Reviews: Michel Thomas Portuguese

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Michel Thomas Portuguese is an interactive audio-based course that covers European Portuguese. It’s interactive because the teacher, Virginia Catmur, explains an aspect of Portuguese, she asks her two students several questions. Sometimes she also asks Paulo, the native Portuguese speaker in the group, to demonstrate how something is correctly pronounced.

The constant questions keeps the lessons interactive and practical rather than the lessons being entirely one-way. As the listener, you’re supposed to hit the pause button and try to answer the questions yourself. 

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Here’s an example from CD 2 of the advanced level:

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Virginia: What’s the Portuguese for “to put.”
Student: Pôr
Virginia: How would you say I put?
Student: Ponho
Virginia: How would you say put it here (using the polite o senhor form).
Student: Ponha-o aqui.
Paulo: Repeats “Ponha-o aqui” to show how it’s pronounced.
Virginia: How would you say “don’t put it here”?
Student: Não o ponha aqui?
Virginia: You can avoid the command tense by asking someone “pode” which is “are you able to”. How would you say “can you have it ready for me tomorrow?”
Student: Pode tê-lo pronto para mim amanhã.
Virginia: So, pode is you can or he, she, it can. It’s from the verb Poder. What’s “I can”?
Student: Posso.
Virginia: How would you say I can come with you tomorrow?

You get the idea. 

Each question forces you to build a new sentence using the grammar and vocabulary you’ve previously learned. Not only is the method fantastic for getting you building sentences, but it also really builds your confidence when you realise just how many sentences you can form. 

There’s no memorisation as you’re encouraged just to absorb, but there does come a point where you actually need to start taking notes and revising concepts. There is an accompanying PDF book, but you’ll probably want to take your own notes as well.

Although the courses don’t correspond to a level on the CEFR scale, it’s probably somewhere around the start of B1. So, A2 and a bit.  

That constant interaction is similar to the Pimsleur Method, but the Michel Thomas Method definitely goes a lot further than Pimsleur which only teaches a limited amount of vocab and especially grammar. 

Each lesson is typically around 8 minutes long, which is a nice manageable chunk, and each CD (or MP3 bundle) has around 10-12 lessons in it. 

Like Pimsleur, the course is a great confidence builder and, as you answer each of Virginia’s questions, you realise how much you know how to say in Portuguese. 

Strengths & Weaknesses

Like every language product, The Michel Method has its strengths and weaknesses. Some are typical of many language products (most courses, for example, don’t include speaking practice) and some are unique to this particular course.

Strengths

Here are the pros.

Gets you building sentences

Despite being audio-based and before the days of apps, the course is very interactive and it gets you building sentences. Too many courses teach you the grammar but don’t get you actually using it. 

Good focus on pronunciation

Virginia really puts an emphasis on pronunciation, including where to stress words. She highlights exactly how a word should be said, corrects the students’ mistakes, and lets Paulo showcase how it should be said. Hearing the students make mistakes on pronunciation is actually quite helpful here. 

Simple explanations for grammar

Michel Thomas Portuguese is basically a grammar course. It covers several tenses including present, future, past, conditional, estar a + infinitive, and the command tense (along with lots of other grammar concepts) but without ever feeling too overwhelming. That’s not to say it doesn’t get difficult at times, but it’s definitely one of the easiest introductions to Portuguese grammar.

Useful Mnemonics & Hacks

Virginia shares lots of useful mnemonics, rhymes, and groupings which make it much easier to remember words and grammar concepts. These days, we’d probably call them “language learning hacks.”

Brazilian Portuguese

Although the course focuses entirely on European Portuguese, there are a few lessons at the end of the Foundation Level that include a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker. Hearing how both a European and a Brazilian Portuguese speaker would say the same thing (both in terms of pronunciation but also grammar and vocabulary) is incredibly helpful, and something more European Portuguese courses should cover.

Weaknesses 

And, now for the cons.

Student mistakes

One major criticism of the Michel Thomas Method is that the students used in the class make mistakes, and having to listen to these mistakes not only slows the class down but may also confuse you as well. 

