Category Archives: Gold List Methodology

This is a place where I have collected materials about my system for learning languages called the Gold List method. I have started work on a book, which should be a useful addition to this, and in the near future, following on from my appearance speaking about this on “Dzien Dobry TVN” on 1st November 2009, I shall do a Polish film about the Gold List method, to help the large number of people who contacted me about it following the show.

Gold List Method for Scripture Memorisation

Man shall not live by bread alone…

Greetings gentle readers after a long lapse in posting.

I was recently contacted in e-mail by a Christian polyglot some of my readers will know personally from Gatherings, Brother Fiel Sahir, who wrote:

Hi David! I did some googling but maybe I messed up and I haven’t found where you’ve discussed this, but have you further developed the GLM for scripture memorization?  I know for a fact that you were goldlisting sentences when I met you, but what I recall was you used those sentences to help you remember a focus word rather than the sentence itself.  Just something interesting, because a friend of mine has encouraged me to begin memorizing scripture. A spiritual discipline that is definitely underated and under practiced in my opinion, first and foremost by myself.  Anyways, I look forward to your response, but a blogpost would be more beneficial to the world, so I await that as well!  Thanks David. I hope to see you around soon!

In response to this, I wrote the following:

Dear Br. Fiel,

Anything which is to be learned to the Long Term Memory can best be learned using GLM. My suggestion would be to select a passage which you would like to be able to repeat verbatim, at any time later in you life, and place it into the headlist with let us say no more than five words per line.


  1. The Lord is my shepherd
  2. I shall not want. He
  3. Maketh me to lie down in
  4. Green pastures, he leadeth me
  5. Beside the quiet waters. He
  6. Restoreth my soul…


When you have left this two weeks as with any other GoldList project, if it is a passage you already substantially knew, but are trying to get word perfect I would try to write it on D1 position as accurately as possible, but in pencil, covering the original over on the left side. Here you can write maybe seven words at a time. Then note any mistakes you made, in the little words, bits missed out altogether, punctuation, if that’s something you want to get right too, verse numbers (which I didn’t include in the example, but if you ant to be able to remember them, then pay attention to that) and highlight those errors with a red pen or highlighter. Your 25 lines will now anyway be 17 lines just by dint of writing 7 words instead of 5 at D1.

Obviously that’s not a strategy that can continue indefinitely, so at D2 you will take a slightly different approach. You will probably not try to write out the whole from memory at D2, but instead write out the parts where you had had a problem before. The bits where you had no problem, just write the first letter of each word. Write tightly, allowing as many words per line as is comfortable.

Remember you are leaving at least two weeks again between D1 and D2, and the same when you turn D2 to D3, but here you can simply leave out and not even write the first letter of words if you know that you remember confidently the whole sentence. In order to remember the flow of idea in a longer passage, consider writing the first and last words in each clause, and maybe with abbreviations.

  1. The Lord..want, he maketh..gpast,he leadeth beside tqw. Restoreth.

That may well be where you are by D3 or D4, with 6 lines now looking like a single line.

And you can carry on that way. So, please let me know how you get on. And since you asked for a blogpost, I will base one on your query and my answer. Can I use your name and text?

To which Fiel responded that I could. And thanks to his query and willingness to let me share, we have here something which I hope will encourage many of you to try a project of GLM for long term memorization of a holy text.

Even if you are not Bible believing, you can probably try it on the Qur’aan or on some poetry you want to rote learn for life. I recommend Scripture though. It is what David said needed to be “hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee”, and if this tool can help towards the hiding of Divine words in the heart, I don’t know what higher thing can be said of the GoldList Method.


One commentator on Chris Huff’s Video states “I’m not sure that Davey’s method does reflect Ebbinghaus, but it seems to work anyway”. True or False?

True. It is only a working approximation to Ebbinghaus. Supermemo and Anki can get on his curve much closer, but the problem is in order to work they repeat material you really already know and this method enables you to skip writing that again, thus focusing only on the unlearned material. In order to achieve that economy, I have a working approximation to the curve, which works on reiteration of unlearned material. Like scissors cutting the hair too long but then cutting again until you get what you want versus electric shears with a set depth which might not be precisely the depth you wanted and only work if a short cut is desired, and the shears won’t work at all unless you have electricity.

