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The Spanish Language Builder is intended as a follow-on to Michel Thomas's initial eight-hour course as well as his advanced course in Spanish. It comprises two hour-long CDs and, unlike the beginners' course, this time there is a thirty-two page booklet, pages 9 to 28 of which actually list expressions in Spanish. The aim of the Language Builder is to increase your vocabulary and boost your confidence in conversation.
Having an interest in learning foreign languages and having learned some Spanish in the past, I thought the Language Builder would be a good way of picking up my Spanish again. I know quite a few people who have found Michel Thomas's French beginners' course useful but perhaps not sufficient as a stand-alone method of language learning. I don't hide the fact that I am very sceptical of learning any language without writing it down or having a text book to refer to, so I was encouraged to find that there was at least a small booklet provided with the Language Builder.
I think some people found the inclusion of the two students quite annoying on the beginners' CDs, especially as one of them is progressing well whilst the other is finding things hard going. There are no such students on the Language Builder CDs, just Michel Thomas himself. Again, most people are not keen on listening to the way he speaks as he seems to have a problem with dentures, so you have to be able to get over that irritation. I wouldn't say he is the best person to go by for pronunciation, as it would almost certainly have to be a good native speaker, and I haven't been wholly satisfied with his pronunciation of French.
The idea is to listen to the CDs and press the pause button after Michel has said a phrase or sentence in English to see if you can say it in Spanish. You then listen to check whether or not you were correct. I initially found it helpful just to listen to the CDs all the way through to refresh my mind, and you can of course be doing chores around the house at the same time.
Michel Thomas's whole philosophy of language learning centres on relaxing and not memorising, which is the exact opposite of the way I learned French and Spanish at school. For it to be successful, I think it would be necessary to listen to the CDs again and again, until the expressions just 'sink in'. Of course you don't have to listen to a CD all the way through: you could listen to just one track and repeat it until you feel confident.
Listening to the Language Builder is a little like being bombarded with new words and phrases. Michel Thomas moves very quickly from one thing to another, although he does later go back and pick up previously mentioned phrases again and use them in a slightly different way. For example, within a short space of time he introduces the following:
'I think he's going to be there this afternoon. But we will see/we are going to see.
It will not be possible to do it that way.
She is sure - Are you sure? Surely. Of course I'm sure.
Look, it's on the table. Will you/Could you put it under the table?
One must not buy it because it's too expensive. (It is not necessary to buy it...)'
I do like the way that he builds sentences up gradually, for instance:
It will be possible.
It will not be possible.
It will not be possible to do it.
It will not be possible to do it that way.
I still feel, however, that too many different ideas are condensed into a short space of time.
As far as grammar is concerned, and particularly verb tenses, there is quite a lot of focus on the use of 'going to' for the future, as well as 'will', and a mention that the present tense can be used for the future in some cases. CD 2 introduces sentences using 'was going to', but other than that the only verb given in the past tense is 'knew', which I find a little strange. I was expecting more practice of the past tense towards the end, but instead Michel reverts to the present and phrases such as 'Can you tell me where I can find a good restaurant?'
Some other useful grammatical concepts are included on CD 2, such as how to say 'I have just.....', as well as 'I have been waiting for ten minutes', which is expressed by the present tense in Spanish.
The Language Builder states that it will increase your vocabulary, but this is really in terms of generalised or abstract expressions such as 'I need certain information' or 'I didn't know you were going to be here.' It certainly does not have vocabulary lists of, for example, food, clothes, furniture, colours, numbers and so on. These are easily found in a dictionary, of course, but there are people who might find it difficult pronouncing them. I think this is part of the reason why Michel Thomas's courses don't quite work as a stand-alone method.
One weak point for me here is that everything is spoken in English first and then in Spanish. There is no opportunity to listen to something being said in Spanish and trying to work out what it means.
I think on the whole that the Language Builder would be useful for increasing confidence. If you have an MP3 player it could be worth listening to on long journeys, and as I mentioned, the CDs can be playing while you are pottering around at home. It is likely that you would need at least a Spanish dictionary as well, if not a course book, to fill in particular vocabulary fields.
The Spanish Language Builder normally sells at £20.00. I bought my copy on Amazon for £9.99, which I do think is good value.