Grammar and the Goldlist

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I am often asked (or, for hypersticklers, ‘it is often being asked unto me’) “Is the Goldlist only for vocabulary or is it also for grammar, and other things?”.

It is a good question. The answer is that I personally use it for everything involving writing which is involved in the learning of a language, and I prefer to keep a language within a single Goldlist system if it’s feasible. ‘

There are sometimes cases to be made for doing multiple goldlists around a single language. If we are talking about, for instance, and understanding of the grammar points in Japanese or Chinese, it may be easier for some people to deal with these and get them out of the way in PinYin or Roomaji (there are pluses and minuses to that approach, as hiragana is used in Japanese for most of what would be considered grammar, and getting used to the look of that grammar in hiragana is essential, but you can get to it later once you’ve grasped what’s actually going on using Roomaji) A separate goldlist book can be used for that, and that would enable a person to use their main goldlist to keep track of pure vocabulary as it grows.

Likewise phrases, proverbs, lines of songs in the language that you want to remember – if you don’t want them getting in the way of the pure vocab count, stick them in a separate goldlist. It doesn’t bother me much in my case, I know anyway what the composition of a given headlist is and where I got the material to be memorised from.

Whether you have a separate grammar Goldlist or a mixed one, when it comes to grammar and the goldlist there are certain things which need to be borne in mind.

– In most languages it is possible to talk about regular grammar, the basic rules, regular verb conjugations, noun declensions, etc, and then there will be irregularities. The regular parts are learned as tables, and the use of the grammar as well as syntax is driven home by typical practice sentences. All of these things can be included as line items in the gold list once over, and not any more for those words which follow the regular paradigms.

– the irregular verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc, all the words which don’t follow the tables which have been memorised as deafult tables should have their irregularities learned at the same time as you learn the word. In the headlist you might spread the word over different lines for all the parts in which it is irregular, and then combine them in later distillations or leave them out once you remember them.

If you are talking about Spanish, for instance, (a language whose nouns are strightforward in the main but the verbs can be a nightmare) it is possible to determine from three or four of the “persons” of a verb in any declension how the other positions will look. Therefore even in the Headlist when looking at the present definite of an irregular verb, it will show only four rather than six positions. If you prefer to write all six in H (notation for the Headlist) just to get a better feel for them, then that’s up to you. If you do that, it will be possible to take the verb to four lines in D1 (notation for first distillation) and in D2 you might get those four verb forms all on one line, writing the part of the root that doesn’t change, a concatenation mark and then the parts of the verb which change with commas after them. If you are aware that you are writing the yo, el, nosostros and ellos part of the verb each time, then you don’t need to add those pronouns. By D2 you’ve probably droppoed the infinitive anyway, so as you see the rate of distillation of grammar done that way is faster than for normal vocab. After D2 you’ll probably be unable to do any more compaction, so dropping lines is a function of already being comfortable with all the irregularities.

If we were doing Japanese verbs, the Goldlist for them would look quite different. On almost all verbs it would be possible to get to one line quite quickly. The exceptions here are things like modestive verbs and aspects like the potentive form of suru is dekimasu. Most other unusual aspects can be derived from the rules by which connexive forms are made from different stems of the basic form, and that rule can be condensed to fit on one line anyway, plus general rules about phonology that you learned when you did the katakana tables and hiragana tables anyway. It’s no surprise that ‘matsu’ becomes ‘machimasu’, that isn’t even an irregularity, but I can envisage a person wanting to include it in H anyway just by way of getting used to it.

Tables of the regular paradigms can be included in the Goldlist. Some of my Czech goldlist contains pure tables and the numbering at the side is broken so as to include the number of lines in the tables, but sometimes the tables can be manipulated and this actually aids learning. For instance the adjective endings table includes at one stage of distillation M, F, N and the two plurals going across the top and seven cases going down – that’s a seven line deep table. One trick for further compaction, possible only if you are just looking at the endings and not the stem, is to turn the table on its pivot and have it presented in the less usual way of  M F N Pl (with the masc animate and the others separate using “/” signs just for the nominative and accusative where they differ going down and the seven cases going across. That turns a 7 liner into a 4 liner.

In these cases I skip a line number where the table headers are. Sometimes it’s also nice to use colours on the grammar tables to highlight areas which are identical.

