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Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill (“Advanced Drill”) with the GoldList Method.

I have mentioned this technique for advanced learners in earlier articles on Huliganov.TV, but today I wanted to make one article explaining who the Literature Drill is for and how exactly to do it, and incorporate it into a full learning programme stretching from complete beginner to near native.

Who should do the Advanced Drill?

In a sense this is about the most advanced drill that can be done, it is already intended for people who have completed all the grammar that is currently used and who know the top 5,000 frequency words – they have probably studied already exhaustively such excellent learners’ material as the “Using French” series from Cambridge University press, the Mot-a-Mot series or some similar, the Essential Grammars and the Frequency Dictionary series that are produced by Routledge. These in turn sit on top of having studied through a goof introductory course or two like the ones provided by Teach Yourself, Colloquial series and Living Language – some swear by Assimil and also there is a very good resource made by my friend Mike Campbell called the Glossika series. Each of these resources can be placed into your Goldlist. Prior to Goldlisting I tend to recommend front-loading audio only (though that’s not necessary with the Glossika method as there is audio for all of it and audio is part of the method intrinsic to Glossika) and so for most learners I would recommend going through whatever is available on Pimsleur before they even start the Goldlist phase and prior to Pimsleur for the few languages in which they are available, I recommend taking the very first steps using Michel Thomas method or Paul Noble for the three languages he does. Since all of these audio-only courses are not about writing this is all pre-goldlist stuff but helps to have an “inner voice” and a knowledge of how to pronounce the language which would be missing if we went straight into goldlisting a language form grammar books which we didn’t know how to pronounce. For classical languages that’s all there really is, I suppose – you can’t do audio only before Goldlisting Wright’s Gothic Grammar.

So I basically just went backwards along a list of things which a learner would be advise to do. If you don’t recognise the steps I just mentioned and can’t say that you know the sort of examples I gave for French in whichever language you are studying then probably the Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill I am going to talk about in a moment isn’t for you. Not yet, anyway. You’ll get there. Carry on doing the kind of steps for now that I’ve outlined in reverse order above.

However, if you are someone who has basically run out of learning material and you don’t know what to do next short of goldlisting a 20,000 word dictionary (which has its merits, too, quite a few people have done it to good effect but is a task not to be undertaken lightly). After all, most learning material is for beginners, there is some for intermediate learners and some for what they call advanced learners (usually the choice gets smaller the further you get) but for anything beyond the most popular languages you are going to encounter a dearth of learning material at the right level and instead you are going to have to “go live” with your languages, reading the same classics of the language which the natives did in school which will strengthen your cultural link with them and greatly enhance and deepen your feel of the language.The easy way in to using literature is graded readers. Read the rest of this entry

A friend called Jacques has asked me what I think of flashcards, here goes…

A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner ...

A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Personally I think flashcards are a reasonable system but they’re not an ideal system. In fact you can get there with less time involved by using the Goldlist method. Flashcards still involve repetition of things you really already know, which is not efficient. Also you can only learn what is in the pack, whereas with Goldlist you learn any material you like the look of. In addition learning off the phone while travelling depletes your battery and you cannot do it in a sunny park as you cannot see the screen. Having a small writing book is a better way and turns out more ergonomic than trying to do every single part of life through computer screens and telephones.

Flashcard systems like Anki and Supermemo are built on the work of Ebbinghaus, the father of the area of psychology that looks at memory, in fact they reflect Ebbinghaus’findings even more closely than my system, which is only an approximation, but they still don’t eliminate waste.

The downside of the Goldlist is that there are mandatory waiting periods of two weeks at least between each distillation, so if someone is in a hurry because they have a trip or an exam coming up, then there may not be enough span of time to use Goldlist, even though Goldlist would give them more long-term memorisation per unit of time spent.

A conversation with a Russian learner about aspects of verbs.

English: Native language in Ukraine. Legend: U...

English: Native language in Ukraine. Legend: Ukrainian language dominates as the native language Russian language dominates as the native language. Bi-lingual, with a slight Ukrainian language lead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the followers of the video content on YouTube, Dennis, wrote asking about the question of aspects. I answered as I could and also as you will see got his permission to share the conversation so that more language learners would be able to take advantage of the topic.

  • Conversation started Thursday

  • 11:18


    Dennis Meurders


    Dear David,

    Thank you so much of the add. I’m honored! 
    I’m a very big fan of your youtube videos concerning the Russian language. I use them in addition of my Russian language course and I ust say that they give me a headstart of the rest. So they really help!
    I was wondering however if you could tell me which video talks about the time aspect ( поличать vs поличить) if you know what I mean with that. We talked about it yesterday in class and most people (including myself) find it very difficult.

