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German - Main

By Gahra Raschedian |

This article introduces the Michel Thomas system for learning the German language. The same system has been used to teach many other languages (about 18 more).

The article also introduces some courses that we have done on the German language that were inspired by the Michel Thomas Method.

Who Was Michel Thomas?

Michel Thomas (1914 - 2005) was a linguist who founded the Michel Thomas system of learning languages.

He developed his system as a result of his traumatic war experiences.

In 1947, he moved to Los Angeles where he set up the Michel Thomas Language Centers.

He died in 2005 at the age of 90.

How Does the Michel Thomas System Work?

Using the Michel Thomas method, you have no reading, no writing and no homework. You do the work while you are doing the work.

Using this system, you will be able to learn the German language in a matter of hours. It is a system tested by thousands of people including me. It is simply not possible to fail with this system if you complete the courses properly, which again, would not take more than 25 hours for the whole language. There is more work to be done once you complete the Michel Thomas courses as we will explain in the rest of this article, but the system will lay a solid foundation for you, on top of which you can keep building. Often time, it is not really necessary to build on top of the system unless you are doing professional work with the German language, otherwise the system (25 hours) would be enough for most practical purposes if you happen to live in some German speaking country. After finishing the Michel Thomas courses, you will have obtained the following:

  • All the German language grammar that you ever need
  • over 1500 essential and necessary words in German in such a way that you can practically use them in sentences correctly

Note: The system explained above must be complemented with additional material over time if you happen to do professional work with the German language, for example if you are a student or if you use the German language directly in you profession.

In his courses that are all in audio format, he often advises students even not to try to learn since trying creates stress and stress impedes learning.

The system work exactly in the following way:

  • You learn the German language one sentence at a time.
  • You learn each senctence, one word at a time.
  • You have to put the words together yourself to make the sentences, therefore, you will never forget it.
  • You don't have to remember much or memorize anything since all the necessary information is given to you with each sentence.
  • Making mistakes in the process is no problem since you learn from your own mistakes and move on to the next sentence.
  • You do not have to learn any rules of grammar. You learn the grammar automatically as you make the sentences.

The instructor reads one sentence to you (in English) and gives you enough information to make the sentence. You simply put the words together, make the sentence, read it out loud and move on to the next sentence. Once you make the sentence, you can check your answer with the one provided with the instructor. It is okay if your sentence was wrong because the system keep repeating the sentences so there is no way to miss anything.

The Michel Thomas system is unique and very effective in that, in any language, there is usually not more than 600 key basic words that you need to learn to start to speak the language. You need to know what those words are, what they mean and how to use them correctly in a sentence. More than that is not required. This is done in the first eight hours of the Michel Thomas system.

Normally, it is very difficult if not impossible to learn the German language because,

  • The German language is pretty complicated. For example, there are three grammatical genders for nouns, masculine, feminine, neuter. Every noun must be learned along with its gender. Each gender must be used in specific ways in a sentence. This makes the language rather complicated. The gender of the noun and how you use each gender will become natural and automatic after a while but it makes it very hard in the beginning to learn the language using conventional methods.
  • The structure of the language is a little different from most languages you might be familiar with. Usually, languages that are spoken in Europe are upside down. You need to think backwards to speak German. Almost everything you use in the beginning of an English sentence is placed at the end of a German sentence.
  • There are many types of verbs in the German language. Depending on the type of the verb, the structure of the sentence has to be changed. Therefore, you need to know the meaning of the verb and also the category it belongs to so that you know how to use it.
  • There are a few different cases for sentences like dative, accusative, etc. In each case, the whole structure of the sentence is completely different. This makes the language rather complicated.

There are many more point that could be mentioned here and as you can imagine, such characteristics of the language make it hard to learn the language. At the same time, it is also true that after a while, all these points will become automatic in your mind but in the beginning, breaking through these barriers cannot be done using conventional methods. You need to know the trick to do that.

Using the Michel Thomas method, you learn the whole underlying and main structure of the language in just about 25 hours. Depending on how much material you can cover in a day, you can complete the 25 hours in a couple of days or you can even take as long as a whole month. That is up to you.

It is interesting to note that although there is no reading or writing and even no practice in this system, you will learn all the above-mentioned items in such a way that you will be able to use them in your day-to-day life practically. Once you learn something, there is no forgetting in this system.

