Category Archives: Learning Japanese and Chinese

Questions on Goldlist method and Japanese Kanji.


Book cover (5th ed.)

Image via Wikipedia

Mugiwara wrote some very good questions which deserve a reply as a new article. I have also today answered smaller but equally good questions on the Goldlist Methodology page, so people with outstanding queries about the method may also like to read them. Anyway, here goes for Mugiwara’s great questions:

Hi there Mr. Huliganov.

I’m Spanish and I’m trying to learn Japanese, this language seems complicated using Gold List Method because of the kanji but I have some basic questions because my English skills are not good enough and I don’t understand some points of the method.

Kanji, especially when done the Japanese way where you have usully at least two readings as opposed to Mandarin where there is usually one and sometimes two and greater phonetic clues are embedded in the primitives for Mandarin than for Japanese, is not possible to study in exactly the same way using goldlist. The ideas behind Goldlist still hold true, but they need to be applied in a different way and the task of mastering Kanji, and Japanese in total, has to be broken down into a jigsaw, each piece of which needs to be mastered as a piece and then put back together again.

The people who gave us sudoku, sushi, bonsai trees, origami, manifold management techniques and martial arts aplenty have actually set us the most subtle and challenging puzzle of all in the form of their own language. As with all things Japanese it takes a certain technique to get it right. With the technique it is possible, without the technique it seems impossibly difficult and unachievable – still beautiful, but remote and not fully understood. That seems to be par for the course with everything they have.

In going through the answers to your excellent questions today, I will try to make clear how I think the ideas of Goldlist can best be reapplied to the question of kanji learning, which in itself is only part of Japanese language learning in total. Even when we know the Kanji and their readings, it is necessary to know the combinations and just as the Kanji themselves run beyond 3000 (of which less than 2000 are in the obligatory lists of the Ministry of Education) so the combinations of them run into the tens of thousands, and very often a word we want will not be a single kanji. We think of words as words but if you take a series of words, lets say some different metals and alloys as one series, or some well-known birds or reptiles as another, some plant types as another, let’s say, we’ll find that sometimes a word in English will be a single kanji word in Japanese, the next in the series may be a two-kanji combination or even more than two, and then the next may be a word not written in kanjis at all but may need to be written in katakana because it counts as a loanword or a technical word or an onomatopoeia.  But we will not learn to run before we can walk.

1 – I read people is trying to do huge lists like 600, 1000, 2000.. and that sounds a little scary so, as a beginner in your method, how many words are recommended to familiarize yourself with the method?

I think it is good to do first off a batch of 500 words, but if we were talking about kanji I would be shaping the method rather differently. I suggest you might take the kanji which are usually listed for JPLT #5 and there are between 180 and 280 of these depending on whose book you read or whose website you visit. I do highly rate Heisig’s 3 tome oeuvre, which is also available in Spanish although you certainly don’t need it, and a first batch could be just the “part one” kanji from that book, which is not very many. The important thing is – and this is what Heisig says and many Heisig readers seem to ignore it – you need to study the kanji with a pencil or pen in your hand and draw the kanji while thinkning of the story, but you don’t need to write it over and over at the same time. This traditional approach to Chinese characters involves a lot of wastage of time.

So to apply the Goldlist method to kanjis using a source like Heisig, instead of having the usual line by line approach, I take a book and freely write out the following: The frame number per  Heisig part 1, and the meaning (and you have to be very precise and not paraphrase Heisig’s meanings). Then I write the component primitives and an outline of the story that links the primitives to the kanji meaning. I do the same for primitives that have no Kanji status too, but they have no frame number, just an asterix.

I only use one side of the page and leave the other side for revision, and I might get five or six, or maybe only three or two on a page, depending on how much there is to say about them. At any rate, I probably wouldn’t write the kanji itself in full out more than three times. I might write the stroke order if it isn’t obvious.

I just try to go through the thought process James Heisig is presenting for the given kanji, or making one of my own up if I can see a clearer one for me than the JH one, and I write it down so that all the info is in the “Headlist” in my book and I don’t have to refer back to the book very much when I’m reviewing.

I go to the point where I have been doing it for two weeks at least, probably three or four, as otherwise whe I revise I will run up against the minimum time rule of the Goldlist method, and by that time I’ve probably done 250 or so, just by doing an hour or so every other evening. I will probably have filled the right or left hand pages of an 80-96 page A5 format writing book with these 250 kanji, in other words I dedicated to them more book space than 2500 words that I could just write out phonetically. You cannot easily learn kanji in my opinion on a one-line-per-kanji basis. It is possible to do some things with kanji that way but I would leave it until I had the understanding of kanji as kanji and then maybe do combinations, the various yomi and maybe practice sentences that way. For getting used to writing and making long term associations for primitives and how they fit into kanji and what the base meanings are, I need a much freer format, but I still have certain truths from the Goldlist method which can be brought into to service this situation.

Therefore after the requisite time of at least two weeks and a buffer on top so that I don’t catch up with less than two weeks of  myself in the middle of a batch, I use the other side in the book to do a very similar thing to what I would do in the traditional Goldlist method, namely I’m going through the material on the one side, seeing if I now know it, leaving out the ones where I can write the kanji with proper stroke order and know the meaning of it both as kanji and primitive per Heisig’s method, and the way it will appear as a primitive when pressed to the henben or left side position or the crown position or the bottom position. I do not need to know the sound in order to drop them, as in the Heisig method readings come later. If I were learning Mandarin I would probably want to know the Pinyin and have learned that, and Hoenig’s book which I use in preference to Heisig for Mandarin does have them at the same time, but that is an awful lot to want your memory to do at once and maybe it isn’t the best idea to try to do that. I don’t want to talk about Mandarin here when you are asking about Japanese, but there may well be something to be said for taking a Heisig book one approach to the Chinese characters as far as characters are concerned, do the grammar and get used to the language itself using Michel Thomas primarily followed by Pimsleur (which are audio only) and then bring in the pinyin. That is certainly the best way forward when it comes to Japanese. Even the pinyin or roomaji writing, which can be helpful of course, don’t need to come in until after one has worked through a good 12 or 15 hours of structured audio learning of a high quality, like the MT Japanese course.

