Before working my way through the French foundation course, I had never tried a Michel Thomas course despite hearing so much about it.
While one of my close friends swears by them and has learned Portuguese, Japanese and Russian to an impressive level through them, I had seen lots of reviews and online commentators questioning the famous linguist’s language teaching methods and just how useful his courses were.
As such, I was very intrigued to see what they were like as I had heard conflicting views on whether they were worth checking out.
For this review, I tried the Michel Thomas French Foundation course. As such, I can only give my opinion on this course and not the other courses and language available.
The French Foundation course is aimed at absolute beginners and the aim is that through following the audio lessons you will come away speaking and understanding basic French.
The teaching method is meant to be very engaging and although it deliberately doesn’t focus on grammar or vocabulary, you should learn the structure and basic building blocks of the language in a very natural and intuitive manner. This is all in theory, however.
As there is hardly any reading or writing element involved, you would certainly have to invest in maybe a textbook or two and as you don’t practice having conversations you would also need to find someone to talk to.
Having tried out Language Transfer’s free online courses which I thought were fantastic, I was even more interested in trying out the more expensive Michel Thomas course as both resources follow a similar approach. As such, much of this review directly compares the two courses together.
As you’ll see, I, unfortunately, found the Michel Thomas course to be absolutely terrible and as such, I wouldn’t recommend it at all.
There are too many negatives to list here and it really only strengthened my belief that the Language Transfer course is a language learning platform that is well worth checking out.
I can however only speak for the Michel Thomas French foundation course as that’s the one I tested out for this review. It seems like you may have better luck with the courses that aren’t taught by Michel Thomas himself.Let’s take a look at what it was like to use this course…
The Michel Thomas French foundation course has eight hours of audio lessons for you to work through and while these focus primarily on teaching you how to listen and speak the language, you’ll also pick up some very basic reading and writing skills through the notes that are attached to each lesson.
Designed for complete beginners, the course aims to teach you French pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary in a natural way without you having to study, memorize or write anything down. All in all, there are 80 lessons for you to work through and they slowly progress in difficulty.
The idea behind the Michel Thomas courses is that you learn your language of choice naturally, by listening to it and speaking it right from your very first lesson.
Whereas some other courses may have you memorize grammar points, verbs, and conjugations, this method breaks down the language into building blocks which you then learn how to use without even realizing it.
The lessons build on one another and the idea is that you pause the audios for as long or as often as you need so that you can think about your response and answer the teacher’s questions, actively forming your answer rather than reflexively offering up a memorized response.
The structure of the lessons is all the same as the audios feature a teacher asking and teaching two beginner students French.
When the students reply, you get to hear their correct and incorrect answers, learning from their mistakes and answers as you go.
By having two beginner students answer his questions, Michel Thomas also aims to prove the effectiveness of the course as in theory you should see them develop their language skills as they progress through the lessons. The lessons are very short and to the point at around five to ten minutes in length each.
As the whole French foundation course is made up of audio lessons, there aren’t any reading or writing exercises for you to do and it doesn’t have lessons that simply focus on grammar or vocabulary points. Indeed each lesson works through a wide range of material in a natural way that teaches you the structure and building blocks of the language.
By constantly being asked questions, you really have to engage and focus on the material and so it is crucial that you pay attention as you otherwise won’t make the most of it. While there aren’t really any exercises for you to do like on other language learning platforms, the method itself should help you engage with and retain the information in a more natural way.
In all of the above, the Michel Thomas Method is almost identical to that of Language Transfer which I thought was very effective and well-designed. Let’s see how they both compare.
After having gained access to and downloaded the audio files, you’re good to go as there are no preferences or settings for you to choose from. This is because it is a foundation course that is aimed at complete beginners and so all you need to do is start from the first lesson and slowly work your way through the course.
Once you have listened to the first introductory lesson in which Michel Thomas gives you pointers and tips on how to make the most of the material, you can move on to the second lesson which gives you a brief overview of the French language.
It is very interesting hearing him look at the similarities between French and English and he does this to allay any fears that you have about learning the language.
After ruminating over how words like ‘possible’ and ‘comfortable’ are the same in both languages, he abruptly asks the two students how you would say or pronounce these words in French, correcting them if they mispronounce them at all.