Michel Thomas method manages to get you through the barriers to the German language in just over 25 hours. This is something that even Germans do not know how to do. They take at least three years to do the same thing. You would have to attend classes at an adults school called the Volkshochschule in Germany to do so. They do not even believe that such a thing is even possible in the first place.

Michel Thomas does it in the following way: A language (as large and complex as the German language or any other language for that matter) is like a large city. A city has highways, main streets, street, alleys, houses, buildings, etc. It is a large network that connects any location (house or building) to any other location.

To know the city, if you start with each house and move to the next one, you would never be done. Moreover there are places that you don't want or have to visit at all.

Instead of going to every house, from door to door, you could take a map, like Google Maps, and take a look at the whole city from above, whenever needed, zoom in on a street or a house, again zoom out, move around to the other end of the city, again zoom in, etc. That would be much easier than visiting each and every place from door to door.

The Michel Thomas method is like the map. It is like a helicopter that takes you to the top of the city. From the top, you can see how every place is connected to every other place. Then if you want to know more about a particular house (more details), you can move right to that house or otherwise leave every other house alone.

The michel Thomas method gives you the big picture. When you see the big picture, the gender of a noun or the accusative case or the dative case, etc. is just a small detail that you can take care of if necessary, otherwise, you can simply leave it alone and not worry about it. Moreover since you see the big picture, you clearly know how every detail is connected to every other detail. There is no secrets, no confusion.

Original Structure of Michel Thomas German Courses

As seen on Michel Thomas website, there are the following courses that you need to take in the same order to complete the whole series:

  • Start German - This a one-hour course that prepares you for the journey.
  • Foundation German - This is an eight-hour audio course. In this course, you learn the basics of the German language, how to make basic and fairly complex sentences and some limited vocabulary.
  • Language Builder German - This is a two-hour audio course that builds on top of the previous course.
  • Intermediate German - This a four-hour audio course that builds on top of the previous one.
  • German Vocabulary - This is a audio course that teaches you over 1000 words in about five hours along with how to use them practically in sentences correctly.
  • Insider's German - This is German conversation course. I have not personally taken this course.

Note: Among the whole Michel Thomas German courses, there was also a German Advanced course that has not been listed on their website. This is very useful course. I will build a course based on this course. More on that later in this article.

My Personal Experience with the Michel Thomas Method

I happened to come to Germany around October 2010, around 11 years ago. Before coming to Germany, I spent about a month on studying the whole 25 hours of Michel Thomas courses.

When I arrived in Germany, I made some changes to the system so that I could teach a couple of people the German language. I changed the teaching medium to Persian. The main teaching medium in the system is English. It is a little tricky to make the system work and flow using the Persian language since English and German are practically the exact same languages and related. They both have the same roots. The English language has evolved through time but the German language has been preserved they way it was, not necessarily for wrong reasons but not exactly for right reasons. At any rate, I managed to make the system work with the Persian language. I did this as an experiment. I had to make up new ways of explaining things as I was going along and it worked. As long as you know two languages well, it is possible to use the Michel Thomas method to teach any of those languages to anybody provided that they know the other language. And in the exact same way, using the Michel Thomas method, you can learn French in just a few hours as you could learn any of those other 16 languages (list on Michel Thomas website) in just a few hours. Moreover, if you understand how the system works, you can use it to teach anybody any language at all from any target language to any destination language if you have a good command over both languages. This is the beauty of this system that could be used by educators.

Moreover, since I knew German pretty well, I could easily get my things done, opening bank accounts, government office appointments, the dentist, etc.

Later on, I used the same Michel Thomas system to teach some computer languages which was a big success I never expected.

A few months ago, for reasons I will explain later, I started teaching the orginal Michel Thomas German courses. I am making some changes here and there but the base is the same. In those courses, I mix in my own teaching style, my own experiences with the language, my experiences in Germany in the past ten years, etc.

You can start taking those German courses, as soon as they are ready which might be in few weeks' time. You could take the courses for free. You always have the option to donate to the work if you think the work deserves donations.

The Limitations of Michel Thomas Method

The Michel Thomas Method teaches you the necessary and important parts and the structure of the German language in a matter of hours. In just over 20 hours, it gets you through the barriers in the German language that you can hardly ever get through without the system, which is in and of itself invaluable. In short, it is an ingenious method to learn the German language.

As mentioned earlier, there is no reading or writing in the original Michel Thomas courses but I have incorporated that into my own courses. It is not disturb the flow of the material.

