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GoldList Method Explained Part 3 – Selecting Materials and making a Plan


3. How to go about starting a GoldList Project – correct selection of materials and creating a plan

The GoldList Method, as explained in earlier Parts, takes you from very near the beginning of a language, as soon as you have a good idea of how to pronounce it, to an intermediate or advanced stage.  (If you don’t yet know how to pronounce it, then review the remarks on “Audio Frontloading” and obtaining an “inner voice” in Part 2.4.

It is essential to select materials which correspond to whereabouts you are in the big picture of learning the language, or languages, you have in mind.

Audio Frontloading materials such as Michel Thomas, Paul Noble, Pimsleur, etc. were discussed previously in Part 2.4, so they won’t be repeated here.

3.1 Language learning series general course books

A beginner who is also a beginner to language learning generally might select a course from one of the following publishers, very typically:

– Teach Yourself series by Hodder
– Colloquial series by Routledge
– Living Language
– Assimil
– Glossika

And there are several others, plus one-off courses of varying quality for particular languages. (1)

Let us say that you want to select a course to complete using the GoldList Method. Typically they will have lessons with a conversation or a reading followed by a vocabulary for the reading, grammatical explanations, possibly cultural notes and then exercises. Then you rinse and repeat for the next lesson and maybe you go through twenty or thirty lessons and then at the end you get things like keys to the exercises, summaries of tables of grammar, and then you get the word lists or dictionaries of the words used in the book and hopefully these go both ways so you have one going into the language and one coming out of the language back into the source language the book is written in. Then maybe you have a thematic index also so that you can look up a grammar point.

The way to choose is to check that all of these elements are indeed there, that the vocabulary used in the book is as large as possible (I usually count the vocabulary list at the back, how many pages there are and how many on a typical page) and that the book itself has an appealing layout and doesn’t look off-putting to you in terms of graphics, font, paragraphing, and even the paper that is used. One publisher I won’t name, but whose initial is B, for example, has quite good materials but they are on paper too stiff for the binding in some cases and fall apart before you can finish the book. I suppose that’s one way to guard against the perils of book-sharing and the chance of picking up a second-hand copy in a charity store. (Please support your local charity bookstore, especially Sue Ryder, by the way). In fact if it were not for the poor binding, I would have much better things to say about that publisher with a B…

If all else is equal, I would choose the book with more pages and a bigger vocabulary, and it certainly does help if there are recordings, although it is preferable to use audio-only to gain the inner voice as explained in Part 2.4, and if you have done that properly then you may not need the recordings and in fact they can get in the way if you listen within the fermentation period. If there are recordings, I would listen to them just after or before doing the Distillations and the Headlist, and not in between times. If you find that you know how to pronounce things anyway, then just leave them out.

Once you have worked through the course via the lessons, you can use the mini-dictionary at the end of the Course to “mop-up” ie make sure that you got all the vocabulary.

In Part 4 we will be using, for the sake of illustration, some chapters of Assimil’s Indonesian course (in the German version) by kind permission of Phil Gagneur. Assimil is an example of a course with its own intrinsic method but which works ideally with the GoldList Method also.

3.2 Specialist Grammar books

A beginner to a language who is seasoned as a learner of other languages might wish to start from scratch with a more comprehensive grammar approach, and thus avoid the need to input the grammar more than once, as she progresses to the higher points of grammar. There are some excellent series on the market for this approach, especially the Essential Grammars by Routledge. They start from the beginning but take a deeper dive than the general learners’ course books, and they may well use terminology which is challenging for a person new to language learning generally, but which will help those who are familiar with it.

Since those books often assume a certain level of vocabulary while the course books themselves do not, and introduce vocabulary together with grammar in the lessons, a dictionary is useful. This brings us nicely onto the next point.

3.3 Dictionaries

Dictionaries are very helpful things but if you want to use them to make sure you know 15,000 words, for example, then you need to be aware that that is a very big undertaking which will last you a couple of years at a leisurely pace.  To be precise, (and with the GLM we actually can be fairly precise, if only in terms of normative work hours) the mathematics goes like this: 15,000 lines distilled off totally means 45,000 lines. At a run rate of 50 lines per hour, which is typical, that’s 900 hours. If you want to do a quite leisurely five hours per week, this means you are looking at between three and four years of work, whereas if you are doing it at 30 hours a week then that’s seven months of relatively intense work.

