Repost of the article that used to be on, now extended.

Uncle Davey’s “GoldList” methodology for learning to the long-term memory.

1. No reliance on mnemonics and no creation of strange methods to try and “visualise” words in contexts. No “think of a cat in a cot and you’ll remember that Polish for ‘cat’ is ‘cot’ “. – These are the ways by the way that course makers like Daniels gets phenomenal results over two weeks but they never last. Just as well, if they did, they would create a learner who, when he came to fluency, would not be able to say “kot” without thinking about a baby’s bed. Ridiculous. Oszustwo. Don’t let the oszusty deceive you by filling your shoes with the letter O at tea time.

2. No cramming, no learning against the clock. No learning for next week, or for tomorrow, or for a test, or for an exam. No conscious “memorizing”. The long-term memory is not a conscious function. Its samples are taken automatically and subconsciously out of the material which is run through the conscious. What we decide to memorise or forget only relates to s/t memory. You cannot decide to learn to the long term memory any more than you can decide to forget to the long-term memory. Disciplines based on the ‘aha!’ moment of putting two and two together to understand something can use the short term memory and be sure that they will get a long-term effect, but in languages there is very little “aha!”, and so short term memory is of next to no use at all.

You need to think of memory as a similar function to breathing – we breath best for our bodies when we don’t think about it, trying to breath at a special rate or especially deeply. The body regulates itself. We breathe ideally when we keep our mind off the process of breathing. For memory, when we take over the process consciously, like holding breath or breathing at a faster rate (‘hyperventilating’) we shut out for a time the body’s natural function. In other words when we take control of our memory by trying to memorize something there and then, we automatically shut out the possibility of long-term memorising and switch on instead the short-term memory function. And we can’t keep it up for long, and also it results in repetition of items in order to learn them which might be sampled on first reading even, if we just let go and let the God-given faculties of our body work. That’s why cramming methods and deliberate memorisation methods waste so much time for language learners and serious polyglots never use them.

Chomsky once commented on the inability of the child to learn language so well after the age of five or six, whike language seems naturally to be acquired until this time. Chomskyites and other linguists have conjectured on numerous occasions what this faculty is that is lost, and how to measure it. In fact, there is nothing to measure being lost as nothing is in fact lost. What happens is that at that age an ‘extra layer’ comes in as the child learns by then to be self-consciously learning. The child, by school age, is aware that it is “now learning something” and making an effort to remember, not just being put through life’s algorithms passively. And so the short-term memory starts to come more and more into play, blocking the long-term memory function essential to the easy learning of languages. This method is all about putting back the long-term, unconscious memory into the learning process, which it does by taking any effort to rote learn or memorise on demand out of the progress, and focus instead on the mathematical process,  the algorithm of the goldlist method, and on the pure enjoyment of writing out new words and just liking the experience of touching those words with our minds in a relaxed way, without pushing them on our memories.

3. Pay attention to study times. Because the l/t memory is not a conscious function, we are not aware of when it tires. This is measured to happen after 20 minutes. At that point, the sampling process will be become less than optimal, and so the learner to the long-term memory is wasting his time, although he or she may feel interested and want to keep going. The rule is, after 20 minutes, take a break of at least 10 minutes in which a completely different sort of thing is done.

It really doesn’t matter whether the student comes back for one more or ten more sessions of twenty minutes in the day, as long as it is not forced and the interest is still there and therefore the motivation. It is not necessary to do the work every day. The more regularly we come to it the less likely it is that the habit of doing it will break, but we do not need to feel enslaved to it. The language learning is a relaxing, fun thing, not a chore.

4. Get comfortable when learning, don’t rush, and use attractive materials. We banish unpleasant experience from the long-term memory and garnish pleasant experience to the long term memory. By all means eat and drink during the 20 minute sessions of learning, but not alcohol, and also avoid music and background noise. After all, when learning to the l/t memory, you don’t have to work that hard. Less is more – less effort to cram means more of what you do learn actually sticks.

