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Pimsleur vs Michel Thomas: One Is Good – The Other Awful

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Michel Thomas and Pimsleur are two of the most famous language teaching courses available online. They offer courses for learning languages from beginner level upwards but do so using different methods.

While both Pimsleur and Michel Thomas focus on oral language, there are some differences worth noting between the two:

  • Pimsleur’s lessons are much higher in quality, while Michel Thomas’s lessons are lacking in depth.
  • Pimsleur teaches languages up to an intermediate level. Users learning with Michel Thomas will only be able to understand and speak a language at a basic level after completing a course.


Both resources are missing major elements of language learning, but with its poorly thought-out lessons and Michel Thomas’ discouraging tone, I wouldn’t recommend his courses to anyone.

While Pimsleur also overlooks some important areas, it’s fantastic for users looking to focus purely on developing their oral speaking and listening skills.

I would have no problem recommending Pimsleur’s courses to a friend – provided they primarily want to improve their speaking and listening skills.

However, I wouldn’t recommend the Michel Thomas Method to anyone – with one slight caveat. The languages taught by an instructor other than Michel Thomas are almost certainly higher quality, but even then, Language Transfer teaches in a similar manner and is completely free.

What I like about each program:

Pimsleur

  • With a strong focus on oral language, users can develop and practice their speaking skills straight away.
  • Lessons progress smoothly and each lesson reinforces previously learned content in a natural way.
  • The design of the app is colorful and visually appealing, with plenty of beautiful images and engaging cultural notes.

Michel Thomas

  • There’s nothing noteworthy about Michel Thomas that I actually liked.
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What I dislike about each program:

Pimsleur

  • The lessons aren’t the most exciting you’ll find.
  • It feels as if the written element of language learning is included as an afterthought, rather than a main focus of the lessons.
  • The premium plan offers practice activities that could have been put together better.

Michel Thomas

  • Michel Thomas adopts a negative teaching style – offering no praise, often interrupting students, and creating a discouraging learning environment.
  • Lessons are nearly identical, which makes them fairly repetitive and boring to work through.
  • Lessons sometimes feel rushed, and the pacing never seems to be right.

Languages Available

Pimsleur’s courses cover 50 different languages, while Michel Thomas teaches courses in 18 languages.

Michel Thomas’s courses cover the more popular languages: Arabic (Egyptian), Arabic (Modern Standard), Dutch, French, Greek, German, Hindi, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish

Pimsleur’s range of languages is a little more interesting. Users can learn the more standard French, German, Italian and Spanish, or the more unique Lithuanian, Tagalog, Twi, and Urdu.

Cost

After releasing a new, better-designed app in 2018, Pimsleur added a much more reasonably priced subscription model to its website. While Pimsleur’s old prices cost as much as $550 for five levels, the new model is much improved in value for money.

A basic subscription to Pimsleur costs $14.95 per month on a monthly basis. A premium subscription costs slightly more at $19.95 per month. Pimsleur also offers a 7-day free trial.

Michel Thomas offers several different courses, with prices ranging from $11.99 to $100. You can also sign up for a free trial lesson in your chosen language once you create an account on the website.

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How languages are taught with Pimsleur

Pimsleur cultural information example

Pimsleur’s courses differ in length depending on the language you’re learning. If you’re learning a popular language, it will usually have 5 levels. Less-popular courses may have fewer levels.

Each level consists of 30 lessons at a 30-minute completion length. You’re supposed to complete one lesson per day, which means that if you follow the structure properly, you’ll be able to complete a full course from daily practice after five months.

One thing that’s notable about Pimsleur is its lack of grammar-focused content. The resource features oral language far more heavily, making it a good tool for users looking to work specifically on their speaking and listening skills.

Lessons are conversational, using a narrator to set the scene. This helps you to imagine yourself in a situation, which makes it easier to remember the material you’re learning.

You won’t just repeat words and phrases – lessons are designed to make you produce the language. By using an English speaking narrator alongside a native-speaking man and a woman, you can model your speech off a person who is the same gender as yourself.

Lessons build up incredibly well, and each new lesson begins with a recap of topics covered previously. You’ll be given quite a lot of cultural information relating to the language you’re learning, which is unlikely to help you much with the language, but acts as a motivator for learning.

Read our full review of Pimsleur.

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How languages are taught with Michel Thomas

We reviewed the Michel Thomas French Foundation course, so I can only speak for that one in this review. The course consists of eight hours of audio lessons, primarily teaching you to speak and listen to the language. You’ll also pick up a few very basic reading skills from the lesson notes that are attached.

The course is designed for complete beginners and aims to naturally develop your pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary skills without the need for studying, writing or memorizing. The idea is for you to learn a language just by listening to it and speaking it aloud.

The structure of each lesson is the same, with a teacher instructing two beginner students French. The students reply with correct and incorrect answers, helping you to learn along the way. Lessons last between 5 and 10 minutes.

Because the course mostly consists of audio lessons, you won’t get a chance to work on your reading and writing, and there are no lessons that just focus on grammar or vocabulary.

Michel Thomas’ teaching is often quite negative and lacks encouragement, which is off-putting in a language learning situation. He often interrupts his students to correct them, rather than letting them work out the correct answer themselves. The students are hurried to answer the questions, which makes the lessons feel quite rushed.

It becomes quite unpleasant to listen to Michel Thomas’ frustration with his students when someone gets an answer wrong, and it doesn’t match up to what he says at the course introduction about how it’s the teacher’s fault if a student doesn’t learn the language.

Not all courses are taught by Michel Thomas, so it’s possible that those without his teaching are more valuable to a user. Before paying for Michel Thomas, be sure to check out Language Transfer, as those courses are better and also free.

Read our full review of Michel Thomas. 

Visit Michel Thomas

 

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Final thoughts

Overall, both courses are quite clearly lacking in terms of grammar, reading, and writing, but at least Pimsleur teaches oral language very well. If you’re looking to learn a full range of language skills, Pimsleur won’t offer enough for well-rounded progression.

I’d find it hard to recommend Michel Thomas in any situation. His teaching style creates a poor learning environment for total beginners to a language and doesn’t offer much encouragement. If it were just between Michel Thomas and Pimsleur, I’d choose Pimsleur hands-down.

If neither of these courses sounds quite right for you, then I’d definitely suggest considering some other options – there are plenty of good courses out there. Take a look at the table below for our top recommendations based on the language you’d prefer to learn.

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Comments (1)

I’m blown away that you found Michel Thomas’ method so lacking. I felt with his course on Spanish (I have the French as well but haven’t gotten too deep in it yet) was very good. I took spanish all through high school and felt I had a pretty good (at least enough) grasp of it for travel etc. found the MT method incredible on getting me back up to speed and then some. Spent time in Spain and really found his teaching so useful in daily conversations and asking people for help, etc.

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