That was a bit of an aside, so back to your actual questions:

2 – If you are going to do a huge list, suposedly you have to write 25 and then take a short break like 15 minutes, ok, but then you need one week or more to write all the words, right?

Let’s imagine now that you had a list of words which were all katakana words which you wanted to put to your long-term memory – you could do it on the usual list of 25 way, as is usual for the Gold list. Or if you were learning Japanese in Romaji (which can be one way of breaking it down, but I don’t recommend making do with just Romaji, doing that would just be one part of the puzzle) then you could do a 25 word list in the usual way. You would choose a batch size like 500 as above, or whatever your word list was that you wanted to learn.

Let’s say someone gives you a list of katakana words, let’s say the top few hundred by frequency words properly written in Katakana in Japanese, you could really, as long as you were comfortable enough in katakana, go ahead and use katakana to learn them in the usual goldlist manner. You would take maybe 20 – 25 minutes (depending on how well prepared the source was, and how fast you work when working for maximum comfort and enjoyment) to write your head list per double page of 25 words, and then you would probably go away for 15 minutes and do something completely different just to rest that unconscious function. If you don’t then you could have it giving way to consious learning attempts and short-term memory functions without you even realising what was going on. After all, the thing about the unconscious is that it’s not conscious, so we don’t feel it.  We know it’s there because it’s also what keeps us breathing and our hearts beating, etc, but usually we ignore it and that’s when it does its job best.

3 – After you create your headlist and let’s say a month later, do you just try to write out the words your remember or you look your list in your language and translate it?

The list has both languages in it, usually (unless the meaning is obvious and I’m just remembering the spelling or some perculiarity about the word other than its meaning), my target language and the language used for learning, which will either be my own language or a language I know much better than the target and I’m learning via that language either to hone it or because the second language is in the same group and so I’m using materials made for speakers of the first language in the group that I know, as this will home in on the differences between those two languages and reduce my risk of confusion and linguistic interference.

Now when I am reviewing it again all I want to do is objectively ask myself do I remember it or not. It is not a question of being able to go from your language to the foreign language – this is too high an expectation and anyone who expects that is chasing ends of linguistic rainbows. It is sufficient to ask yourself whether you remembered the meaning from the language you are learning into your own language or the transit language you are using to learn this new language. On top of the meaning you can ask yourself “would I have remembered the spelling” or “would I have remembered the grammatical irregularities” or “would I be able to pronounce it” whatever the reason was (when it comes to later distillations especially) that you didn’t take it out of the list earlier.

Beyond flatly taking out, you can also very validly combine some items into single line items.

Either way, if you know a word, you won’t write it again.

Now let’s go back to the idea of kanji. If we are following Heisig’s books and goldlisting them, we will consider a primitive or a kanji learned for the purposes of book one when we know the meaning of it as Kanji and Primitive, when we know the stroke order and variations of it as primitives in different positions. We need to be sure we can tell the difference between this primitive/kanji and similar ones. If we are sure that we have that image of the little story so that we really recognise the kanji or primitive and can give its meaning as in the book, would recognise it as part of another kanji with fresh elements and can write it out confident about stroke order then for the purpose of that goldlist it is learned and you can drop it.

It doesn’t matter that we haven’t got on to readings yet. Heisig students do book one to the end and then they do book two.

And it is by breaking it down this way that it becomes possble.

My Kanji goldlist bronze book has only two sides instead of the four sides I use for word goldlisting.  Less detail from the stories need to be repeated in the later distillations so when it comes to the second distillation and I have a new book the silver book, I’m able to put 5-6 per side on average and as these aren’t more than about half of the ones I set out with (I do put every single one into the headlist) I need to put in a consequent number in addition to the Heisig book one frame number.  I am not finished doing even the Headlist but it is going well so far, and I know that I will need 8 bronze books of 80-96 sides A5 each for H and D1, and 4 similarly sized books for D2-D3 and 2 of these books for D4-D5 and just the one for D6-D7.

I work using a sort of batch-step method where I take that first batch through to the end of H, then I go back and take it to D1 and afterwards add batch#2 at headlist at the end of batch 1 headlist.

After that I take batch #1 from D1 to D2, take batch #2 from H to D1, and add batch #3 after the end of it.

Let me show you that pictorially:

Here is a plan by batches and distillations of how to get through the Heising book one. A person could put on the planned time or date and also afterwards show the actual and the actual work revised if they wanted to, for each chunk.

Now let’s use the order of colours in the rainbow to show the order in which I’d take each part of the work, that is each cell in this plan.

I’ve used pixel heights for the rows of work here that exactly correspond to the % still included in the work, so that graphically this shows very clearly what the work is in total for a good approach to a big Goldlist project. To learn 2040 kanji you do 7350 pieces of work, that’s an average of three and a half per kanji – actually in line with the results of Ebbinghaus, Wozniak and most other long term memory exponents, which is no surprise – Goldlist works to your biology, it doesn’t change it. Planless repetition would give you actually a much higher workload, and many people who embark on such an exercise never come to the end of it.

