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One commentator on Chris Huff’s Video states “I’m not sure that Davey’s method does reflect Ebbinghaus, but it seems to work anyway”. True or False?

True. It is only a working approximation to Ebbinghaus. Supermemo and Anki can get on his curve much closer, but the problem is in order to work they repeat material you really already know and this method enables you to skip writing that again, thus focusing only on the unlearned material. In order to achieve that economy, I have a working approximation to the curve, which works on reiteration of unlearned material. Like scissors cutting the hair too long but then cutting again until you get what you want versus electric shears with a set depth which might not be precisely the depth you wanted and only work if a short cut is desired, and the shears won’t work at all unless you have electricity.

It’s harder to see the curve that it is with the Supermemo algorithm, but by the application of the 14 days with iteration, you do cover the same thing, only with less work and less risk of switching on more short-term memory.

In addition to that I have a scientifically untested hypothesis which is divergent from Ebbinghaus, namely that short-term memory and long-term memory are distinct functions, the one happening when we remember consciously and the other when we allow it to function like breathing when we forget about it. This idea is my own conclusion from non-scientific observation of my own case and the case of users.

The number of contented users of GLM who keep going with it into repeated projects year on year, some of whom have done as many if not more than I have and probably will end up doing much more, proves that the method certainly works, it works probably regardless of people’s views about their own learning type as long as they at least enjoy the process of writing.

In short you’ve made a fair comment about the relation of Ebbinghaus. I want to acknowledge the input of what I learned from Ebbinghaus, but you correctly note it doesn’t stop there.

Not enough real science has been done with memory and if anyone wants to fund or test in a real university setting the hypotheses underlying the GLM then I’m happy to be involved.

Clearing up some points about GLM.

A Facebook friend whom I shall call Miriamm (not her real name) asked me:

Hello, Hallo, Hola, Shalom, Ave, Chaire, Zdravo, Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt, etc, etc…

I have a question about the Goldlist Method.

I have already asked this in the Polyglot group, but I didn’t get an answer, and somehow I can’t tag you, so that you get notified.

So, my question is:
Where do you take your first 25 words for the Headlist? Are they just random words or do you read an article, take notes during a lecture, watch a movie, whatever?

I have used Anki for quite long, until I got frustrated by the huge number of words it forced me to repeat before going on. I’m testing Memrise now and it often gives wrong pronunciations (it writes poder, but it says “el poder” for the verb “to be able to” in Spanish…)

It is annoying, because it gets hardwired in my brain like that.

Plus, it just takes random words without any context or grammar built around them.

I want to try the Goldlist method. I wonder how it works to skip the short-term memory, though. If I read an article beforehand and take the unknown words from there for my Headlist, they are already in my short-term memory by the time I write my list, aren’t they?

I read somewhere a while ago that you have to hear or read a word in five different contexts to be able to use it actively.

So, ok, I write my headlist and DO NOTHING (???) for two weeks?

If I hear or see a word from the headlist again in the meantime, it already tickles my memory before I should write my second list, right?

So how can I try the Goldlist method according to the rules?

Do you have a detailed video about it without the charming Russian accent? :-)

Should you start a new Goldlist method experiment or challenge set to a certain starting date, please include me. Maybe I should try it with a language that I don’t know yet, maybe Swedish.

Anyway, I don’t know why, but my brain can’t learn a new language in my mother tongue, which is Rhaet-Romansch. It slows me down extremely. I always learn the grammar of a new language in German and English in parallel, so my Goldlist would also have three columns.

Miriamm, you start a new Goldlist using various kinds of material depending on where you are with the language. At an early stage (assuming you have done some audio only work like a Pimsleur or Michel Thomas course first, so that you have some basics and a knowledge of how the language sounds) you’ll pick maybe a Teach Yourself series book or a Colloquial series book, Living Language, Assimil, you name it.

What goes in the Headlist is the vocab, the grammar notes, example sentences, everything you need in order not to need the book with you when you distil it. You do these 25 at a time because that’s what fits on the top left of a double-page in a writing book 40 lines deep, while leaving enough space for the future distillations.

When you’ve done one of these, taking maybe 20 minutes if you have the material prepared at hand, then you take the page after a ten minute break in which you did something else, like walk a kilometre, make a coffee, peel some vegetables, go to the toilet, etc etc, and you do turn to the next double page in the writing book to do another 25. This is the complicated bit as it involves taking the right hand sheet of the double page in between your fingers and moving it to the left, ensuring you only take one sheet and not 2 at a time. It is known as “turning the page”and does not generally take two weeks to do. The point about the two weeks is  that you do not review the earlier material, instead you carry on deep into the book even though you have not necessarily memorised the earlier material, because you need the book in the Headlist and you’ll memorise the whole thing on later distillations.

