Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Michel Thomas - The story of more than just a language teacher

One of my favorite products for language learning is the Michel Thomas method cds, which I’ve used for Spanish and French (and which I’ve wrote about in this blog before).  This post is less about the product or the method, but about the man behind the method.  Michel Thomas, besides being an amazing language teacher, lived a truly heroic, tragic, and amazing life.

Documented in the book Test of Courage:  The Michel Thomas Story by Christopher Robbins, Michel’s biography is an action packed account, worthy of the most suspenseful Hollywood movie.  In the 1930s Michel and his family, growing up Jewish in Poland, decided to flee anti-semitism there.  The only problem was they fled from Poland to Austria, the Austria of Hitler and the Nazis.  Necessity required another escape from persecution, and Michel ended up a refugee in France prior to the Nazi occupation.  After the invasion of France, Thomas was eventually captured by the Nazis for his activities in the resistance and imprisoned in a concentration camp.  Thomas escaped and re-joined the French resistance.  After the allied invasion, Thomas would gain employment in the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), the precursor to the CIA.  Thomas was present at the liberation of Dachau, and the photos he took at the liberation are now a part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  He stayed with the CIC for several years, helping to bring several Nazi war criminals to justice.    

After the war, Thomas would eventually migrate to the United States.  He opened a language school in Los Angeles and taught many Hollywood stars a variety of languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian, English).  His clients included notables like Woody Allen, Sofia Loren, and many other celebrities.  Thomas also became the subject of the BBC documentary, the language master, linked below, in which he teaches students who have trouble with languages in the past French in 5 days.  
In 2004 Thomas was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic work in World War II.  He died a year later at age 90.  His audio courses are a great place to start when learning a language.  I personally used the advanced Spanish course, which took my Spanish to the next level, and have done the complete French course and am waiting for the opportunity to be able to use my French.  If you would like to learn more about Michel and his incredible life, please check out the resources listed below.                

BBC documentary about Michel Thomas:  The Language Master

Audio History of Holocaust: Here is a link to an interview of Michel Thomas being interviewed for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Excellent, in-depth, emotional, and the interviewers do a really good job of just letting Michel tell his story.  The other histories in this collection are done with the same quality and respect, it puts real human faces with the Holocaust, an event that it’s easy to think about in large numbers and forget about the individuals affected.   

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