You can see that each sweep of the grid using a plan like this gets progressively longer until the end of the material is reached or the end of the planned number of distillations is reached, which in this 8*8 arrangement happens at the same time. I’ll call each sweep or cycle a “pass”. In the first pass we only have the red cell so that is 240 items. Then we take the pass of the orange and yellow cells and that pass takes 448 items, so you need to make more time for it. The next pass where you have green, blue and violet is already 598 items and the one after that has a nice round 700 items, and so it goes on until the biggest one, the eighth pass, which has in this case 917 items, and then they quickly fall, so that the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th passes have 664, 471, 327 and 220 respectively as you can see from the table if you add them up, and after that point you start to have the problem that there isn’t enough to do in the two weeks you are supposed to leave between reviewing the same work, although in practice at that point it’s safe to be concurrently working on the Second Heisig Book with a separate project anyway, which you would run on similar lines.

If each item takes 2 minutes on average, which they should if you bear in mind that we write less per item in the later distillations, then this whole project is a question of 245 hours of study, while you’d break up into chunks with the breaks so that you would certainly need to take a while over it.

Allowing that there are 15 passes but that you can do concurrently the next phase after 12 of them, I’m saying that the minimum time that I’d recommend giving learning Heisig’s first book is 24 weeks, that gives you your “mandatory” two weeks per pass in order not to bump yourself. The middle parts of that need though for you to be doing according to this logic some 500 items a week which is 1000 minutes or 18 hours work a week, but the average workload of 245 hours over 24 weeks is clearly 10 hours, which is a good deal lower.  What’s more likely to happen is that you’ll have a bit slower progress in this big passes. And then you need to give a similar length of study to Book two in order to get all the kun and on yomies learned, as a separate issue.

Hence learning the joyo kanjies, their meaning and their readings before you even start to use them in sentences is a year’s work minimum. If you can do if faster your own way, then fine, but I can tell you that it means in most cases a good deal more than the 500 hours more or less I’ve suggested here to work through Heisig one and two with Goldlist principles.

4 – In your explanation of the steps to Taylor, you did a “new step” which is like creating a new list in the middle of the other one, with new words I guess but when did you started it?how long after the second destilation? and then you do two destilations at the same time? I’m a little confused.

This step is not obligatory, but can be useful if you are going slowly because you are busy with other things. I will talk more about it in the book. Don’t worry about that step for now.

I hope you can understand my questions because my English skills are just decent, and thanks.

Your English skills are more than just decent they are superior, at least from the writing I’ve seen, to the bulk of native speakers. If you achieve the same in Japanese that really will be impressive, and you might, if you work with patience, stamina and a good method! Many thanks for the great questions which I believe will have helped others also.

The stubborn ear of the first-time linguist.


Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J....

Meet your new English teacher...

This is an answer to the question received from Grzegorz Siwiec which I’ve answered also where he put it in the Goldlist section, and also I wanted to make an article of it in its own right as it’s a great question. I’ve added a bit more here than in the answer to his question, so hopefully you’ll read it here as well. The additional bit is at the end.

You basically said that when you read English you understand a lot, but when you hear even the same text spoken, you understand a lot less. You asked whether the Goldlist method would help with listening.

OK, so here’s the answer.

Firstly, reading and listening are two sides of the same discipline. They are both the passive sides of linguistic activity. Linguistic activity, like mathematical activity, has four main functions. In maths we have addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. And just as division is like the opposite or passive side of multiplication, so hearing is the passive side of speaking. And just as subtraction is the passive side of addition, so reading is the passive side of writing. And just as it is easier to do big subration sums than it is to do long division without a calculator, so it is that the beginner until fluency is gained will find the passive activity of reading to be easier than the passive activity of hearing.

In reading, we provide in our heads our own “voice” for the words and we “listen” to that. But it is a voice that we have made and therefore it will contain the mispronunciations that we have picked up. We may hear the same word back read by a native speaker and it may sound different because the pronunciation is not what we expected. The Goldlist can help here if you note with words in the goldlist any unexpected pronunciation to an English word if you’re learning English or other not precisely phonetic language.

In the main the reason why we do not understand a spoken text as well is that the tempo it is presented in will be someone else’s tempo. When we read we adjust the speed of the internal voice to match what we are comfortable with. We pause when we need to think about a word, whereas in a spoken text the voice carries on while we still need to chew on an earlier word, and we get lost. We can also see an unfamiliar word and analyse it for etymological clues, and do things that we don’t have time for when listening to a text. If we do get lost we can repeat it.

So don’t expect following a spoken text to be equally easy as following a written one. Not unless you are learning Japanese, that is. And even there, the speech of some speakers, especially male speakers, is quite hard to follow. Bear in mind also that some languages swallow half the letters, for instance French and Danish, and many accents of English. Accents in themselves cause listening comprehension to be much tougher than reading comprehension, especially in languages like German or English which contain strong dialects. In Polish even the Zakopane accent is not so hard to follow – I heard some on the radio this morning as a local was commenting record visitors to the place last long weekend. Kashubian is the biggest challenge maybe, or a thick Silesian, but Kashubian counts as another language and even Silesian is not as far from Polish as some of the dialects around England are from one another. People speaking southern England dialect can follow standard Australian or American with much greater facility than they can follow broad Geordie or Scouser once they get going. Please make sure you are following people who are speaking a form of English that is fairly standard. Many Poles went to Ireland and pride themselves on getting an Irish brogue, but the downside is that they aren’t all that understandable to other native speakers. Irish is a lovely accent when it’s authentic, but it’s not one the foreigner should be aiming to copy for international use if they can help it. I’m not talking Terry Wogan here, I’m talking a strong Irish accent.

So, what tools can one use to improve listening comprehension? In the good old days, in schools we used to be given dictees in French – less so in German as it was more self evident how things were written as long as a person wasn’t speaking to us in Schwaebisch. I understand that ‘dyktando’ was also used in Polish schools. You can actually give yourself a dictation by taking an audiobook and sampling a paragraph at random on the mp3, writing it out from listening to the actor read and then checking it back to the book.