This is a bit counter-intuitive for those who are used to really covering and memorising one chapter before they go on to the next and so on until they finish the book, at which point they put the book away and don’t need it again. It is a completely different, but far more effective, way to work through the book, and commit it to memory.

The thing to do once all the material in a book has been covered is either to get a more advanced book to work from or to work through a small dictionary, or start literature work.

In this way you can go from beginner to post-graduate levels all in a single memory system, tracking your vocab numerically and measuring the degree of memorisation of the material all the way.

By the way, don’t miss Christopher Huff’s Academy Award-Winning four minute movie about the Goldlist Method:

Now let me come to the additional point which you mentioned about the fact that your short-term memory is switched on while noting words down from reading an article.

My tendency would be to use the Goldlist as the direct place you note down the words and then their German and/or English equivalents once you have checked them in your dictionary or from a translation of the article (which is why I like to use literature, there is usually an audio-book to listen to, and then you can read the foreign language text to grab any bits you didn’t really understand form the audio, and then finally read the translation in your own language for what you didn’t quite understand in the foreign language original. Right now I am in this process for Hermann Brochs “Die Schlafwanderer” as far as German is concerned.

I would not say that this process switches on a short-term memory learning process. You are focused on understanding a passage and not on committing it by dint of force to a memory to be tested on next Tuesday. Therefore some of it will of course be remembered short term but the long-term memory is free to make its usual samples in a relaxed way and the more you like the story the better that should work. With the Goldlist Method, you carry on confidently with further material and if you happen to come up with the same word again and write it again, this is really no big deal. It happens to everyone now and again. When you know that word as you will after 1-3 distillations most likely, you’ll be able to kick it out even more rapidly so what you lose on the swings, as we say, you gain on the roundabouts. The point is not to repeat material intentionally, partly because it wastes time, you don’t need it for this way of learning, and partly because two frequent repetition builds the kind of synapses which are intended to disintegrate after two weeks, for reasons deep in our history and connected to the lunar hunting cycle.

Question on GLM vs Flashcards and on seeing words in the fermentation period.

One YT user asked today:

“Hello, Mr. James. I wanted to say, thank you for sharing this great information about the long term memory. It all makes perfect sense, and I have started a Gold-List for my language learning! I have a couple questions, if you are able to answer I would greatly appreciate it! Do you recommend the use of flashcards at all for learning a language? I understand for the Gold-List, you should avoid the words you wrote down on the list for not less than two weeks, but should you not think about the words at all? I suppose using flash cards would “jog” your short term memory again, but I am not certain. Maybe they are just different strategies, and don’t work together. Also, if I am trying to practice with sentences, should I not use the words I wrote in the list, or only after it “passed”.”

Here is the answer I wrote:

Please join the GoldList Method User Group on Facebook if you can. That way, good questions like these are flagged up for a bigger audience. Anyway, here goes:

1) flashcards are the standard system but they are a bit fiddly. You have to really manipulate a lot of small pieces of paper. if you actually want to do a nice big project with thousands of words and you want a proper card that will withstand all the mauling, it is a good deal more expensive and when the wind wafts in the window you’ll wish you had used a book.

The other thing about even on line flashcard systems is that in the classic system you are presented with them a lot of times until you can remember them, but not always are you asked to write anything. Without a re-write, it may be hard to know if you are doing a proper re-presentation of the material to the memory. Re-presenting material to the memory when you may have learned it only to the short-term memory is deceptive. People are sure they have learned things on systems like Memrise, Anki, Supermemo, etc when actually they haven’t. GLM calls for a bit more patience in the process but saves you a lot of time in the long run and makes sure that your long-term memory is optimised.

I am not sure how I could test this scientifically, but it would not surprised me to discover that the method even trains the L/T memory to be more effective. After all, if you show your body that you are relying and using a function, usually that function gets stronger, and if you are learning mainly to the short-term memory with methods of short-interval repetition, I would not be at all surprised if the long term memory even weakens as a result. Don’t take this paragraph as science, it is however reasoned speculation.

Cards might make the thing a bit more “gamey” but unless you have someone else committed to play it with you that might not be such great fun in reality as it appears before you do it.