The use of Omega 3 and Vitamin D is helpful. The goldlist can easily be taken on walks and done outside, because it is ink and paper and not a screen that whites out in the sunshine. Similarly sleeping well assists the balanced functioning of the memory. If the gold list system doesn’t work for you even if you are sure that you understood the whole rationale and why it should work even though it is counter-intuitive (and by now there are videos all over the internet which back up the fact that this works – you’ll find some of them below) but you are finding a different story, then you need to look at how much Vitamin deficiency you may have, get sunlight, omega-3 and other vitamin and mineral supplements and ensure you are getting enough rest, enough sunlight, fresh air and water. Check your water for fluorination, which is something everyone should do anyway, and use filtration in the home.

5. Use a variety of materials that present the content in a different way. For example, which explain the use of a particular tense or case in different ways. One book should be the “pace setter” and the other courses supplement it. A good choice of pace setter will be a course book which has vocabularies in the back going in both directions and which clearly teach something like 2000 words or more. There should be graded explanations of grammar, not shying away from grammatical terms but giving plenty of explanations and examples. Lengthy passages just on culture are a mere padder in language books – you can learn about any culture without learning the language properly. Photographs likewise, as well as cartoons and pictures. Discount these when choosing a language book in the shop. But give a premium to courses which offer a lead on second book for intermediate level, and advanced.

6. When using the key item in language learning, the vocabulary book, ensure that all the grammar for each word accompanies the word into the book. For instance, you would not just write “to begin” but also (began, begun) to show that it is a strong verb. You would not just write “Jugend” but “die Jugend” or “Jugend f.” Write the word on the right hand side of the page in your own language or the language from which you are learning the target language, and do 25 words at a time. 25 words can be comfortably written out that way in the course of 20 minutes, with time just to read the list through aloud at the end. Always work with units of twenty five head words, which wshould be written at the outset on the top left hand page of a double page A4 hardback writing book. You number the headword list from the beginning onwards so that the 5th such page will have numbers 101-125, etc. You always note the date you added the owrds to the list. You make an overall target of words to cover with no short-term time limit. It will be something like 2,500 words, which gets a learner up to what we used to call O level, and means that they become intermediate and most teach yourself course have roughly this number of words. I’m coming to the timing shortly.

7. You write the words into the vocab book by hand, in a beautiful hard back book, as neatly as you can, without getting stressed over it if it’s not as neat as you would like – so that the learner can take a pride in the look of it and not hurry over it. Write at a pace that is comfortable and natural. Do not do this in a computer, latch onto the natural memory that is linked to handwriting. It is a long-term memory function, which is why your signature always comes out the same, year in, year out, and you don’t even need to think about it consciously. Also, as stated above, you want to take your goldlist with you, and do it in the sun and in the bathroom and all sorts of places – even on aircraft when the fasten seatbelts sign is on and you can’t have the computer on. Also fiddling with diacritic signs means that the computer is not the best place for this – you will work slower and more arduously and less flexibly than you think. I like the computer as much as anybody does but we need to remember its limits. With computers it’s a bit like with the guitarists in a student Christian Union meeting or a youth worship meeting – the best guitar is the one that knows its place and doesn’t chime in when not needed, and the best guitarist in the church is the one who knows when to stop playing and give primacy to the voice. Computers are best when we reserve their use for the bits they do best. You could have your source word list or grammar book open in the computer, for example, no problem with that. Especially when so many good language books and audio files, often out of print in paper versions and replaced with more dumbed-down versions, can be found being file-shared on pdfs.

8. The explanation of the grammatical models and the practising of basic sentence types goes like any other system. The gold list is not a course book it is an approach to the course book. In fact you don’t only need the goldlist method for languages, I’m sure it also helps with history, geography, case law for those studying law, and latin names of things for scientists and doctors. There are many possible uses for goldlisting other than languages, but languages is the place where the dividends it pays are the most clearly evident.  

My system differs in how you approach the learning of the vocabulary, which is 80% of learning a language if you consider that the irregularities of grammar can and should be linked as I say to the specific words they refer to.

