Neworldgirl78 wrote on my Goldlist lecture in Moscow film the following question:
I am learning Russian and have been using a variety of means such as Pimsleur, various apps, and your you tube videos of course. Should I narrow my studying to this method or add it to my current methods? Thanks, and love your videos 🙂
I started to answer this in the comments section but I thought that it needs more space than the comments section there allows.
Here’s the full answer:
I use Michel Thomas and Pimsleur myself, audio only as they are, at the beginning of learning a new language, but they eventually come to an end. You might for example work through MT first and even a very long course with all the available levels in still is only less than 20 hours of material, add on a full Pimsleur course with another 30 hours of material (much of it overlapping with the MT) that gives you 50 hours.
This 50 hours – the maximum currently available of quality audio-only beginners courses – when listened to a few times gives you 150 hours of audio time at the max, and if you use the pause button properly you could stretch that to 250. It’s great to do this at the beginning – use MT first as that method gives you the deep structures of the language and doesn’t shy away from grammatical explanations (which Pimsleur does to the point that it becomes misleading at times) and it gives you a good accent, but that 250 hours of work will only take you so far.
And let’s be clear that for many of the less popular languages there’s still no MT course – Hodder and Stoughton didn’t make much on the ones available so far as the activities of internauts were too impactful on the sales of the material, and so it may well be down to hobbyists rather than businesspeople to take Michel Thomas’ legacy to its full conclusion. So it the best case, something like Russian, you might be lucky and find 250 hours of useful work to do on audio only. If you were looking at Bulgarian you’d be hard pressed to find any – I found some in bookshops in Sofia, from an unknown method and author which I didn’t even start yet, but nothing on Amazon or the net.
So once you have finished with the audio only, or earlier if you are not an auditory learner and feel that you aren’t progressing so well with the audio only methods, you need to progress onto reading and writing. That is the point at which you take a course and start goldlisting. In the outset you will find that once again you’re duplicating words you learned in the audio courses but at least learning to spell them – you’ll already have a good pronunciation.
This of course is the order in which we learn our natural mother tongue anyway – first we hear it and imitate the sounds of it, and later they show us how to read and write it. Starting to goldlist after doing a good amount of audio-only work means that the rate of distillation in the earlier parts of your goldlist will usually be a lot higher than they otherwise would be.
After going through three levels of MT and Pimsleur, you’ll probably have a vocabulary of 1000 words, give or take 50%. In some audio course where there is a wealth of material, there still isn’t all that much word stock (Mandarin Chinese is a good example) in others – those with a big shared vocabulary with English once you learn certain rules as to how the patterns work – much larger word stock is offered within the time of the audio-only material. This is usually enough to get through a GCSE level exam. The old O level exam needed about 2000 words, and that was also the loading of one of the typical old style teach yourself books. Many teach yourself style books in languages get you to about 2000 words, so that’s already double the word stock of your audio only course, and the goldlist method is a very good method for processing all that information to your long term memory.
Then the next stage was getting to a level which people from the UK in my generation would have called A level. You needed about 4,000 words to be sure of getting a top grade at A level. So that’s what’s usually offered in advanced courses. They don’t tend to repeat easier vocabulary, they just add on another 2000 words on what you already have. All of this material can be assimilated with the least work if you approach the material using the Goldlist method.
Once you get to the 4000 word mark, those who don’t have a unified method like the goldlist method are in trouble, as there aren’t so many ways forward. The traditional way was to read literature, either using dictionaries or translations to cover the words you don’t know. Using Goldlist you’d do the same but you’d add the unknown words to the GL rather than trusting in the degree of repetition in literature to bring home to you the words you need more – although that also works and that’s what I used before I discovered the Goldlist method. Steve Kaufman, the inventor of LingQ, tells us he also has excellent results from it. But there’s something motivating about seeing the list grow, and it remains an effective way of ensuring that every word seen will make it to the long-term memory.
Personally if I am faced with a paucity of material at the advanced level, I will attack a dictionary – but only a small one. I did this for Czech and it’s a big project. A remarkable small dictionary can deliver a powerful vocabulary. The tiny yellow Langenscheidt ones give about 15,000 words and they have the advantage of allowing me to learn Czech while practising German and running a check-list on German words I missed by following the literature method when I was doing my degree in that language. A lot of very necessary words are used only very rarely in literature. At least they are in the literature one is supposed to read at university!
An alternative to the small general dictionary to push the vocab over 10,000 words and get past what for me is the magical figure of 15,000 words could be things like technical dictionaries addressing medical terms if you’re in the health sector (for me it’s accounting, financial and legal terms) or slang dictionaries of the “Dirty Czech” or “Dirty Japanese” or “Pardon my Spanish” type (to be handled with care!) or collections of proverbs, quotes and sayings in the other language – which is useful as it offers you whole sentences. It’s possible also to look at newspaper and magazine articles, but especially online as you can chuck things you don’t understand into Google translate and if you’re lucky that’ll save picking through a physical dictionary or asking a native.
Once the goldlist is past 15,000 words I don’t believe in progressing it any further. Distil it to the end and move on to another language. What you will have done is achieved 80% of a native speaker’s linguistic resource in 20% of the time. In the time it would take you to get one language to the perfection of a native, you could learn five to functional fluency – a much more practical option in my opinion.
- Learning a foreign language: five most common mistakes (telegraph.co.uk)
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- Re-motivation: Sharpening the axe (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)
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- EFL teachers’ perceptions about vocabulary acquisition and instruction (udini.proquest.com)
- Foreign Languages Can be Tough to Learn, Google Translate for Android Makes The Task Easier. (vikitech.com)
- Spanish startup uSpeak raises $660,000 to bolster its nifty language learning apps (thenextweb.com)
- 5 Types of Specialized Dictionaries (dailywritingtips.com)
- The Best Free Dictionary and Thesaurus Programs and Websites (howtogeek.com)