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November 7, 2013 | Review Period

Paul Noble vs. Michel Thomas

Competing audio products from a pair of polyglots.

In recent weeks I have had my first exposure to products from two different linguists with large reputations. Now posted on this site are reviews for both Learn Italian with Paul Noble and Start Portuguese with the Michel Thomas Method.

The latter product features not Mr. Thomas himself (he died eight years ago), but rather someone else who worked with him and who now follows his approach. The Michel Thomas Method, which survives him, offers products for a dozen languages. Paul Noble, an English linguist with a language school in London, acts as the instructor on his products, which are published through Collins for four languages: Spanish, French, German, and Italian. 

Learn Italian with Paul Noble

Learn Italian with Paul Noble

Both approaches replicate classroom environments, which I detail and evaluate in the reviews.

In researching the products, I noticed a few critical posts scattered around the web regarding Paul Noble. They were made by people whose identities are unknown to and unverifiable by me, but the gist was that Paul Noble’s method is a close copy of Michel Thomas’s.

I don’t know the history between the two men—I wasn’t there!—but I confess it is hard for me to understand how the instructional method I encountered on Michel Thomas is unique in the history of pedagogy. There are many similarities between the two men’s approaches, but there are also differences. As far as I have been able to explore them to date—and I reserve the right to change my opinion with more information—I prefer the approach of Mr. Noble.

Let me explain why. 

With the Michel Thomas product I tried, you have an instructor (non-native in that case), a native speaker who acts as assistant, and two students making various mistakes, some of which you would probably not make yourself, though you might very well make different ones.

Start Portuguese with the Michel Thomas Method

Start Portuguese with the Michel Thomas Method

My point is, I don’t want to listen to other people’s mistakes; I make plenty of my own, thank you.

In the Paul Noble package I tried, Mr. Noble acted as the teacher, explaining concepts that were then illustrated by a native speaker. There were no students. Although he could surely scout out students to populate his CDs, given his role as proprietor of a language school, I liked that I didn’t have to listen to neophytes.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against neophytes. I am a neophyte for many of the languages I study here! But if I am a neophyte, I want to be surrounded by experts. 

I would rather not contend with newbie mistakes or non-native accents or extra people running around interfering with my personal study time. 

I still prefer Pimsleur to both Michel Thomas and Paul Noble, but for the Pimsleurphobic among you, these are both legitimate and responsible options you might want to consider. If you like the idea of identifying with earnest fellow students, perhaps try Michel Thomas. If you prefer to be alone with your expert, try Paul Noble. Don’t worry: he’s not mean.

The difference between the two reminds me of differing approaches to fitness and weight loss. Some people thrive with support from peers who are going through the same thing they are; others want to go straight to a fit and knowledgeable trainer. 

Don’t think I am a rabid fan of Mr. Noble’s. He uses his I.Q. in his marketing (yes, it is high), which I view as, well, gauche. It pains me to comment on it, because that too feels gauche, but I strongly believe that if he has things of value to offer us language learners, that’s what we should be hearing about. I am fortunate enough to know quite a few brilliant people. Some do wonderful things with their intelligence; others flounder. 

Others get their textbooks knocked to the ground by those who find bragging obnoxious.

What nature happened to install by chance inside our skulls does not matter; it is what we do in our lives that counts. The deed is the thing.

Comments (30)

Alex • Posted on Fri, November 08, 2013 - 3:14 pm EST

Science may be an art, but it should not be treated like the arts. If someone’s method is a close copy of someone else’s but both seek the same goal, to instill a knowledge of language within someone, what should matter is which one is superior, not which one is original.

Research continues onward and the theories of yesterday are constantly being evaluated, proven, refuted or replaced. I’m sure even the Pimsleur method is a bit outdated; of course, I’m sure the people at Pimsleur could make whatever minute tweaks to their producs would be necessary to stay ahead of the curve, but still, as we learn more, we learn more about learning more, if that makes sense.

We can’t and should not patent science the same way we do art. If the goal of science is to advance humanity forward, then trying to put a lock on it is like slowing us down. If newer and better learning approaches are being discovered and someone finds a way to improve on the method of someone else, I don’t think it matters in the end how closely they copy from the original, just how much more effective it makes the learning process.