9. After writing out the vocab set of 25, and reading it through, a process which should take 20 minutes, you break for at least ten. You did not try to learn those 25 words, you just enjoyed writing them out in a nice book with a nice pen slowly and in pleasant comfortable surroundings. you do nothing more with them. If after ten minutes, you would like to go on to the next session, then you turn the page of the vocab book, go to the top left of that double page and do the next 25 numbered words. Then read them out aloud, and then take another break. You are enjoying the language, not cramming it.

10. Don’t do more than about 10 such sessions a day. If you get anywhere near that, make sure they are spaced out with other things going on between them.

11. After no less than 2 weeks and no more than 2 months, go back to the headwords. No less than 2 weeks because the short term memory effect has passed, so anything you still remember is already learned to the long-twrm memory, and you will not deceive yourself. No more than 2 months in order to keep up a certain tempo. This should be a relaxed process, but there should be a limit to stop the laziness that is in human nature from making it ground to a halt. By 2 weeks a really enthusiastic learner may have already put all 2,500 words in their headlist but not have memorised them, resulting in words being repeated by accident, but that is really of no importance in this process.

12. What you then do with the words in the vocab book headlist that are more than 14 days old, but less than 60 days old is that you “distil” them. And this is what I call a “distillation”: Hermann Ebbinghaus’ experiments and the knowledge about the sampling habit of the long-term memory means that some of these words will already have been learned, despite the fact (actually because of the fact, but this is of course counter-intuitive) that all you did was try to enjoy them, not memorise them. In fact the prediction is that up to 30% of the words will be retained. You are looking to distil out the “hard to learn” expressions and obtain a concentrated, whisky-like list of distilled words that are an absolute bugger for you to learn (by which time you will, of course, actally have learned them, because they will have gone through this distilation process ten times with two weeks’ break in between each time). I call that the “gold list”. On the way to the gold list you will use up the first hard back book and a thinner second one.

If you intend learning, say three or four languages to fluency (over 10,000 words) then you’ll need three or four first books per language (with the head list and the first three distillations) I call these the bronze books or the bronze lists. Then you will find that as the 4th time you distil there are only about a quarter of the words left that you started with, you only need one second level book, or “silver” book, as I call it, per language. And likewise when you come to the final distillations in the gold book, you’ll find you only need one gold book for several languages to fluency, as by those higher level distillations there is less than 10% of what was in the first head list in the bronze books.

13. The first “distillation” therefore takes the first 25 words from the top left hand side of your A4 hard-back writing book and you pick from them 70% of the words which you least remembered, and write them again on the right hand side. You can test yourself by covering over the English, but that is not the best way. The best is to say “I know that I must now discard 8 of these 25 words which are on the top of the left page and write 17 of them on the top of the right page. Which do I think I have remembered best? These you ignore, and list 1-17 the least remembered of 1-25 from the headlist. If you cannot bring yourself to drop out a full eight words, then instead in one or two places you can conjoin words to make a phrase, and then learn them together in the system from then on. When writing the words of the first distillation, you take it nice and slow and keep to all the princliples of the writing of the headlist, namely easy, confortable work, not more than 20 minutes work at once, and read the side aloud when you are finished.

14. The act of discarding words from the distillation by the way is the final stimulus to learning them, by the way. Psychologists have discovered that, just as in physics for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every conscious action there is a subconscious reaction. Note that we tend to lose and spend time looking for things which we intended to keep and often put in a special hiding place, but we rarely forget the things that we have thrown away or given away. We don’t usually think we still have them and look around for them. So the very conscious act of discarding tricks the subconscious memory, namely the long-term memory, into being sure it jolly well has got those discarded bits. So if in doubt, discard rather than merge, when distilling.

15. Again, you do nothing with the words of the first distillation for a period of at least two weeks (this is why you always date when you do the distillations also) and not more than two months (same reasons as given above) and then, when that time comes, you go back to the first distillations on the top of the right side page, and make from them the second distillation on the bottom of the right hand page. From those 17 words you will be looking at keeping 12 and discarding or merging 5. Again, first plan and ask yourself “which 5 of these seventeen words did I remember best?” and put a cross next to them, don’t write them out again. It is a game with by our brain, an exploration of how our own memory worked – in some ways a discovery of ourselves and can be very interesting as an exercise in its own right – actually it is a lot less boring than cramming the vocab for a Callan lesson. Some users of the system have found it an interesting voyage of self discovery – why did they find this word so easy to remember and some other word harder? And for each learner it would be different, which means that group learning of languages is intrinsically wasteful of time as each person in the group has their own individual things they remembered automatically. The only common thing is that for each person, if they had allowed their long-term memory to function not just the short-term, it would be in the order of 30%,  as Ebbinghaus found.

16. It will come as no surprise when I mention that you put the third distillation on the left side under the head list at the bottom, and that it has the best remembered 9 words of the 12 on the bottom right, and that you need to leave between the two a space of no less than 14 and no more than 60 days.

17. A person can structure this so that they are working on the later parts of their headlist while bringing the early parts already into the second or third distillation, or do the whole of the headlist, then the whole of the first distillation, etc. That depends on the learner, their time available, and the number of words they plan to cover in their language learning. For really big projects, learners will be working on different distillation levels for the earlier and later parts of their vocab stock. As long as all the above rules are kept, this won’t matter at all.

18. The head list and three distillations will cover the full space available on the ‘bronze” excercise book, and so after that you take a fresh book, the silver book, for distillation number 4, etc. Now distillation number 4 will have numbers 1-25 of that distillation on the top left hand corner of the first page but they will be taken from the first 36 of the third distillation which was the toughest to remember of the first 48 of the second distillation which was the toughest to remember of the first 68 of the first distillation which was the toughest to remember of the first 100 of the head list and therefore will be taken from the first four double pages of your old book. The gold list system in full f/x, used here on basic Spanish. This illustration shows a mature vocab book with the head list and the first three distillations finished.

An actual gold list mature bronze book for Spanish

19. So the second book (‘silver’) will only need to be a quarter of the thickness of the first one (‘bronze’) or there will be one silver book while there are three or four bronze books, getting your headlist up past 16,000 words, which is a degree level knowledge, if you want, and will be worked through on the same principles as the first one, but in a quarter of the time. Always taking 20 minutes and taking your time and sticking to the same principles throughout.

20. The second vocab book then takes you to the seventh distillation. That would be enough for most people, but if you want to take it further then you probably don’t need a book for the last bit, as the 2500 words in the headlist have become 150 words identified in this process as the toughest to rmember words. by this time you already know them better than most people anyway, but of out of interest you wanted to continue than in little time engaged you could keep going on and distill this away to nothing. If you get to the seventh distillation you cannot be less than three and a half months from the beginning of learning even if you learned it to the max, as two weeks should be rested in between, or the short-term memory will deceive you.

21. Because you are in for the long haul with the long-term memory system, use the fact that you have numbered the words to motivate yourself. You will know that you are 40% through your target of 2500 words when you have 40 pages of headwords. As the number of repetitions on average that are needed in order to learn the words to the end is 3.3 (some are learned after one but some will only be learned on the tenth reiteration or ‘distillation’) then we know that having 40 percent of one’s head list in place is equivalent to 13 percent of the whole work. Use these numbers and statistics to motivate yourself, and note that even a small learning session can represent a small but irreversible advance on the road to learning the language. The s/t memory method makes huge advances at the beginning which are forgotten and the learner goes backwards, despairs, and drops out of class. The l/t method means that you are only ever going forwards, so the method is a more effective use of time, and much more motivating once the student understands memory in language learning and understands what is going on.

22. Need to activate – language learners using the long term memory will obtain a large passive knowledge of the language. They will quickly move towards being able to read newspapers and novels in the language. But they may have difficulty and be discouraged when placed in a situation where they have to “activate” their knowledge and start talking. They will feel tongue tied, and not be able to find words that, when someone tells them, they know they knew. The activation of a language learned well in my method by means of immersion in the environment of the language takes a maximum of three days. In this time, the person who has spend the hours with his vocab book doing what I suggested above, and doing grammatical exercises, suddenly starts speaking the language with fluency, and the experience of this “activating” can be very exhilirating, actually. The person who thinks that they will learn by immersion and have not put the hours in beforehand will not have this, and will learn to the short-term memory, and forget it all on his return out of the milieu, and not achieve the results of the learner to l/t memory, who is able to reactivate his language every time he goes into the milieu for a few days, for the rest of his life. He appears to be someone who has learned thousands of words in a few days – a claim which not even the boldest short term system would make – but of course he knows them, he is only bringing them “to the front of his mind”, which is a different matter to putting them there in the first place. Some people, witnessing the remarkable effect of immersion on activating the language ability of the long-term memory optimising student, and not giving full credit to the work this student did in his own time beforehand, think that the immersion method is a great way to “learn languages”. So you get people trying to combine Callan and immersion, then doing more Callan and more immersion, and then more of the same, and never getting off the ground with it. One Callan victim I knew had done the callan-immersion mix three years running, and when her boss came from England the first thing she said was “would Meester like the cup off tea?” and we’re talking about an otherwise educated person whose knowledge of her mother tongue is nothing short of eloquent in both speech and in writing.

Any questions? Please contact me, but questions are MOST appreciated from those who have seen the available videos which are all here in the same “goldlist methodogy” section here on and still have queries about things I may have overlooked to talk about so far.

Also your feedback is appreciated. The more people come back and tell me that they had success with the method the more I am motivated to keep sharing it on and developing it. Also please tell your friends about it, and anyone who thinks they cannot learn a foreign language, like that was somehow more difficult than learning his or her own.

Teachers – consider teaching this method to your students so as not to waste their time – they will thank you. Spend lesson time showing how it works and working on their lists with them until they get the hang of it. You will not only have liberated them for the learning of the language you were teaching them, but also put a tool in their hand which they can use throughout life to learn many languages.


The Psalms of Davey #4 – O Precious Saviour Draw Thee Near

This is the fourth of my cycle of ten Hymns, called “The Psalms of Davey”. They are being reproduced in a special category on this blog one after another. In only one case is the tune my own (that’ll be number ten). In other cases, please follow the links to get to the midi for the tunes, courtesy of


Words Uncle Davey, Voronezh, Russia, 2nd October 1985. Music William Henry Gladstone (1840-1892) Tune name “Ombersley”. The composer was the eldest son of British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone, and was himself a member of parliament for twenty years. The tune is named for his political constituency, but despite the political aspect, I have to say I consider it to be one of the finest gentle devotional tunes, borne out of the composer’s painstaking study of the history of sacred music.)

First published 4th April 2004

O precious Saviour, draw thee near,
For Thy sweet mercy’s sake, me hear
I am a sinner, lost and lone,
Gracious Lord, take me for Thine own.

O blessed Saviour, in Thy grace
Within mine heart take sovereign place.
O Lord, accept this lowly throne:
Gracious Lord, take me for Thine own.

Lord Jesus, Thou dost reign on high
Yet dost to my poor soul draw nigh,
And Thou dost hear my sin-sick groan
And Thou dost take me for Thine own.

Lord! Hold me back from tempting schemes
And from fulfilling sinful dreams.
How can I now such sin condone?
For I am Thine, and not mine own.

Lord, of my will, and mind and heart,
O take control in every part!
Make me no more to satan prone:
I am not his, I am Thine own.

Lord, since Thou dost within me dwell
Do Thou me keep from pow’rs of hell.
For Thou hast suffered to atone
All those whom Thou dost call Thine own.

And at times end, when sinners all
Before God’s judgement seat shall fall,
Those who ne’er did repent shall moan
That they remained, till death, their own.

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6 vv 19-20)

Introducing Paddy O’ Donahue, so it is.

Production date: June 2006
Playout date: 15/6/2006
Camera: Logitech webcam
Post Production: Windows Movie Maker
Location: Hotel Gracja, Gorzow Wielkopolski

I was staying in Hotel Gracja to see my then client, now friend, Ivan Ivanovitch from Spain, and filled in an idle moment with a little creativity in front of the computer, and my Irish character, Paddy O’ Donahue was born. Paddy has been used a few times on my YT films, and also appeared on Play Radio.

Paddy is my only character to wear sunglasses, which he claims are a wise move “even though the hostilities have finished in Norn Iron”. I like to use props very minimally.

