Someone has had trouble remembering enough words with their Goldlist

Caption below picture: 'Wallachians distilling...

Caption below picture: ‘Wallachians distilling “Slievovitz”‘ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone (sic) wrote to me recently suggesting that the Goldlist was not for them as they had tried to do a distillation and only remembered 2 of 25 words.

Now I am someone who has just discovered that there is more than one metabolic type, that a good 45% of people are Matebolism B types as opposed to Metabolism A types, and that’s why the traditional diets based just on calories and not concerned with the whole sugar question don’t do the job but actually made me worse. Given that fact, I’m perfectly open to the idea that just as there is more than one type of metabolism, there may be another type of memory and that really not everyone will benefit from the Goldlist method – yes it is perfectly possible. I have an open mind on that question.

However, given that the Goldlist Method has indeed helped the overwhelming majority of people who have tried it, including some who could never learn languages using other methods and now can, as well as some others who were already successful polyglots with their own tried and tested methods who nevertheless saw enough merit in the Method to add it to their armoury of tools, I would be reluctant to give up on it just after not having a great result on the first distillation. Instead I would look at the reasons why a person could find that they distil a headlist and only manage to throw out 2 of the 25 and not something like 6, 8, 10, 12 or even 14 as is the experience of most people using the method.

I will write a lot more on this in the book, but in bullet form the things that can cause you to have lower distillation rates are as follows

  • Too much repetition at the time of preparing the headlist of afterwards, the inclusion of some short-term learning methods involving repetition at the same time as using the Goldlist – this will have the effect of switching the long-term memory function over to the short-term function. In other words you can switch your long-term memory function off just by making a conscious effort to push words into the memory there are then by straining with mnemonics, using repetitions, etc.
  • Not observing the 14 day minimum period of leaving the learning fallow.
  • Leaving it an awful lot longer than that. for example over 2 or 3 months, it might start to tail off.
  • Writing out the headlist with no attention to it whatsoever, thinking entirely about something else
  • Music on in the background, frequent interruptions
  • Sickness, especially fevers, increased temperatures, pains, at the time of study
  • Excessively lengthy study periods without observing breaks
  • Not getting enough sleep at night
  • Being stressed about some other issue during the study time
  • Using source materials you find unattractive or don’t really trust to be giving you worthwhile vocab or reliable explanations.
  • Having no real interest at all in the language or topic you are studying, such that the whole thing is like a pointless chore and this listing business is only making it worse
  • Having made a mess of your goldlist by sloppy writing and not really feeling any pride in the work any more
  • Use of alcohol during study periods
  • Or drugs
  • Attempting too much on a single line before distilling. The Headlist is a place for spacing out the nuggets of knowledge generously. If you are going, for instance Japanese kanji and you want to have a stroke order, onyomies, kunyomies,  major combinations, etc  all on one line instead of one several lines, you will certainly find such lines much less possible to discharge on distillation. Over the course of distillation lines acquire more information by the process of combination – as shown below in a moment…

Please see if any of the above affected your study, and if so, try to change them out of the way you study. Not just this method but any method will not have a fair chance if these conditions are present.

If you still cannot eject more than 2-3 from 25, then remember that ejection because of memory is the first line of attack in distilling, but it is not the only one. Other ways include combining onto one line, either by making a phrase which could be a fictional title of a poem, book, film or painting, and even when combining random words you could imagine what kind of image or story that would be – now sometimes we are capable of remembering words better in combination than in isolation. I wonder how many people in the world remember the English word “prejudice” only because they heard it in combinations such as “racial prejudice”, “without prejudice”, “Pride and Prejudice“. Other ways of combining are to list together words that come in a sequence such as the numerals, days of the week, months of the year, etc, or combing verbs of motion and adjectives with their opposites. You will often find that doing a combination rather than a complete ejection at an earlier distillation helps arrive at a safe full ejection sooner in the later distillations. And a final method of distilling involves simply ejecting vocabulary from the list on the grounds of likely non-use. If the English translation (or your native language translation) of the target language word or expression is one that you would never us in your own language, then it’s a prima facie reasonable assumption that you might not need it so  much in the target language either. If in doubt, you can eject. For every action there is an equal and opposite subconscious reaction, which is why the act of throwing something away often leads to its better retention. After all, we usually remember whether we have given or thrown something of ours away and don’t waste time looking after it afterwards.

I hope the above pointers are helpful to Someone and to others.

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 25/01/2013, in Blog only, Gold List Methodology, Huliganov's Russian Course, Languages and Linguistics, Learning Japanese and Chinese. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Another culprit is lack of sufficient sleep. It’s surprising how many people try to get by on six,five or even four hours of sleep and think this is normal. I’m at my best for learning when I’ve had eight hours of sleep consistently. If you have any doubts about what is the best amount of time for you to spend on the rack,then try sleeping without an alarm clock when you are on vacation. After a few days you will settle into your natural sleeping pattern. Then it’s a matter of being honest and perhaps giving up on the notion that you are some kind of superman that only needs a few hours of down time.


  2. Very good check list you have there! I’ve been dumping hanzi meanings that I don’t know in other languages for a while now, with the determining factor being whether or not I need to check Wikipedia to know what something is. Sometimes I change the description instead, because I’m greedy. So a bird species that I’ve never heard about would be changed into “a kind of bird”, or just put in parentheses after the reading.

    There has been one notable exception to that, and that was when my headlist contained “味精”, which apparently only translates to “monosodium glutamate” in English. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell me what MSG means, but my Chinese friends all know 味精. Admittedly I only learned the contraction “MSG” and remember it as some stuff that changes the taste of the food.


  1. Pingback: Chinese from scratch – a 1260 hour work Programme optimising your result. | Huliganov TV

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