It’s harder to see the curve that it is with the Supermemo algorithm, but by the application of the 14 days with iteration, you do cover the same thing, only with less work and less risk of switching on more short-term memory.

In addition to that I have a scientifically untested hypothesis which is divergent from Ebbinghaus, namely that short-term memory and long-term memory are distinct functions, the one happening when we remember consciously and the other when we allow it to function like breathing when we forget about it. This idea is my own conclusion from non-scientific observation of my own case and the case of users.

The number of contented users of GLM who keep going with it into repeated projects year on year, some of whom have done as many if not more than I have and probably will end up doing much more, proves that the method certainly works, it works probably regardless of people’s views about their own learning type as long as they at least enjoy the process of writing.

In short you’ve made a fair comment about the relation of Ebbinghaus. I want to acknowledge the input of what I learned from Ebbinghaus, but you correctly note it doesn’t stop there.

Not enough real science has been done with memory and if anyone wants to fund or test in a real university setting the hypotheses underlying the GLM then I’m happy to be involved.

Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill (“Advanced Drill”) with the GoldList Method.

I have mentioned this technique for advanced learners in earlier articles on Huliganov.TV, but today I wanted to make one article explaining who the Literature Drill is for and how exactly to do it, and incorporate it into a full learning programme stretching from complete beginner to near native.

Who should do the Advanced Drill?

In a sense this is about the most advanced drill that can be done, it is already intended for people who have completed all the grammar that is currently used and who know the top 5,000 frequency words – they have probably studied already exhaustively such excellent learners’ material as the “Using French” series from Cambridge University press, the Mot-a-Mot series or some similar, the Essential Grammars and the Frequency Dictionary series that are produced by Routledge. These in turn sit on top of having studied through a goof introductory course or two like the ones provided by Teach Yourself, Colloquial series and Living Language – some swear by Assimil and also there is a very good resource made by my friend Mike Campbell called the Glossika series. Each of these resources can be placed into your Goldlist. Prior to Goldlisting I tend to recommend front-loading audio only (though that’s not necessary with the Glossika method as there is audio for all of it and audio is part of the method intrinsic to Glossika) and so for most learners I would recommend going through whatever is available on Pimsleur before they even start the Goldlist phase and prior to Pimsleur for the few languages in which they are available, I recommend taking the very first steps using Michel Thomas method or Paul Noble for the three languages he does. Since all of these audio-only courses are not about writing this is all pre-goldlist stuff but helps to have an “inner voice” and a knowledge of how to pronounce the language which would be missing if we went straight into goldlisting a language form grammar books which we didn’t know how to pronounce. For classical languages that’s all there really is, I suppose – you can’t do audio only before Goldlisting Wright’s Gothic Grammar.

So I basically just went backwards along a list of things which a learner would be advise to do. If you don’t recognise the steps I just mentioned and can’t say that you know the sort of examples I gave for French in whichever language you are studying then probably the Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill I am going to talk about in a moment isn’t for you. Not yet, anyway. You’ll get there. Carry on doing the kind of steps for now that I’ve outlined in reverse order above.

However, if you are someone who has basically run out of learning material and you don’t know what to do next short of goldlisting a 20,000 word dictionary (which has its merits, too, quite a few people have done it to good effect but is a task not to be undertaken lightly). After all, most learning material is for beginners, there is some for intermediate learners and some for what they call advanced learners (usually the choice gets smaller the further you get) but for anything beyond the most popular languages you are going to encounter a dearth of learning material at the right level and instead you are going to have to “go live” with your languages, reading the same classics of the language which the natives did in school which will strengthen your cultural link with them and greatly enhance and deepen your feel of the language.The easy way in to using literature is graded readers. Read the rest of this entry

The new location for the GoldList Method Spreadsheet

Version 1.1 of the Goldlist Method Spreadsheet, which contains a stylised version in Excel of how you need to lay out your manual GoldList book, but which can be used – after some adjustments for your own system – to print loose-leaf GLM double pages, is now kindly hosted thanks to one reader who wished to remain anonymous but you’ll work it out anyway, via

It’s not normally recommended to use the GLM as a keyboard input rather than a manual system, but if you absolutely cannot bear writing and want it in digital form, then you can also make copies of it onto a lot of further tabs in one or more .xls files and do it that way.