You don’t even need to write it, you can simply listen to an audiobook paragraph by paragraph, then read the original to see if you understood everything, and then mark the words you still don’t know, and then use the translation to get those words, which by the way should be added to the Goldlist headlist. This linguistic Triathlon is a great way to develop both the passive skills.

The best way to go about it is to see if you can get three things for the same novel or short story: first the audiobook read by a good actor on mp3 on audible.com or other sources. There’s no shortage of material out there on the net and not all of it is paid, if you get my drift. second you need the English original and finally you need a Polish translation. It probably helps if at least one of the two written ones is in printed form – a print-out if not a book bought or borrowed from the library. By using this method you’ll gradually come to see that you need the Polish translation less and less and you need to read the material in addition to just hearing it less and less. Also you’ll familiarise yourself with some of the jewels of English literature. Take twentieth century literature in order to have a more modern standard – we tend not to talk these days in the way people did in Dickens or Jane Austen, but in due course if you like the process you’ll be able to graduate to them.

If you cannot get into novels and literature, you could choose films. Films with a lot of talking in are preferable. Green Mile, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Fight Club – these are all better than pure action movies like James Bond which will take your time up with car chases and sexy women which could more profitably be spent on language learning. The thing to do here is to get DVDs – preferably hiring them, and play about with the soundtracks and titles. Basically when the DVD was born the language lab died.

Here are the additional bits I wanted to say:

The problem which you are encountering is particularly noticeable when learning your first foreign language. Sometimes the ear is slow in reacting to the different sounds of a language, especially when being in a country for the first time and hearing native speakers when all one has had has been other more adavcned foreign learners as speakers. This training the ear to accept strange sounds is different to activation, and can take a couple of months of being in a country. Once one has “broken” this stubborn ear then for subsequent languages the problem doesn’t tend to happen.

The other thing is that as long as you have a small vocabulary, of only a few thousand words, then you will come up against unfamiliar words more often and they will put the ear off track all the more often. A vocabulary of 15,000 words or more means that you are really familiar with 99.9% of what you hear so interruptions to the flow are that much rarer and one’s ability to follow for longer periods that much easier. Therefore working on the Goldlist to gain really large vocabularies will also help the ear to become attuned.

Answering Rigdzin Norbu’s questions on the Goldlist


Tibetan script

Tibetan script

I received these questions in one comments area, but I decided to answer as a full article so that more people see it. The questions are ones in this case that I have tried to answer in other articles, but there’s no harm in answering them again as they are important and sometimes these important details get lost in the amount there is here and need to be reiterated, so that’s perfectly fine.

Good morning! I have dived into videos and your print post and am now almost two weeks into using the goldlist method (I hope it helps, other forms of vocubulary memorization haven’t been that effective for me). I have a couple of questions I hope you will answer:

I hope so too.

– when you talk about “including all the grammar”, i am wondering how this applies to verbs. do you suggest including the verb root and the different tense forms on one line? for example, in tibetan, chye pa is the root form, followed by chyas chye chyos. all on one line?

There’s more than one way of doing this, and it really depends on whether in the language you choose there are a lot of irregularities or not.

You say that you are learning Tibetan, which I take to mean Modern Standard Tibetan and not one of over 200 other alternative languages spoken in that place. Your biggest issue will be to get your head around the fact that the language is ergative. There are not many ergative languages left and I don’t know any. I have know idea how big a challenge it will be for you to get around that whole underlying aspect of Tibetan grammar.

You ask specifically about verbs, and so what you need to know when you head list a verb is at least the following, and if I were you I’d either include this in the head list or make space for it:
1) whether it is a volitional or a non volitional verb
2) whether it’s transitive or intransitive
3) the root and the present-future, past and imperative stems
4) any irregularities in the way that the inflecting suffixes are added to these stems (in as much as they are regular and predictable from basic paradigms, you don’t need a separate line in the headlist for every possible form.
5) differences between the spoken form and the written form. Often there’s one spoken form, but spelled two or three different ways. You need to probably note most of these at Headlist stage and only the odd ones as you distill will go forward. Ones which become predictable from general rules you would not need to write over again.

– when still adding vocabulary and distilling simultaneously, does it matter how one numbers the mix of lists? my first list will have approximately 1000 words on it before i begin distilling. does the distilled list start at 1001. what if i keep going, adding new head lists? does it matter?

OK, I get asked this a lot and it’s one of the hardest things to just explain without showing it, and then it’s a toughy to film as well. Let me try and explain it this way. take this a paragraph at a time and let each one sink in before the next paragraph. (Sorry, I’m not being patronising, this really can be tricky to envisage, I’m trying a new way now to help envisage it) Read the rest of this entry

The Goldlist Method and Pronunciation of a Learned Language.


The chinese word for "National Language&q...

The Chinese word for "National Language" in Traditional and Simplified (ugh) Characters, Pinyin and 3 outdated transcription methods.

I haven’t always been as explicit as I could be on the matter of pronunciation of languages, and how the Goldlist method works for that. A great question from Mitch which I saw today puts his finger on what learners could perceive to be a difficulty while using the Goldlist method and how best to approach this question. 

First his question, which you can see in the page on the Goldlist Method.

Hello,

1 question. The gold list is activated after 3 days in an immersion environment. This will require correct pronunciation. How do you go about getting this for each word? Do you find audio for each word on your list? I don’t remember doing this as a child. I don’t think I asked someone how to say this for every word I found. I’m missing something.

Thanks Viktor.

Mitch,

This is actually a very good question, so in addition to answering it here I think I’ll also make this answer a fully fledged article on the front page of the blog. I’ll kick it off here and continue on the full article.

The first thing I will take issue with is your statement “this will require correct pronunciation”. I am not sure what “correct pronunciation” is, all I know is that there are people who mimic native pronunciation better than others and they may sound like better linguists when what they probably are is just better voice actors.

