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Category Archives: Learning Japanese and Chinese

I passed my JLPT N5 exam.


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In case you can’t make out the image of the score report, I got 112 out of 180. The pass mark is only 80 out of 180 as there is so much in it that even more fluent readers are pressed for time. The “grades” amounted to A for vocabulary , A for grammar and B for reading. In the listening part I got 35 out of 60. The sectional pass mark for that bit is 19 out of 60 so my fears that I might not make it in that section (which is my weakest) turned out to be unfounded.

So it’s full steam ahead to do the next level next December.

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Answering Victor Berrjod


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Victor asked to see some of the goldlisting of the Heisig book recently described in practice. I picked a relatively early point in the book to show – this is the 10% mark – and please note in this particular book the headlist is on the right and the first distillation on the left.  No frames were actually distilled out on this page but you can see the stories getting shorter.

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.

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