    I hope you can help me out with this one.

    Thank you so much in advance!

    Dennis Meurders 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.

An amusing thought about the Goldlist vs Flashcards

A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner ...

Image via Wikipedia

In various places I have heard people comparing the Goldlist to flash cards and saying that for them, flash cards are preferable.

I am not saying that flash cards are all wrong, certainly you can build yourself a manual SRS with paper flash cards. However, unike the Gold list they do give people the temptation to look at words they really memorised on the first day far too many times and this they create time wasting and drag on the learning process.

Even in the course of making the flash cards, if you make them yourselves, which is a job like setting up your headlist, you are making cards, and using cardboard on words, and 30% of them you memorised the first time you wrote them. So that’s a waste of paper for a start.

But the biggest negative for flash cards was brought home to me by Mike Lin on the comments on this blog on the Goldlist Method page – he says he prefers the compactness of the Goldlist to fumbling with a high pile of flash cards. That’s what got me thinking. I had exactly that problem in University trying to make enough cards to manipulate the vocab I was trying to learn.

Im Goldlist, one piece of paper has 25 words going through various stages of distillation. A single notebook just 2 cm thick can contain a headlist of 5,000 words going through the system. Let’s consider how thick a flashcard system would be that had 5000 words in it – each piece of card is about double the thickness of a page of writing paper in a book, so if a number of words written 25 per page half as thick is 2 cm deep, the pile of flash cards doing the same would be about a metre high! A 15,000 word challenge containing three bronze books and a silver book needs 8cm of shelf space, whereas flash cards would need 3 metres! You wouldn’t fit it in most rooms, you’d have to lay it on its side. Which is just as well, because of it fell over or got blown by the wind the time you’d need just putting it back together again would be another big waste. Along with the money spent on buying all that card.

I understand about the need to replenish the carbon sink, so maybe I shouldn’t be so discouraging to these flash card fans, but really – if you intend to do a big language learning project then just do the maths. Linguists who can count too will almost certainly agree that the goldlist is a far more efficient and manageable manual system than flash cards. If you just want to learn 500, then it’s not such a big deal, but still you’ll get there in less total time applied with the Goldlist method.



A request for further information about the Goldlist Method by a learner of German

Cover of "501 German Verbs"

Strutz's funky stuff: the cover of "501 German Verbs"

I am only now coming to answer a query that has been waiting for eight weeks, as things are so busy at work. The following letter came to me on YouTube on 2nd May from Mr K.M.

Hello sir, (Apologies, I truly don’t know how I should address you (Mr. Huliganov, Uncle Davey) anyway, I must firstly say that I greatly admire you as a person and am so happy that I discovered you. Quite a while ago, you were nice enough to translate a video in Russian for me (just a note for later: I’m not learning Russian) which I greatly appreciated.

Now I come to you seeking more serious help with something. Language learning with the Goldlist system. The problems I’m having with getting started with the Goldlist system are directly related to organizational matters. Now, just what do I mean by that? Well, I feel that it might be prudent to learn words through variety but with some type of organization (nouns, verbs, prepositions…) Is this even necessary? I’m sorry if I haven’t seen a video or read an article or blog about what I’m asking. Do you think I should just go through my dictionary to pick words and leave it at that? Overall, how should I easily select and organize words? I’m dead serious about learning with the Goldlist system, it’s just those first few steps that are the hardest. Getting started. Really getting into it. I sincerely thank you for your time.

I then sent this gentleman an email as follows:

Perhaps you could tell me what languages you know, what you are learning and what your objectives and targets for this language are. Then also some words on what your materials are that you have chosen in order to learn it. That way, I’ll be able to explain how to get the most from my memory method in those circumstances.

The response from 4th May was as follows:

Well, I am a fluent English speaker, and I’m learning Deutsch. Just for the sake of telling you more about myself as as a person, as you and I most definitely share a love for languages (me on a much less professional and scholarly level than you however :-) ), I have learned a fair amount about other languages (what group which language belongs to, the overall sound of it as a language, as well as multiple aspects of the grammar etc…) But anyways, I am most serious about learning Deutsch. My family is from Deutschland, and most of my family still lives there, so I’ve been going my whole life to visit family etc.  After much time and thought, I am now seriously considering moving to Deutschland.

