on 15 May 2013
I purchased the MICHEL THOMAS Total Dutch course shortly after having completed the PIMSLEUR Comprehensive Dutch course. Here is what I found:
Prospective buyers of the Michel Thomas Method language courses should be aware that the parent company, Hodder Education, has issued "repackaged" and "retitled" versions of all the courses. On the Michel Thomas website, under the section FAQ, readers are left with the impression that ALL of the new courses have benefited from a recent update. Unfortunately, this is NOT SO. Some courses have been updated, whereas others haven't. The "new" Michel Thomas TOTAL DUTCH package is an exact copy of their previous product, Michel Thomas SPEAK DUTCH, save for the packaging. This in no way affects the QUALITY of the current edition. However, buyers expecting to receive an improved version of the course (at a higher price) could be disappointed.
Both instructional methods are presented as AUDIO ONLY programmes. The Michel Thomas Method course package includes a small pamphlet containing partial extracts from the audio programme. However, it is far from being a transcript. The Pimsleur course includes, what they identify as, a "Reading Guide", which is really more a "reading for pronunciation" guide than a transcript. Only some of the vocabulary is drawn from the course and it does not correlate directly to the lessons. Transcripts are not provided and, if they were, given the structure of the course, they would be more of a distraction than an aid. In both instances, the student would be well advised to make his/her own notes (vocabulary and example phrases) with the help of a dictionary and a grammar.
In the Michel Thomas Method, a native female Dutch speaker guides two students through some basic verbs and phrases in a question-answer format. Each example phrase is covered once. The students' responses are recorded. Sometimes, she simply repeats the students' incorrect replies, particularly in cases of the error is one of Word Order. The instructor both corrects their answers and provides the corrected model response. This means the course user is exposed to the students' errors and their imperfect pronunciation. While I would imagine that some users appreciate the opportunity to learn from someone else's bad example, frankly, I would dispense with it. In the Pimsleur Method, a native English speaker guides the student very slowly through words and phrases, building up to short, directed, dialogues. Gaps are provided for the course user's response and the correct response is provided by two native Dutch speakers, one male, one female.
In the Pimsleur method, the final few minutes of each lesson serve as a recapitulation of the newly-presented material in a short dialogue, often incorporating material from previous lessons. Also, the first few minutes of the subsequent lesson recapitulate the material of the previous lesson. Finally, previously covered material is reviewed at regular intervals throughout the series of lessons. It is this very carefully sequenced review that helps the student memorize the material. There is no final course recapitulation. In the Michel Thomas method, while the short phrases and sentences are not repeated, they do seem to build upon one another in a cumulative fashion. The effect on long-term memory is not the same as for the Pimsleur course. There is no recapitulation at any time in the Michel Thomas course. However, by simple repetition of the lessons, an astute self-learner can assimiliate the material.
The Michel Thomas Method provides a rather oblique explanation of the grammatical issues that underly the example phrases, and it uses decidedly unconventional terminology to describe them, such as: (a) "the omdat effect", to describe the word order in subordinate clauses, (b) the "trigger verbs", which I can only assume refers to auxiliary verbs, and (c) the "t-group", to indicate the 2nd and 3rd person singular verbs. The Pimsleur Method, on the other hand, makes little or no attempt to explain grammar. Rather, they provide examples that they believe will permit the student to "deduce" the underlying structure of the language. Both courses focus on the Present Tense of regular verbs and introduce (without saying so) some of the modal auxilliary verbs. In the final stages, Pimsleur introduces the Present Perfect whereas Michel Thomas introduces the Simple Past. I would recommend that users purchase and consult a Basic Dutch Grammar for both methods.
The Michel Thomas Method includes 8 cds that, according to the publisher, provide 12 hours of instruction. Hmm, given that the CD format generally provides no more than 75 minutes of recording time, this is a keen feat! I timed the programme and it works out to just a little over 9 hours! The Pimsleur method includes 16 cds, of which 15 are the lesson units and the 16th covers the Reading Guide, for a total of approximately 15 hours. While there are some differences, both methods cover more-or-less the same ground.