More rewarding are the frequency dictionaries which are available based on corpuses of words, or more precisely lemmata (I won’t explain that as there are good explanations on line) and have example sentences showing usage. The Routledge frequency dictionary series contains some excellent titles, some are not so useful without a teacher such as the Japanese one as there is no Romaji guidance to pronunciation, but if you have a one-on-one teacher you can certainly use this book to good effect. Most of them, however, are good for self-study. The big advantage to this approach is that they take you through the 5,000 most frequently used words of a language in the order they are used, which gives you a very good Pareto effect(2), and is therefore very effective and motivating.

Words in isolation, as presented in some less sophisticated dictionaries, should come with a health warning. What sets the wheat apart from the chaff when it comes to language learning is knowing what word is naturally used with which other words. These “collocations” as they are called can range from proverbs or commonly used quotes from high culture or pop culture, and knowing these is what really gets you into the in-crowd. If you say to a German “Jetzt wird wieder…” then most of them with respond with the remainder of the two line chorus of a song by Geier Sturzflug. They will regard you as having a deep insight into their culture if you know this kind of thing, and it all available on YouTube, but at an initial level what you need is a phraseological dictionary. More ability with collocations follows inevitably on from exposure to life in the country and the correct use of collocations is obtained best by people who live in a country or do a lot of very varied reading in a language, and preferably both.

If you can get your hands on a collocation dictionary with frequency information, that would be a very valuable tool, but you will see if you search for such a thing that there are quite a few academic papers on how one might go about making this holy grail, and not many actual products we can buy and use for most languages. At the moment the Routledge Frequency Dictionaries are the best we have but for serious study you need to have a phraseological dictionary around as you work through the words. Another excellent series for phrases is the “Mot-à-mot” franchise by Hodder which is also in Spanish and German as well as French, and is ideal for transition to a more advanced level from a basic to intermediary level.

Some phraseologisms go very well between languages as they have often been borrowed from neighbouring ones. The term for a “grey eminence” is well-known in German, Polish and numerous other languages which translated it from French, while English speakers tend not to be familiar with the idea and will find it explained to them better if they look up the French term “éminence grise”, but on the other hand the English term “grey matter” (originally from Latin) is often used in the same way in German and other languages, and exists in Russian as “серое вещество” but referred to rather less frequently, and therefore apt to cause confusion. This awareness is what marks out advanced learning from beginning and intermediate learning, and all this can also be placed into a GoldList if you can get good material for it, and that’s the key.

In summary the best dictionary would be a frequency dictionary of collocations, but failing these appearing on the market, the best things to use are frequency dictionaries and phraseological ones, with taking a shorter learner’s dictionary of the correct number of words being a reasonable alternative. Under no circumstances would I recommend GoldListing dictionaries with over 20,000 words, although on the other hand I know people who have done even that to good effect, while living in the country.

3.4 Literature

In order to get this kind of awareness of actual colloquial usage without being in the country and in an effective as well as pleasant way, if you are already an advanced learner you can select using literature as a means of getting to the very top of the tree in your language. This does not have to be fictional literature, such as the classics of the language, although there is a good deal to be said for looking at them, that’s why they are the classics, but for those unwilling to acquire that taste you can take more pulpy, airport-style fictional works and also popular non-fictional works(3).

Some of the more respected business books have been translated into numerous languages and for example in the case of “Persuasion” by Professor Robert Cialdini of the University of Arizona, a leader or maybe the leader in this very practical and useful field, I found two completely independent translations into Russian to use with an English club I ran during my time as National Director of Audit in Russia with one international Audit Firm, one of which was a more literal read very good for learning English from Cialdini’s classic sales text as a Russian, the other was a team effort which was based on Cialdini and added more examples and illustrations and that was the recommendation for people who probably understood already over 90% of the English but who found the actual topic itself interesting. Using the language you’ve acquired to learn or teach other skills, (including other languages) is also a great way to get to a really advanced status.