There’s definitely a lot of truth to that, but it’s also the case that many of the mistakes that the students make are ones that you might make as well. If it weren’t for hearing them make the mistakes (and be corrected), you might keep making the same mistakes too. 

Doesn’t covering reading or writing

Being entirely audio-based (although there is an accompanying booklet) the course has its limitations. There’s no reading, writing, and not a huge amount of listening. It’s mainly a grammar course. 

No course is perfect, though, and most courses have gaps that you’ll need to fill in yourself. Most other courses have reading and listening material, which this course does not, so you’ll have to find resources for practicing these skills yourself (don’t worry: Portugalist has lots of resource recommendations). Very few courses allow for speaking practice with a native speaker, and Michel Thomas Portuguese is the same, so, again, that’s another gap you’ll have to fill in.

Advanced lessons are limited 

A lot of the content in the advanced course is a refresher of what was covered in the foundational course, which is disappointing as it would be great to continue this method through the more difficult levels of Portuguese. 

As mentioned, the course takes you to around A2 or early B1-level, which is still really the “getting by” stage for living in Portugal. If you want to move progress — and it’s recommended you aim for at least B2 — you’ll need to look at other materials for the next levels.

Costs 

The combined foundation and intermediate MP3s cost $152 when bought from the Michel Thomas website, but there’s a 30% discount when you use the code MTMPORT which brings the price down to 

This is roughly the same price as the A1/A2 bundle from Portuguese Master Course, but better value than Pimsleur as Pimsleur only really only covers the A1-level. 

It’s hard to compare the cost to subscription-based products like Practice Portuguese or Portuguese Lab Academy as they charge per month rather than a fixed price but, in theory, they could offer better value for money if you were studying all the time. 

Overall, the course is priced about average. Of course, cost isn’t everything and you absolutely shouldn’t just go for the cheapest product but the best. 

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Comments

  1. This is definitely the best beginner course out there. As others have said it only teaches grammar but seeing as grammar is one of the hardest bits, it's worth it.

    Everything is simplified and the teacher has lots of methods for making it stick. I can still remember the rhyme: "This and these both have T's. For that and those out it goes."

    I did find the female student made too many mistakes and it ended up confusing me. Would have been happy if there was just the male student.

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  2. This is without doubt the best beginner course that I came across. There's a lot I don't like about it, and a lot of places where it could be improved, and I wish it went to a move advanced level, but it was the only thing that got me learning Portuguese grammar.

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  3. This is a great review of the Michel Thomas Method for Portuguese. I had a lot of the same issues as the writer here. I felt like there was too much emphasis on memorizing everything and that the other student mistakes were damaging.

    The course doesn't really teach vocabulary but I was picking that up naturally anyway. I also don't think it covers listening very well, as most of what you're hearing is spoken in English anyway.

    But it is a really great course. I've tried group classes and other Portuguese textbooks but this course was the best at explaining Portuguese grammar to me.

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  4. First of all I should say that this is a fantastic course and it helped me get a basic level of Portuguese. I tried classes but this was much better.

    But there were a few things I didn't like about it. Firstly why can't I say eu, tu, ele, ela, etc. This does seem to be said in Portugal and it makes it easier to understand what's being said.

    Secondly the accompanying book could be better. The Michel Thomas Method focuses on no memorization but in all honesty you do need to go over what youve learnt once you get to the more advanced lessons.

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  5. I don't know where I would be without Virgina's mnemonics and verb groupings (e.g. the sugo verbs). She really breaks Portuguese grammar down into a much more digestible form.

    There were things I didn't like. The female student made a lot of mistakes which did confuse me and I found Virginia a bit patronising at times. Maybe that wasn't on purpose.

    It's a small price to pay for where it has taken me and I would happily recommend this course.

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  6. I found the Michel Thomas way of learning by far the easiest one I had tried. Many repetitions of words and sentences makes it easier to remember. The lessons are short so you don’t get too bogged down with learning new things. Definitely recommend.

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