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.

I think that if you have 15,000 words in a language, that is worthy of a degree and will give you a very good base to live and work in most languages. With good technique at exams, you’d get by on less, but I imagine getting by isn’t your thing. Good, it isn’t mine either. What I do is done thoroughly and this method suits that approach.

My second question regards Russian grammar, I would like to know if you had any tips on how to nail the verbs of motion and aspect, possibly using the Goldlist method? I still have troubles with them, and although I have done a large amount of work on them, they still won’t stick to my mind, and it frustrates me.

I suggest you Goldlist the rules as they are stated and also about 50 typical sentences illustrating their use from a good grammar book and distill them slowly.

Thirdly, do you have tips on how to use both short-term and long-term memory simultaneously and efficiently? For example, if I have a vocab test every two weeks, and learn new vocab every week, is there anything I could do to make my vocabulary stick for more than two weeks while still being able to remember it for each test?

Unless you are on continuous assessment, I’d not get too het up about the regular tests. They are only there because the teachers are ignorant of how inappropriate a method that is. Please get them to read the last 100 pages of the free e-book The Polyglot Project by Claude Cartaginese, or get ot off his channel which is . The theory which I maintain, but have not had the apparatus to test academically is that you can no more use the short and long term memories at the same time than you can breathe consciously and unconsciously at the same time. The short-term memory is the box of biological wires that your brain puts things in when you tell it to, but they are not as enduring memories as those made naturally by the subconscience and its sampling function. If you must learn vocab for periodic tests then try and get hold of the vocab lists for tests well in the future, so that you have time to learn them the goldlist way with proper two week gaps and distillation.

And finally, I would like to thank you for having created the Goldlist method and having shared it, it is an extremely generous and kind thing to do, and I have already started to share it with my friends.

I’m really grateful that you do that. Please let them know about my blog and my too. My hits are climbing and it makes me feel great.

Thanks, *****

You’re very welcome. Let me know how you get on.


5 thoughts on “Questions on the Goldlist methodology for university students

  1. Victor,

    I would like to present to you my approach to the Gold List (I study Italian and Arabic at University). I have the same problem as the student who consulted you -> vocabulary tests on a weekly basis. Unfortunately I won’t know the vocabulary list until five days before the exam (I receive the list on monday and the test is on friday). Nevertheless I have found a way to make the Gold List Method work for me .

    I noticed that when I’m cramming for an exam I can remember about 95% of the words i crammed after about one and a half week. After two weeks it’s about 90% and after the magical number of three or more weeks I feel like I can only remember the words which have really made it into my L/T memory.

    So here’s what I do:
    I get the vocabulary list on monday, and start cramming. Then, on Friday, I write the vocabulary test. Then I wait for exactly one week without going back to the words I needed to learn for the exam. (During this week I have to cram new words for the next test anyway). After one week I write a/some headlist(s) with the words I had to learn the week before. Then I just follow your Method and wait for two more weeks until I start my first distillation. By then it will be three weeks since I was cramming the words for the test and so (as I explained earlier) I will just remember the words that have already made it into my l/t memory. These are the ones that I cut from the list and so on and so on. Even if that means that I can just do about 2-3 headlists a week, it guarantees me that after some time I will be able to remember every single word that I ever had to know for a vocabulary test.

    What do you think of that approach to your method?

    Finally I have another question on your method:
    I plan to teach myself Swahili and wanted to ask you how you think about the Method I want to use:

    first: (as you recommend it): Do The Swahili Pimsleur Course
    second: I want to use the Goldlist learning Swahili. The problem is, that I’m a bit perfectionist and I just don’t like the idea of “just” writing down the words, phrases, structures etc. from my workbook into the Gold List and don’t do the exercises. Is it also possible to work through the units (like the coursebook tells you to) and after the completion of one unit making headlists of the content? This would fit my learning style perfectly (working something out and than writing down what you just learned) but I first wanted to ask you if this is even a legitimate approach to the Goldlist Method?!

    Thanks a lot for your answers in advance, you’re doing a great job and the world of linguistics needs more innovative persons like you!!!

    All the best, Mario

    1. My understanding is this – that cramming is an activity that forces open the short-term memory and as such closes the long-term memory. Maybe the awareness that you are going to repeat the words again in the future until they are learned has enabled this switch not to happen and you are still getting some long-term memory effect, but I can only reiterate how harmful it is to try to cram. You might try finding other vocab lists that you do not have to cram first and GL those, and see for yourself if they don’t go down through the distillations a lot easier later – I suspect they will.

      The key of course is to find out where these vocab lists are coming from. I expect a little research would enable you to find out precisely what is coming up (not many teachers write their own material, that’s for sure) and this would enable you to start the process appropriately early so that you could do the first few distillations ahead of time.