What you definitely need to have an awareness of is how that word is supposed to sound so that you would be able to say it understandably – without having a native listener confusing what you were trying to say, and to recognise the word when another person says it.

You don’t need to worry about this mythical holy grail of “correct pronunciation” in the way you’ve formulated it in the question.

Now for most languages in the world, and surprisingly not for the so-called “easy” language of English, one of two things is true. Either the normal way of writing is a lot more phonetic and devoid of exceptions than the English is, or in the cases where this is not the case there are ways to write it more phonetically. Read the rest of this entry

More answers to questions on the Goldlist method


Hangeul placement and the Romanization of Kore...

Hangeul in a Nutsheul.

Loyal viewer Kahnkanter (but unfortunately not yet subscriber, hint hint) in Youtube has had to wait nearly two weeks for the answer to his last questions. Sorry about that but it is that time of year for accountants!
Here goes, and they are excellent questions, as ever:

Hi again 🙂
As you may remember I asked about the goldlist method for learning Korean. I am at a very casual start, about to do D1 for a batch of 200 initial words.

OK, not a very rapid pace, but there’s no rules about that. When you get the taste for it I think you will speed up naturally.

I still have some questions, and I would appreciate your insights on these:

1. What exactly happens in activation – just be in that zone where you need to speak? What about for languages no longer spoken, or when you cannot go to a place for 3 days + to activate? Is it enough just to hear snippets of real-life dialogue day by day? Does it count enough if you skype with someone of that target language for 3 hours a day for a week?

I think that it may differ from person to person, but it will either be having with you a guest with whom you can only speak that language and who wants to be spending time with you at the rate of like 6 hours or more a day. The realisation that you’re needing the language will tell your brain that it needs to bring that set of knowledge to the fore. I’m not the person to say how that works in terms of synapses and electrical pathways and all that brain surgeon stuff, I don’t even make pronouncements on what parts of the brain are involved in language learning as I see it as of little relevance to me – the fact is it’s a phenomenon that many people have observed and you can try it yourself and see it.

The easiest of course is to go there, but if you go to the country and you are accompanied by people who will not let you spend about 6 hours a day with the language, then you may need longer to activate or in extreme cases you might not activate at all.

If as you say you cannot go there, either because the language is dead or because the place is not open politically, then either you need to find a community or if there is none then you have to fall back on reading literature. A good book in the language could do it, if you spent 6 hours a day reading it for a few days. When I was reading War and Peace in Russian I had a dream in which I was looking for Pierre Bezukhov and speaking Russian. The question is, though, is there any actual point at all in being activated in a language which is dead or beyond the pale? You only really need passive knowledge in that case.

2. I have noticed a password only section to your website for the future goldlist book – I would like to know what is required to be involved with reading the draft or pre-order copy of the book? It would be an honour to be involved in any way, and if I may have your email I can attach some files for you to browse, such as charts or graphics that may help with delivering the book’s message.

I’d be delighted to have your collaboration, and I’ll get back to you when the book is that far on. As it is your questions here are already helping.

3. My current approach is (hopefully) still congruent to what you’ve prescribed – interested, not rushed, uses writing, doesn’t force through with this or that technique. I am starting with learning maybe 1000 words in different categories – people, actions, feelings, and then do some more grammar-focussed headlists. I’m doing this as I’m not too sure how to integrate grammar early on and not feel rushed (within the 20 minutes) and to stay interested.

You’re still talking about Korean and I don’t know enough Korean to even know at which point it could become prejudicial to leave grammar out, but as the language is from what I understand not an inflected language, you should be OK learning a thousand words without focussing much on grammar. You need to get the pronunciation right, that seems tougher in Korean than in Japanese. If I were going to learn Korean I would have done the Pimsleur before ever putting pen to paper on the Goldlist. Not that Pimsleur is brilliant, but there’s no Michel Thomas in it as far as I know – and a pity that is.

As an update, I have learnt the sounds of Hangeul and with words in Hangeul on the left side, I put the English and the Chinese (which I’m capable of) on the right column. I only put the chinese in if it’s a direct word loaned from the Chinese language. E.g. Gwa Bu is 寡婦widow. I had wondered if that was too much work in one go, but I guess I’ll see! The moment I read a chinese-loan word in Korean I can make good guesses on what it’s referring to.

Thank you 🙂 I look forward to distilling my first batch of words and hearing from you!

If you know Chinese characters and speak Chinese well, then it will not be too much at once. It sounds like a good plan. However, in due course you might want to know which character goes with which word in Korean hanza even if they are not loanwords. It depends on how far you plan to take Korean.

All the best, and please keep me posted!

Give to the American Red Cross’ Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Fund


Flag of the Red Cross

They'll carry your help where it's needed

The American Red Cross is a charity with exemplary governance, so we can do something to help the victims of the earthquake disaster in Japan and the Pacific tsunami which is meaningful and real.

https://american.redcross.org/site/Donation2?idb=0&5052.donation=form1&df_id=5052

Some of you may be thinking “Why help them, their economy is the third largest in the world and per head they are richer than most people”? But try to push away those thoughts. Japan has helped generously many other nations in trouble, now it’s time to give back to them at a moment of great need.

Top 30 Languages to learn for 2050


Map showing countries and autonomous subdivisi...

The Turkic linguation - to a greater or lesser extent mutually intelligible languages. However often not the preferred business languages of their regions, hence only 12th place in this economic utility-based prediction.

Here are my 2050 predictions, originally shared on http://www.how-to-learn-any-language.com :

1. Chinese (all types)
2. English (all types)
3. Arabic (all dialects)
4. Russian
5. Spanish (all types)
6. Japanese
7. German
8. French
9/10.Portuguese and Korean(if there is Korean unification, Korean takes the higher slot)
11. Italian
12. Turkish and mutually intellible forms of Turkic Read the rest of this entry

Question on lexical sufficiency


Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski - the ultimate benchmark in mastery of an acquired language is surely that of having added to its artistic literature?