I haven’t yet learned a language whose grammar would be the biggest task. I can’t think of any language, even Spanish with its irregular verbs taken at a very gradual pace, where the grammar has been the big deal. In a challenge to gain a 15,000 word vocabulary and all the grammar, the Goldlist parts needed to learn pure grammar will be something between 5 and 15% of the total.

I hope this has been useful, and either clears up people’s questions about the use of Goldlist for grammar, or corroborates what they do naturally with the Goldlist or gives them some new ideas.

Newsflash: Soon I will start a new goldlist for Indonesian and this time it’s my intention to use it as a model goldlist that will illustrate the forthcoming book. I am going to start off by doing the Pimsleur before I even look at a written word, therefore dealing with the first issue of phonics, intonation and accent which is in my view the weakest area of the Goldlist method. I will then do a particularly careful Goldlist which will be linked to the TY book, and therefore anyone wishing to follow the whole logic can get hold of the same materials, and see if they like how their application of the method differs from mine. Which doesn’t mean mine is necessarily better, but we can all compare notes that way. If anyone is interested in joining in that project, please let me know.

11 thoughts on “Grammar and the Goldlist

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  2. Hello,

    I have the Indonesian material you mentioned, so I am looking forward to see how your progress goes, and to restart my learning Bahasa with you. I was in Bandung back in 1997, and still remember a few phrases. Last month we went to a little shop to buy some “Bubble Tea”. It turned out the owners were Indonesian. I caught them off guard with a few words (my main reason playing with foreign languages is to see a look of surprise, then a smile). It was fun, though to most of their questions, I had to fall back on, “Sedikit”, and “Saya tidak tahu”. They didn’t seem to mind at all, and now I have a place to practice!

    May I ask when GL book may be ready?


    1. Great! You have both the Pimsleur and the TY book? I started the Pimsleur and am in lesson four. The TY book is waiting in England and I will get it at the end of March. That means I start the GL on the first of April.

  3. What it means is, that in order to illustrate a proper book on the Goldlist method so that people can understand it or at least check their understanding of it, you need a case study. I preferred to build the case study around a language that would fulfill the following parameters:

    1. Be easy to write (Latin letters with few diacritics)

    2. Be relatively easy to pronounce – no tone issues, etc,

    3. Not one already well known to the majority of English speaking readers

    4. One with a larger number of speakers, hence worth attempting for the widest number of people

    5. One that I didn’t already know, so that I am taking the reader with me through the learning experience.

    That is why I chose Indonesian. Yesterday I started the Pimsleur in the run-up to the TY book arriving, but I fell asleep after about five minutes.

    Even if a person doesn’t want to bother learning for themselves 500 words of Basic Indonesian, it gives them a full image anyway, which means they can see the sorts of strategies for distillation that have been used, the marks I use, the layout, etc. In short it is a way of showing everything I can possibly show.

  4. Thank you so much! It makes more sense now. I will jump on the table approach and see how it works, but more importantly, I will include example sentences, which I have rarely used up to this point, even though I can see now how it would have been beneficial for every single language I’ve goldlisted.

    The project sounds both interesting and fun, but it’s only for Indonesian learners (or Indonesianlearners, as the rest of the Germanic peoples unambiguously would put it), right? And what does it mean to be “linked to the TY book”?

          1. They were better in some respects. You used to get a more methodical approach to the grammar, you got in most cases well over 1000 words, more like 2000 in most cases. They didn’t waste time with pictures and cartoons and rubbish, they were traditional. So for the person who already knows what they are doing they were good material. The modern ones are easier going, they don’t get so methodical about grammar – they almost seem to be embarrassed about talking about grammar. You get about half the vocab, you get a lot of white space and larger fonts, and you get a lot of cultural notes and other floss that you don’t need a language book for. But you do find that they’ve nearly all got audio material. The oldest ones didn’t have audio material.

            1. Yes, that’s what I’ve heard. I’ve never tried either the old nor the new Teach Yourself books, but even with the addition of audio, I bet I’d prefer the older ones. Audio can be very nice, but the audio I’ve had available for Japanese and Mandarin wasn’t very good (although it’s still good for laughs with friends later on; we still have our favourite 聞き取り練習 piece from our early weeks of Japanese, which sounds very unnatural and funny). I much prefer having friends who are native speakers around. One good (and persistent) Chinese friend of mine kept making me practice the tones of Mandarin over and over until she finally was happy with my pronunciation of them, which was a great help.

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