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
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
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.