4. The GoldList Book: the Headlist
The GoldList book is where we make our GoldList, which is not a single list but rather an algorithm involving four distinct lists each one derived from the one before, laid out side by side, on the double pages of a handwriting book. Each one goes throughout the whole book or more than one book in a series, numbered from beginning to end with four separate sequences, one for each of the lists.
Some people have said that they have difficulty obtaining exactly the kind of books I recommend, but if you can get them then a nice hard-wearing notebook about 40 lines deep is ideal, and the thicker the better. It is worth investing in good quality. It could be A5, B4 or A4 paper. In my opinion the 5 mm squared paper the Germans call “kariert” is the best for Latin, Greek and Cyrillics-based languages. You’ll see examples in the photographs below as well as other people’s examples in the GoldList Method User Group on Facebook, where there is a culture of photographing and sharing one’s current work, usually accompanied by a nice landscape, coffee and cake.
This squared format tends to be too cramped for Arabic script-based languages as well as Chinese characters, Thai script, Devanagari, Gurmukhi and others, so some people want to spread it out more and get broadly spaced lines, and often for these people, where I am talking about 25 lines per headlist, they’ll be doing 20 instead, which is also easily countable and you don’t really lose much by adopting that variation on the standard approach. The important thing is you can get to the next one hundred every four or five page turns and that makes counting much easier, to a degree more automatic.
Having a good thick book with good paper means you can do more in a single book which makes the project more portable and less fiddly in general. Anyway it is in a whole separate class of non-fiddliness in comparison with using flash cards in paper, which soon becomes impossible for projects which the GoldList Method handles easily.
Some people who are doing mainly dictionary work like to put lines down the middle of the pages and put the word in the new language on one side and the word in the known language on the other, in the way that some people were taught to do vocabulary books at school. I prefer not to do so, and keep a flexible approach to what a line of Headlist can contain. Whether you do have a line down the middle or not depends on whether you want to test yourself (some do this, I don’t) and also the nature of the materials you’ve chosen.
The GoldList Book needs to have your name and contact details written at the front because a lot of work is going to go into it and if you leave it on the plane or somewhere by accident, as I and some other users have done, you will want to give the book a chance to fall into the hands of honest people (or people motivated by a reward) to get it back to you. I do that now as the first thing.
On the first double page, you can begin that actual work. The book is, in time, going to have four sections on every double page. It will have a top-left section with 25 (or 20 if preferred) numbered lines containing some information you’ve written in there. Each double page will have the top number being the last number of the top left hand part of the preceding double page spread plus one. This is the Headlist and it is a single numbered list throughout the book although it only takes a little over a quarter of the space in the book. It is always at the top left of a double-page spread (learners of Hebrew and Arabic, etc., may wish to reverse that to go with the flow of the writing) and it always has the same number of words, with every page’s Headlist ending on a number divisible by 25 (or 20) and every fourth (or fifth) page ending on a multiple of 100, to make your progress nice and easy to count.
Some people who don’t like writing out numbers just put a mark down the side and only number the top and bottom lines in the Headlist, and the mark on the paper shows them where that bottom word must be. I think this is a very good idea, although given my line of work, I am in the habit of writing numbers so it requires no noticeable effort for me.
The top right hand side will, later on, (and here we need to remember the two-week rule I talked about in Part 2 – this is where it comes into play) become what we call “the First Distillation”. Abbreviations we use for convenience are H for Headlist and D1, D2 etc for First Distillation, Second Distillation etc. The First Distillation is always on the top right-hand side and is always about two-thirds the size (on occasion it might be anything from half to three quarters, but two-thirds is a good average) of the Headlist in terms of line numbers. It is also numbered independently as a list and the first number of a subsequent double page’s D1 list will be 1+ the number at the bottom of the D1 list on the previous double page spread. In other words, D1 is a single list all the way through the book, just as H is. When you get to the end and you need to start another book to keep going, these lists are still the same lists, so you keep on numbering them where they left off. You could on a big project get through five or six thick books, but it is all just one Headlist on all the top left areas and all one D1 list on all the top right areas. This is how you end up sometimes with line numbers in H in the 20,000s and 30,000s.