You may now be wondering, why don’t I already know Deutsch? Well the reasons are simple, My father has traveled quite frequently throughout my childhood for work, allowing less time for him to teach me, and my mother comes from a Scottish family. Luckily, my father travels less now, which gives he and I more time to practice pronunciation (which I am good at because of the fact that I’ve been listening to it my whole life). That’s the main thing I’ve been practising with him, reading, and allowing him to correct me. And more recently, both of us taking turns reading the passage(s), and he, on his turn, translating. So he is certainly a good resource that I have for which I am incredibly thankful. However, (and I’m of course sure you’ll understand) I do not regard him as a resource that is consistently dependable and overall best for myself. Please do not however think that I want to completely dismiss him as a resource. I’d just like to learn on my own as much as I can for independency-related reasons (I’m sure you know what I mean). I still will always ask him a question, etc.

As for what level of fluency I’m serious about working to achieve, I’d like to work towards the following things as my goal:
– natural flow in speech and pronunciation
– ability to freely expound on anything that gets brought up in conversation, or what I’d like to speak about
– a fair-sized vocabulary
– a good understanding of the grammar
– reading skills that are almost better than I possess in English if not better

Perhaps completely fluent would be the shorter answer. Now I ABSOLUTELY MUST clarify that I see the above goals as long-term and strongly feel that I’ve thought enough about it all to say that I don’t think I have unrealistic expectations. But it’s as simple as this: I am very serious about it, who knows where my studies will take me…

As for written materials, I have the following reference books:

German An Essential Grammar by Bruce Donaldson

501 German Verbs by Henry Strutz

Cassel’s German-English/English German Dictionary Two copies, one new one, and an older one from 1965 that belonged to my grandmother while she was learning English

As well as Coversational German of Cortina Method

I also have various Deutsch books spanning many genres such as poetry, history and classic literature (Herman Hesse etc.) just lying around the house which I can use.

So, there you are. Work your magic! :-)

Once again, I sincerely thank you for your time

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great deal of time, but quite rightly Mr K.M. reminded me that I had promised an answer and so here we are with the best answer I can give to this worthy query.

The question is not entirely dissimilar to some things asked by Cheryl in the video which you can find by searching on “Cheryl” within this blog. However, what I will do is add to this and give a full strategy for learning German from English at the position you appear to be now.

I would make the assumption that your German grammar could do with a refresh from the start so I would work through the Donaldson book and goldlist that. You might kick off before everything else by just working through the Michel Thomas audio course – it won’t take long and some things will be plainer to you after working through that and for that you don’t yet need to put pen to paper.

In my opinion you don’t need to goldlist all the verbs book or even start goldlisting the dictionary. Just go through the Donaldson book and then try some literature. You can either use google translate for a quick translate or better still buy or download an English translation of the literature. You mention you have Hesse lying around. Well,  Siddartha and a few other novels by Hermann Hesse in English is available as a free of charge epub on feedbooks if you have an Android phone with the Aldiko bookreader. You can save dictionary time, which is boring, by using the translation.

It works like this:

a) you first read a paragraph or two of the German paper original with a pencil or other marker in your hand. You underline the words you don’t know,

b) you then transfer these words to the left side of a new Goldlist (“headlist”),

c) you then read the translation, noting the meanings of the words in the translation, and adding them to the right of the German in the headlist,

d) read again the German original, understanding it fully now that the words are in place. Always seek foremost to enjoy the original literature, don’t treat it as a memorizing exercise or it will cease to be one. Seek to admire the use of language by the author, and be enriched by it.

e) you can consult the dictionary if there’s something more you need to know about the word. For German you might need for instance to be sure of some of the following

– for nouns, the gender, if that’s not clear from the shape of the word

– for verbs, where they are separable or not, whether they are declined weak or strong and what the past tense and participle are if strong, as well as any umlauting in the second and third persons singular of the present tense. This is where your verb book comes in.

– for prepositions, what case they are governing in the sentence and why.

f) if the sentence has word order you don’t understand, you can write out the whole sentence and its explanation as a line item. You are also able to take out quotes or expressions you like and want to memorize as line items into the headlist

g) afterwards, progress the headlist as normal, which means to distill it at the most frequent after a two week break.

h) whenever you wish to have more fluency and “activate” the German, either go to Germany or have German speakers nearby so that you wake up and activate all your German in just three days. Resist the temptation to judge your progress by how conversationally fluent you feel. That’s about degree of activation, not depth of knowledge.

Good luck, and please let us know how you get on.

Questions from Kahnkanter about activation and Hangeul.

The word Han-geul in Han-geul. Hangeul is read...

This is how you write Hangeul in Hangeul!

As mentioned in the last post, I also received a couple of questions from another YouTube viewer this week, and this time it was channel name Kahnkanter.

Hi David,

Thank you for sharing your method. I would like more information on two things:

1. Activation. How does that happen? You have mentioned that it takes a maximum of 3 days, and uses the passive long term storage of vocabulary in that language. But how does one ‘activate’? By simply being surrounded by that language?!