Reader (and poster) Bill_Sage667 from How-To-Learn-Any-Language.com’s forum wrote me the following question and agreed kindly to a public answer here:

Dunno whether u’ll be able to find the time to reply to this, 1 in a million chance lol……but I’ll write out my questions anyway lol

You said something about 15,000 words needed in order to achieve a good degree level in Russian. Are imperfective and perfective verbs considered separate words, as well as adjectives and verbs under the same lexemes (e.g. беремменость, беремменая, беремменеть, забеременнеть) when you were estimating the number of words?

And what if someday I want to attain the proficiency of an educated native speaker (might take me 20 yrs but oh well)? How many words am I supposed to know (for active and passive knowledge)? For Russian, that is. btw thanks for releasing the Gold List Method to the public for free!

Firstly, Bill, be careful about the number of ‘m’s and ‘n’s you have in those pregancy-related words. You have too many ‘m’s and not enough ‘n’s. I’ll leave you to review that one.

You’re very welcome about the Goldlist. As I say in the section I wrote in syzygycc’s The Polyglot Project, I’m just paying forward the favours I got from so many people when I was a young learner.

In my opinion 15,000 words, as long as they are properly selected, are perfectly adequate and in the headlist you would use all the forms initially as separate forms (but not the various conjugations and case endings, only the so-called ‘dictionary forms’) and you could soon condense them on distillation.

If you use the frequency distionary I am selling on www.oioioio.com you will be able to focus on commoner words first. Within the first 10,000 words you do get words that are already pretty specialised that you wouldn’t use maybe more than once a month or so even if you were a native, and so it continues over the next 5,000 as well. You’ll find 15,000 enough to read the great novels comfortably and to appreciate the poetry of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and even Strogonova (the last of which you will find uniquely published in this blog as a ‘page’. She is no poorer a poet than these well-known ones, only far less known.)

I would also like to draw people’s attention to something else I wrote about the 15,000 word ‘marathon’ in a thread over on the HTLAL forum:

What this Gladwell character [I’m referring to upstream discussion of someone who said you must have 10,000 hours of learning to become fully fluent, like a native – a claim almost unanimously rejected by every serious linguist and polyglot I know other than those who teach languages privately, as this idea is grist to their mill] needs to bear in mind is the Pareto rule. If it were true (which I dispute) that you need 10,000 hours to become as native (although how this deals with your accent is anyone’s guess) then you could get 80% of it in 20% of the time. That means you’d need to have 2,000 hours study to get to 80% of native fluency. Since that’s ludicrously overcautios, I’d suggest that the 10,000 hour target for full native fluency is overcautious.

The fact is, a person could be like Konrad Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) and already writing ground-breaking literature in the language he or she had learned and still have a strong enough accent to provoke politely meant but annoying compliments on the quality of his language by native speakers.

In the end you just have to accept what English speakers accepted for their own language in the main long ago – that as long as it doesn’t hinder comprehension, a foreigner’s accent in English is just as valid as a “native” accent. This is easily accepted by multi-national or mega-regional languages like Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc, but in places like Poland as there is largely only one way of speaking, the bar is raised for their own language.

So in fact that means that the same n-thousand hours done by an Englishman in Russian could have the Russians noticing very little different about the foreigner, especially if he has a bad haircut. Whereas if he has a really bad haircut and the same n-thousand hours of Czech, the reaction will probably be “he looks like one of us, but our language is difficult and so we must forgive the way he sounds, although obviously we are frank and friendly people so we will tell him to his face at regular intervals that his Czech sucks bigtime.”

Given this subjectivity, I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s linguistic shadow, but simply to set amounts of words as targets. 15,000 words is in language learning, to my mind, what the marathon is in athletics. If you’re fit, you can do it with patience and training. And if you can do it, nobody can say you’re not fit.

There are longer races, there are tougher events. But the marathon is the ‘classic’ and the marathon runner knows that it’s really a competition against yourself and not really against the runners alongside. Even people coming in at six hours are clapped and get a medal. So should language learning be.

If this article is of interest you can look up the article as plenty of people have some interesting stuff to say, both about the 10,000 hours nonsense and the number of words needed. I get into a discussion with “Lingua Frankly” blogger Niall Beag (known as Cainntear) on when the Pareto rule isn’t just a number like 10,000 with no real basis for being a law. There are also those who are ready to stand up for the honour of the number 10,000 and tell the detractors of 10,000 hours to mind their jolly manners. Excellent thread.

I’m going to add more thoughts there today.

The Polyglot Project Update


I understand that the download from DocsStocs made by Claude Cartaginese has now reached into over 5,000 downloads, with also many other sources of this document appearing also on the web as people share it freely as intended, so that the full number of downloads may be as high as 10,000 or more.

The Polyglot Project - 42 contributors, 534 pages, including the whole background to the Goldlist Methodology and how I came to invent it.

Set against that, though is the fact that not nearly so many paper copies have been ordered. The only place they can be ordered is Amazon in America, not the UK Amazon as yet, and the link to the product is embedded on the thumbnail.

If you would like a book worth in fact over 50 USD if it had not be gifted by over 40 volunteers each telling how they managed to learn multiple languages for less than 17 dollars, and also support Uncle Claude who had to fork out some of his private lolly on making the first bunch of paper books that are not selling, even though people have been eager to take the free version, then either click on the link here (which gives you the same price and I think I’m on 6% without costing you any more) or if you don’t want to give me 6% but still pay the same, then find the link just by going normally to Amazon.com and searching for it.

