The Goldlist Method – Response to Appraisal and Critique by Group of Hardcore Polyglots and Linguists


Here is an article on the goldlist method which I wrote very recently on the How to Learn any Language forum in a thread which was very useful on the whole for the system – some of the top linguists and polyglots you can find on the net are there in that discussion, and they are putting this methiod to the test. Now some of them have already had the most tremendous success learning languages with their own preferred methods and are naturally suspicious of new-fangled approaches like this here Goldlist Method – some of them had criticisms to make, which are addressed below, but among them are plenty of hardcore linguists and polyglots who seem to really like the method. They are the hardest group to please, and you’ll see that despite the dissenting voices there are many who stand up for the method and more people do seem to approve of it than disapprove. And I don’t think I’ll ever have a tougher audience for this.

Here’s what I said, but by all means go and join that forum and have a look at the thread and other threads. It’s a wonderful place for a linguist to be, and I immediately paid to be a supporting member, or a “pro” member, as the site owner calls it, and I hope more people will follow my example.

I have read all the posts in this thread, and I assume that since as you know I am a videographer, that I may make a response in full to this discussion on video. This will hopefully have the knock-on effect of attracting new members, assuming you want them, to this splendid community. I hope that the owner of the site and the contributors to the forum will not mind that way of reply, in any event it seems a fairly standard thing to give someone a right of reply and at least let them choose the method, and therefore I trust that this idea will not be seen as controversial, or as poor netiquette.

Many thanks first of all for your kind attention to this method, and for trying it out as a group. I will not go into detail here as I fear to tamper with your most intriguing discussion and experiment, which is exceptionally valuable for the fine-tuning of the method, which in turn will hopefully help more people.

I will, however, say one or two things now, before the film.

This method was never intended to be more than the claims made for it by me in the videos. I do not say, at any point, that this is ‘the best method’. What it is, is ONE way to help people move away from short-term memory methods based on cramming which is in my opinion utterly useless for language learning, although it certainly has a role in some other types of learning.

The same school curriculum imposes a certain way of learning both on biology or physics and on languages, whereas another way of learning is required as the disciplines and the parts of the brain involved are at any rate broadly acknowledged to be different, albeit at times overlapping, especially when biologists use Latin names for things and really you have to be a bit of a linguist to learn the difference between your Macropus and your Macropodus, or to tell your Diptera from your Diphtheria.

The state education of children results in generations of children leaving schools having spent enough time to learn several languages in the classroom, and yet having learned none. Instead they go on through life thinking that *they* failed, not the method, and they sphexishly go on trying language school after language school, believing that the stupid lessons they get given, and the good old “learn these words for next Tuesday’s test” rubbish is actually the proper way to learn a language, and of course that industry is not about to disabuse them. I wouldn’t care to hazard a guess how much the adult education of languages in paid classes is worth per annum, and how much of that spend simply fails to add value to people who believe they are making an investment in themselves. The schools and the courses often offer the money back after 16 days or thereabouts (16 comes from the famed “Callan” method and also the Paul Daniels courses of some years back, based on short term memory tricks, also used this 16 day period too, if memory serves) because they know that up till that time the short-term memory works, and will carry the students’ confidence, only to fail them later, but leave them convinced that they themselves were at fault and need to try again buying another course later.

Cainntear, I believe it was, asks where is the objective evidence about the two-weeks, and where’s my research? Well, I didn’t research this, it’s something that I observed from the practice of these companies, and just put two and two together. In point of fact I have not measured, and do not know, whether the best cut off is REALLY 14 days or 16 or whether 12 would do it, but what I do know is that ancient man developed a type of conscious memory that he could control consciously, in the same way that he could learn to consciously hold his breath – animals don’t do this, as far as I can tell. The conscious takeover of memory, as with breath, means that the function doesn’t work quite as well as it does in the state when it works unconsciously, which it does perfectly well most of the time. With breathing you end up hyperventilating, which enables you to do interesting tricks like swim the length of a swimming pool underwater without coming up for air – I used to be able to do this in my youth but I’m too fat and old now – but you cannot keep on hyperventilating or you will keel over.

By the way, I made some points in one of the Polish language videos on the method addressing Chomsky’s observations about the “loss” of ability to learn langaues with such facility once we get to the age of five or six, and deconstructed that to say that it’s not that we really *lose* anything, it’s that we add a layer of perception – the layer of consciously trying to memorise when we learn, and it is that which impedes the memory so much and ruins language learning, we are “hyperventilating” our memories, so to speak. Prior to that age we made no attempt to learn words and phrases, but still we did so very naturally, and not only that but we ALL did, including those who claim they have no “gift for languages”. It is an observable fact that, while the learning of additional languages can give a speaker much more style and facility and a broader vocabulary in his own language, there are still plenty of people with excellent command of their native tongue who have tried and failed to achieve functional fluency in any other languages.

