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.

About David J. James

52 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 28/06/2011, in Answers to your questions, Blog only, Germany, Gold List Methodology, Languages and Linguistics, With Another Person and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Daniel Gheesling

    Unfortunately we do not have machines, but I am glad I am not the only one who finds them as an obvious answer…well I can’t wait to get in a routine to begin this new and improved method of language learning. Thank you!

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  2. Uncle Davey,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond (to both questions). I wish it were that simple to get your money back from the university. Actually, the government gave me loans to go to school, so there’s no getting out of repaying them. I hope you will not get annoyed if I tell you a little more about myself, because I am hoping it might make things more clear. So, I’m in the navy active duty and am stationed on a ship. We just got back from a 7 month deployment overseas. During this, I was studying pimsleur audio at night before going to sleep, which was the most calm and quiet time to be alone in your mind. We are scheduled to go out to sea again for a month or so, in 2017. Maybe this time next year. I am aware of the necessity of having a peaceful, quiet environment to maximize the effectiveness of getting words embedded into the long term memory, and I am very skeptical that I wil get any work done during this…we work 8 hours or more each day. It is difficult focusing on German while in this lifestyle and I don’t enjoy this lifestyle. I know you cannot help me there…just want to do something with my degree that I am paying for. Thank you again. I am glad to have found you.

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    • That’s very interesting. What do they keep you busy doing 8 hours a day on a ship? Not swabbing the decks I hope. They should have machines for that now.

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    • I think its a disgrace that students have to pay University fees in the UK. The beneficiaries from this scheme seem to be the University governing boards and the organisations that administer the payments from students. There seems to be an ever-increasing number of “tin pot” courses at an ever-increasing number of ex- polytechniques, renamed “Universities”.
      So what happens? The mushrooming numbers of graduates from these institutions pay even more money than they have throughout their time of studying, for their hired gowns and photographers on graduation day. After the joy and excitement of that day, reality comes crashing in on them when they try to find employment in a shrinking job market. Add to this depressing thought the fact that, as a graduate, you now have a rather large debt to be settled, you could be forgiven for feeling conned.
      It will not happen, but if all prospective undergraduates were to refuse to attend universities, the government would be forced to relinquish it’s unfair policy on student charging, when the UK started falling behind the rest of Europe in the league tables for the numbers of university-educated potential workforce. The fact that graduates in the UK and the rest of Europe still face a very hard time finding work is of not much concern to governments but they do like to make comparisons and if the UK fell behind other European countries in it’s university intakes, an embarrassed UK government might try to encourage university entrance by by moderating or scrapping the present system. Just a thought.

      Alan.
      (Dewadog)

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    • I’m not sure which country you are from Daniel, but as far as the U.K. Is concerned I think its a disgrace that students have to pay University fees. The beneficiaries from this scheme seem to be the University governing boards and the organisations that administer the payments from students. There seems to be an ever-increasing number of “tin pot” courses at an ever-increasing number of ex- polytechniques, renamed “Universities”.
      So what happens? The mushrooming numbers of graduates from these institutions pay even more money than they have throughout their time of studying, for their hired gowns and photographers on graduation day. After the joy and excitement of that day, reality comes crashing in on them when they try to find employment in a shrinking job market. Add to this depressing thought the fact that, as a graduate, you now have a rather large debt to be settled, you could be forgiven for feeling conned.
      It will not happen, but if all prospective undergraduates were to refuse to attend universities, the government would be forced to relinquish it’s unfair policy on student charging, when the UK started falling behind the rest of Europe in the league tables for the numbers of university-educated potential workforce. The fact that graduates in the UK and the rest of Europe still face a very hard time finding work is of not much concern to governments but they do like to make comparisons and if the UK fell behind other European countries in it’s university intakes, an embarrassed UK government might try to encourage university entrance by by moderating or scrapping the present system. Just a thought.

      Alan.
      (Dewadog)

      Like

      • I heartily endorse this comment. People talk about topics like Crimea but it’s a crimeanal shame how education has been destroyed in our country.