Just thought I’d comment on the apparent implication that people suspect that one of these gentlemen copied to some degree from the other.

Robert • Posted on Sat, November 09, 2013 - 8:03 pm EST

As a student of high-intensity anaerobic stress physiology (bodybuilding!), I have been honored to learn from several individuals.  Most specifically, from the late Mike Mentzer, who was himself a student of Objectivism and used the foundational principles of philosophy to move exercise out of the 1800s.  One of the ways he did this was through the understanding of two concepts:  1)  There is, and can be, only one valid theory for anything because we live in a universe of fixed laws and 2)  If in possession of a valid theory, and the proper application of the theoretical principles is made, then success should be immediate, ongoing and worthwhile.  What Mike Mentzer did for exercise science (which is a derivative of biology), Paul Pimsleur did for language learning (which is a derivative of neurology).  Dr. Pimsleur even paraphrased Mike Mentzer by stating “If a student can’t learn a language, it’s the fault of the program and not the fault of the student.”  There can be only one valid theory of effective and efficient language learning, and it just so happens to be The Pimsleur Method.  Anything that deviates from this method is, by the laws of the universe, less efficient and effective.  The question is not how many different ways can you learn a language, but how little study is required to maximize language assimilation.  And, while I have an IQ two standard deviations above the norm, as did Einstein, neither one of us did much with it in our younger years.  Any one remember Ted Kaczynski?  How about the Unibomber?  Just because he had an IQ of 167 and was a brilliant mathematician, doesn’t mean his big brain was put to good use. Just a thought. . .

will • Posted on Tue, January 28, 2014 - 5:05 pm EST

The Michel Thomas Italian course gets painful in hours 3 and 4 as the students really struggle.  Painful to hear.  Although i still got a lot from the course.  But the Master class version (more advanced) is truly fantastic with smart students. 

Noble course is OK but progresses far too slowly.  I do like that it uses a real Italian instead of students .... better for learning pronunciation, plus no mistakes. 

Insomma:  12 hours of Thomas is far more advanced than 12 hours of Noble.

Irena Pasvinter • Posted on Fri, July 04, 2014 - 1:06 am EST

The thing that Michel Thomas patented about his method is that it has a teacher and two students on the audio—that’s what unique and what’s patented. This is what really works for me and makes the difference. I tried one Paul Nobles course and after Michel Thomas it felt like advanced parroting training. My personal opinion is—give me Michel Thomas’s course anytime and Paul Noble can rest. He may be preferable for somebody else, but not for me.

Niall • Posted on Sat, September 20, 2014 - 7:17 am EST

The difference between a Michel Thomas course and a “Michel Thomas method” course is night and day. There is more to Thomas’s teaching than even he was consciously aware of, and none of the author course authors replicated what he achieved.

As another commenter has said, the inclusion of the other students is a major factor. Other people’s errors? In theory it sounds like I bad idea, but in practice, I found that I was making a fair number of the same errors as the student on the CD, so I was getting corrections.

The other thing about MT’s courses was the pronunciation. There was no native speaker on the recording, so the accent was, frankly, atrocious. But this didn’t matter, because the *phonology* was correct. Difficult sounds were explained and corrected, and sounds were exaggerated for clarity.

The Portuguese course was so focussed on “natural accent” that the difference between P and B was unclear and became a matter for (distracting) debate in the recording studio. Worse, the pronunciation was inconsistent from example to example and I came away very, very confused.

I believe I’ve read quotes from Noble mentioning Michel Thomas in the past, but obviously once he went into direct competition he had to drop it from his bio.

Anyhow, the biggest difference I’ve noticed between Noble and Thomas (only having listened to a short demo recording of Noble and flicking through the leaflet in a bookshop) is that Thomas specifically kept the language open, dealing with a common core of the language that could be used for any purpose. Noble instead bought into the orthodox view that language should be taught in concrete contexts—at the café etc.

This allows MT to progress far more rapidly than PN.