If you read the e-version and liked it, why not buy the paper version as a gift for someone else? It will always be possible to get a free version of this booki, but the printed one is very nice too and a good use of seventeen dollars, so please let’s be having a few more purchases of it.

 

A radical, “gen(i)us” new idea for learning Chinese characters


Chimpanzee head sketch

Monkey with character?

My idea stems from the fact that I always had a facility for learning the Linnean binomials of animals and plants which as you probably know are made up of a genus name, bearing a capital initial letter and then a species name. Sometimes you get a third part, which is subspecies.

For example, chimpanzees and bonobos share the genus Pan, bonobos being Pan paniscus and there are no subspecies, whereas common chimps are Pan troglodytes and there are four subspecies, P.t.troglogytes, P.t.schweinfurthii (North Zaire) and two others.

So my idea was to give each Chinese character a linnaean binomial as a way to drive it home. It might be a way to help people latch mentally onto some of the harder characters. I don’t have ZH font installed on the machine I’m writing on now, so I will just describe it in terms of the “rules” for doing it.

The “genus” name would show the radical of the character, but in Latin. So if you have the hand radical in a character, it would be in the genus “Manus“.  “拍” to beat or clap has the hand radical and the white component, so its Linnean binomial would be Manus albus, the common beat or clap.

You could consider the link ups of two characters in one word as like symbiotic relationships of two living things, its frequency in linguistic use could be acquainted with its rarity or endangeredness, whether it’s in the list also for Korean and Japanese could be the zoogeography, and even the stress could determine what kind of an organism it is. The first tone could be for herbivores, the second for carnivores, as they have to jump up and pounce on often larger prey, the fourth for insectivores, pouncing on the lower prey, and third tone for omnivores.

It just may be a way to learn some of them. I don’t think it’s any crazier than Drs Goodman, Heisig or Hoenig, all of whom are pretty much in the mainstream, so please don’t unfollow or call for the white van just yet!

Diary of a New Decade #3 – 10th January 2011 – Mummers and Pappers


Mummers in Exeter, Devon, UK, 1994.

Mummers in Exeter, Devon, UK, 1994. Image via Wikipedia

Well it’s been a week since I did a post in this particular series, the DND series. Not much has transpired in that time. I went to Tczew and came back again, and there was a holiday on Thursday 6th January for Epiphany. That may be the best thing to talk about. The other thing probably worth talking about is the controversy around the large scale die offs of blackbirds and drumfish and turtledoves, which I looked into a bit at the weekend.

Language-wise I did some Czech and some Japanese, and I finished the Michel Thomas Advanced Japanese course, which I can recommend well enough as a course, but I have to say that calling it advanced is nothing short of laughable. There are a heap of structures that still need to be learned. The neutral forms of the verb and the bases were not even touched upon and the past tense and negative pasts of -i adjectives were not used. Moreover, the difference between na adjectives and -i adjectives before a noun were not looked at at all. I can only hope that there will be a so-called vocabulary course – the way the new Michel Thomas language series describes the third lot of rather dear CDs.

I read some rather negative reviews of the Advanced Japanese course on the UK Amazon – more pleasant ones on the US Amazon including one by a friend of mine whom it was a pleasure to bump into by chance reading Amazon reviews. My own view is that I can see where some of the negative comments were coming from but they are exaggerated. It is very good material, and a lot is packed into the hours you can physically get onto 4 audio CDs, if that has to be the constraint. Only don’t go calling it Advanced Japanese, especially bearing in mind not one single kanji and not one single kana has been explained and not even the issues surrounding syllabification and also the series and how shi, chi, tsu and fu appear instead of what you might expect in the sounds tables.

These are really basic things needed if you want to get at real Japanese. The person finishing the Michel Thomas course will discover they will have to go right back to the start again if ever they want to be anything more than functionally illiterate in Japanese. I’ve started now the Michel Thomas Greek course and that is really making strides at a faster pace. Again, nothing really about the alphabet, so a person relying on that won’t be able to read anything, but maybe in Greek that is easier to overcome.

I also have major misgivings about a few things in the Michel Thomas method. I do think that it has advantages over a lot of other methods, even Pimsleur, as far as being an audio-only course goes. But I do feel as if it is building so much in a short time that it rely pushes the short term memory. I wonder whether the students who did those course on the recordings actually retained it all for more than two weeks afterwards. I should say not more than 30% of it. But you can get round that as a learner by doing the course and then coming back to it again after letting the knowledge lie fallow for more than 2 weeks, and reactivating it all again. Rinse and repeat a few more times.

I was going to talk about Epiphany or Twelfth Night as a holiday. I noticed that people were regarding it as a Church holiday even though the Bible does not say which day this ‘showing’ of Jesus Christ was, whether it was the eighth day (which was traditional for the circumcision) or the twelfth day, who can say? But what we can say is that in pre-Christian Europe there were two twelve day long festivals, one around the winter solstice and the other around the Summer solstice. In the older calendar the final or twelfth night in the winter one of these fell on New Years and was a general party and carousal, with people dressing up.  This was simply carried over into the Church by an act of syncretism.

Generally speaking Roman Catholicism is happy to soak up and “christianise” just about anything the Pagans threw at them. It was so with turning men into saints, it was so with the goddess worship with Mary being placed into the role of Gaia/Isis/Diana, it was the same with the placing of the date of Christmas (at least there was more guidance over the celebration of His death and resurrection because the Jews still celebrate Peshach, but why did they give this time the entirely Pagan name of Easter?) So this is just another example of the way Polish Roman Catholics are ready to place religious holidays at every single one of the Pagan dates that have been syncretised into the so-called church calendar (including the non-biblical Assumption of Mary on 15th August – the date which coincides with many Pagan devil-worshipping dates worldwide such as O-Bon, the time when the Japanese believe that for 33 years (notice the significance?) after a person’s death, they come and spend three days (August 13th to August 16th) with their old families. This strange reversal of some of the beliefs about Jesus Christ’s life and death almost appears to be diabolical mockery. Doesn’t stop Roman Catholics from revelling in it, though, and choosing it as their time of year to go on Hajj to their various mariolatric meccas, trudging sometimes hundreds of miles in the searing heat to please God doing something He never once commands in scripture, whilst many of the explicit commands are overlooked, like not having graven images, like calling no man father, like not forbidding to marry, and many more.