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        • Daniel Gheesling

          Yes,America’s capatalistic obsession has even attached itself to our education system. I was pressured into thinking college was a neccessity, but I have found that many of my peers with college degrees (B.A./B.S.) are doing things unrelated to what they studied in college. I think we only thought we needed college degrees, when in reality, it is and was a way for these organizations that govern college tuition to receieve large sums of money from young adutls who are now in debt when they should be free to enjoy the best times of their lives. The junior schools (high school and middle school) are indulging in rote learning methods which utilizes our short term memory, to cram for a test, all the while, the media has kept our focus on the numerous sports teams we have in America, and who is having sex with who which add up to a ignorant, blinded society, which our government wants in order to keep the focus off them. Was George Orwell’s 1984 too farfetched? Anyway, that’s my rant.

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  3. Hello, uncle Davey. Thank you very much for providing YouTube videos and articles on language learning. I am grateful to have come across you. I have a Bachelor of Arts in German language and culture and have travelled there twice. Unfortunately the universities did not teach me nearly as much as the Goethe institute in Gottingen. I have tried Rosetta Stone and am currently taking pimsleur German 4.

    I want to know, perhaps I have overlooked, if it is recommendable to construct 100 headwords everyday for an entire week? I am calculating that it would take 12 weeks to distill 6 times (3 from the gold book, and 3 from the silver book, all from the original 25 headwords).

    My concern is that if you went back to do the first distillation after two weeks on the first 25 headwords, would this hinder your learning since these first 25 headwords were not the last headwords you wrote down in the gold book? (The last ones written down would be numbers 150-175, and the ones you would be distilling were numbers 1-25.)

    It would be ok to write ad many headwords as you want in a day as long as you are not forcing yourself and it is still fun, but I do not see myself doing more than 100 in a day.

    I am very excited to get started because I have been trying to learn German for some time now, after all it is my major 😳. Thank you again sir. Any advice you have is greatly appreciated.

    -Daniel

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    • From your question I am not sure that you have taken into consideration the biggest point about the GoldList Method. It is that you don’t look at the words you have written down for at least two weeks. How much more than two weeks that might be is not critical. I have come back to shelved projects months or even years later and just carried on distilling. It works.

      In order to get a decent bank of words and not catch up with yourself, it is advisable to keep on making more and more pages of headlist at the outset and maybe even do three weeks or a month’s worth of hard work on it (whether that means 100 words a day every day or more or less depends on you. Some folks right now are doing that kind of thing and more, but remember to observe the breaks as we cannot tell when an unconscious function like the long-term memory is tired and switches instead to the short-term memory). Having let’s say 1,000 words in the headlist, which looks like a book with 40 double pages each with 25 words listed down the top left hand side and numbered sequentially so that your last page has 976 through 1000, with dates at the top every time you started a new day’s work and with everything you’ll need from the material in future already included in those lines, you can then go on to the D1 phase and distil tchem to the top left, and that list has its own consequential numbering, but the second page might for instance be 19-36 instead of 26-50 as in the headlist. You may be able to get most of the distillation by outright disposal of some words, while others might be combined into sentences or phrases, or comma separated lists on one line. The long-term memory can sometimes “get” combined words together better than when they are learned apart.

      100 per day is a perfectly good target. It means that if you are doing something like 70 new words per 100 lines (the rest being example sentences, useful phrases, grammar rules, etc – the mix will depend entirely on the material you’ve chosen and what you want out of that material, but that would be pretty typical) then to achieve a vocab of 20,000 words which any professional functioning in German can be happy with and having let’s say only 10,000 from your BA in German, you would need to add 10,000 words, with an average numer of distillations of 3 that means the maths is 10,000/0.7*3 which is 42,857 lines. Let’s call that 42,800. This would then be 428 days at that rate of study.

      In reality this works out at a couple of hours study per day, like half a hour after every meal. It seems like not much but what you are saying is that for nearly a year and a quarter you will be working more time than you spend eating.

      That’s not a small undertaking. But that gives you in that time really double the vocab and language knowledge that you had when you had 10,000 which is what I hope you came away with from your first degree and if not you should go and ask for your money back.

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