Here there is a rendition of “O Danny Boy” including a whistling in harmony for a few bars.

8 of the 27 people voting on this in the first four years of its exitence didn’t like it, but the people who did like it also gave encouraging comments and I have been asked in chats to bring this character back more often than most.

Analysing English structure in order to get to a foreign language

I received this question today from one of the followers of Huliganov’s Russian course and whilst I don’t normally do one to one, I thought it was worth giving a considered reply, as it is a question which actually, until people understand their first language – especially if their first language is an uninflected or less inflected language like English – will inhibit their ability to get their head around structures in a foreign language. Which makes it a vital question no doubt for many people who are having difficulty taking off in their fiorst foreign language.

We start off tending to think that structures in a foreign language will mirror those in our own. When we were kids, my little brother once asked whether “orry” was French for “good” because he heard that “au revoir” was “goodbye” and he naturally tried to map these three French syllables onto the two in English and wanted to make sure he was getting the split right. For learners onto their third and fourth languages, they’re already expecting that the words for farewell may well have something to do with “until we see each other”, and so this sort of thing tends to be a bugbear for learners of their first foreign language, and much less once you get on to further foreign languages with your native preconceptions about what the differences are really like between languages already long superseded.

(As an aside for this paragraph, but one which illustrates the idea here well, basically ‘taking leave’ in any language is going to be some combination of hoping that the person will be in God’s care until they see each other again, or enjoining them to take care of themselves until that time, or both, but which bits of that idea remain in the few syllables or even one syllable that are left to make a farewell default phrase in a language can vary enormously. Some languages focus on the God part, like “adios”, or “ciao”, or even “tschuess”, which are abbreviations of them English too, with good-bye, is also a contortion of “God be with you until we meet again” The devil, by the way, has managed to get us taking God’s name lightly in different ways in different languages – he’s never happy until he can get us saying “God” while not thinking about God in a glorifying way, and so almost every language has some fossil of God and His Salvation taken in vain whenever people either take leave of each other or greet each other (“hello” originally meant “hallowed be the name of God”, and Austrians say “Gruss Gott” even if they are atheists, and mean precisely nothing religious by it) or thank each other (merci, gracias, spasibo, etc originally all mean “may you receive mercy from God for the mercy you have shown me” – a bit works salvation, but still originally a full thought about God and His mercy, but now entirely dumbed down), or most especially when it comes to expletives, which I will not even rehearse. Other languages when it comes to leave-taking focus on the “us seeing each other” part, like “do svidaniya” “au revoir” and “auf wiedersehen”. You need to go a way back to bring them all together into the one “God be with you – and you watch out for yourself also – until we see each other again, hopefully” which is what each of them started off as. Except Hungarian of course. They do have the “a viszontlatasra” auf Wiedersehen idea in one form, but they also have “szervusz” which means “I remain your servant, until we see each other again”. And also there is the Polish langauge, which has its auf wiedersehen in “do widzenia” but also has a less formal “cześć” which means “honour”. Presumably this originally meant “try and stay honourable until we see each other again. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. In fact, don’t do have the things I would do, either”. Incidentally, many languages spoken by Muslims have the original God words intact in leave-taking, like the Persian “Khoda hafiz” or the Turkish “Allaha ismarladik”. Maybe the devil thought it was a waste of his time trying to corrupt those languages as he has a good enough hold on them anyway since they don’t have much access to Christianity?)

So this meandering brings us back to the point that languages construct things very differently. As a six year old boy, it was natural of my brother to think that languages would be similar to each other, but anyone who thinks that languages are similar to each other are in for a big surprise…

… In fact, they are fairly similar, that’s the surprise, but there are still various different preferred ways that languages have developed to construct things and each language therefore gives a slightly different perspective on something, as you will see from the question I received from Greg today, and the answer you will see below to his question.

So, the question was:

Hello, I am teaching myself Russian and I wondered, if a noun is the object in a sentence, it must be in the accusative case. If it is the subject of a sentence then it has to be Nominative, so if it is both the subject and the object, which one do I use?

for example: лошадь=horse and забава=fun

to say “horses are fun” would i say “лошадь забава”, “лошады забава” or “лошадьа забава” or somthing else?

