Thank you Uncle Michel
At the age of 48 I’m relearning French. Its one thing enjoying the holidays, swotting up with the phrasebook before going and then stumbling by when you’re there. I want to sit drinking Ricard with the locals – baguette under my arm and shrugging vigorously.
Step forward Michel Thomas with his tried and tested method for learning from CDs. I too was cynical about the idea; I’ve come across a lot of similar leaflets which have fallen out of Sunday newspapers.
I went for the Advanced Course because I thought my O Level and holiday practice could do with challenging a little and Michel won me over in the first few minutes. Firstly he has a voice like a 60-year old lifelong smoker who has downed a jar of honey – I felt safe with my new-found Uncle. Secondly he told me to not try and remember anything and that it was his job to make me remember…brilliant, I can do that!
From then on, the biggest aid was a mute button on the steering wheel to stop the CD and give me thinking time. The structure is listening to Michel teaching two students who are at my kind of standard and make mistakes occasionally. This is a great format. Most of the first three CDs are made up of very short topic introductions followed by lots of translation exercises – it is massively interactive but the increments of knowledge seem very small but with lots of practice. The process is actually fun – especially with some of the convoluted sentences Michel wants you to translate. Michel is a great teacher with fantastic knowledge of grammar and the origin of French and English words. In the CDs he actually goes through 19 verb tenses – the emphasis is very much on verbs. He achieves this by simplifying through Three Golden Keys and some ways of remembering exceptions – “they are coming from Vienna!” The principle of not remembering things means that each time you go through the CDs new layers come out of them – things you didn’t pick up on first time around. The fourth CD is a rapidfire set of translation questions from Michel which summarise the whole package and works really well for me as a way of testing progress.
The best thing about the package is that there are lots of things that you pick up the second and third time around. I really can feel it sinking in now and the real test is when it comes to reading French newspapers and books (I still can’t function quickly enough to follow TV or radio). I can make sense of most texts and, importantly, at a grammatical level…I know a verb and a tense when I see one – I know who did it, when they did it and who they did it to but maybe not what it is.
I don’t know how my new-found knowledge will stand up to my next holiday but I feel a lot more confident and I’m enjoying the journey.