One thing I heartily recommend to advanced learners is something I call Advanced Drill, or TripleDrill, because it uses three sources – a foreign language audiobook, the text in that language, and a good translation into a language you already know well. Firstly you listen to the audiobook on Audible (which can be done at varying speeds as there’s a speed control in the program) then anything you didn’t understand or are not sure how to write can be looked up in the text afterwards. If you are still not sure while reading the original text, then you can look it up in a translation in your own language, and if you are still not sure how the translator got to the translation they did, then a dictionary or Google (sometimes Wikipedia beats Google Translate on the head, brutally, by the way, but mainly for nouns of things you could expect to find in an encyclopedia) is the next step, and a Facebook polyglots’ discussion group after that if there is still any uncertainty. You keep the annotations in the foreign language text and make sure that they are all then harvested into a GoldList headlist so that they end up in your long-term memory.

For TripleDrill, selection of material is quite challenging, but here is how I go about it. First, you want to be sure that the piece is not in archaic or unusually ornamental language which could make your ordinary use of the language sound strange. Secondly, ideally it should be a piece which has been influential on the culture and the language you are studying, if you can have that together with the first premise. Thirdly, you need to be able to find audio which is unabridged on Audible with a narrator whose voice you want to emulate. Often that will mean that men will do better with a male voice actor and females with a female voice actor, as this enables more internalisation of the voice into your own diction. Fourthly, you need to check that you can get the text of the foreign language original, which is usually the least of the problems, and fifthly you need to be sure you can obtain a reasonable close and accurate translation. If not, you could be spending too much time with a dictionary and that can be very tedious and break the process a lot. If you get to the end of the list of five with all ticks for a particular piece, you’re good to go on TripleDrill, but remember, that this one is for the advanced guys.

3.5 Material Planning

A plan should link back to your motivations for learning the language and deliver sufficient knowledge to enable you to get what you want from your learning of the language. An example of a detailed Plan for learning Mandarin Chinese over 1260 hours is given here.

A plan can be changed during its execution if new information appears, such as a change to the factors of motivation. It doesn’t need to be the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed, but it is a very good way to give yourself an overall roadmap. This is like your syllabus which would be given you in a formal course of study. There is much good will in our GoldList community, and you can have your plans looked at by fellow learners in the GoldList Method User Group on Facebook, as well as the other Groups that exist on Facebook for language learners. There is also the rather less active “Linguists and Polyglots” group on LinkedIn which you are welcome to use.

So, in summary, from beginners’ courses kicking off with “How are you?” through to a learned commentary on Finnegan’s Wake, or the equivalent in the language you desire, one single GoldList project can in theory take you through the entire process as you complete one type of material after another, going from near beginner to superstar counting every step of the way. This enables you to have a very ambitious plan, and maintain you motivation while carrying it out over (probably) multiple years.

Be very clear, learning a language is a marathon task, learning several is an Iron Man marathon for the mind and especially for the memory. It needs time and it needs motivation. You need to have probably multiple reasons and/or very pressing reasons to spend all this time, and even then motivation can soon flag if you have no map. Your GoldList is like a road map that shows you how far you have come, in terms of lines, and how many more you need to do.

(1) For Polish speaking learners, do not overlook ESKK which has good quality language courses. However, there you are paying for someone to mark your exercises and using GLM means you don’t really need the exercises.
(2) This refers to Wilf Pareto, who discovered the principle that in natural situations 80% of one constant can be found in 20% of the population, and this is accessed by ordering that population according to the constant. So if you line up the coins in your pocket for example so that the highest value are on the left and the lowest on the right, and then take back only 20% of the coins by number, you’ll generally find you have taken 80% of the monetary value. This works of course not every time, but comes out that way on frequent repetition with other samples. Here we organize words by their frequency of use and discover that with the 5,000 most commonly used words you can do 80% of what an educated native can with 25,000 words.
(3) Although the GLM is very suited to long-term memory learning, not every subject is suited to that kind of learning. Long term memory learning an internal office phone book will be less useful if it all changes round or you move to another place, for example. Even a lot of law or standards in accountancy are subject to change and I have actually had the problem of remembering the old ways too well to be as adaptive to the new as I might have been. For medical students anatomy is well-suited to long-term memory learning, but the latest recommended treatments and dosages less so. For these kinds of information, long-term memorisation is not such a great solution as keeping a current version of the directory at your fingertips. When trying to go into innovative topics with the Method, always ask yourself, “will it change?” This is important either when doing non-language topics in GLM or using languages to learn further topics, or further topics to improve languages.

Anyone wishing to share in the funding of the coming GoldList Method Book and other coming resources can now do so here.

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