When I talk about activation taking three days, I am referring to the case where someone learns a language in a country where it isn’t spoken, and has the problem that not everything they learn is on the tip of their tongue. I explain to people that actually that is not a problem. As long as they know something passively (ie, they immediately remember and know the meaning of the foreign word when it is presented to them, would notice if it were misspelled or mispronounced or used in a wrong context, etc) then the fact that they are having trouble at five minutes notice to be able to put themselves into the language they learn well enough to have their whole vocabulary at the tip of their tongue is normal, is part of the economy of the mind and is there to actually enable us to learn and know more without having a consiousness overload.

People talk about the back of one’s mind and the front of one’s mind, but those are old ways of talking about it and don’t necessarily equate at all to where the physical synapses are. I never worried too much about left brain, right brain frontal lobes, medulla oblongata or all of that as I never had, and still don’t have, any plans to perform brain surgery on anyone. So when I talk about these things I am talking about them in a push-button-user’s way. Don’t even ask me what the physical mechanisms are.

I know it takes three days because I have travelled a lot and spoken to many other linguists who say the same thing. It just means being in an environment where you can sense that you need all that knowledge and it all comes to the fore pretty quickly. Three days probably evolved as you can get by in extremis even without water for three days, but after that things start to get rather nasty. You need all your linguistic mental resources to be completely focussed on a given situation within three days, but you don’t always need them immediately. 

Now I think I understand right that you are living in Korea but you are not Korean. You want to learn Korean and you are either in Korea now or about to go there. In this case you will not experience becoming activated until you leave Korea for more than three days and become unused to learning the language. Especially if you have to think into using a different language that also is foreign to you in that period. When that happens, wait till you go back and see how at first you have to think for a bit before finding some words, but you don’t have that any more after three days, even for words which didn’t come up in conversation or your reading in those first three days back.

In short, if you learn in the country, you won’t experience the strange but fascinating “miracle” of three day activation that people learning at their desks away from the country can get. You’ll be activising as you go because you live there. You’ll just get a mini version of that if you leave and don’t speak Korean for some weeks before going back.

2. I am hoping to do this for the Korean language. It has its own script and so I wanted to know whether I put a word in its own characters (most of which I can read) plus its romanization on the one line, then continue for another 24?



I think that as far as using the Hangeul / Hangul is concerned, it’s not an unduly difficult thing and so I recommend starting to rely on it and not romanise as soon as you can manage it. I would not necessary be saying the same if you wanted to learn Korean kanji, but since not every Korean even knows Korean kanji (it drifts on and off the syllabus in the education system there, sometimes it skips generations, like an embarrassing mental illness)

In the time before using the Goldlist I would have just played about with Hangeul by writing out all the ways they transliterate Western personal names and place names, then go on to recognising, (if you want to be ultra rational, in population order) all the names of cities as they look in hangul. This would be like a pre-Goldlist just getting used to the script, and enjoying its uniqueness, cleverness and exotic feel.

Then for the Goldlist proper I would put everything from the first thousand words in Hangeul and romanisation in the head list, but only use the hangul in the D1 distillation unless there are any you didn’t remember in which case you could keep those Romanisations on the line by way of exception. That’s what I would do.

Hope this helps, and please let us know.

Questions on the Goldlist methodology for university students

"Arabic Language" in the Arabic Al-B...

When studying Arabic or Hebrew using Goldlist, it is probably more comfortable to place the target language column to the right of the vehicle language column.

The following is a discussion that started with a PM on another forum, but the software in that forum baulked at something in my answer, but I was able to save it here, and I have the person’s permission to publish the correspondence. Which in a way is just as well as here it will benefit more people. The rest is the correspondence.

Hi, I’ll try and lace my answers in with your questions.

— Previous Private Message — Sent by :****** Sent : 16 December 2010 at 8:42am Hello, Sorry for bothering you with some trivial questions, but given that you have created the Goldlist method and learnt Russian, I thought you would be the best person to ask. I study Russian (and Arabic) at university, and although this forum is very good for methods on how to teach oneself a language, I find there aren’t that many resources for university students.

Fair comment. There seems to be less and less for University students, but only more taxes for them to be paying later on. I don’t know how Clegg looks at his face in the mirror.

My first question would be about the extent of the vocabulary I should ideally acquire at university. Indeed, I’m now on my year abroad (3rd years), and will shortly start using the Goldlist method, however, I’m a bit lost regarding the amount of vocabulary I should learn to reach a good degree level, and to some extent, fluency. Read the rest of this entry


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