The most important thing about it though is the cell comments which answer frequent questions I have had about the order in which things get done. By look at the structure and formulae it may be more clear to some kinds of intelligence what I mean than from other ways of explaining it.


Enjoy, and thanks to MC.


Clearing up some points about GLM.

A Facebook friend whom I shall call Miriamm (not her real name) asked me:

Hello, Hallo, Hola, Shalom, Ave, Chaire, Zdravo, Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt, etc, etc…

I have a question about the Goldlist Method.

I have already asked this in the Polyglot group, but I didn’t get an answer, and somehow I can’t tag you, so that you get notified.

So, my question is:
Where do you take your first 25 words for the Headlist? Are they just random words or do you read an article, take notes during a lecture, watch a movie, whatever?

I have used Anki for quite long, until I got frustrated by the huge number of words it forced me to repeat before going on. I’m testing Memrise now and it often gives wrong pronunciations (it writes poder, but it says “el poder” for the verb “to be able to” in Spanish…)

It is annoying, because it gets hardwired in my brain like that.

Plus, it just takes random words without any context or grammar built around them.

I want to try the Goldlist method. I wonder how it works to skip the short-term memory, though. If I read an article beforehand and take the unknown words from there for my Headlist, they are already in my short-term memory by the time I write my list, aren’t they?

I read somewhere a while ago that you have to hear or read a word in five different contexts to be able to use it actively.

So, ok, I write my headlist and DO NOTHING (???) for two weeks?

If I hear or see a word from the headlist again in the meantime, it already tickles my memory before I should write my second list, right?

So how can I try the Goldlist method according to the rules?

Do you have a detailed video about it without the charming Russian accent? 🙂

Should you start a new Goldlist method experiment or challenge set to a certain starting date, please include me. Maybe I should try it with a language that I don’t know yet, maybe Swedish.

Anyway, I don’t know why, but my brain can’t learn a new language in my mother tongue, which is Rhaet-Romansch. It slows me down extremely. I always learn the grammar of a new language in German and English in parallel, so my Goldlist would also have three columns.

Miriamm, you start a new Goldlist using various kinds of material depending on where you are with the language. At an early stage (assuming you have done some audio only work like a Pimsleur or Michel Thomas course first, so that you have some basics and a knowledge of how the language sounds) you’ll pick maybe a Teach Yourself series book or a Colloquial series book, Living Language, Assimil, you name it.

What goes in the Headlist is the vocab, the grammar notes, example sentences, everything you need in order not to need the book with you when you distil it. You do these 25 at a time because that’s what fits on the top left of a double-page in a writing book 40 lines deep, while leaving enough space for the future distillations.

When you’ve done one of these, taking maybe 20 minutes if you have the material prepared at hand, then you take the page after a ten minute break in which you did something else, like walk a kilometre, make a coffee, peel some vegetables, go to the toilet, etc etc, and you do turn to the next double page in the writing book to do another 25. This is the complicated bit as it involves taking the right hand sheet of the double page in between your fingers and moving it to the left, ensuring you only take one sheet and not 2 at a time. It is known as “turning the page”and does not generally take two weeks to do. The point about the two weeks is  that you do not review the earlier material, instead you carry on deep into the book even though you have not necessarily memorised the earlier material, because you need the book in the Headlist and you’ll memorise the whole thing on later distillations.

This is a bit counter-intuitive for those who are used to really covering and memorising one chapter before they go on to the next and so on until they finish the book, at which point they put the book away and don’t need it again. It is a completely different, but far more effective, way to work through the book, and commit it to memory.

The thing to do once all the material in a book has been covered is either to get a more advanced book to work from or to work through a small dictionary, or start literature work.

In this way you can go from beginner to post-graduate levels all in a single memory system, tracking your vocab numerically and measuring the degree of memorisation of the material all the way.

By the way, don’t miss Christopher Huff’s Academy Award-Winning four minute movie about the Goldlist Method:

Now let me come to the additional point which you mentioned about the fact that your short-term memory is switched on while noting words down from reading an article.