And how the Devil, who manipulates people to do these things, laughs.

There’s nothing intrinsically Christian about 6th January. There is something intrinsically pagan about twelfth night, and there is some astrological thing that goes on that I don’t even want to remember or understand, but which you can look up if you like. The carry over of the baccanalia from that time into the mumming of the Christian era is clear even from the traditional costumes worn by the mummers, which follow those used in the pre-Christian era.

Anyway, we’ve all been forced by the Catholic Church to participate in this pagan holiday.

I used quite a bit of it having a walk with my son, and I also gave him a walk on Saturday and a really big one on Sunday, when we took a taxi to the old town and walked back. Those three times in total gave us about 14 km over those three days worth of walking, and I do feel that it’s done me some good. The good thing about my son is that he walks about the same pace and just enjoys the walk, he doesn’t run off. And then he is well behaved after as he has been able to use his energy up, although generally speaking he is not as tired as me.

As there is not that much conversation going on I can also listen a bit to the Michel Thomas courses during the walk. All in all a good way to spend time, but it was cold on Thursday and only gradually got a bit warmer over the weekend. At about 5-6 degrees Celsius most of the snow started to melt, but there are large puddles everywhere and of course the contributions to society made by the communion of dog-owners comes much to the fore, all melting in the water and mixing in with the sand that is laid down so that you can tell sometimes where the sand starts and the canine detritus finishes.

I was also going to talk about these big die-offs reported in the Internet and a bit in mainstream media. But perhaps it can wait for a later post. I will come to that, though.

Questions from Kahnkanter about activation and Hangeul.


The word Han-geul in Han-geul. Hangeul is read...

This is how you write Hangeul in Hangeul!

As mentioned in the last post, I also received a couple of questions from another YouTube viewer this week, and this time it was channel name Kahnkanter.

Hi David,

Thank you for sharing your method. I would like more information on two things:

1. Activation. How does that happen? You have mentioned that it takes a maximum of 3 days, and uses the passive long term storage of vocabulary in that language. But how does one ‘activate’? By simply being surrounded by that language?!

 

When I talk about activation taking three days, I am referring to the case where someone learns a language in a country where it isn’t spoken, and has the problem that not everything they learn is on the tip of their tongue. I explain to people that actually that is not a problem. As long as they know something passively (ie, they immediately remember and know the meaning of the foreign word when it is presented to them, would notice if it were misspelled or mispronounced or used in a wrong context, etc) then the fact that they are having trouble at five minutes notice to be able to put themselves into the language they learn well enough to have their whole vocabulary at the tip of their tongue is normal, is part of the economy of the mind and is there to actually enable us to learn and know more without having a consiousness overload.

People talk about the back of one’s mind and the front of one’s mind, but those are old ways of talking about it and don’t necessarily equate at all to where the physical synapses are. I never worried too much about left brain, right brain frontal lobes, medulla oblongata or all of that as I never had, and still don’t have, any plans to perform brain surgery on anyone. So when I talk about these things I am talking about them in a push-button-user’s way. Don’t even ask me what the physical mechanisms are.

I know it takes three days because I have travelled a lot and spoken to many other linguists who say the same thing. It just means being in an environment where you can sense that you need all that knowledge and it all comes to the fore pretty quickly. Three days probably evolved as you can get by in extremis even without water for three days, but after that things start to get rather nasty. You need all your linguistic mental resources to be completely focussed on a given situation within three days, but you don’t always need them immediately. 

Now I think I understand right that you are living in Korea but you are not Korean. You want to learn Korean and you are either in Korea now or about to go there. In this case you will not experience becoming activated until you leave Korea for more than three days and become unused to learning the language. Especially if you have to think into using a different language that also is foreign to you in that period. When that happens, wait till you go back and see how at first you have to think for a bit before finding some words, but you don’t have that any more after three days, even for words which didn’t come up in conversation or your reading in those first three days back.

In short, if you learn in the country, you won’t experience the strange but fascinating “miracle” of three day activation that people learning at their desks away from the country can get. You’ll be activising as you go because you live there. You’ll just get a mini version of that if you leave and don’t speak Korean for some weeks before going back.

2. I am hoping to do this for the Korean language. It has its own script and so I wanted to know whether I put a word in its own characters (most of which I can read) plus its romanization on the one line, then continue for another 24?

Thanks!

 

I think that as far as using the Hangeul / Hangul is concerned, it’s not an unduly difficult thing and so I recommend starting to rely on it and not romanise as soon as you can manage it. I would not necessary be saying the same if you wanted to learn Korean kanji, but since not every Korean even knows Korean kanji (it drifts on and off the syllabus in the education system there, sometimes it skips generations, like an embarrassing mental illness)

In the time before using the Goldlist I would have just played about with Hangeul by writing out all the ways they transliterate Western personal names and place names, then go on to recognising, (if you want to be ultra rational, in population order) all the names of cities as they look in hangul. This would be like a pre-Goldlist just getting used to the script, and enjoying its uniqueness, cleverness and exotic feel.

Then for the Goldlist proper I would put everything from the first thousand words in Hangeul and romanisation in the head list, but only use the hangul in the D1 distillation unless there are any you didn’t remember in which case you could keep those Romanisations on the line by way of exception. That’s what I would do.

Hope this helps, and please let us know.

%d bloggers like this: