Answering Rigdzin Norbu’s questions on the Goldlist

Tibetan script
Tibetan script

I received these questions in one comments area, but I decided to answer as a full article so that more people see it. The questions are ones in this case that I have tried to answer in other articles, but there’s no harm in answering them again as they are important and sometimes these important details get lost in the amount there is here and need to be reiterated, so that’s perfectly fine.

Good morning! I have dived into videos and your print post and am now almost two weeks into using the goldlist method (I hope it helps, other forms of vocubulary memorization haven’t been that effective for me). I have a couple of questions I hope you will answer:

I hope so too.

– when you talk about “including all the grammar”, i am wondering how this applies to verbs. do you suggest including the verb root and the different tense forms on one line? for example, in tibetan, chye pa is the root form, followed by chyas chye chyos. all on one line?

There’s more than one way of doing this, and it really depends on whether in the language you choose there are a lot of irregularities or not.

You say that you are learning Tibetan, which I take to mean Modern Standard Tibetan and not one of over 200 other alternative languages spoken in that place. Your biggest issue will be to get your head around the fact that the language is ergative. There are not many ergative languages left and I don’t know any. I have know idea how big a challenge it will be for you to get around that whole underlying aspect of Tibetan grammar.

You ask specifically about verbs, and so what you need to know when you head list a verb is at least the following, and if I were you I’d either include this in the head list or make space for it:
1) whether it is a volitional or a non volitional verb
2) whether it’s transitive or intransitive
3) the root and the present-future, past and imperative stems
4) any irregularities in the way that the inflecting suffixes are added to these stems (in as much as they are regular and predictable from basic paradigms, you don’t need a separate line in the headlist for every possible form.
5) differences between the spoken form and the written form. Often there’s one spoken form, but spelled two or three different ways. You need to probably note most of these at Headlist stage and only the odd ones as you distill will go forward. Ones which become predictable from general rules you would not need to write over again.

– when still adding vocabulary and distilling simultaneously, does it matter how one numbers the mix of lists? my first list will have approximately 1000 words on it before i begin distilling. does the distilled list start at 1001. what if i keep going, adding new head lists? does it matter?

OK, I get asked this a lot and it’s one of the hardest things to just explain without showing it, and then it’s a toughy to film as well. Let me try and explain it this way. take this a paragraph at a time and let each one sink in before the next paragraph. (Sorry, I’m not being patronising, this really can be tricky to envisage, I’m trying a new way now to help envisage it)

a. The headlist, and each of the distillations, however many you do, are separate lists with internally consequent numbering, however long you do them, and even if you leave them and pick them up again years later.

b. Each distillation derives from the words you didn’t remember after not seeing them together for two weeks prior – or longer – in the preceding list. Therefore each list contains some of the words from the preceding list, some it does not contain, and sometimes it has combined on one line more than one word or phrase that were separate line items on the preceding list. Therefore it is shorter than the preceding list. It may be only 15% shorter, it may be 50% shorter, usually it’s going to be about 30% shorter. Don’t sweat it if it’s at least within the 15% to 50% parameter on a given set of vocab, that can vary.

c. Now each distillation, because it’s a separate list, could have been written in a completely different place. I used to keep them on different coloured sheets of photocopier paper, in ring binders, but that got a bit fiddly and so I decided to keep it simple and found a way to use one book for 4 of these lists at a time. I did that by taking a book 40 lines deep, using the top left 25 lines for the headlist, making the D1 (first distillation) list from that at the top left hand side, which gave room because in was usually about 18 lines for a 13-ish liner D2 list underneath it, coming round then in a circular motion to a 9-ish D3 under the original Headlist area on the left.

d. Each area of that book is 4 separate lists. They used to be in separate files in different coloured paper. And each of them has internal numbering which is consequent. Only the top left side has numbering that goes from a multiple of 25 (or 20 if you want to use a 20 method) plus one, down to the next multiple of 25 (or 20 if you use that variation). And it does that in the first set of books, with headlists through to D3 in, which I call the Bronze Books, and D4 also does the same in the Silver book. (You’ll probably only need one silver book per language). The difference is that 1-25 in the D4 section in the top left of the silver book contains what’s left to still be memorised from the first 3, 4 or 5 pages of the Bronze book.

e. Typically 4 Bronze books will distill into 1 Silver book the same size, and 4 languages’ worth of silver books will go into a single Gold book. That’s why to avoid wastage I only have one Gold Book across a number of languages, while Bronze and Silver books I’d recommend to keep to one langiage in each set of books, and only mix them at Gold book level, distillations 8-11.

f. I’d be surprised if anyone felt they needed a Platinum book, it should be just about done by that level of distillation, but you are welcome to prove me wrong.

g. So it wouldn’t be at all unusual to open a goldlist book and see numbers on the top left looking something like 676-700, the words corresponding to these at the top right being 437-456, then at the bottom right something like 293-307 and you might be about to distil them to numbers 209-216 at the bottom left. Each number carries on from the last number on the preceding double page for that position, ie for that distillation.

h. And if you start a second Bronze Book you treat it as a continuation of the same 4 lists and start numbering in that second book for each of the 4 areas where you left off in the first book.

I hope that makes sense.

– last question. given the nature of Tibetan script, which is vertically stacked, I can manage ten new words per page (and still have room for the other three lists as described). are groups of twenty words too small? groups of thirty too big?

Thanks for this method and for addressing my questions.

In my view twenty is a good number for Tibetan. You could do ten but what are you going to distil it to? Having 25 words in a Headlist usually gives some scope for interesting combinations while distilling, 20 would also be OK, 10 only would cramp that part of the process a bit in my opinion.

Because there’s not a lot of space I’d actually recommend a big book (A4 instead of A3 format) and only doing 20 (20 is also good because you can easily count in twenties – I don’t like 30 so much as they don’t get to round hundreds, or rather they do but only once every three hundred. 25 is a quarter of a hundred, 20 is a fifth. If there’s no room for 25, I’d try 20, and that could be a good way to go for languages which will be cramped otherwise.

Your alternative would be to alternate the left and right of the column, but I personally wouldn’t enjoy doing that, and enjoyment of the process is a big part of the Goldlist Method.

And you’re very welcome. I think that your questions have helped to improve the instructions available and will probably improved the quality of the book when I finally finish it.

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