Learning to speak a language – French with Michel Thomas

(See the rest of our tip index here)

Learning languages isn’t natural or easy for us, neither of us came from school with a language or really got taught a language well.  Before our travels we asked for tips and we were recommended Rosetta Stone; Michel Thomas; and I also bought a talking translator!

Here is our findings from our usage.

Electronic Translator

The translator (Franklin Speaking Global Translator) is excellent –

I’d never use it to try and hold a conversation, but if you are looking up a word, for example “chair lift” – it will tell you the translation and also speak it to you so you can try and remember it and use it in your speaking.  Really quite powerful and useful  as a learning tool.  It covers most European languages, and Russian, Korean, Japanese etc, an also has sentences you can play with and learn on.  It knows 450,000 words and 12,000 phrases, and speaks 115,000 words in recorded human voice, easily fits into a pocket, fold out keyboard, back-light, and USB rechargeable battery lasts ages.

We have tried cheaper translators and though their vocabulary is smaller, the main problem is not knowing how to pronounce words which this Frankin device gets around.

Michel Thomas Method

Michel Thomas though is probably the most useful training tool.  He provides language CDs in introductory, advanced and also review courses and language builders.  It isn’t a typical boring repeat and learn type CD, it is a recording of a class with 2 students (you become the third) – and you do feel you are involved in the learning – you even get involved with the student mistakes.  The chatter he provides also gives language background and helps you understand “why” things are said the way they are.  The way he teaches requires no memorisation or home work, and he makes it his problem for you to remember – something he does quite well.

We’ve just finished the foundation course (8 CDs) and feel we can converse okay with someone – so long as they are patient and use simple French!  We can now understand a lot more and read a lot more French – more practice required….  For the first run through its probably better to sit down and chill with a drink and finger ready on “pause”, but for repeats its okay to have on when driving.

Now we’ve been through the foundation course CDs there is a 2-CD refresher course we’ll go over a few times and then hit the advanced course.  Then, of course, try and make the French speak slowly and using simple French and we’ll be home and dry!!!

That said, I’ve had a couple of conversations with people on ski lifts – one conversation was 50/50 English/French – as in he was speaking English and I was replying in French – something we both enjoyed.  Shame he was a skier! 

To show what words are covered and the type of phrases, see the attached PDFs of the course manuals which are just a guide to go with the CD course – I’ve attached here to give you idea of the depth the course takes.  By themselves they are useless – you do need the audio course CDs to go with them.  You can download a demo .MP3 file so you can see how the course starts before you buy.

Do remember though, he teaches in a way you understand why you say what you do rather than just learning a sentence parrot fashion.  If you haven’t tried it you should!

This in conjunction with our translator helps us phase sentences just using the translator as a tool to tell us the right word (and speak the pronunciation) to fill in the gap.

Michel also does other languages (see HERE) – including Spanish, Germain, Italian etc.  We also use the German version but aren’t familiar with the others

Rosetta Stone

Finally, Rosetta Stone is a PC and/or Mac application which takes you through learning and understanding basic sentences by matching words and

hearing a real person speak with a picture.  It is very clever and it does increase understanding (we repeat what it says to practice as well) – but it doesn’t half go on and unless you are really motivated it can get tedious….

Rosetta Stone is also very very expensive – especially in comparison to our 2 preferred tools above.

In order, we’d recommend Michel Thomas method to anyone;  we’d also recommend the translator as an additional tool; but Rosetta Stone is a little boring and may well be forgotten about.

If anyone knows of a DECENT iPod/iPhone application that is as good as the translator then let us know, as sadly most translators we’ve found on the iPhone are basic and don’t have the detail of the dedicated translator.  Maybe one day…

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