Irena Pasvinter • Posted on Tue, September 23, 2014 - 9:13 am EST

The only Michel Thomas method course not taught by Michel Thomas himself I listened to was Modern Greek, but the teacher, Hara Garoufalia-Middle,  was very good, so the course worked for me just as well.

Hugo • Posted on Mon, October 27, 2014 - 1:30 am EST

“What nature happened to install by chance inside our skulls does not matter; it is what we do in our lives that counts. The deed is the thing.”

I agree with what we do in our lives is what counts. But also I believe that intelligence is not only acquired just by chance,  everyone can improve it, with how they live and what they do. Just my humble opinion.

Mrs M E Pendrill • Posted on Mon, March 23, 2015 - 5:23 pm EST

I have done the Michel Thomas course in French and have to say that the two students drove me mad.  The English guy was not so bad, but the American woman!  I began to think she must be putting it on, she was so atrocious in her ability to grasp even the most simple concepts of the language that it was deflating rather than encouraging.  I had thoughts of, ‘we all make mistakes, but - please, will I always be as bad as this?”  She had the Master in front of her and you can clearly hear his impatience at her incompetence.  Frankly, this is not what you want to listen to when you’re trying your hardest to learn a new language.  It’s simply irritating.  I have now listened to quite a bit of the Paul Noble course, and there is no denying the similarities of approach.  But give me Paul Noble any day.  I admired the Michel Thomas approach to learning the language (and the extraordinary life of the man), but he really needed to ditch those students.  I too read that Paul Noble’s IQ is apparently higher than Einsteins!  I agree, this is a fact we don’t need to know.

manoochehr • Posted on Mon, May 04, 2015 - 6:37 am EST

i think paul nobble can give information very simple , MTS give a wider area of knowldge , i prefere to start with paul nobble , and then continue with MTS.

john quine • Posted on Sun, May 17, 2015 - 7:19 am EST

I, like others elsewhere find that with Paul Noble it is difficult to understand other courses after studying with PN. My main gripe with PN is that he over-simplifies some explanations to such a long winded degree that you have forgotten what he is trying to teach you. He then bores you later on with the same explanation again. You then listen to Michel T. and he will say ‘The french for *** is ****’ but you only realise that you actually knew the word AFTER Michel tells you the translation as he does not ramble on during a translation.

I suspect that PN prefers the sound of his own voice to that of his native speakers which may account for the quantity of content on his CD’s.

Yes PN has charisma, but then all people who are very good at marketing themselves have it in abundance.

Michel is very unassuming in his approach and he clearly enjoys passing on his knowledge. (Check out ‘Michel Thomas Language Master, on youtube) Some people find his accent off-putting and say that you should listen to a native speaker in order to achieve an authentic accent. Ask yourself this:- Of all the French, Italian, German and Spanish people that have spoken to you in English, how many have you mistaken for a native English person? I drive a taxi for a living, meet many foreign nationals daily and up to now I have only met NONE!

My main second language interest is French, and by all accounts, the French find their language spoken with an English accent sexy. I’ll buy that any day! Just like anywhere else the French speak too fast for me but as I learn more, I understand more.

I know how I like to learn and I can see room for improvement with the Michel Thomas method. Particularly with adding certain elements of vocabulary and in the remembering of it. The wheel is not broken so I will not try to fix it - but I am adding my own wheel trims in this respect! God bless you Michel.

brian dunne • Posted on Fri, June 05, 2015 - 5:12 am EST

I have learned to communicate in Spanish using the Michel Thomas foundation course. I have never heard or used Nobles’ but I think the bottom line should be what you have learned. The proof of the success of the method is in the results. Perhaps it’s a case of different strokes for different folks but for me MT is a genius and I think the single biggest success of his method is to take the panic and stress out of language learning. I have found that my retention of what I learned through the MT course still surprises me.

mjc • Posted on Sun, December 06, 2015 - 5:34 pm EST

Ok, I’ve tried the Rosetta Stone and have to say, for the time I invested, I never felt that I retained anything. Didn’t work for me despite several re-attempts. On top of this, I found it ridiculously expensive.
Then I found Busuu, which is an online (also mobile device-accessible) system similar to Rosetta Stone, but in my opinion and on many levels an improvement over RS, particularly with a built in social networking feature that fosters an reciprocal multi-media tutoring opportunity. But it is a little tough going for beginners because the exercises nearly force you to begin writing your new language far sooner than you have any ability—i.e. from day one. There are ways around the “mandatory” exercise sections, but that adds time.