2) About not using words on the list during the interim of 14 days – I notice that some people get a bit stressed about this and worry that they are going to be using the words in the intervening period and that then they will be still in the short-term memory when it comes to reviewing a list after 14 days. Let me say a couple of things on this point. Firstly, most people who are in the phase of trying the goldlist don’t use it exclusively as their only approach to a given language, while there are some others who, once they become convinced that GLM is the most effective approach, pretty much use only that, or, as in my own case, I use only the Goldlist once I have front loaded one or two audio-only courses to give me a good mental pronunciation of the new language, and then I get on and start the big project with GLM, but even then I migtht use more than one set of materials and alternate between different sets and even if I only have one set, some words are going to keep re-appearing. These are probably mainly words with a very high frequency in the language. I wouldn’t worry too much if they are not going through the GLM as efficiently as some other words – as these are the high frequency words of the language you can’t help coming across them a lot, you always will be coming across them a lot, and one way or another as long as you persevere you will certainly learn those higher frequency words. The trick is not to keep representing that list in that form to yourself in the fermentation period of at least 14 days. Don’t return to that same material, leave it be, but also don’t sweat it if the same words come up in different material.

I hope I understood and answered the questions OK. I’ll copy this also in a couple of other places so others can benefit from your good questions.

What’s so special about 14 days?

Fintan, a language learning fan, wrote to me the following:

Hi David, I am a language learner and am impressed with your Goldlist system. I want to ask you a question about the Goldlist method if that’s ok. Why did you choose 2 weeks as the minimum period for the first distillation? Was it efficiency/management of growing bronze lists that decided this period of time as I can’t find info on the association between 2 weeks and the end of short term memory? I understand the 20-30% retention by this passed time but I just want to check with you. Also, it occurred to me that one could activate this first 20-30% after only 2 weeks rather than waiting to be finished all distillations. By activating, I mean using a full circle method like Luca Lampariello to translate the known passive sentences back into the target language. I think this does not contradict the long term memory goal as you are only activating known words. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Fintan.

My reply, as ever when someone asks a great question which others could really benefit from;

Can I write the answer as an article on

To which Fintan kindly responds:

Absolutely :) Looking forward to it! Thanks

So here goes…

Now and again in my writings (which anybody could be forgiven for not having read all of), I have spoken a few times about what the significance of the two week fermentation period in Goldlisting is.

However, I don’t think I’ve really said enough about it and so this question is a very useful one for those who would also like to know more about the topic and many readers no doubt will be interested in delving into this particular issue more closely just as Fintan is.

As you know, the Goldlist method is based upon the findings of Ebbinghaus, known as the father of the study of memory as well as the father of clinical psychology. Very little prior to Ebbinghaus’ work had been done on the human mind and memory using the scientific method, namely experimentation and the testing of various theories by performing logical experiments giving tangible evidence which can be repeated by other people. Ebbinghaus was groundbreaking because he did this for the first time in a very imaginative way – and in a way very interesting for polyglots. That is to say he taught himself nonsense words and measured how quickly he would forget them. One weakness about his method was that he used himself as the main subject, being too kind to inflict the rigours of learning nonsense for the pure sake of forgetting them while measuring the rate of doing so on his students.

If you want to know more about this pioneering scientist, a good place to start would be the Wikipedia articles on him and on his theories.

Reading them however you will probably notice that two weeks per se is not mentioned. And neither is the idea of there being a short-term memory which is for conscious and long-term memory which is for unconscious learning. You can look for these concepts in the work of Ebbinghaus in the way that you could look for the term Trinity in the Bible, or indeed the name of God in the book of Esther. These are things which are intrinsic, and go without saying to a degree. It is not possible to understand all the observations of fact without such a theory, and therefore it emerges from the work even if not explicitlt mentioned.

Of course, it is also possible that I’ve read into what Ebbinghaus did more than he ever intended, and if that is the case then of course on the one hand that would put me in a position of being less “scientific” than such methods as Supermemo by Wozniak or Anki which certainly do map onto the forgetting curve in a way which the Goldlist method does not, but for reasons I’m going to come to an moment that actually doesn’t matter.

Let me just grab a picture of the forgetting curve if I can. Bear with me one moment.

Right, here we go. Thanks to for this, which he placed into the public domain.


As you will see, it is not that you remember everything well for two weeks and then get a sudden deterioration. Not according to this, anyway, and not according to the raw data Ebbinghaus made from his experiments with himself.

There are reasons that I will go into a little bit later on in this article that make me think that such phenomenon does exist. However I don’t know of any actual scientific evidence proving the observation is measurably true rather than simply anecdotal but I will give you all the reasons why I think that the two-week cut-off is more than just an arbitrary point in the forgetting curve. That’s coming up below in the article. Read the rest of this entry

Batching (Batch-based scheduling) with Goldlist Method explained in full.