And it is all one D2 list on all the bottom right areas and all one D3 list on all the bottom left areas, and in each case the 14 day rule is observed between the lists. The lists are kept side by side because they derive from each other. D1 is what we did not remember from the Headlist, D2 is what we did not remember from D2 and D3 is what we could not remember from D2. And each is about two-thirds the size in terms of lines from the last one.
So, in course of time, each blank double-page spread in the book will have a part of four lists, each one with fewer lines in it than the one before it but still containing some of the material that was in the list before it.
And then in due course we come full circle to each of the four corners of the double page spread are all utilised, and what we do after that is explained in Part 6: “Bronze, Silver, Gold”.
Now let’s look at each of these lists in more detail, the Headlist here and, in Part 5, the “Distillations”. There will be a practical example after the explanations in each case.
4.1 The Headlist
The Headlist is, as mentioned before, written at the top left-hand side. The reason for this is so that you can carry on with the subsequent lists, each one 70% more or less the size of the one before, on the top right, bottom right and bottom left. This means that there should be enough room to fit four lists on each double page, just by following that loop around the four virtual “quarters” of a double page.
There are not many rules when it comes to doing the Headlist. In the main we take 25 words or 20 words if we prefer. The advantage to taking 20 is that it is easier for some people to get the materials (especially if they don’t like squared paper) and of course it leads to more regular breaks which may be also a good thing. Both 20 and 25 go nicely into a hundred and this facilitates counting on big projects.
You need to kick off by writing the date, because you will need to know how long ago you wrote a particular list. Within one list, I would only write the date once per day, or once per five or six page turns if I want to make it easier for myself to find the date later on. It’s not necessary to write the date on every page-turn, just when the date changes or you change from Headlist to another list, or move to another project if you have several going on at once.
You would then number the side panel 1-20 or 1-25. You can write in all the numbers or count up and just write the first and last in, and use a pencil mark down the side of the book to show you where the 25th (or 20th) line is. You can do whichever you prefer. If this is the second sheet of the Headlist, the numbering will start at 26 or 21 and will go down to 40 or 50, etc., etc. Remember that each list has its own numbering system so the Headlist carries on just adding to its own number and when you finish a book and start another with a Headlist in the next book (later on we’ll explain more, but these are called the “Bronze” book) and maybe another after that, the numbers in the Headlist of “H” just keep on growing.
For example, a GoldLister is working on a Headlist and the page he is on ends in the number 4040. From this, we know that he is doing 20 per sheet (you only cannot tell this in the round hundreds) and we know that this is the 202nd double page this person did at the point that they are working on that.
As I say there are not many rules when it comes to the Headlist, but here are two quite important ones:
- You should include all the information from your chosen materials that you will need going forward. It will be clumsy and inconvenient to need to have with you and refer back to the reference book when you are doing the two-thirds of the work in GoldListing which isn’t making Headlists, but distilling Lists onwards.
- You should set it out in a fairly loose way, not too cramped, as this will allow you some leeway for the technique of Combination when you are distilling. Don’t already use Combination when writing the Headlist, and don’t overcharge your task by placing too much info in a single line. At Headlist, one piece of information per line or in the case of sentences of explanation even two or more lines, is perfectly sufficient. All you are doing by keeping a cramped Headlist is making a rod for your own back.
And now, a word about notation. Notation is necessary when seasoned GoldListers are talking to each other about their work and want to save time. Instead of writing “in the Headlist” they will just write @H. H is the Headlist, D1 is the First Distillation, etc. If I wanted to write I have reached 2,000 lines in my Headlist, I could write something like “2,000L@H”, and people in the User Group would know exactly what I was talking about.
When you come to the end of your 20 or 25 word Headlist, you are due a break.
Let’s remind ourselves that we are attempting to charm our unconscious, long-term memory function into play and not switch on the conscious memory function which is short-term and which will result in very little retention once the two-week period is gone past.