One nice thing about Busuu, it is very inexpensive; in fact, the basic account is free, though you can upgrade for a “premium account” that give you more features and access to grammar resources (from Collins).  But in the final analysis, it is too much like the Rosetta Stone and so many other approaches built around the listen/review and repeat/test.  For me, something in the pedagogy is missing. So, I never returned to Busuu. But that’s just me. If interested, you can check it out here: busuu.com.
Pimsleur. Invested a few months for a trip to Germany and the better part of a year beginner Spanish (30 lessons). I found I retained a little more from these programs (audio only) than those mentioned above. However, when I say “a little more,” what I mean by that is while I found Pimsleur to be superior to the RS and Busuu, it was only marginally better. I don’t feel like I have much to show for the Spanish courses, which I listened (and repeated to) several times.

Interestingly, out of frustration with the above programs, I did some searching and found both the Michel Thomas and Paul Noble methods. First, I found them to be very similar in approach with the primary difference well highlighted by author of the above post—yes, why (re: Michel Thomas) include non-native novices making mistakes?

In comparing the two systems, first, let me say, I don’t mind that Paul’s IQ is marketed as a credential because if it’s true, at least you know the instructor is very, very smart. Second, as he is the newbie instructor on the block (relative to the M. Thomas, apparently a long established one?), he has got to differentiate himself in the best possible way; and so I there is an implication that the pedagogy must be very smart, too.

But what better way to decide which system one prefers than to try each system?  And so that’s what I did. And here’s what I found.

Yes, both approaches are very similar in that there is the primary instructor (non-native speaker from the UK) accompanied by, in Mr. Noble’s program, two native speakers: (for the Spanish course) one from S. American and one from Spain, which I found to be a fantastic idea as I wanted to discern the differences); while in M. Thomas program, a native speaker and two non-native students (with their verbal mistakes included).  Again, right out of the gate, I found a program that included these verbal trip ups a distraction and, of course, counterproductive.

A couple key differences:

1) P. Noble’s program is slower than the M. Thomas, and more methodical, which I found to be a plus. When learning something you want to take your time—to get it right—and be methodical—to not miss any key details (e.g. está vs. esta).  And I don’t sense that P. Noble overdoes it all; for me, it’s just right.

2) P. Noble’s program gets at the, for lack of a better word, “interstitial” components of a language while explaining both the similarities and differences with language being taught with your native language (in my English). He does this from the start, so he has you constructing short sentences in literally minutes. And, you actually remember to do it again a little later.  [This is what sets his method apart and above the rest]. M. Thomas does the foregoing to a degree as well but just not as effective – it is not as careful with the context, and it progresses too quickly; though they do repeat and recapitulate what was covered early, again, seemingly thought without the precision of P. Noble’s program.

Final Analysis: As someone who has virtually little to show for the investment in other language learning programs, and particularly with Pimsleur, which I honestly think was probably the best method decades ago but today is obsolete, I am bowled over by my progress, which has been—in just a week—lightning fast. And when you experience results, you make up your mind. And so, for me, I have not found a more effective method than the P. Noble program, which I think is a refinement to the M. Thomas program. My only regret is that he (P. Noble) hasn’t covered Portuguese, so I plan on using the M. Thomas program with all of its comparative deficiencies.

Note: I don’t know how advanced the P. Noble program goes, so I am speaking from a beginner/novice level. The M. Thomas program appears to progress from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced. It may be that I “graduate” to the M. Thomas program if I think I need more advanced instruction.  But perhaps the P. Noble program is designed to get up to a point to then go on your own? Not sure, but we’ll see.

I hope the above helps.

