spanishSix-year-olds are not the only people who can soak up a new language practically overnight. With the help of The Michel Thomas Speak/Get Started Kit ($24.50, books.mcgraw-hill.com), you’ll blend in with the locals whether you’re headed to Paris, Rome, or the Spanish-speaking home of your husband’s family, just 72 hours before you go.

Thomas, the soothing, encouraging voice behind each lesson, taught new languages to A-listers like Princess Grace of Monaco, Sarah Ferguson, Ronald Reagan and countless others. His philosophy: Kick memorization, verb tenses and standard language rules to the curb. His method: a soothing voice with a relaxed, easy-going tone.

By the end of one hour, our tester successfully composed full sentences on a variety of practical (!) topics and had a basic understanding of the language’s nuances, paving the way for higher-level conversation. This language aficionado has an extraordinary story himself: Foreign language actually saved his life. In 1943, Thomas, who was of Polish extraction, found himself in France, face-to-face with a man known as the Butcher of Lyon for the torture and murder of thousands of Jews. When he was questioned in German, Thomas feigned ignorance and replied in French. So believable was his language skill that he was able to convince the Butcher of Lyon that he didn’t know German, and so his life was spared. To Thomas, we say “C’est magnifique!”