Let’s consider a further corollary. If we say that there is such a thing as a controllable short-term memory which is different to the unconscieous and uncontrollable long term memory, then it follows that we must have evolved the function of short-term, consciously controllable memory for a reason. If natural selection can be taken at face value it must have been a survival trait for early humans, or it would not have come into existence at all. I take the reason, if indeed evolution played a role at all in man’s origin, (but I assume most of you are more convinced about that than I am, but if not, then the reason it was given by the Creator could be the same), is to enable early man to go on expeditions to find food and to return again, remembering the way back to the camp where the women remained with the children, bringing back the much needed food. The hunters and long-range gathering tribesmen would have needed to get back to the home base within less than two weeks – if not then the women and children would be starving and starting to exhibit signs of malnutrition. So they would go as far afield as they could in the search for flesh and fruit, and needed to be able to find their way home, so they learned how to force themselves to observe and retain landmarks. Now if you leave a landmark too long it changes anyway – a tree changes colour, a rock gets kicked away by an elephant, but more than that the tribe simply could not afford to let them be away that long. Also you have the cycle of the moon – the group would see the moon at half-way to fullness and take that as the signal to leave on a new hunting expedition. The best hunting is to be done at night by the light of the full moon and man’s predatory instinct still today shows strongest at this time, as underlined by the various werewolf legends and leitmotifs that there are. On the other hand the group would have wanted to be back by the time the moon’s cycle was giving darker nights, which is not a good time to be away from home, and so for those two weeks where the moon is darker they would have been at home. Even the menstrual cycle of our women evolved around that pattern of the availibility of the partners. Seven days before and seven days after the first day of menstruation are generally (don’t rely on this necessarily) considered not fertile times, and on this basis the Roman catholics practice their “rhythm method’ of allowable contraception. And that is how I think the short-term or conscious learning memory came to be in evolutionary terms, and why it is two weeks, or if you are not an evolutionist then you could say that we were given this for precisely the same above reasons.

Now of course I cannot give you evidence for either proposal, as it is not susceptible to tangible evidence, but I’ve just been reading Dawkins’ “Greatest Show on Earth” where he hangs very big ideas on bases no more empirical than the ones I just offered, and everybody seems to think he is a marvellous thinker, and no doubt he is, even though I beg leave to differ on the majority of his conclusions…

In any event, I don’t even need to be providing evidence, despite what Cainntear says, because all the work on staged presentation, which is all this is – a version of staged presentation which anyone should simply be able to manage for themselves putting themselves in control of pace and progress, and disengage from these hopeless teachers – was done 80 years ago, and anyone with a mind to can see the arguments for staged presentation. Ebbinghaus, who discovered it, was the first psychologist to have any kind of evidential or empirical standard, and his empiricism was very highly regarded. That’s why he is seen as the Daddy of psychology, especially that of memory, and I doff my hat to him. At the same time, as some of you have noted, there are aspects of what I think that go beyond Ebbinghaus – in particular he doesn’t distinguish so much between the long and short-term memory, but then I already gave you the main reasons why I use that, and also using that kind of cut off is the key way to draw the learners off using cramming, short-term methods which are so toxic for them. Work on the unconscious mind was largely done after Ebbinghaus and you cannot expect one man to think of everything. So I am not positing that the whole method is one hundred percent Ebbinghaus, but it does produce effects which approximate in practical terms very closely to Ebbinghaus’ findings on a numerical basis, and if you want to get in closer to Ebbinghaus ideal lengths of stages then you really beed to be using a computer program (there is one somewhere and I forget what it is called but a gentleman from Szczecin produced it) and then you don’t have the benefits of a manual system which the gold list method incorporates.

Had I gone about making claims about some new scientific discovery, then Cainntear’s demands for me to start furnishing peer reviewed research might be more justified, but show me where I ever made such assertions? I think, on the contrary, I’ve been careful to avoid doing so, which is why I have to admit I regard Cainntear’s criticism as rather unfair to me in this area. In point of fact, I would dearly love to be able to go and fund some research for some of the ideas I have that would support the scientific validity of the method, had I ever wished to make that claim, but I don’t have that kind of money. Last year I did not get paid by my previous company for six months. There where times I didn’t know how I could feed my children, two of whom are severely disabled and wife, also severely disabled, or buy them the treatments they need, or clothes for their backs, and yet not once did I even suggest that anybody made even so much as a voluntary donation for the use of this method. Now by the grace of God and the kindness of friends in my profession of accountancy who helped me to re-employment in a better place, I do not have this problem any more, but still I cannot go funding research. Bearing in mind how much money governments around the world are wasting on the miseducation of languages in schools, I think they should be the ones actually eager to stump up some funds to research this, and not me, (I’d gladly give input or steering as far as I can, but I cannot fund it) so I thank you, Cainntear, for your sarcasm.