Barbara Call • Posted on Fri, June 24, 2016 - 10:29 pm EST

I went to France with some friends recently and, although we got French dictionaries and French “learn-in-your-car” cd’s prior to our trip, we were clueless once we actually arrived IN Paris.  We butchered the language and understood next to nothing the Parsians had to say to us…probably a good thing. Upon returning to the States we decided to get serious about learning French. I listened to samples of every French training method I could find and settled on Paul Noble’s. I didn’t know he was a genius but I’m not surprised. I carefully worked my way through his 3 French courses (the 4th one isn’t on audible—I would have ordered it if it had been) and I was pleasantly surprised with how much French I absorbed listening to him. I knew this because I started in on Michel Thomas’s course soon afterwards and found I could follow hlm easily. Sadly, his “students” needed a good French 101 class before sitting down in those recording sessions. I liked Michel’s course but wouldn’t have felt I came away with the same background and foundation I received from Paul because he explained everything so well & repeated enough for me to grasp. Also I liked the way he said “becouz” every time he said “because”.  He also had fun with the concepts and made them interesting, using creative ways to teach the parts of the language, although I have no idea what “in the somme” is.  I did like “going into the future with Ray, Ron and the Sun God Ra.”  I’ll never forget those tenses. All that said, I’ve concluded you have to actually live in a country for a period of time….like a year to really become proficient at the language.

SAA • Posted on Thu, October 27, 2016 - 6:25 pm EST

I just finished Paul Noble’s course and thought it was brilliant.  He teaches a few words and then “gives permission” to forget it and promises to return to it.  He tells the listener when to consider going back a few tracks and listen again.  There’s a free pdf that goes along with what he teaches.  He gives very helpful hints regarding what letters in English are often swapped in German.  He also takes apart long words and breaks them down.  For instance, “excuse me” in German actually translate in German to, “excuse you.”  There are memory tips I don’t think I will forget.  I am glad I followed his program.  Audible has his course in 3 CD’s.  People complained that there was too much repetition, but by the time you listen (not that many total hours) you are very comfortable with the dialogue.  I wish he had more learning CD’s for German.

rday • Posted on Wed, January 18, 2017 - 3:23 pm EST

I am enjoying the Paul Nobles German lessons,
with the audible.com it was only like $4 for part 1 (12 hours), and you can set the speed to your taste.
You don’t learn broad vocabulary quickly, the focus is on the mental process needed to form and understand sentences in tourist situations.
Once you have that down you can learn gobs of vocab quickly and know what to do with it.

Haven’t tried MT yet, Having 2 newbies sounds inefficient, with extra un-calculated noise filling your memory tree, maybe it’s better for the teacher to observe newbies, and focus on their pain points while teaching.

Tchuss

john quine • Posted on Thu, January 19, 2017 - 6:11 am EST

    In my previous post I commented about Paul Noble liking the sound of his own voice a little too much on his CD’s. He has just brought out some “Unlocking French, Italian and Spanish” books, the Amazon previews showing remarks like “If you don’t want to follow my rules then use this book to prop up a wobbly coffee table” and “who’s the teacher after all, you or me, eh” His publisher Collins still says that he is a genius, so I suppose it must be right! You will learn far more if you follow the teachings of Michel T. and Margarita Madrigal (lots of her books still available) This is where I firmly believe most of Noble’s work is lifted from. Check out “learnetarium.com” Harold Goodman’s blog. He has worked with Michel in the past and it is his voice on Michel’s Mandarin course. He also believes that Plagiarism is alive and well!
    The only original thing about Paul Noble’s courses is his insistence on starting with the past tense. On reflection though I seem to remember Margarita Madrigal doing something similar in “Madrigals Magic Keys to Spanish” Oh well. Seriously though use Michel Thomas for painless grammar and Margarita Madrigal for (Spanish, French Italian and German) vocabulary. Whilst some of Margarita’s vocabulary is well out of date (we don’t send cables anymore), you will remember the modern equivalent better if you have to look it up yourself.
    Personally I have just re-started the Michel Thomas French course. I am taking it one track at a time, and I keep going over it until I “know it” At the same time I am looking to see what nouns etc. that I want to learn can be added to make other sentences.
    We all have different reasons for learning a language, and expect different things from a language course.If you do something similar then you will maintain a keen interest in your learning as you will be learning what YOU want to learn.

