Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Michel Thomas forerunner?

I recently came across An Arabic Primer by Sir Arthur Cotton. His premise is quite interesting:
Languages are usually learnt as if it took a long time to learn the grammar &c., but that to speak with a good pronunciation and expression, and freely, and to catch the words from a speaker by the ear were easily and quickly acquired, but this is exactly contrary to fact.
As a result, he proposes to teach Arabic by giving you 30 key words, then learning 180 sentences from those words.

Now, the key element of Michel Thomas - instructor focused methodology - is missing, but the idea of breaking down the language to simple elements and using a limited vocabulary to develop a facility for combining those elements is quite plainly there. Skimming the book, it looks like you'd finish with the ability to make a couple 100 sentences and to make your own sentences by learning words on your own and adding them to the structures. The means by which this is accomplished is to take a native speaker and have him repeat for you, over and over, while you repeat for him in turn, always without moving onto the next thing till the last thing has been mastered.

Arthur Cotton's Arabic primer is, of course, far behind the best of today's courses, though it might still be ahead of some of the worst. But for a language program that's over 100 years old, it looks pretty well conceived. If you're interested in trying it, it's out there. And even better, you don't need to find an Arabic speaker to use it. Librivox has a recording where the reader takes you through the process, so all you need is an iPod and lots of time and patience. You can find it here.


Anonymous Forrest said...

Thanks much for finding this, and especially the audio to go with the book. I'd run across the book a few weeks ago and thought at the time how incredibly advanced this method was for the time it was written, but that, unfortunately, it was also in advance of the technology available at the time, and so depended on a native speaker to recite the materials. I had no idea that anyone had actually produced audio to go with the book. This is a nifty find indeed!

3:58 PM  

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