Assuming that you take the Michel Thomas courses to learn German if you are already in Germany or plan to go to Germany, on finishing the 25 hours, you will have hardly any problems managing any aspects of your life in Germany as far the language is concerned.

Listening

Every language can be learned very easily if you start listening to the language. In fact, every language has a special music to it. This music could be described in the exact same way a polynomial function in mathematics can be expressed in terms of x and y. Once you listen for while and find that music, you already know what rhymes with the music and what does not. Then all the rules of grammar would be absolutely useless. Whenever an s rhymes, you drop in an s. Whenever an n rhymes, you drop in an n and that's how you know how to make your sentences.

So if you happen to be in Germany, once you complete the 25 hours of Michel Thomas courses, you can start to talk with people, engage in conversation but for the most part listen. You don't have to listen carefully. Listen well.

There is also a lot of useful and valuable audio programs that you can download from the Internet from websites like the Deutsche Welle. This website has a huge section dedicated to audio and video programs for learning the German language. You can also watch your favorite movies and TV series in a language that you understand well and then watch the same thing a second time in German. That is an ingenious way to learn any language very fast and easy.

Another way to listen and watch to learn German is to find video programs that teach you your desired profession. As an example, I used to borrow many DVDs from the local library that were all about computer programming. I used to watch those DVDs at home and my goal back then was to learn programming. Since everything was being shown on the screen, it was not difficult to make sense of the language. After a while, probably not over a few months' time, there was no word or sentence that I could not understand in those DVDs related to IT and programming. The secret here is that you should not try to learn the language. Do something, anything at all, that involves your target language. The language will be registered in your mind whether you like it or not. You don't have to try at all. Trying always makes it harder.

Another good resource that you can use is the Sofatutor. Sofatutor is a platform for kids to learn their school subjects through fun short videos. If you, for professional reasons or to help your kids with their school work, need to learn subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc., do not miss the Sofatutor. It it a valuable resourse. It costs a little bit of monthly subscription but money well spent.

Reading

To be able to read, you must listen first. When you listen to the language, you already know how words are supposed to be pronounced. You know how they sound. When you see them in your book, you will immediately recognize them. If you don't know the words aleardy, reading is going to be very hard and frustrating. Always place the emphasis on listening and let the language come in but it has to be effortles listening. When you try, you tire yourself out.

Writing

Usually, you do not need to write much in German unless it is a part of your job or if you go to school in Germany. In the past 11 years in Germany, I barely needed to write down a word of German since whatever I do was in English. Every once in a while, I had to write a letter to my lawyer but that is just about it.

At any rate, writing is always a simple process. Whatever you have heard (listen) or read, you need to learn how to write it down. In the beginning, you might need a dictionary to know how to spell words but after a while, you will have learned most of the words that you need.

There is, however, one aspect of the language that needs a little more attention which is not covered in the Michel Thomas method. When you speak to people, in many types of situatons, correct grammar is not that important. As long as you have learned the Michel Thomas grammar you are good to go. But sometimes, you have to write a formal letter or talk to someone in a formal context where making mistakes is not allowed, in professional situations for example. In those types of situations, you need to make you grammar a little more formal

Beyond Michel Thomas Grammar

Recently, I had to write a formal letter to an employer. In these types of situations, your letter must be error free. This is a professional type of situation.

For the same reason, I bought a book from Amazon (A Practice Grammar of German) that teaches you German grammar up to a level which is enough for most professional types of situations. I will use material from this book and other sources to add some higher level grammar to the original series of Michel Thomas courses. You can take these few courses if you need to use the German language in professional and academic settings.

New German Courses Based on Michel Thomas Method

I am currently creating some German language courses inspired by the Michel Thomas method based on my own teaching style. In these courses, I share my own experience with the langugage and also my own personal experience in the past ten years in Germany. In this line of courses, I will also include the higher level grammar courses that I explained in the previous section that are missing in the Michel Thomas system. The courses that I have planned are as follows:

  • German - Foundation
  • German - Language Builder
  • German - Intermediate
  • German - Advanced
  • German - Vocabulary
  • German - Advanced Grammar

These courses will be linked from this page as soon as they are ready.

There is going to be more than one Advanced Grammar course. The number of these courses depend on the amount of material necessary to cover the necessary concepts.

Once the courses are ready, you can take them free of cost. As a rule, I do not sell my teaching work. You can, however, donate to the work as much as you like if you think the work deserves donations.

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