Jennifer • Posted on Thu, January 26, 2017 - 4:30 pm EST

I’m using both Paul Noble and Michel Thomas to help me become fluent in Spanish, and I’ll use both programs to help me learn Italian.  I also use the Duolingo game to help me with grammar and vocab.  Here is my take on the programs - I think that they’re both very good, and I’ve learned more with these programs that I did with 2 years of Spanish classes. 

For me, Paul Noble is better for an absolute beginner or someone who only has a vague background of the language.  Not only does he have native speakers demonstrating how to properly pronounce the words, but he also gives some neat “memory tricks” on how to remember the words.  Once I’m comfortable with the language, then I graduate to Michel Thomas.  Since I’m already comfortable with the pronunciations, the novices don’t bother me, but to me, the novices’ mistakes waste valuable time when trying to learn the language.  Where MT has the advantage is he goes into more detail about understanding the language, and he covers more than the Paul Noble course.

Richard • Posted on Thu, February 09, 2017 - 12:31 pm EST

Having now used most of the prominent audio courses out there (Paul noble, Linguaphone, Pimsleur and Michel Thomas) I’m of the opinion that Paul Noble can’t be beaten as a starting course.

I did 5 years of French at school without really retaining anything. I had made a couple of well meaning attempts to rectify this in my 20’s, acquiring the linguaphone, Pimsleur and Michel Thomas courses along the way. For reasons I’ll come on to later Linguphone, Pimsleur and Michel Thomas just frustrated me so I made virtually no progress.

I thought that was that and I clearly wasn’t capable of picking a language up but eventually I gave it one more crack in my 30’s and purchased the Paul Noble course.

It really was like someone switching the light on in my brain. It just made sense, the grammatical rules were explained clearly and simply, the repetition made it stick and almost every time a question came up in my mind he seemed to anticipate it and offer an explanation. The pacing was also perfect, just the right amount of time spent on each area covered. Months later I still remembered 90% of what the CD’s taught. To make things even better he also improved my understanding of English dramatically.

It’s not a flawless course and some of the language taught is of curiousluy little practical value. My primary complaint is that it is just too short and he hasn’t released a follow up extension course. But as a starting point, a tool to get past your mental hurdles and a means to begin handling verbs it just can’t be beaten.

Having completed the Paul Noble course I was then able to go back to the other methods and actually make some good use out of them.

The problem I initially found with Pimsleur is the almost complete lack of explanation, much like being at school really. It is one giant listen and repeat exercise. I’m someone who needs to understand something in order to learn it. Issues like the positioning of pronouns, the non-pronunciation of consonants and other irregularities would just confuse me to the point of overwhelming frustration meaning nothing ever stuck. As a beginners course I found it useless but when I went back, forearmed with things Paul Noble taught, Pimsleur suddenly became something of a revelation, 15 odd hours of really useful repetition practice of rules and concepts I now understood. I liked it so much I went out and bought levels 2-5.

I was also able to see the beauty in Michel Thomas. When I first tried it the combination of the very annoying female student and Michel fluctuating wildly between zooming through concepts at a too rapid a speed and then going into long waffling explanations involving odd analogies about minor grammatical points was just too much to cope with. However, when I went back ‘post Noble’ I could live with the pacing and it became a useful resource, particularly as it coverd more ground than the Paul Noble course in the advanced module. I maintain however that his use of analogies like ‘diving boards’ and ‘handles’ is counterproductive.

Even Linguaphone suddenly made sense after Noble.

So in summary, if you are starting out, get Paul Noble first and go on from there.

Matthew Newton • Posted on Sun, February 12, 2017 - 3:58 pm EST

First - only accept language learning recommendations from people who have reached C1+ fluency. I can’t emphasise this enough.

With that out of the way this post is an example of Dunning-Kreuger effect in action - you don’t know what you don’t know, and because of this, you (and many other commenters) are unable to recognize genius even when presented to you,

Since MT stumbled upon his discovery, multiple studies have shown that observing other people making mistakes is a key to accelerated learning.