The major difference between the two methods lies in their approaches. In my view, both methods work and both contain an irritant. In the case of the Michel Thomas Method, I find the students' error-prone responses to be an unnecessary distraction. In the case of Pimsleur, the lack of a glossary means that the student will have to purchase a dictionary a work backwards from the audio to build his/her own glossary. While I would give 5* to Pimsleur and 4* to Michel Thomas, this merely reflects my personal preference. You cannot lose with either of the methods; BOTH of them are GOOD courses. However, you will have to pursue your self-study of Dutch with some other method to become even mildly autonomous, even as a casual visitor to the Netherlands. While I decided to try both of these courses, I recommend that you CHOOSE ONLY ONE of them and then move on to a course that offers an opportunity to expand your Dutch vocabulary and a that provides a more in-depth introduction to Dutch grammar.
Despite their strenghts, be advised that both the Michel Thomas and Pimsleur methods provide only a very BASIC introduction to the Dutch language. Although the approaches differ somewhat, both rely on very limited vocabulary to help the student get an "initial feel for" the target language. In my view, given the limited vocabulary, NEITHER course sufficiently prepares a user for travel to the Netherlands.
Many people become convinced that these methods offer a "secret solution" to language learning. After all, they do, indeed, teach you some basic language skills in a very short time. However, the impression of thoroughness is really only an ILLUSION. On completion of even the most advanced versions of either method, you will NOT be even remotely autonomous. You will have to pursue your studies. As you progress through any other reasonably complete Basic Course, you will find that you will have to acquire a fair amount of vocabulary, be reasonably sure of the new language's grammar, and be able to demonstrate appropriate pronunciation, if you expect to be understood even on a basic level. Retaining and APPLYING your new knowledge, even in a common situation faced by a traveller, requires hundreds, if not a few thousand, hours of intensive practice. Once "over there", you will find that the "locals" speak extremely quickly, have regional accents, drop syllables, make many grammatical errors, and use colloquialisms that are rarely encountered in basic language courses, thereby rendering them difficult to understand. Neither the Michel Thomas nor the Pimsleur method prepare you for this. They are both good, but they are a beginning only.
As a FOLLOW-UP, I would recommend that you CHOOSE ONE of these Basic Dutch courses below. They will take you to the Intermediate Level and all are really quite GOOD. However, be prepared to invest a LOT of TIME studying them, perhaps several hundred hours! HINT: try memorizing the dialogues; it may be boring, but it helps absorb the language.
(a) ROUTLEDGE's COLLOQUIAL DUTCH, by Bruce Donaldson (this should NOT to be confused with Routledge's INTENSIVE Dutch, which is most decidedly NOT suitable for self-study). The package contains a book and 2 cds. The dialogues are delivered quite quickly, much more quickly than either Michel Thomas or Pimsleur. Although this might seem difficult at first, repeated playing of the dialogues will help you understand the language as you might actually hear it on the street, in restaurants, etc. The author takes pain to underscore both the "correct" way of saying something as well as the "colloquial" equivalent that you are more likely to encounter. Be sure that you buy the "package" since the book are CDs are often offered for sale separately (this fact is not at all clear on Amazon). I purchased my copy, at a slightly lower price, directly from Routledge (Taylor & Francis) via their website.
(b) SPOKEN WORLD DUTCH, by Peter Verhoeven, published by LIVING LANGUAGE. The package contains a book and 6 cds. The dialogues are delivered more quickly than either Michel Thomas or Pimsleur, but not as quickly as with the Routledge package. The dialogues are well-conceived and there is a very heavy emphasis on Dutch grammar.
(c) LINGUAPHONE DUTCH COMPLETE (CURSUS NEDERLANDS) is, indeed, much more complete that the two courses mentioned above. The package contains three course manuals and 8 cds. The dialogues are delivered more quickly than either Michel Thomas or Pimsleur, but not as quickly as with the Routledge or Living Language packages. The dialogues are very wellconceived and there is a strong emphasis on Dutch grammar. I am under the impression that the Linguaphone courses are not as well known as the competing methods, possibly because they are not available on Amazon or in bookstores (or not in the bookstores that I frequent). You can order them directly from the publisher. While the list prices are higher than those of the competing methods, the publisher often has inventory-reduction sales and you can purchase these methods at half-price. They also offer clean "refurbished" packages at reduced prices.
Good luck with your studies!