method courses, the teacher is accompanied by two students, with you the listener taking the place of the third student in the group. The teacher, Michel Thomas, improves your knowledge of and ability to speak French by asking you to form phrases and sentences based on words and grammar he has already taught you. The idea is that you remember words and how to put sentences together due to practising the things that he asks you to say. The two students on the recording also answer the questions and are corrected if they make mistakes, which will hopefully help to iron out any mistakes that you are also making in your production.
People who are not au fait with language learning and who panic at the mere mention of grammatical terms such as 'adverb' and 'imperfect tense' will be happy relieved to hear that they are not used here. Michel coins his own phrases to describe different parts of speech and grammar in order to make things simpler and less stressful for those people whom found these terms confusing or off-putting. While I am a language student and so am perfectly happy with the use of the proper words, I also appreciate why this is a good idea considering that many non-language people will use these courses for language learning.
The French Advanced course was one of the few CD courses that Michel Thomas appeared on himself, along with French Foundation and the Foundation and Advanced courses for Spanish, German and Italian. There are many other languages now available as part of the Michel Thomas method but these are recorded suing different teachers as they were made after Michel's death in 2005
== My Experience ==
I found that this French Advanced course was a great tool for improving and practising my French. Despite the fact that I had done GCSE level at school and was undertaking a course equivalent to a Scottish Higher, and that the Michel Thomas advanced course only assumes that you have done the eight hour foundation, I found that there were a few things contained in this course which I did not know and it did help to consolidate the things that I already did know.
Over the four hour long CDs of this course, Michel Thomas goes over the present tense as well as introducing the future (will) and conditional (would) tenses. While I already knew these tenses, this course really helped to get it into my head and make my production of it much more spontaneous. That really is one of the greatest benefits of the Michel Thomas method - it gets things into your head and makes your production of the language much more natural with less deliberate thought. I found that after using this course it was much easier to bring French words to mind and to use proper grammatical constructions effortlessly.
=== Problems With The Course ===
Despite the French Advanced course being a very good tool for improving your French, it is not without its faults. The first one is that Michel insists that when the negative 'ne' is used in French, it only be pronounced as 'n' with the vowel missed out completely. On checking with my friend who is nearly fluent in French, she confirmed that it is fine if not better to pronounce 'ne' in full in formal French. This meant that he corrected one of the students for pronouncing 'je ne' with both the vowels and insisted that they should run together and be more like 'jen' (or 'zhun'), whereas this isn't necessarily the case in French. I found it was weird that Michel Thomas corrected the student for using what is actually correct French and this could be confusing for the listener.
Another thing which is not perfect with the course is that it only teaches you the spoken language, with little to no attention given to the written form of the language at all. This could mean that your spoken production of French is pretty good after using these CDs, but that your reading and writing in French can be almost non-existent. If you already have experience with the written language then this is not a problem, but if you use the Foundation course and then go straight on to the Advanced course without any study on our own, you will not be able to read or write any French at all and spelling could be confusing for you.
Another caveat is that while this course is brilliant for grammar and putting sentences together naturally, it will not particularly help you to build a large vocabulary. Since grammar is more important, however, this isn't particularly a problem: you can learn vocabulary much more easily on your own, but it's best to have a teacher when it comes to how to construct the language.
== In Conclusion ==
I found this French Advanced Course to be a brilliant resource in improving my French and I will continue to use it. Since I plan on trying to learn to speak French well enough to be able to translate (and, hopefully one day, interpret) from it, I will have to do a lot of work and use more resources than this CD set, I will probably use it as a first port of call for getting the language back into my head. Michel Thomas courses are also great to listen to while you're going to sleep, especially if you often have trouble getting off to sleep as I do, as the soothing voice often acts as a lullaby and sends me off. On top of that, while you're waiting for sleep, you're learning.
The Michel Thomas courses have recently been repackaged and so the Advanced course on its own is now harder to come by. It can be bought 'used' on Amazon for around £50 in this form, but can also now be found as part of the 'Perfect' box, which costs £39.95. 'Perfect' also includes some more material previously available as part of the 'Vocabulary Course', which I have not used and cannot comment on, but would say that it is worth paying this price for the Advanced course contents alone. If you have used the Foundation (or now 'Total') course or have previous knowledge of French, this is a great resource for improving it painlessly. I would highly recommend it to any of you with the desire to speak French naturally and effortlessly.
[ The Product ]
Today I'll be reviewing the Michel Thomas French Advanced Course. The course is advertised for £50 on the UK Michel Thomas site - although it can be bought much more cheaply elsewhere - and consists of 4CDs comprising 5 hours of intensive advanced French.