MT doesn’t just teach you. You also are mentally correcting the mistakes of two other people. It’s not just a first-person experience, it’s also a third-person experience - and the approach from two different angles is the real key here. Listening to people stumbling through it, anticipating their mistakes, mentally correcting their errors… Is just one half of a composite which forms a highly effective whole.

I now speak Spanish to an advanced C1 level and MT was the spark that really got me going. I am eternally grateful. And yes, shouting in my car at the stupid learner was a part of that, too.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, February 12, 2017 - 11:47 pm EST

Matthew Newton, you plainly don’t know what Dunning-Kruger is, but you have illustrated it rather nicely with your comments.

Barry Hickey • Posted on Fri, April 14, 2017 - 11:29 am EST

I have just stumbled across this fascinating blog. I have been trying to learn various foreign languages for many years and, while I have learned enough to help me barely ‘get by’ as a short term visiting tourist in various countries and languages, I am utterly frustrated at not having really done nearly enough to become anything remotely like fluent in any of them! While I do not feel I have anything new or helpful to add to this blog at this moment, I have found it helpful in many ways to read it and I would like to be able to dip into it again later when perhaps I may be able to add something useful. I am currently trying to advance my very limited knowledge of the French language which I regard as a beautiful but fiendishly difficult language. Though that difficulty is due to my own limited ability or learning capacity, I can best describe it by saying: for me, listening to a French native speaker read a passage which I am looking at, is a maddening experience because what I see is not what I hear and what I hear is not what I see! Nevertheless, I intend to persevere and hope that my further efforts may be fruitful and perhaps also give me something that might be a useful or worthwhile comment to make in this forum in the future.
Barry Hickey

Andrew • Posted on Wed, September 13, 2017 - 7:51 am EST

I’ve just returned my MT course in Italian - it’s horrible on just about every level, and like you, I found the oafish mistakes of students with appalling pronunciation to be simply irritating, not a wholesome or useful learning experience.

I’m put off Paul Noble’s course due to the reported similarity with Michel Thomas’s offerings, and having tried Pimsleur to learn Egyptian Arabic, can’t say I’m thoroughly impressed with their approach either (at least, it really didn’t work for me). 

I have, however, had great success using BBC courses in the past; they don’t claim to teach you a foreign language in just a few hours, and certainly you need to follow two consecutive courses to be speaking at a basic level in your chosen language, but I’m starting to think that you simply need to take your time and put the work in if you really want to assimilate a foreign language in a meaningful way. The BBC website also has additional learning materials which are free to access, including video clips from TV programmes that go with the courses which consist of books and CDs which, as a visual learner, I find particularly helpful. 

It seems utterly crass to claim you can virtually sleep your way through mastering a language (and do so in a just a few hours) as some of these courses do.  I believe it is entirely incumbent upon the student to make the effort to learn.  Whilst, of course, the manner in which the material is presented makes a substantial difference, you won’t genuinely learn anything to any significant degree unless you put some effort into it - be it a language or anything else.

BTW - love your response to Matthew Newton. :)

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, September 24, 2017 - 7:22 pm EST

Hi Andrew, regarding your last point, thank you. ;) Regarding the BBC stuff, I am mostly unfamiliar with it, but I will try to give it a shot one of these days. Lastly, I agree with you: learner effort seriously matters. I have tried and forgotten and tried again many many times, and I find the process kind of fun, even though it sure would be nice if things stuck around in my head with less effort!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, December 04, 2017 - 2:21 pm EST

Barry Hickey, I am rereading these comments and laughed out loud at this one from you (which holds so true for many, by the way!): “for me, listening to a French native speaker read a passage which I am looking at, is a maddening experience because what I see is not what I hear and what I hear is not what I see!”

Leon He • Posted on Wed, December 06, 2017 - 11:16 pm EST

This is a great great blog, hope we keep this blog alive.  Thank you everyone who contributed.

