Michel Thomas is probably the most famous name is language learning. His pioneering method concentrates on a naturalistic way of learning languages, rather than the rote learning that we experience in schools, where we find that, after years of classes, we can’t actually speak the language we supposedly learned. Towards the end of his life, Michel Thomas decided to begin recording his lessons to release as audio courses so that more than just an elite few could benefit from his secret. Michel Thomas is dead, but his method continues to be sold and produced, while recently a newcomer by the name of Paul Noble has appeared on the scene selling a technique remarkably similar to Thomas’s. Some would even say that Paul Noble has stolen his technique, but I personally have strong reservations about the idea that it’s possible to steal something as intrinsic as how the human mind learns.
Both courses are much more effective than other methods of learning a language, and after completing one, you should have a basic understanding of the grammatical structure of the language and be able to form simple sentences, although your vocabulary will not be very large, as the point of the courses is really to teach you grammar, rather than a wide vocabulary, as the former is much more important than the latter when starting out. But the question remains: which is better?
Both methods use the same basic exercise, in which you, the student, are taught a word, usually a verb, and asked to translate a sentence from English to the target language. As this method is repeated over and over again your vocabulary and mastery of the language increases. This similarity also means that both methods have much of the same flaws, but each has a unique advantage over the other. The advantage of the Paul Noble method is that is is much more focused and refined, but sadly it does not offer advanced courses, only the basics; this is the advantage of Michel Thomas.
So although both methods are nearly identical, they differ greatly in their execution.
When learning from a Michel Thomas Method course, one gets the feeling that the technique, though there, is much less refined. Thomas’s method of simply recording a lesson with actual students, rather than producing a lesson specifically designed as an audio course, leaves the method not realizing its full potential. Oftentimes, learning with Michel Thomas can feel like listening to the ramblings of a grumpy old man — and grumpy he certainly is, compared to the disturbingly chirpy Paul Noble! This is certainly where Paul Noble has the advantage, as his lessons, each designed from the outset to be an audio course rather than being so as an afterthought, replace the students with an actual native speaker giving examples of the sentences you are being taught. Michel Thomas, therefore, is not ideal for teaching proper pronunciation, as between Thomas’s strong German-sounding accent and the error of his students, you will often be left unsure of the proper pronunciation. And those students provide problems all of their own; in each course there is usually one student far behind both you and the other student, who is constantly making mistakes and generally holding you back, and this is without mentioning just how frustrating and annoying listening to them struggle with simple concepts can be. This is a problem that obviously does not exist in the Paul Noble courses.
This all adds up to make the Paul Noble courses far superior when it comes to getting a grasp for the language. Although Paul Noble will often leave you lacking, it will at the very least give you the basics, which is very important for being able to engage with people who speak the target language and further your learning. It is a great shame that both Paul Noble does not have such a wide array of language courses as Michel Thomas, and that he does not offer intermediate and advanced courses as Michel Thomas does, because, as a teacher, he is far better at his job.
But this is not to say that the Michel Thomas courses are not a good way of learning a language. Both methods are far superior to other methods you could pay for. My personal recommendation would be to treat Paul Noble as the beginner course, Michel Thomas’s basic course as the intermediate, and his advanced course as, well, advanced. This is because Michel Thomas and his successors just aren’t all that good at giving you the basics when you compare them to Paul Noble.
So which one should you buy, if you can’t afford all three? Well, it depends on your language level so far. If you already know a bit of your target language, I would recommend the thrifty to jump straight into Michel Thomas’s basic course, and repeat it twice. If you know nothing, start with Paul Noble. But as I said before, both methods sadly have their flaws, and taking them as a complete package helps to negate this, but how you spend your money is ultimately up to you.
But if you press me for a verdict, I would have to say that Paul Noble wins, hands down. He may not give you as advanced a level of the languages he teaches, but he is without a doubt better at his job.