My tendency would be to use the Goldlist as the direct place you note down the words and then their German and/or English equivalents once you have checked them in your dictionary or from a translation of the article (which is why I like to use literature, there is usually an audio-book to listen to, and then you can read the foreign language text to grab any bits you didn’t really understand form the audio, and then finally read the translation in your own language for what you didn’t quite understand in the foreign language original. Right now I am in this process for Hermann Brochs “Die Schlafwanderer” as far as German is concerned.

I would not say that this process switches on a short-term memory learning process. You are focused on understanding a passage and not on committing it by dint of force to a memory to be tested on next Tuesday. Therefore some of it will of course be remembered short term but the long-term memory is free to make its usual samples in a relaxed way and the more you like the story the better that should work. With the Goldlist Method, you carry on confidently with further material and if you happen to come up with the same word again and write it again, this is really no big deal. It happens to everyone now and again. When you know that word as you will after 1-3 distillations most likely, you’ll be able to kick it out even more rapidly so what you lose on the swings, as we say, you gain on the roundabouts. The point is not to repeat material intentionally, partly because it wastes time, you don’t need it for this way of learning, and partly because two frequent repetition builds the kind of synapses which are intended to disintegrate after two weeks, for reasons deep in our history and connected to the lunar hunting cycle.

Question on GLM vs Flashcards and on seeing words in the fermentation period.

One YT user asked today:

“Hello, Mr. James. I wanted to say, thank you for sharing this great information about the long term memory. It all makes perfect sense, and I have started a Gold-List for my language learning! I have a couple questions, if you are able to answer I would greatly appreciate it! Do you recommend the use of flashcards at all for learning a language? I understand for the Gold-List, you should avoid the words you wrote down on the list for not less than two weeks, but should you not think about the words at all? I suppose using flash cards would “jog” your short term memory again, but I am not certain. Maybe they are just different strategies, and don’t work together. Also, if I am trying to practice with sentences, should I not use the words I wrote in the list, or only after it “passed”.”

Here is the answer I wrote:

Please join the GoldList Method User Group on Facebook if you can. That way, good questions like these are flagged up for a bigger audience. Anyway, here goes:

1) flashcards are the standard system but they are a bit fiddly. You have to really manipulate a lot of small pieces of paper. if you actually want to do a nice big project with thousands of words and you want a proper card that will withstand all the mauling, it is a good deal more expensive and when the wind wafts in the window you’ll wish you had used a book.

The other thing about even on line flashcard systems is that in the classic system you are presented with them a lot of times until you can remember them, but not always are you asked to write anything. Without a re-write, it may be hard to know if you are doing a proper re-presentation of the material to the memory. Re-presenting material to the memory when you may have learned it only to the short-term memory is deceptive. People are sure they have learned things on systems like Memrise, Anki, Supermemo, etc when actually they haven’t. GLM calls for a bit more patience in the process but saves you a lot of time in the long run and makes sure that your long-term memory is optimised.

I am not sure how I could test this scientifically, but it would not surprised me to discover that the method even trains the L/T memory to be more effective. After all, if you show your body that you are relying and using a function, usually that function gets stronger, and if you are learning mainly to the short-term memory with methods of short-interval repetition, I would not be at all surprised if the long term memory even weakens as a result. Don’t take this paragraph as science, it is however reasoned speculation.

Cards might make the thing a bit more “gamey” but unless you have someone else committed to play it with you that might not be such great fun in reality as it appears before you do it.

2) About not using words on the list during the interim of 14 days – I notice that some people get a bit stressed about this and worry that they are going to be using the words in the intervening period and that then they will be still in the short-term memory when it comes to reviewing a list after 14 days. Let me say a couple of things on this point. Firstly, most people who are in the phase of trying the goldlist don’t use it exclusively as their only approach to a given language, while there are some others who, once they become convinced that GLM is the most effective approach, pretty much use only that, or, as in my own case, I use only the Goldlist once I have front loaded one or two audio-only courses to give me a good mental pronunciation of the new language, and then I get on and start the big project with GLM, but even then I migtht use more than one set of materials and alternate between different sets and even if I only have one set, some words are going to keep re-appearing. These are probably mainly words with a very high frequency in the language. I wouldn’t worry too much if they are not going through the GLM as efficiently as some other words – as these are the high frequency words of the language you can’t help coming across them a lot, you always will be coming across them a lot, and one way or another as long as you persevere you will certainly learn those higher frequency words. The trick is not to keep representing that list in that form to yourself in the fermentation period of at least 14 days. Don’t return to that same material, leave it be, but also don’t sweat it if the same words come up in different material.