He then dissects the French saying ‘c’est la vie’ which is commonly used in English, breaking it down into ‘it is’ or ‘that is’ – ‘c’est’ – and ‘la vie’ – ‘life’. This then means that the students will now know how to say ‘it’s possible’ and they respond accordingly with what they’ve already learned in the lesson.
Over the rest of the lesson he adds in small phrases and words so towards the end of the ten minutes the students are already able to say ‘it is not very comfortable for me’ – quite a complicated sentence for a beginner.
While this was admittedly just the first lesson, I unfortunately already had some issues with it and Michel Thomas’ delivery rankled with me quite a bit, especially in comparison with Mihalis, the creator of Language Transfer’s courses.
While Mihalis is very soft-spoken and encouraging, Michel Thomas’ French accent was quite jarring to me and hearing him gargle the end of ‘comfortarghbleee’ was quite repulsive and the stuff of nightmares.
He also interrupts his students a couple of times to correct them rather than giving them time to work through their thoughts and he doesn’t once tell them ‘well done’ or encourages them, something which Mihalis does constantly.
In addition to this, whenever he asks a question there is, unfortunately, a very loud and jarring beep which is the signal for you to pause the audio and give your own reply before you hear those of the students. I found it to be very offputting and invasive and at times it comes up almost every second as he shoots off a flurry of questions at the students.
The pacing also felt off to me as it felt that the students were hurried to their answers and this gave the lesson a rushed feel to it.
While this first lesson didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm for the rest of the course, there were some positives as the students did seem to take to the material quite quickly and despite my criticisms, they shared a laugh with Michel Thomas at one point.
Anyway, let’s take a look at what some of the later material looks like.
The second lesson of the course, unfortunately, gets off to a bad start as after explaining the expression ‘comme ci, comme ca’, Michel Thomas gets frustrated and annoyed at his student, let’s out a disappointed ‘no!’ and chastises them for guessing the answer.
After this, the atmosphere sounds a bit tense and the students seem a bit nervous, not wanting to annoy him or get anything wrong. Just a minute later he again tells them not to guess the answer and funnily enough, he then teaches them how to apologize in French, getting them to repeat it multiple times.
The phrase he teaches them (‘je regrette’), however, is not nowadays used in contemporary French.
The lesson doesn’t get any better and he has to ask questions multiple times and often doesn’t give his students enough time to answer.
He also has to correct his students’ mispronunciations numerous times (admittedly one of them continuously butchers simple words) and doesn’t once offer up a single word of encouragement.
All in all, it is an absolute trainwreck of a lesson and I’m amazed that this was allowed to see the light of day!
It made me stressed just listening to it and I felt very sorry for the students as it wasn’t a nice environment at all in which to learn a language. At just five minutes in length, this lesson really made me question why the Michel Thomas courses are so renowned.
After the next lesson started in the same vein with Michel Thomas again interrupting his student and telling them not to rush to answer the question (despite him often butting in whenever they take a pause to reply), I decided to skip ahead in the hope that things improved and that his students weren’t completely cowed by his apparently slightly combative approach to teaching.
Before moving on however I, unfortunately, heard him correct his student’s pronunciation of ‘necessaire’ (which seemed fine to me), adding a horrible rattling ‘AIREEEE’ to the end of the word.
While I realize it is an over-pronunciation of the word so that they can hear how to say it better, having grown up in a French-speaking country I have never heard it pronounced more horribly. On the upside, this lesson seemed to do away with the awful beep that accompanied any questions he asked the students.
Having checked out a few of the middle lessons, things don’t get any better and you can really hear the anger in Michel Thomas’ voice when the female student mistakes ‘elle arrive’ with ‘elle est arrivee’.
It is really unpleasant to hear how he corrects her and it really goes against what he says in the introduction that it’s the teacher’s fault if you don’t learn the language.
Indeed at times students reply in a whisper, unsure as to whether they’ve got the answer right or wrong (and they get it wrong quite often) and Michel Thomas often seems incredulous when they actually do get the answer right.
This is in stark contrast to the Language Transfer where students really do learn the structure of the language and progress quite quickly in an encouraging and friendly environment. Indeed whereas the Michel Thomas students seem to be clutching at straws quite often, Mihalis’ Language Transfer students can calmly and confidently reply without fear, almost certain that they’ve got the right answer.
Some of Michel Thomas’ explanations also seem a bit hard to follow and even late on in the course students seem confused about some of the material that they’ve covered.