Thanks for having a look at this as it has been holding me back for a while.


And here’s the answer:

The problem that we have is that words in English don’t always change their appearance when they are nouns and when they are adjectives.

To explain this, let me give you two sentences – one is

“horses are mammals”

and the other is

“horses are strong”.

Which is a noun and which is a verb? With these words it’s easy, becasue they do change. I can say that horses are mammalian animals, except for seahorses which are piscean animals. I can say that horses are strong animals but I can say that the possession of horses was a STRENGTH for Gengis Khan’s army. For him, horses were a strength. So with strong/strength, mammal/mammalian you know which are the thing words and which are the describing words, which are the nouns and which are the adjectives. But when you come to a word like “fun” and a lot of other modern words, or youth words, you’ll find that the same form is for a an adjective “the fun house” and the noun “welcome to the house of fun”. In your sentence, is “fun” being used more like the words mammals and strength, or more like the words “mammalian” and “strong”?

You got it, the word “fun” you wanted to use is the adjective form. That would be “zabav-nye” but naturally from ‘fun’ it means funny, which is something different to what we mean by “fun” as an adjective. If you want to say the horses are funny you can say loshadi (with a soft ‘i’ not a hard one like you gave) – zabavnye which means the horses are funny or ‘loshadi byvayut zabavnymi’ with the adjective in the instrumental plural which is “horses can be funny”, as in “horses are often funny, tend to be funny”.

BUT this is not the same as saying that they are fun. You need to look at the equivalence of the expression and be more precise about it in Russian. You are not really saying that horses are there to amoooze you, like in the goodfellas film, so what you are sying is “I enjoy being with horses” or “One can have a good time with horses”. It would be far more idiomatic to rebuild that whole idea in Russian using one of the impersonal constructions I teach in the course. You can take away the subject – which in fact is not horses at all but the person who is finding them so pleasant, from the Russian perspective – and simply say “S loshadyami veselo” “With horses it-is-merry”. This will give the hearer in Russian precisely the same idea that you say in English with a sentence exactly the other way round.

Now you think “Huh, if someone came up to me and said “With horses it is merry” I wouldn’t understand him and I’d think I was talking to Yoda off of Star Wars”, but that works precisely the same way the other way round. If someone comes to a Russian and says “loshadi zabava” then if they think about it they’ll get the idea (and while they struggle with the syntax rather uncomfortable images may enter their minds about what sort of fun you have in mind with these horses, since you’ve put it in such a roundabout way) but in the end they’ll probably think you sound like Yoda off Star Wars, too.

Russian is simply more literal and logical than English. The Russians will think that, in and of themselves, the horses are not fun. They are not really the ones who are generating the fun, we are. We are creating the sensation of fun, and they are entirely passive in the process. As long as they have their fodder and water, and some grooming and don’t get worked too hard, they do not care what we think of them, or what names we give them. We do not know if they are amused at anything we do in relation to them or not, as they cannot tell us. But they have the capacity to amuse us, and so being with them, it (as in the mood of people) is merry. Much more logical, in fact, than imputing some intrinsically amusing activity or frame of mind to horses. If I were to stretch this any further, I might invoke the truism that Latin and Slavic are for the verb, while Germanic is for the noun. In fact I’ll just throw it in there for today and bring it out more another time, but this idea actually does something to explain why the syntax of some languages seem back to front in others.

In any event, to get from one language to another, you have to think “what am I really trying to say here, and how would the apparatus available in that second language be most comfortable in conveying precisely that idea”? And this will hold true even when you start on languages which are at the extreme end of differentness from your own, as well, some times, in analysing the differences between neighbouring languages like English and French, and finding out why it’s not a problem that “orry” doesn’t mean “good”. The fact is there ain’t no “good” in our “goodbye”ing, and truly learning languages takes a lot of trying. Just hang on in there (a good example of something in English which would make no sense literally translated into any other language) and it’ll come in the end, and give you into the bargain a new understanding of the workings of your first language, and with it the ability to think more deeply in that one also.