IWTYAL 199: Interview with Michel Thomas Publisher Sue Hart

In this exciting episode, I speak with Sue Hart, the publisher who persuaded Michel Thomas to release his famous language courses to the world.

Episode Summary:

  • Note: The full summary notes for this episode can be found here.

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  • Kevin Richardson

    As always, something I enjoy about following your adventures is the honesty of leaving mistakes in. It also resonated with something that I’ve been experiencing – having friends who are way more advanced or only just beginning. I’m now in the position where I can understand the frustrations of one of my friends who speaks Japanese at a much higher level than myself. Conversely, I’m also finding myself on the other side of the coin when friends at a beginner level want to practice their Japanese with me. I’m often reminded about how easy it can be misconstrued … like “oh, he’s just showing off” with a beginner or like “he’s really got no idea of the nuance of what he’s saying” with someone with a greater mastery. It’s an interesting dynamic isn’t it.

    I’m sure one of the things that makes your adventures with Jan pretty awesome is that you both speak many other languages – so you can both appreciate where you’re at and respect each other. Do you think that would be the case if you both didn’t speak any other languages other than Spanish on this adventure?

  • John Bentley

    Hello, Ollie. First of all let me say that I value your work and have learnt a great deal about language learning strategies from you. However, and I am sorry if this sounds really negative, I have just listened to your interview with Sue Hart and it reinforces my doubts about Michel Thomas and his method, I have been living in France for nearly 15 years and I have met quite a few people that have tried to learn French through Michel Thomas videos, and I have yet to meet one who has made any significant progress. In my view, his “method” is based on the illusion that you can learn a language without having to make much effort … sadly (or fortunately if you are really into language learning,) this is not the case. In an hour of a lesson, he speaks English for much of the time. This is comforting for the learner – “I understand this video” – but that is because it is mainly in English! I feel that after an hour or more of his rambling approach, the actual learning material has been minimal – material that could be put across in a quarter of the time by any half decent tutor (face to face or internet based). In my view, he built his reputation earning a fortune from Hollywood stars and the like – $18,000 for a three day course! – no wonder he was so secretive about his method. I sense an arrogant man that refused to be challenged, a man that was making a lot of money already, and this video marketing project was an opportunity to make yet more money. It saddens me to see Michel Thomas videos so up front in High Street retailers such as Waterstones and WH Smith when there are so many more high class learning materials that have just not benefitted from such Marketing ‘hype’. So, I hope you don’t dismiss me as a just being a whinger- I appreciate your work and the work of others such as Kirsten and Lindsay, but I am sorry, I do not rate the late Michel Thomas.

    • Hi John, thanks for the comment, and I value your contribution very much! You might have noticed that during the interview I didn’t comment personally at all on his teaching method or courses… and that might have something to do with the sentiments you’ve expressed here… but I’ll leave it at that!

      However, it’s important to note that there are many people who have derived a great deal of value from his courses, including very successful language learners, and so in that sense I think it’s worth recognising the value that has been created… even if it’s not for everyone. (What is?)

      Above all, though, I think it’s a great story, which is what I wanted to explore in this episode!