Learning Portuguese, Michel Thomas Method

Michel Thomas® Method

Portuguese Foundation Course (now updated as Total Portuguese)

Author: Virginia Catmur
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 2008, updated in 2014
Price: £110
CEFR levels: A1-A2/B1 (Beginner to Elementary/Pre-Intermediate) in listening and speaking
Components: 8 audios CDs (plus for the new edition of Total Portuguese a CD-ROM with interactive activities and assessment)
Number of hours: 8 (+ extra for the CD-ROM activities – my version didn’t include the CD-ROM, so I am unable to comment on this component)
⦁ Present tense
⦁ estar a + infinitive
⦁ Question words: porque?, quanto?
⦁ Articles
⦁ Pronouns
⦁ Verbs for ‘to be’: ser, estar, ficar, haver
⦁ vou + infinitive
⦁ Formal and informal ‘you’: o senhor/a senhora, tu
⦁ Imperative
⦁ este/esta
⦁ Future tense
⦁ Future tense with pronouns
⦁ Double negative
⦁ Conditional tense
⦁ Preterite tense
⦁ acabar de
⦁ European v Brazilian Portuguese

Perfect Portuguese

Author: Virginia Catmur
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 2012, updated in 2014
Price: £120
CEFR levels: A2-B1 (Elementary to Intermediate) in listening and speaking
Components: 4 audios CDs (plus for the new edition a CD-ROM with interactive activities and assessment – my version didn’t include the CD-ROM, so I am unable to comment on this component)
Number of hours: 5 (+ extra for the CD-ROM activities)
⦁ Review of present tense
⦁ Review of command tense
⦁ Possessive pronouns
⦁ Future tenses
⦁ Conditional tense
⦁ Preterite tense
⦁ Imperfect tense
⦁ Past perfect
⦁ Modals
⦁ Present subjunctive
⦁ Future subjunctive
⦁ Personal infinitive
⦁ Imperfect subjunctive

Publisher claims

The Michel Thomas® Method is a method of language learning created by Michel Thomas which claims to teach you a foreign language in the same way as you learnt your native language. It is a CD-based course which does not use books. There is no writing or memorizing. The idea is that you learn by listening, absorbing and speaking. The premise is that you are in a ‘virtual classroom’ with a teacher and two other students; one student is quite strong and the other is weaker. When the teacher asks a question you should press the pause button and answer, then listen to one of the other students getting the answer right or wrong. If they answer incorrectly the teacher explains why and then a native-European Portuguese speaker says the correct answer.
Perfect Portuguese builds on your knowledge of the language already acquired on the Total Portuguese course and you will learn to express yourself using an even wider range of structures and vocabulary.


Total Portuguese course comprises of eight CDs which are each one hour long and Perfect Portuguese comprises of four CDs which are each one hour and fifteen minutes long, which makes the course manageable.
Total Portuguese begins at Beginner level and starts with words that are very similar in English and Portuguese, eg possible – possível, probable – provável and we are forming sentences quite soon into the course.
When the teacher wants us to create a sentence she will quite often give the literal translation in English to help us understand the word order, although it can sound odd, eg ‘I am at to write’ for Estou a escrever.
It gives a thorough introduction to Portuguese grammar. By the end of the Perfect Portuguese course you will have learnt all the main tenses, including the three subjunctive tenses. I had already completed another book-based course before beginning this course, so I had a basic knowledge of the grammar and a reasonable amount of vocabulary. This course was good revision of the grammar I had learnt, but was still struggling with. By the end of the course I was more confident forming sentences in different tenses and saying them out loud.
Virginia Catmur is very faithful to Michel Thomas’ methodology and uses a lot of mnemonics to help us remember words and grammar rules. I still use the ‘awesome’ rule to help me remember where the stress falls on words.


The lessons are exactly the same format throughout the entire course, the teacher will explain a grammar point and then give us sentences in English to form in Portuguese. It is a very repetitive format.
Although the course claims to be a listening and speaking course (and even says that Perfect Portuguese give a good grounding for A level listening and speaking), it is actually a grammar course. There is no real listening, except when the native-Portuguese speaker repeats the sentences back. You are not really speaking, as there is no opportunity to have a conversation, and it doesn’t really cover functional language for everyday situations. Some of the sentences we are asked to form don’t seem very useful outside of a grammar activity, eg ‘I did it for you yesterday’ and ‘When will you tell me where it is?’.
There is not much coverage of vocabulary and the lack of new vocabulary meant that even with good understanding of the grammar I was limited as to what I could talk about.
The grammar is taught at a rapid rate and there isn’t much time to absorb one grammar point before another is taught, for example on CD 7 of Total Portuguese the future, conditional and preterite tenses are all taught in the one-hour lesson!
Although I think the idea of mnemonics is good, some of them are a little irritating, eg to remember that faz means ‘to do’ or ‘to make’ the mnemonic is ‘Oh dear, you’re making such a fash about it’. Having said that, I do remember it!
The course doesn’t encourage memorizing and I must admit that by the end of the course I had forgotten quite a lot. I have listened to the CDs several times, along with using other self-study courses and I am slowly understanding the grammar, but this course is not a short cut to understanding Portuguese grammar.
The teacher on the CD, came across as slightly patronizing. Although the weaker student in the ‘virtual classroom’ made me feel good that I was doing better than her, I did find the extra explanation that she needed a bit irritating.
This course doesn’t replace a coursebook, as there is no practice of the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.