You should take a break whether you feel you need one or not, precisely because the long-term memory isn’t a conscious function and therefore won’t tell you when it gets tired and stops sampling normally. On the contrary if the brain feels it is being pushed then it is more likely to switch short-term memory on. You should err on the side of caution and work in periods of twenty minutes, not more, and have breaks of ten minutes, not less, during which you switch your brain to a completely different form of activity.
Examples of good break activities can be
1. Having a nap (that’s likely to take more than 10 minutes given that 居眠りpractitioners tend to claim that 20 minutes is an optimal nod-off time). I do think this is a great way to reset the mind to be ready to give of its all when you resume study.
2. Going to make a cup of coffee, tea, etc.
3. A game in http://www.itsyourturn.com – A quick run down your personal switchboard. Beware of too long a break so that you eat into your study time with playing.
4. A kilometre of walking (I highly recommend taking your GoldList for a walk, weather permitting)
5. Checking your emails, catching up with any. Careful not to get bogged down into social media or there goes your whole study session!
Then with a refreshed mind you come back, and you might then like just to pick up where you left off by reading out loud the last list you did. I would do this once or at the most twice, and only in a way to reacquaint yourself with the words and enjoy the sound of them. Enjoy the activity of making each one, do it slowly, focussing on the accent and enunciation, not at all on an attempt to memorise. If you don’t enjoy this, you can also skip it, it’s optional.
You then turn the page over and at the top left position of the next double page you start the next 20/25 line part of your Headlist. Some people say “the next Headlist” but this is not a good way to think about it, as there is one Headlist per project which goes through the whole book or even multiple books. If your first Headlist was numbered 1-25, the next one will be numbered 26-50.
What if you are a bit further on than that, and the last number on the previous page of your Headlist was 340? Let’s try a multiple choice quiz, is it:
Did you get C as the answer? I hope so. 340 as the previous page number tells us that you’ve been using the nijuugyouhou (20 line rule) instead of the nijuugogyouhou (25 line rule) so you’ll add another 20 on. Of course you won’t start with 340 again as you already had this. It’s a common mistake to make and not one to sweat over unduly if you do, though.
When you start GoldListing, all you will be doing for at least the first two weeks is Headlisting. You have no lines which are more than two weeks old so all you can do during this period is keep on Headlisting. It really doesn’t matter if you do 1,000 lines or 2,000 lines of Headlist before you ever do any distilling at all, and indeed swapping to distilling H to D1 too soon after the two-weeks will mean that you will keep catching up to within two weeks of yourself and needing to go back to H again. I personally prefer when starting a new project to go something closer to a month or 1,000 lines on the Headlist, call that “Batch A” (You can read about Batch Scheduling with GLM here) and only then go and distill all of it to D1 when I know I can do all that without needing to wait because I caught up to within two weeks of the Headlist. Remember that, given that D1 is 30% less than the Headlist, you’ll do it something like 30% quicker, and so there is a risk of catching up to within two weeks of your previous list if you don’t plan for that. If you do, then you can always switch back to working on the Headlist.
If you are still interested and enjoying the topic and have been observing the breaks, then you could do even 300 lines of Headlisting (or distillations) in a day. In the long run you’ll probably average well below this. There are people who GoldList almost as if it were a full-time job, but the system also gives meaning to each study session for people whose budget of hours for study has become very modest owing to the exigencies of family or career.
4.2 Practical Example of Headlisting
OK, here as an example, is the first six double sides of a Headlist where the material is Assimil’s course on Indonesian written in German. This is with permission, courtesy of Phil Gagneur of Assimil.
Here’s the material kindly provided by Assimil, namely “Indonesisch ohne Muehe”, which you can obtain from them if you wish to compare material to Headlist approach, and the front of the GoldList book, you see here the words “Bronze 1” and later on it will become clear what this means. The date written at the front is not, in fact, correct as I only actually started at a later date, but that’s not important as the later date is recorded on the actual page. Don’t miss the special GoldList Method pen.