One reader with the pleasant name of Marlon wrote in one comment recently the following great question, and thus coaxed me to impart some advanced goldlisting knowledge which I was keeping back for the book:


I am eager to start the Goldlist method. However, I need further clarification about scheduling. I read your post responding to Abdul some years back but I am still not sure how I can avoid distillations and new headlist overlapping. I do understand I could simply insert a batch of words and not use the step system, but it is not my desire to take that route.

I would prefer to use the step Goldlist method. I think I am most confused by time allotment. I decided to use the 20mins/25words/10min break format. When distilling to the first set (from 25 to 17), I believe you suggest use the same format, that is to use 20mins/25words/10mins. What about D2? Do I still need to use 20 mins to go from D1–>D2 (and D2—>D3)? In other words, do I perform as many distillations as possible after D1 is completed in the 20 min allotment? For example, Would it be prudent to distill maybe 2 sets from 17–>12 in one 20 min block?

I am looking forward to your response.

I will write the answer to this as a main article, partly because it’s a better way to get more readers to read it, and it is a good and useful topic for those who are using the Goldlist, and partly because I can use tables better in a new article than in a response.

I think it’s an excellent question, which shows that you’ve understood most of what I need you to understand in order to work successfully with the method.

I have in the past left people to fill in the blanks for this one themselves, as there are a number of ways in which you could fill in the blanks and they would all be good as long as the basic tenets are agreed to, and also I was leaving something back for the book, but just to give you an example of what works for me, imagine that you decide to do a project in which you have a good idea how many lines will be in the headlist in total, and lets say it’s going to be 3000 lines of headlist.

I would split that task into Batches, and each batch I give letters of the Alphabet, so Batch A, Batch B, etc.

Now because we want to avoid running into within two weeks of ourselves, as well as not have too long periods of not getting to review the same material (more than a quarter of a year is not necessarily harmful, but means you have little momentum, in practice, which can be demotivating) we need to plan it so that the first batch is the biggest batch, and then they get gradually smaller.

So the last batch will be 100 words, the second from last will be 200 words, etc.

Now follow me through this logic: Read the rest of this entry

Goldlisting may or may not be from the very beginning of learning a language, but it’ll take you on as far as you like!

1st edition (publ. Hodder & Stoughton)

1st edition (publ. Hodder & Stoughton) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) –  But will Hodder and Stoughton manage to make Michel Thomas’ method everlasting?

Neworldgirl78 wrote on my Goldlist lecture in Moscow film the following question:

I am learning Russian and have been using a variety of means such as Pimsleur, various apps, and your you tube videos of course. Should I narrow my studying to this method or add it to my current methods? Thanks, and love your videos :)

Many thanks!

I started to answer this in the comments section but I thought that it needs more space than the comments section there allows.

Here’s the full answer:

I use Michel Thomas and Pimsleur myself, audio only as they are, at the beginning of learning a new language, but they eventually come to an end. You might for example work through MT first and even a very long course with all the available levels in still is only less than 20 hours of material, add on a full Pimsleur course with another 30 hours of material (much of it overlapping with the MT) that gives you 50 hours.

This 50 hours – the maximum currently available of quality audio-only beginners courses – when listened to a few times gives you 150 hours of audio time at the max, and if you use the pause button properly you could stretch that to 250. It’s great to do this at the beginning – use MT first as that method gives you the deep structures of the language and doesn’t shy away from grammatical explanations (which Pimsleur does to the point that it becomes misleading at times) and it gives you a good accent, but that 250 hours of work will only take you so far.

And let’s be clear that for many of the less popular languages there’s still no MT course – Hodder and Stoughton didn’t make much on the ones available so far as the activities of internauts were too impactful on the sales of the material, and so it may well be down to hobbyists rather than businesspeople to take Michel Thomas’ legacy to its full conclusion. So it the best case, something like Russian, you might be lucky and find 250 hours of useful work to do on audio only. If you were looking at Bulgarian you’d be hard pressed to find any – I found some in bookshops in Sofia, from an unknown method and author which I didn’t even start yet, but nothing on Amazon or the net.

So once you have finished with the audio only, or earlier if you are not an auditory learner and feel that you aren’t progressing so well with the audio only methods, you need to progress onto reading and writing. Read the rest of this entry

A question on the Goldlist Method

Français : A small list of common Louisiana Fr...