I am about to embark on (the second attempt) learning German, and found this blog chats.  I am grateful to this blog.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, December 06, 2017 - 11:30 pm EST

Thank you, Leon. Good luck with German! :)

Michael Drips • Posted on Mon, January 15, 2018 - 2:34 am EST

Thanks for the comparison between MT and PN. As for PN’s IQ, I’ve never asked any of my teachers what their IQ was and frankly I don’t care. As for the person commenting about what you see in French and what you hear, well, spoken French and written French are a bit different. After 3 years of living in France, I still cannot speak the language, so I am both frustrated and feeling that I am poor student. I have the MT French course and yes, I agree the two students drive you crazy when they stumble around. Well, one day I hope I will be fluent in French. Currently taking a one on one course with a French teacher and that is really helping. Good luck to everyone learning a language, regardless of the method you use!

Victoria Downes • Posted on Tue, January 30, 2018 - 11:43 am EST

I would have thought the point about Paul noble iq was to say that even intelligent people can struggle to learn a language as he did and as I did (despite having a Cambridge degree). I think the point is that often the methods used to teach don’t help no matter how clever you are. My grandmother was German and I did a little at school but I remember very little. My partner is German and I finally decided I should make more of an effort to learn German I was recomme see Paul noble course by a friend who had tried the Italian one and I have to say I think it is great. His voice is not the most striking but his method works. You find yourself remembering things without effort and his explanations by way of similarities to engl ish work well for adults learning. There are no annoying students making mistakes as others refer to and he gently introduces more complex grammar in a way that makes sense in context without it being a grammar lesson . Some bits are a boy slow but other bits are just right. So e buts I listened to a few times till I was confident. You won’t get the speed right for everyone buy in the whole I found the speed and process was just right. I’m only sad that after 35 chapters there are no more as I’m not sure where to go from here. It’s a good grounding but how do i progress? I wish he’d done a follow on course and an advanced course!

Harmon • Posted on Fri, July 27, 2018 - 10:48 am EST

At 70 years old, I find that it’s difficult to retain, well, practically anything.

I just finished the 3 part Paul Noble Spanish course, and the way I did it was to set bookmarks in a fashion that allowed me to spend the first half of any session reviewing what I’d already heard, before proceeding to something new. Next day, I reviewed what had been new on the previous day, proceeded to some more new stuff, & so on.  So I would hear the same material at least twice before proceeding to the next bit.

And now I find that there’s no more Noble.

What to do? I could go back to the beginning of Noble & work straight through again, this time without the daily review system unless I find that I still need it.

I’ve checked out Michael Thomas but his voice is really off-putting for me.

I can’t stand inane “conversations"purporting to replicate dialogues between a couple of “aren’t we all having fun here” characters.

I guess I’ll try out the Pimsleur Spanish Gold course & see how that works. And I will explore FluentU.

But I was hoping to find that there is a next level Paul Noble. And apparently there’s not.

BTW I took Noble’s IQ referencing as nothing more than his saying that being smart has little to do with learning to speak a language.

john quine • Posted on Mon, August 20, 2018 - 2:22 pm EST

In reply to Harmon, I am (at 69) also finding it difficult to retain new language, but I refuse to give up trying!

Over the last few months, I have become increasingly interested in HOW we learn languages. Many clever and educated people admit to struggling to learn a second language so it is not just about brain power. Check out
“https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8200956/Cant-learn-a-foreign-language-Not-true-say-scientists.html”
and you will realise that all is not lost. With regard to Paul Noble not releasing new material, this is because he is very busy recycling his old material in a slightly different guise. His new “Unlocking series of books is just a rejigged watered down version of his audio courses.
I have bought some of his new stuff to satisfy myself that this is indeed the case.

I suggest that you buy Margarita Madrigals Magic Keys to Spanish. It was originally published in 1951 and some of the language is a little old fashioned. Most of what you learned from PN is also in there (including some of her preface) but there is a lot more besides.

If you can use an audio editor I suggest that by recording your own phrases (don’t just learn individual words) from the book via an online Text to speech site using the information from the Telegraph link, you will not miss Paul Noble one little bit.

Even just the act of learning these skills via youtube will help preserve your brain power.
I promise!

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