As a sample here’s the second lesson and you’ll see that on the second double page of the Headlist example. The material has plenty of explanations, and is graphically pleasant. The book feels good in the hand. Also note that I have chosen German rather than English as language of instruction, enabling me to practice and perfect that language in the process of learning another. This is a good way for polyglots to build on their languages by using the one languages which they have learned to an advanced stage to help them with a language they are just starting, and is particularly useful when learning a second language in the same language family, which of course is not the case here. It would be useful the other way round – for an Austronesian who learned German and wanted to learn English to use German materials and not Austronesian materials to do it.
Here you see the first double page in a project. I dated the top left hand corner as this is essential to know whether I am safe to distil it when I come back after a certain length of time.
I wrote the numbers 1-25, it is also possible to use a marker at the level of 25. To prevent going beyond 25, I use a little mental mark which looks like a dot under a line after the 25. This just tells me “don’t go any further”. On distillations you can add more if needed, so this mark I only use on Headlists (and D4 but we’ll get to that later).
You can see I don’t use a line down the middle of the page and this allows me to take all I need from the text of the material. You’ll see that line 9 is a single word “juga” while many lines contain phrases and lines 14-15 contain a two-line sentence of explanation about how verbs work in Indonesian. It’s a very general statement, easily remembered and likely to be droppable already in the next distillation, i.e. even two lines at once, without the need, as it often is, to condense a two-line sentence to one line, but in order to have everything I could need from the material, I’ve included it.
Here’s the second double page, dated again actually needlessly because it’s the same date as the previous page and it’s the same Headlist. Better safe than sorry, but you don’t need to date the same list at every page turn on the same day.
You can compare this Headlist if you like with the material sample shown above and you may see what I mean by making sure you have enough out of the material so that you won’t need it with you when it comes to making the distillation.
If anything these samples are on the cramped side, but I know that I will be able to distil them quite aggressively anyway, as I covered a number of these in Audio Frontloading to get an inner voice for Indonesian (for which I used the Pimsleur course) and here it is more a question of getting the usage and seeing how these words are actually written.
Normally lines like 50 I would avoid, and put “suomi” and “istri” on separate lines, but I quite liked the idea of fitting the second lesson on the second page, after the first lesson had fit the first page. This pattern doesn’t continue anyhow, as in fact the six pages I have in this sample correspond to the first four lessons in this material. This is in fact my first time using Assimil and it does seem to be very easy to GoldList. I am basically ignoring the learning tips around the content, using their content and the GoldList Method for the learning.
Here we have the next day, so this time the dating at the top is indeed necessary. Again you see the numbering of the Headlist is one continuous whole, it’s the third side, I am using 25 lines because you see I have this lovely squared paper at least 40 lines deep – this happens to be 42 squares deep despite the generous margins, and it is well-made, and has 96 double sides so that it will be possible even if I only use 90 of them to get to 2,250 lines in the Headlist in this first book, with of course nothing stopping me from going forward to a second if I wish. In fact to complete one of these Assimil courses at the run rate you will see here, you need between 7 and 8 thousand lines, so therefore four of these books may well be necessary for that Project.
Here there is no date, which means we are still on the latest date recorded for this list, namely 10/6/18 as on the previous page. Again you see a mix of single words like line 87 explanations in the language of instruction as on line 86, and in one case a cultural note which lasts four lines (92-95 incl.)
What I am showing you here is an example of not numbering the sides in full because there is a calibration mark running down the edge of the book which shows where the twenty-fifth line is.
I did not need to keep writing “selamat” over and over when looking at the greetings, and just used ditto marks as you see in lines 107 and 108, and this is preferable as meaningless repetition tends to provoke the short-term memory function. Nothing is gained by writing it out additional times.
Here I go back to writing the numbers in full as that’s what I normally do just by instinct, but you can carry on using just top and bottom if you like it better that way.
As I say, this is rather heavily written for a Headlist, because of the amount of full lines used, but it was more interesting for me to take the phrases and the explanations, and just check that in doing so I had all the individual words and their meanings covered.
Later on we will see how these first six pages, the first 150 lines, turn into further distillations.