Français : A small list of common Louisiana French words different from normative French. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nice to see there are still all the time more and more people discovering the method online and finding out about it. One viewer asked me today:

Hello, in the last few days I’ve spent a few hours watching Your videos about the Goldlist Method. They have answered most of my questions, but one. Which is; as You’ve said, it is not a language course, or language learning method, but a way of learning vocabulary, so to learn a language the student also needs a book about the language. But how to use the course, if I’m using the Goldlist method? I mean, to make sure that the words I’ve learnt, I remember with the long term memory, I should not have contact with them for at least two weeks, but I would have if I were to use the course. Should I actually use the course (the way it’s meant to be used) after I learn all/most of the vocabulary contained in it? That would mean spending quite a few months learning the vocabulary, and not being able to really say anything in the target language. Or should I read enough about the target language’s grammar before? Though, that would mean spending some time learning the grammar, without knowing too much vocabulary to practice it with.

When I choose a language course, I try and find one that has vocabulary given in each lesson (as well as an index at the back, and graded grammatical explanations in each lesson. So I copy over the voicabulary items as single line items, and I copy over the grammatical paradigms as well as the explanations in summarised form as line items, just like noting things out of the book. I don’t need to write out all the dialogues and I don’t then usually need to do the exercises.

The fact that common words will inevitably be met again while I’m working further on the course is not an issue. These are the words which are so common of course you are going to learn them if you learn also the uncommon words, but in fact you shouldn’t panic unduly about seeing the words again, you just shouldn’t revise them again, but press on forward.

Even if you end up writing a word or grammar point more than once because you forgot you met it already, and only discover this on a later distillation, it’s really no big deal. Goldlist is quite a long project even though it’s probably the quickest way to learn in terms of total time spent, and these small inaccuracies will all come out in the wash.

Hope that helps.

Goldlist Method Discussion on LingQ Forums – How to learn languages

Image representing LingQ as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

This is a link to a discussion on the Goldlist Method again by some pretty hardcore polyglots, most of whom seem to like the method, although unsurprisingly there are dissenting voices. After all, the people who have already learned a number of languages successfully will already in the main have their pet methods, and the fact that any people in that category are willing to add the method to their arsenal is a great boon. My main case for it rests however with the people who have written to me getting success for the first time in language learning by applying the method and understanding the underlying truths about language learning – which of course it doesn’t have any kind of monopoly on – which were the reasons they failed before with conventional classroom learning, and not from their own fault.

I don’t think I will join in the discussion on LingQ, one YT friend indicated that the discussion is there, but on previous occasions when this has been discussed and I’ve chimed in it has put the discussion to death a bit. And believe me it is a great pleasure for me to read intelligent, unfettered discussion about the method.

Please go and have a look. You don’t have to be a registered member of LingQ to review the site, although you might want to look around and see if a sub there is for you. I like Steve Kaufman and have no qualms about plugging his place. Most people spend a lot more on Language Learning than they’d need to spend to get a top-level membership on there, and be engaged in studying and teaching languages all day and every day.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes from the discussion, by various people:

The method was first invented by an English guy living in Poland (I believe his name is David James.) He seems to be a little strange…

Heh heh.
Perhaps he is simply living proof that human genius and human madness are very close together!?

Very possibly. Who knows?

Some of this videos are funny, some aren’t.
I cannot possibly comment. None of them are particularly funny to me, I have to say.
I have been using the Goldlist method since last December, and it seems indeed that on average I remember 30% of the words in each list. I have only done the first distillation so far, but it seems to work indeed, and it is faster than an SRS protocol.
It is a kind of SRS protocol, but more drawn out, more trusting of the amazing human unconscience than either Anki or Supermemo, even though they reflect experimental findings about memory more closely than my method does. And of course it doesn’t need a computer. We spend enough time on them and finding diacritics can seriously waste your learning time. On the other hand just clicking between alternatives doesn’t engage you as much in the word as actually writing it.

I didn’t know about Mr James’ contribution to the polyglot book before Sebastian pointed it out in his post yesterday. I spent several hours last night reading most it, and I agree it makes pretty interesting (and unusual) reading.

I liked the way he describes learning Italian in classes at school, while teaching himself Russian at home using Linguaphone and the older version of “Teach Yourself”. The result: he got a top mark in the ‘O Level‘ Russian Exam, and a lower mark in the ‘O Level’ Italian exam – leaving his Italian teacher entirely perplexed! :-0

His recollections of having a little run-in with the KGB while on a student exchange in the old USSR during the 1980s is also quite funny in the telling (although the actual experience of a KGB-third-degree was doubtless anything other than ‘funny’ for a student 19 or 20 years of age!)

Very true.
Those CANNOT be his own eyebrows
It’s a fair cop, I borrowed them from the Eyebrow Library. They are in fact a pair of bookworms, and can often be found hovering over their prey.
I won’t do all of the ones I liked as I would prefer people to go and read the whole discussion in situ.

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