I hope I understood and answered the questions OK. I’ll copy this also in a couple of other places so others can benefit from your good questions.

Steps in language learning for those who have no track record of success yet.

cropped-20130930_191133.jpgIf someone wishes to learn from English with no previous success in language learning either French, Spanish, German or Italian then I recommend starting with Paul Noble’s audio only courses, published by Collins. For 8 further languages, namely Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Greek, Russian, Polish, Dutch and Portuguese I recommend the Michel Thomas series to absolute beginners. After these courses, or from the start for languages not covered by those courses, I recommend Pimsleur courses. All these are audio only courses and are done with no teacher following the instructions outlined by the presenter.

Once this audio material has been front loaded, it is time, if the learner is still enthusiastic, to work through a written course. Most of these also have audio which should be used earlier in the process rather than later. Good courses include such series as Colloquial by Routledge, the Teach Yourself series (older courses tend to be better than new in that series) Living Languages and the Essential grammar series.

To learn the material in the written courses I recommend my own method called the Goldlist method which is free on the internet if you google for it. It helps to memorise written material to the long-term memory with the least possible total time of engagement per word or phrase. It is more effective than having a teacher who will try to activate sparse knowledge too soon.

You should aim to develop fluency in reading because the difference between fluent reading and fluent speaking is three days of immersion. Not a hundred lessons at 20 dollars a shot. Teachers are only really necessary for languages where you cannot tell the pronunciation from the writing or which have highly complex writing systems – and for tonal languages for those encountering this for the first time. A teacher is more likely to impede the adult learner in most Inter-European language learning.

One small word of warning to the absolute beginner – be ready for words and phrases in the language you know to be used completely differently in the other language. Just to give you an example, take the English “What’s happening now?” In French this would be “qu’est ce qu’il se passe maintenant?” Now this means exactly the same in terms of what the French would understand as the English phrase “What’s happening now?” but if you literally translate each of the elements in the French phrase, you get “What is this that he passes handholding?” If a French person tried to learn English using a verbatim approach as you can see he would not make himself understood, but equally anyone trying to put “What is happening now?” word for word into French will find that they come up with something equally nonsensical to the French, moreover the words you would need to do it do not even exist.

I met an Australian one time who said he was “orry” when I asked him how he was. I said “Orry? What’s that?”
“That’s French, mate”,
“You mean ‘horrible’?”
“No, mate, it’s French for “good”, I’m good, mate”
“How is “orry” French for “good”?”
“What? You’re a linguist and you don’t know the French for “goodbye” which is “orry-vwar”?”
I smiled at the wit and then it gradually dawned on me that the guy wasn’t joking. This is the biggest hurdle people have at the beginning, an expectation that the target language is going to work just like their own, you just slot other sounds in instead of the English ones. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.

If you can get your head around that, then you are ready to approach a foreign language.

The promised activation article…

Today since I finally have half an hour of free time in peace and quiet, I would like to come back to the very good question posed by Fintan (I won’t say his surname as that would identify him, I’ll leave you guessing which Fintan it is) several weeks ago already (sorry about that), and in particular the second part of his question where he raises the issue of activation and asks what I think about things like “full circle method” by Luca Lampariello.

The first thing I want to say, is far be it from me to detract from what any accomplished polyglot, be that Signor Lampariello (who is a capital fellow on top of being a great polyglot) or any other of the well-known polyglots who do follow some form of activation. I make the assumption that these people know what they’re doing, and that they do what they enjoy and what works for them.

If continually activating during the process of language learning is something that keeps you motivated in which you enjoy doing, then it’s valuable. Anything which keeps you going in the marathon of learning languages, is your friend. Anything which you find demotivating which detracts from the pleasure of doing it, is not your friend.

And in the above I said the most important thing that needed to be said. Having said that, I will now go on to explain the core of my own approach and philosophy with regard to the question of activating language knowledge in the whole course of study. Read the rest of this entry

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