The above site states that the course is "primarily designed for anyone who has completed Michels French Foundation Course. It is also appropriate for those who have studied French before, but have forgotten much of it or do not have confidence in speaking.". It also claims the following:
"By the end of the Advanced Course, you will be able to:
Communicate in a wide variety of situations
Form complex and sophisticated sentences
Use A-Level equivalent phrases and structures and have a natural grasp of the language and entire verb system. "
Not bad, eh? Well, let's see if it lives up to this promise.
[ Course Format ]
The format of the product will be familiar to anyone who has completed the foundation course - you're essentially 'listening in' on Michel Thomas giving tuition to two students of the language. This took me by surprise, as I was expecting Michel Thomas to be addressing the listener directly. However, the format quickly grew on me; for those who have learnt French in a school or college class, having other students present gives the course a familiar feel, as though you're sitting with other students again. Even for those who haven't learnt a language in a class before, the format has the advantage of allowing the listener to compare themselves to the students on the recording, who - like themself - will often make mistakes. I feel this is important, as it shows the student that they're not alone in making mistakes and struggling at times. Of course, it also means that they can learn from the mistakes of the recorded students, which is a major advantage of learning in a class. Finally, it sets a pace for the student to follow. Whether they're learning slower or faster than the recorded students, I think that having this pace does give the student some much-needed extra motivation.
One reservation I do have regarding the course is that it leaves little time between questions being asked and the recorded student answering, as it assumes that you will pause your CD / MP3 player every time. However, I use this course while doing other things - in the car, on a bike, on the train - so I rarely am able to stop the course each time to answer. This means I am forced to answer the questions in the short few seconds between the question being asked and the recorded students thinking up the answer. On the one hand, this is great because it forces you to think quickly and instinctively as you would need to in conversation; however, for those whose fluency is less developed, this can be a real problem.
[ Course Content ]
The content of the course pleasantly surprised me, as it largely focuses on grammar rather than vocabulary. At my college, speaking in French classes tends to revolve around vocabulary; having to be able to discuss a range of subjects such as the environment and French culture means that speaking is used to build and use vocabulary rather than focus on strengthening use of French grammar. However, this course is quite the opposite: Michel Thomas devotes virtually the entire course to grammar, and the range covered is impressive. Everything an A-level student needs is covered, including all the tenses, reflexive verbs, and fairly complex grammatical constructs. In fact, I would say that the entirety of AS-level grammar is covered in just the 5 hours of this course, which is quite an achievement on the part of Michel Thomas. The way in which he explains how to pronounce the tenses is also very impressive, and has made clear some concepts I have had trouble comprehending for months. However, it should be noted that you are very, very unlikely to be able to suddenly speak in all the tenses by just listening to the course once through; I'd have thought you'd need to listen to some parts several times before they really start making sense, and several more times to know the correct usage without having to think twice. To consolidate your understanding of the tenses, though, I have yet to come across a better course.
The course is also good in its teaching of pronunciation. Michel Thomas, despite being a Polish-born American himself, is very picky on the two students' pronunciation, which encourages very accurate, authentic pronunciation. He particularly focuses on capturing the pronunciation used in common French conversation, making full use of contractions and barely-pronounced words. This was one of the most interesting aspects of the course for me, and I do feel my pronunciation has considerably improved as a result of his criticism of the students' accents.
[ Course Application ]
It's important to note how this course can and should be used. First, since it has no written or reading components, it really can't be considered a complete course for learning French. If you are learning French for the sake of conversation with the French, this is a fairly comprehensive course, but if you get stuck trying to read anything, this course won't have prepared you very well. It also won't help much for pronunciation of new words - for instance, those on a restaurant menu - so you may be less prepared than you think. Certainly, then, a good-quality reading & writing course book is an essential purchase to complement the audio course.
This course alone can be used at almost any time, as the CD's are divided into short tracks that can be easily completed in less than 15 minutes each. Personally, I use them while the adverts are on during a television programme, or whenever I get a spare few minutes and want to work on my French. Given that you need to say the answers out loud for best results, it's not especially suitable for use in a library or other quiet places, and you might get funny looks talking in French down the street, but in general you shouldn't have any problems finding time to get some French in. Bear in mind, however, that learning new grammar takes serious concentration, and you'll likely need to devote time to it for best results.
[ Cost ]
The course costs around £50 on the UK Michel Thomas, but can be picked up on eBay far more cheaply - often for less than £20. Compared with the cost of personal tutoring, this seems good value.
[ Conclusion ]
Michel Thomas' Advanced French Course is a high-quality, comprehensive course for both learning and strengthening grammar to the standard of A-level, whose promise of results without homework or memorisation certainly does seem to be fulfilled. Despite minor shortcomings, it provides an attractive alternative to learning grammar exclusively from grammar books, and will go a long way to boost the confidence of many students in their command of advanced French grammar.