Saturday, February 13, 2010

Michel Thomas - Can he still be your teacher?

I'm about halfway through the my Michel Thomas Italian review, and have noticed a few things. For one thing, he doesn't irritate me nearly as much as he used to. I remember the first time I did the Spanish course, his "push down on the PREsent tense" and "hit the ending" on the future about drove me batty. Ten years later, and with a sense that I still wasn't always stressing the right syllable, I understood what he was doing. I'm finding the same thing with the Italian course: It's the things that before I wished he'd let go and move on from that are still weak points for me - my brain knows but my mouth can't keep up - and I'm glad for the practice. Likewise, his tracks for verbs and other stuff like that, useful when you're learning, are fantastic when you're reviewing a language you'd just been mumbling along in for a few years. So in this sense, Michel Thomas is still a valuable teacher for me. But there's another sense too...

In my last post, on Assimil-ating a language, I mentioned that I was working through a Uighur text. I mentioned there that memory tricks are good for making language comprehensible in the short term, but that what I don't actually make use of I lose. I think this is part of the thing with Michel Thomas - the trick allows you to remember while he's teaching you, but it's the drilling that allows you to remember and automatically produce later. There's another thing I mentioned, though, that ties into this: Thomas' observation that what you understand, you know, and what you know you don't forget. I think there's more to this than I realized.

Since I've been studying Uighur, I decided to review my Uzbek a little bit. However, reviewing my Uzbek while doing a Michel Thomas course has me thinking in a different way than usual. Specifically, I've found myself asking, How would Michel Thomas teach this? It's given me some useful stuff. The present tense endings are almost identical to the pronouns; ditto for the "to be" suffixes:

I come : Men kelaman
I am American : Men Amerikalikman

But what's more, the past tense endings are very similar to the possessive suffixes:

My book : Kitobim
I came : Men keldim

So Michel Thomas might say that "You are what you do and you do what you are - the pronouns, the present tense endings and the endings for 'to be' are almost the same." But then, and this is the place where a thought popped into my brain and I thought Thomas had possessed me: "What you have done, you own, so to make the past, add a 'd' for done, then the possessive ending."

I don't know whether looking at the examples will be enough for it to make sense to readers who don't know anything about Turkic languages, but trust me, the way they go together it would be sweet to see Michel Thomas style courses for them. Unfortunately, Thomas is gone, his heirs haven't always measured up and Hodder and Stoughton isn't planning to make any more courses. But that doesn't mean you can't try to think of how your best teacher would have explained something. So if you're at odds with an idea or concept, stop trying to understand it for yourself. Try to understand it for someone else, imagining what your favorite teacher might have said to explain at least the part you get so far. You might be surprised at how things fall together.


Anonymous lyzazel said...

Well, I did like MT and I still use a lot of inspiration from him for the courses on my site. Doing this, I come to experience many of the same problems.

You seem to be commenting a lot on "that what you understand, you know, and what you know you don't forget".

I believe that is not true. I forget a lot of things that I know. It might be that drilling actually gets you to remember while learning to understand is only good for the time-being.

However, I think that the best thing to do is to ignore this knowledge and still go on learning as if the world were a perfect place and just go on learning without drills. You will still remember some of it and for the parts that you will forget, well, be it as it may.

There is a way to remember the things that you learn in these courses, though: put them to use immediately. If you do that, no matter which way you have learned it, chances are you WILL remember it.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Found your blog through random blogrolls..I recently have jumped back on the Michel Thomas wagon (Advanced Spanish) after abandoning his methods a few years back. Sometimes, the all-audio is too much for me--I was SO badly to be able to take notes--but he really has yet to be topped by any newer language methods. I find that a lot of the "new" methods are just copying the old ones. He does have an interesting way of teaching and I'm sometimes surprised at what I remember, even without my precious notes!

6:26 AM  
Blogger gbarto said...

I think the neat thing about Thomas is you really don't need notes. If you start using the language (as Lyzazel indicates) outside of your MT studies, the stuff will tend to stick.

The "don't forget" might be an exaggeration. However, if you learn through a process that puts what you've learned to use (as happens in an MT course) it's less like memorizing a list and more like riding a bike - your connection isn't with bits of knowledge, but with a process of doing something, and so it stays with you in a way that memorized stuff might not.

11:05 PM  

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