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 huliganov.tv?
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Icez 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
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!
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 :)
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
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…
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 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.
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!)
Those CANNOT be his own eyebrows
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One Polish viewer, Krzysztof, asked me the following questions about the Goldlist over in Youtube, and agreed that I could answer in English and over here so that more readers can benefit. I haven’t translated the questions, as the questions will be obvious from the answers.
Chciałbym zadać kilka pytań o Gold List, otóż mam taki który ma 40 lini jednak gdy piszę 25 słów pod sobą to jest to mało czytelne, czy nie mogło to by być 20 słów ?
If you have large handwriting, and go over the lines, you may need to look for another book with larger lines, but these ones frequently don’t make up 40 lines per page. In such cases instead of having 25 lines in the headlist, you might need to reduce it to 20. 100 is easily divided by 20, so dividing the headlist up into 20s instead of 25s is a very valid alternative method.
Even for people who can easily fit in 25 in the headlist, limiting to 20 allows the goldlist book to take an alternative form which may appeal to some people: 20 for Headlist in the top left, then D1 (1st distillation) on the top right has maybe 14 words of the 20, in the middle right you have D2 with let’s say 10 words, and D3 on the bottom right with say 7 words. You would then be coming back up the left hand side with D4 on the bottom left on about 5, and have D5 on the left in the middle with maybe 3, and just take maybe 2 forward to the next book, if by that stage you even wanted a second book. I’d see it as a perfectly viable alternative.
Czy dobrze zrozumiałem, iż nie mam się tego uczyć, czy może warto to przeczytać kilka razy po napisaniu ?
Ciężko mi uwierzyć, że po przepisaniu 25 słów w języku niemieckim zapamiętam je.
You won’t have learned them all, only about 30% will have stuck. But you won’t know which really have stuck unless you leave it lie for two weeks at least at each stage. If you want to read your page out loud once, after writing it, that’s not likely to be a problem, but for pleasure. Repetition is what starts to feel like forced learning – you switch on your conscious memorizing and the unconscious one turns off – they don’t both work at once, you see. And the unconscious memory is the one that samples effortlessly a certain percentage of all you see when you are not actively trying to memorize, direct to the long-term memory.
Jednak to pan się zna, więc proszę o radę.
Te słowa mam pisać pod sobą, czy w jednej linijce można napisać
Po co są następne zeszyty brązowe, czy tam trzeba robić kolejne słowa z danego języka czy kolejne destylacje ?
Jednak pan mówił, że na kolejne destylacje jest zeszyt srebrny.
The second bronze book keeps going with the headlist and distillations 1-3 when you have run out of space in the first one. The silver book can be a lot thinner and contains distillations 4-7.
- The Goldlist Method and Kanji (huliganov.tv)
- Question on lexical sufficiency (huliganov.tv)
- Answer to Question comparing Goldlist and Mnemosyne Methods. (huliganov.tv)
As part of the discussion in one of the pages here I got into a discussion with how one reader, Abdul, can tailor the goldlist to his study of Arabic. The nesting in the meantime has become so narrow that I need to continue with a fresh article. Have a look under the page “About HTV” to see the earlier part of the conversation, I’m only quoting the latest part.
Hi Victor, That explanation has really helped me out and I think I now know what I need to do. Based on your explanation I attempted to create a basic plan for learning over the next few months, which I really would like for you to see. The one query I had at this stage was ‘overlap’. For example, in my plan I’ve planned to do 4 headlists a day, 7 days a week, 28 headlists a week. Over the course of 4 weeks, this gives 112 headlists and consequently 2800 words. Do I do ALL the headlists first (112) and then move on to D1 – do ALL D1, then D2 and ALL D2, etc etc all the way to D7. That is, do I leave 4 week gaps for all movements across distillations? Or do I move to D1 after two weeks, in which case D1 distillation of headlist 1 will coincide with the beginning of headlist 57 (28 headlists per month, beginning of 3rd week), and this overlap will keep on continuing with D1 distillation of week 3 coinciding with beginning of D2 distillation? I know that sounds complex and I’d really like to send you my excel plan sheet if that’s confused you. I just want to know if its ok to be doing distillations and headlists on one day etc? Many thanks, Abdul
Abdul, you’re welcome to send me the excel file on firstname.lastname@example.org , however maybe it isn’t needed, as we can try to use the notation to set you a programme.
If I planned to do 2800 words, I would do the following bit of mathematics at the outset.
2800 words, each goldlisted off equates to an average of 3 iterations per word, so it is a task of covering 2800*3 ie 8,400 words, spread over the 8 levels of distillation including the headlist. At a rate of 28 sessions a week, which is, including the scheduled ten minute breaks a 14 hour a week job, you are able to headlist and distill the words you have in your target, namely 2800, in precisely 336 sessions (8400/25) and by the same token you would know all these words if you keep up the work flow without flagging in the course of 12 weeks. However, you know that it is in fact not possible to keep to the standards of delay and still do everything in 12 weeks because you have two weeks minimum standby time for each one, and hence the bare minimum to take it to 7 distillations would be 14 weeks.
I suggest we therefore take the following order:
Action 1 = H1-H2100 which takes three weeks of your time at the work rate
Action 2 = D1 1 to say 1500 which distils H1 – 2100 and takes a little over two weeks so hopefully you don’t run within two weeks of the headlist. If you do, just go back and add H2100-2300 or something to keep the flow right.
Action 3 do the rest of H, that is take H to the target of 2800. This will take you another week. We are into week six at the moment.
Action 4, and 5 So we’re in week seven and you’re turning the D1 words from D1 1-1500 to D2 say 1-1100, which will take you a little over a week, when you get to the end you are still nicely timed for turning H2101-2800 to D1 1501-2000 or however you manage it depending on your material and your confidence.
Action 6 If it were me I’d now be going back to H and adding more words beyond 2800, but if that was the target, then that was the target, so you’re left with nothing to do at H if you want to adhere to the target. If you are now far enough on in time (two weeks) to take the first words of D2 and turn them to D3, then you can do so, and you’ll follow that by doing the second batch of words which initially were H2101-2800 and take them to D2 level. But the process of taking 2100 headwords to D3 and 700 headwords to D2 from the respective preceding distillations is only about 5 or 6 days work at the work rate you gave, so now you have to wait unless you want to add more at H.
And so you continue, until the target is done.
Please let me know if I should elucidaye any part more clearly.
Excellent question, by the way, for which I thank you, and which you every pleasure and success with your study.
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