      If you want to do Kiswahili units grammar wise first there is no problem with reading ahead but do it for pleasure. Especially if you can actually read a whole grammar book for the pleasure of looking into it and seeing (getting a foretaste) of what is coming without actually trying to learn it – just getting a good idea of what to be looking out for as you go through goldlisting. I think that an approach like that can only help rather tyhan hinder. Let me know how you get on.

      1. In my experience, cramming a list won’t hurt that list later on… it’s just allot more work for the same end result, and it’s harder to keep it up over long periods of time. No way I could go though all the lists I do in a day if I was cramming them all.

  2. The easiest thing is to assume that it is a hoax, as so many of the unexplained things are hoaxes, but in order not to assume any bad intentions on the part of the author, let us say that it is a work of art.

    The paper and the ink seem to be consistent with 15th century Italian, which also had a writing style of the sort used here at that time, a revival of an earlier Carolingian handwriting style.

    The manuscript should not be looked at in isolation from the accompanying illustrations. They contain detailed drawings of plants which are not actually consistent with plants to be found in any of the linguistic locations posited, in fact, these plants don’t exist, unless they all existed once and all coincidentally disappeared, or maybe they exist on another planet and the author was a shipwrecked alien, or, most likely they are the product of someone whose psychology is a ‘creator’ style psychology.

    I go for the latter. We have someone who is aware of the respect society has for the creator, for the artist, for Leonardo, and has given free reign to his fantasy to ‘create’ new species of plants, to show naked women going into pits, to show a calendar in circular form and possibly have some form of astrology or at least agricultural events going on in it.

    This person probably was an Italian and the language is probably some version of Italian, maybe an “abbrev- lang-” or “-viation -guage”, or some early conlang made up by this fellow. It may be that he knew something of the Orient or at least had fantasies of the Orient, but Asian academics do not recognise any asiatic science or culture in the drawings.

    The samovars which are shown are ornate, but impractical. The tube in the middle is not commensurate with the water vessels on the outside. Neither is it clear how the hot water comes out, as there is no tap. Nonetheless, the design of a Russian samovar is clearly there.

    Just as the images are beautiful and aesthetic but not carrying any practical meaning, I would suggest that that is a major clue that the text does precisely the same thing. I have yet to see a book with illustrations where the character of the illustrations differed wildly from the character of the text.

    The person, undoubtedly male, wrote this book to fulfill his creative and fantastic drive. It has probably no meaning other than in his own private world which he built into it. It appeals very strongly to other men of a similar mindset, and some like the Polish linguist Banasik have got so far embroiled in it as to attempt a deciphering of the script and to persuade himself that he can partly read it. I expect his fantasy is nearly as strong as that of the original author, and certainly his attempts read to me like someone attempting a Sudoku with all the wrong numbers, getting to the end and finding he can’t finish.

    I understand that if one’s name sounds as though it means “little Banach”, Banach being the Polish mathematician of immense stature, the greatest cryptographer of his day, one might feel oneself naturally drawn to follow in his footsteps, but there’s no logic and no mathematics involved here, just a total insufficiency of relevant data. This is not the Rosetta Stone, it is pure art, and should be appreciated as such without people go losing themselves in it.

    For those who do wish to go into that journey, which I don’t advise, the Goldlist method will be as useful and as useless as any other tool for the task of collating the uncollatable. I would suggest that anyone seriously undertaking the task should first study the work that has been done by museums on deciphering Cuneiform and apply some of their success strategies. But it will only be a game. No more productive or less productive than World of Warcraft. It may be just as enjoyable, but other than the enjoyment, you won’t win anything. You could learn living languages, whether rare or common, in the same time.

    So to quote one famous movie, the only way to win as a linguist with the Voynich manuscript is not to play.

    And that’s my two terobrian ungots’ worth, on that subject.

  3. Has the Goldlist method ever been tried on the Voynich manuscript? Perhaps it would yield some recognition of the language.

    My own guess is that the book was made as a family heirloom for a household in eastern Asia, whose language was grammatically awkward with Chinese characters, and whose children were unable to learn them anyway. Perhaps by travel or purchase, someone acquired European texts which one man decided to translate (plagiarize), singularly inventing his own phonetic writing system. Even a woman could have done this – and I don’t mean that offensively. Indeed, a great many idle-rich ladies were locked up in mansions and would have had time to undertake the endeavor.

    I do not believe the cipher-text theory behind it. Or rather, I don’t want to believe it, as it would seem such a waste.

Your thoughts welcome, by all mean reply also to other community members!