Them hesitatingly asking him about things they’re not sure about is cringy and you can really tell that they’re worried about annoying him and there’s a lot of nervous laughing when he demands that they give a correct answer louder.
His abrasive manner and garbled explanations really don’t help the lessons flow or the students retain the material.
Indeed, after seventy lessons, the two students in the class struggle to remember how to say ‘I want’ and for me this is a damning indictment.
If after all this time the students can’t remember or produce something so simple then I really don’t think that this Michel Thomas French Foundation course is worth following or even trying out as the students have apparently learned next to nothing.
You can see this through every lesson as they struggle to answer his questions and I’m almost certain that his aggressive, impatient and discouraging manner of teaching has contributed to them doing so poorly.
At times however the two students do show that they are capable of constructing quite complex sentences but the stuttering and slow responses they give indicate that they are not very confident in replicating what they’ve learned.
For learners pausing the audios, this means that you might be able to get something from the course although I personally found the audios and lessons to be very offputting for all of the reasons mentioned above.
As you may have been able to tell, I didn’t enjoy working through the French Foundation lessons at all and I came away quite skeptical as to whether the teaching method worked.
This, however, may have been due to Michel Thomas’ terrible delivery which I found very hard to look past.
Perhaps the courses that aren’t directly taught by Michel Thomas will be more usable. I absolutely hated his teaching style, so they really couldn’t be much worse.
Other shortcomings are the fact that you don’t learn how to read, write, learn anything about the culture or learn how to hold a conversation as you learn words and phrases in isolation from their context.
In addition to all of this, the lessons are conducted almost entirely in English and do get quite monotonous to work through as they are all so familiar and there are no exercises for you to work through other than answering Michel Thomas’ questions.
While Language Transfer does have all of the same shortcomings, Mihalis does at least go into greater depth with his explanations about how language works and the lessons are actually pleasant to work through!
In addition to this, you also get to see the students progress and actually learn in an effective manner which indicates that anyone working through the lessons can do likewise. Another convincing argument is that they’re free and won’t set you back $100!
As you can see, you would certainly have to use the Michel Thomas French Foundation course alongside a textbook or two and also arrange to practice speaking with someone from time to time.
In all honesty, I really don’t think that the Michel Thomas course is worth working through and not only would I not use it if it was free, I think I’d have to be paid to go through it as it was that painful to listen to.
While I certainly can’t recommend the Michel Thomas French Foundation course for all of the reasons we have gone over, I do however trust my friend’s opinion and having witnessed his language skills myself, I wouldn’t rule out the Portuguese, Japanese and Russian courses which he recommends.
This, however, is because Michel Thomas doesn’t teach them himself and this is undoubtedly a good thing as he almost certainly the worst language teacher I have ever come across – really, it was that bad.
Plans and Prices
If you want to try out the Michel Thomas French Foundation course yourself, there is a free lesson which you can try out on the website.
To gain access to this lesson you need to create an account on the Michel Thomas website and then you should be good to go. Otherwise, the whole course will set you back $100 and this then gains you access to the audio lessons for life as you can download them and store them where you like.
There are a number of other French courses on the Michel Thomas website for you to try out with the one hour digital taster course costing $11.99, Language Builder French costing $50 and Intermediate French costing $90.
In addition to this, there is also the French Vocabulary Builder course for you to try out which costs $75 and the Insider’s French course which also costs $75.
As you can see there are quite a number of courses to choose from just for French and this is the same for all of the other seventeen languages that are available on the Michel Thomas website although I couldn’t possibly comment on whether they’re any good or not.
For the French Foundation course, however, I can definitely say that it is to be avoided and that you are much better off spending your money elsewhere. Indeed, in my opinion, the lessons aren’t worth following even if they were free as the delivery method of the teacher is so poor.
Well, I’m sorry for the scathing review!
Although I was open to liking the Michel Thomas course based on my friend’s opinion and impressive language skills, I have to say that the French Foundation course is one of the worst ones I have ever worked through.
This is in large part due to the ridiculously bad teaching on the part of Michel Thomas and I’m frankly shocked that he managed to build such a massive and influential language teaching empire.
His aggressive, impatient and discouraging manner severely impacts the effectiveness of what he is teaching and I genuinely felt really bad for the students as he drains the confidence and desire to speak French from them.
As such I would only recommend trying out the French Foundation course if you want an amazing case study on how not to teach a language.