Michel Thomas is one of the best-known language teachers of all time.
His language courses are supremely popular, and his teaching method has a “magic” to it that seems to make language learning easy for many people.
But, he was a highly secretive person.
In fact, for many years, he refused to talk to anyone about his method, and only taught behind closed doors.
I spoke to the Michel Thomas language publisher Sue Hart about how he was finally convinced to make his courses available to the world, and create his first published material.
This is surely one of the most fascinating language stories ever told… and I'm delighted to be able to discuss this on the podcast and in these interview notes.
One day, out of the blue, she received a phone call from Michel Thomas himself.
In this exclusive interview, Sue reveals exactly what happened, and how she was able to convince Michel to do the unthinkable…
(Click the play button to listen to the interview. The main points are summarised below.)
How Sue Became Aware Of Michel Thomas
As the new commissioning editor at Teach Yourself Languages in the late 1990s, Sue discovered a memo from a colleague attached to a tape in a filing cabinet.
It read: “You might be interested in this!”
- She had never heard of Michel Thomas before
- Attached to the memo was the BBC Horizon programme: The Language Master
- Sue was bowled over by the documentary and decided to explore the possibility of creating a course
Michel Thomas Language Methods
- Michel was worried that his method would be copied
- He taught students face-to-face at his language institute in Los Angeles
- He developed language courses on tapes, but they had to be studied on the premises, and they would be locked away at the end of each day
- Michel would teach the core lessons, but he did bring in teachers to help students with vocabulary practice etc.
- Each time he taught a course, it was different. He was a master at responding to the students.
Creating Michel Thomas Languages: How Sue Influenced Him
- Sue wrote a short letter to Michel Thomas in his New York office, including a Teach Yourself catalogue.
- A week later, she received a personal phone call from Michel. They agreed to meet next time he came to London.
- Negotiations took two years, from initial discussion to signing the contract
- Michel never put anything in writing – there was no written record of any discussions throughout the entire negotiation.
- He didn’t write or respond to letters. Everything had to happen face-to-face.
- He would travel to the UK two or three times per year (always first class, always staying in the best hotels!), and they would meet often to discuss the project, always very informally, as nothing was in writing.
Why Michel Decided to Finally Release His Method to the World
- He was beginning to accept his mortality – he was in his mid-80s at the time of the negotiations with Teach Yourself
- They knew there was huge potential for the new language courses, but weren’t quite prepared for the level of success
- Sue believes the main reason for the success of the courses is the fact the methodology works
- The methodology itself is also very attractive to people:
- No pens
- No homework
- No memorising
Creating the Courses
- They had no idea whatsoever how the recordings would work, as nothing had been revealed by Michel!
- Students had to be recruited for the recordings
- A man and a woman
- A British and American voice
- An advert was placed in the Daily Telegraph asking for volunteers. They were inundated with responses!
- The recording of the first course took place over two days – 8 hours each day. Michel taught straight through, without the need for a break.
- He had no notes during his teaching.
About Michel Thomas
- He enjoyed his celebrity status and enjoyed name-dropping the famous people he had worked with.
- Sue never spoke with Michel about how he learnt his languages. He claimed to speak 10 languages, and Sue remembers hearing him speak at least 7.
- He said language learning is one of the most alien processes the brain can undertake, and that’s why he chose to work with language.
Quotes About Michel Thomas
- “What you understand, you know. What you know, you don’t forget.” – Michel Thomas
- “My biggest regret is that we didn’t film the teaching.” – Sue Hart
- “Your learning is my responsibility.” – Michel Thomas
- “Language learning is one of the most alien processes the brain can undertake.” – Michel Thomas
How Does the Michael Thomas Method Work?
Michael's method is different to any other language learning method as it claims to work in tune with your brain. You can supposedly learn languages within hours, not years.
The method is fully audio and involves you listening to your target language. It is supposed to simulate the way you learnt your first language when you were a child. You'll learn to speak full sentences right from the start and won't spend hours pouring over vocabulary lists and grammar rules.
Some of the most popular languages you can learn with the method include:
- Michel Thomas French
- Michel Thomas Spanish
- Michel Thomas German
- Michel Thomas Portuguese
- Michel Thomas Russian
You can check some Michel Thomas method reviews to find out what other language learners think about his method on his website.
Have you heard of the Michel Thomas language learning method before? Share your experiences in the comments.