From 1982 to 1992, BBC One aired a sitcom set in a small-town café in Nazi-occupied France. Created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, it was entitled  ‘Allo ‘Allo! Recently we watched a dozen episodes on CD and found the running gags hilarious to the point of tears. For instance, the leader of the French Resistance, Michelle Dubois’ line, “Listen very carefully: I shall only say it once!” is invariably accompanied by bumbling confusion necessitating her repetition of secret information. 

There’s an interesting connection between this series and the program we’re using to learn to speak Portuguese. The Michel Thomas Method works by breaking down a language into its components, enabling students to reconstruct the language themselves and form their own sentences. There’s no stress, nothing written, only the spoken word.

I read the brochure that accompanies the discs. Thomas’s biography is fascinating. Born in Poland as Moniek (Moshe) Kroskof in 1914, he survived imprisonment in several Nazi concentration camps, served in the French Resistance, and worked with the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II. After the war, he emigrated to the United States where he developed the above-referenced language-teaching system. Over the years he taught celebrities such as Pierce Brosnan, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Carson, and Melanie Griffith; diplomats and foreign dignitaries including Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; and executives from companies like Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and American Express. He was awarded the Silver Star by the U.S. Army in 2004, one year prior to his death. I plan on reading his biography, Courage Beyond Words: The Many Lives and Languages of Michel Thomas by Christopher Robbins (McGraw-Hill, 2007).

In the meantime, I am listening very carefully, and am glad my instructor does not say it only once!