Anyway. More on the whole thing in my future film, in which everyone, without exception, will be answered, because you all have said things that are important to me. I’m afraid that if I type too much now, then a) nobody will read my book when it’s ready as they will have already read everything I have to say on the matter, and I would like to have at least one book to my name even if not everybody likes it, and b) at some point the software won’t be happy, and I might lose everything I’ve written this evening!

Please keep discussing regardless, and I hope that people will be as critical as they have been previously, only within reason, not suggesting that I shold be funding teams of researchers out of my pocket, and please do not tone it down just because I’m in the room. The important thing is to get the results of your kind experiment, be happy for those of you who were helped, and analyse the reasons why some of you may be less helped than others.

To seasoned linguists such as this august group, I would expect the Goldlist Method to be a plaything which some of you will like and use as a favoured technique (which is exceptionally flattering, that my method should find favour among other polyglots) however to those who falsely believe they have no gift for languages and who dearly wish to learn a language, I would expect that this is more of a lifeline, a great chance to try a new method – not the only method but a new method for them, which will work for them by breaking bad habits and wrong ideas about what second language learning really is, and what tasks it’s really made up of. In the main I started offering the method as an adjunct to the Huliganov Russian course on YouTube, which was aimed at helping people who are not really linguists (or who tried and failed in the past to be linguists) and help them to achieve their language ambitions. Not only can you see a number of people making videos or comments publicly that they were greatly benefitted by the method, even though at first they didn’t believe it, but I can assure you that the private mail I get overwhelmingly (although not exclusively) praising the method runs into hundreds of people, just as the view count runs into thousands.

If I have helped to empower some people to find a way they can be more organised or efficient linguists which had evaded them before, or to keep going as linguists even when the amount of time at their disposal has been reduced by life’s other claims, and I have indeed had cases of all the above, then for me that is the greatest aim, and at the same time I’m also delighted to see people who don’t really need it themselves also play with it and have their thoughts about the language learning process provoked by it.

I am actually hoping that, in addition to helping hundreds and maybe thousands finally get to call themselves linguists when they couldn’t before, the Goldlist Method will be taken up by an existing polyglot as an extra tool in their workshop, and used to help that person become the greatest ever polyglot. If I could help in some tangible way someone to become the the greatest linguist on earth, knowing more languages than anyone else has ever known, someone who has much more time for the process than I do, then that would make me very happy indeed.

About David J. James

53 year old accountant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written discussion. Conservative Christian, married to an angel, we have three kids, and live in Warsaw, Poland. I can help you with company set-up, bookkeeping, payroll, tax, audit and due diligence all over Poland and the region.

Posted on 07/05/2010, in Blog only, Gold List Methodology, Languages and Linguistics, My posts on other fora/blogs and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Hi, I’ve been working my way through this for Cebuano. My log is at http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=35337&PN=0&TPN=4

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  2. It is always difficult to get knowledgeable people with this issue, nevertheless, you be understood as you understand exactly what you are posting about! Appreciate it!

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  3. Dear mister David,

    I teach English as a second language in the schools of the province of Quebec, Canada and I am also a passionate of languages. My first language is Quebecois French. I taught myself German and Russian to intermediate level and have plans to learn more.

    I try to make my students as autonomous as possible, for instance instead of giving them words to learn I suggest them to write down new words they encounter on sticky yellow notes (Post-Its) and put them in view on their desk, and remove them only when they feel they know them by heart. I know that recopying words can have virtues if done right and I had a breakthrough in my mind when I discovered your Gold List videos on YOUTUBE. Your method is quite frankly the missing link I had been looking for for a long time. It ties together and gives the structure I needed to many ideas I already had about language learning. In fact, the GoldList method will now be integrated in my teaching.

    I would like to better understand how exactly the self-testing should be done. I find that I am able to understand the words I want to learn (L2 to L1) but I have more difficulty to translate from my mother tongue to the language I want to learn (L1 to L2). This “one-way translation ability” has puzzled and eluded my problem-solving skills for a long time. My students also tell me that although they can understand English, when it comes the time to “produce”, they have trouble to find their words. They know they know them, but can’t recall them. And I am not any better, I can translate over a thousand Russian words, but give me the list in French or English and I am shamely not able to translate them all back in Russian.

    Also, I have begun to learn Hungarian and I am developping a multiple-language learning method I like to call “Stepstones”. In essence, it is about using L2 to learn L3, then L3 to learn L4, etc. addition to everything else I use, I have a Gold List notebook of 360 pages, divided in 3 sections. The first section is the lists English–>Russian. The second section, the lists Russian–>German. The third section, the lists German–>Hungarian. I would be glad to have your educated opinion on learning more than one language at once. That being said, if by definition, a good method gives results and a better method gives the same results with less time and energy spent, I think you will not disapprove that I adapt your method to my own purposes.

    I look foward to read your response, here or through email.

    By the way, last Winter I spent 3 months in Voronezh to visit a Russian friend and if they say that Kiev is the city of beautiful women, Voronezh must be in very close second place 🙂

    yours truly,

    Jonathan

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  4. whatdoyoufink

    Dear DJJ,

    I have this e-mail from way back when I fisrt contacted you about some questions I had about the goldlist. So I hope it’s still the same.
    I have just read the up-dated version of the goldlist on the huliganov channel which I’m subscribed to.
    Since first coming across your method on Youtube way back when I really do feel that I struck gold!(Corny I know,but I mean it).
    I use it for every thing that I want to learn to the long-term memory. I am learning my wife’s language, Tagalog, and I still keep my on the Chinese that I was learning before I met her.

    I have to say I started using the goldlist book, for the language , but I don’t know I just thought, I would just review using the method without writing it all down. I know that writing does include the extra sense, but, I’m just a bit lazy on that front. Sorry!!!!!

    But still I have found that I still remember somethings, and I trust that if I keep using the method the info will go in, in good time.

    I tell all who I think might listen about the system, and atleast I can speak from experience having spent a fair (actually,it’s probably not so fair, when you consider how much they charge, and for what? Money for old rope!) amount of money on the same old mnemonic style stuff that’s been around from when? 5th B.C.E. Or when ever……

    I recently had a very encouraging experience with one of my friends in the congregation, who by her own admission doesn’t have a good memory, not by a long shot. Any way, I told her about your method , and said to her; “Why don’t we try it on that scripture that you want to remember?” Of course we would like to remember the whole Bible, but ,Yi bu yi bu de, (step by step) as they say in Chinese.
    The verse was from Ps.27:10. So , other the course of about 4 or 5 months, every now and then I would send her a reminder e-mail about the Psalm. Any way , the other day I was talking with someone else about the goldlist, and Our friend was there so I asked her if she could remember the passage. And she thought for a wee bit , not too long mind you, and said; “Ps.27:11?” Now that’s not bad for someone with a quite poor memory! In fact, We think that the only reason why she didn’t get it precisely is that she was slighly mixing it with Prov.27:11, which she already knows.
    So there we go, I just thought after all this time I would let you know how helpful I have found your method, and I would love to hear or read or both, more from you on this subject in the future, and also your insights on other subjects such as creation/evolution. Which books you would recommend on those subject and more…… I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Dawkins’ latest book. What books are you reading at present? How many languages would you say you are now able to speak or understand?
    Could you give me a list of the books you would say have had the most influence on you?

    All the best, thank you again for the marvellous goldlist,

    Eamonn

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    • Dear Eamonn,

      I do indeed remember our correspondence, although it seems like some years ago now. I am so glad that you’ve been helped by the method. Thank you for sharing it on with people. It is always hard to know how to answer when people ask you how many languages you ‘know’ because it all depends on what ‘know’ means. Does it mean be able to read a typical wikipedia article in that language and understand all the salient points? If so, then I would put the number at about 20 languages. If it means stand up at a moment’s notice and speak for an hour in the language, saying what I want in a basically understandable manner but with plenty of errors allowed, then only half that number. And if it means go around all day not really noticing you’re not speaking your native language, then only a few, I’m afraid. I’ve never been a believer in perfectionism. If Pareto is right, and I believe he was, then you can learn to do 80% in a language with just 20% of the lexical ammunition you’d need to do 100%, which is a theoretical figure anyway, in that language. Better learn 5 second languages to 80% of nativedom than one second language so well that people don’t know if it’s your first or not. It is a far more pragmatic approach.

      I am not sure I could just list books that have influenced me off the top of my head like that, as it isn’t only books, it’s discussions, FAQs, radio programmes, youtube vids and television programmes, discussions with real people, magazine articles and books. Books themselves are part of a larger jigsaw. Certainly though there is a Book which is most influential, but you already talked about that One.

      Great to see you here and hope to hear from you again. Hope you stay tuned to what I’m doing on line and that you help to popularise it more and more. I am grateful.

      David

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