GoldList Method Explained Part 5 – The GoldList Book: The Distillations

Headlisting is the first thing you do in the GoldList book, and at the beginning of any project using GLM for a time it will be the only thing you’ll do, but in the long run only only 30% of our time is spent in this activity, and 70% on the distillations, as the graph below demonstrates:


The blue 30% is the amount of overall time you’ll spend putting your materials into the Headlist, and the remaining three areas of the book you have before you now are 21%, 15% and 10% of the total so that this book (which we have intimiated before is a Bronze level book and what is comiNg up is hinted at in the left hand parT of the diagram) makes up in total 76%, a little over three quarters, of the time and effort needed to bring a project to ints conclusion, gievn the assumption that we stick to 70% distillation, which is on the conservative side, as you will find in due course.

That was part of the so-called ‘big picture” and maybe you got that right away, maybe you were confused. Never fear, we will now take this all step by step.

5.1 The First Distillation

So, now you are at a point in time where two weeks has past since you last looked at the material in the Headlist. You have not been looking it over in the meantime trying to remember it, I hope, because if you have you have been basically doing an Anki or Supermemo without the computer and those Methods work the other way round to GLM and require more work, but certainly can’t be combined together with GLM. You need to have Headlist lines that you have not seen as such for two or more weeks.

If you happen to have come across some of the same words while carrying on with studying the language in the GoldList it doesn’t matter. Don’t get worried about that and also don’t get worried if you see in a minute that because you forgot a word you included it again in the Headlist, that happens and it’s quite natural. All it means is you get a better distilling result for that page, the second time you come across it. It all comes out in the wash.

Common words will be encountered almost every time you work with the language and of course you will learn them, so no need to worry if you see them too often while working with the GLM.

OK, so now, you can make a distillation, which means taking what you don’t know from the Headlist and writing it out again in a new List which will always be on the top right of the double page, opposite where your Headlist is. It will have its own numbering system, and of course through all the books any retained item will have a number about 70% of the one it had in the previous list.

You can make a distillation plan or just distil straight of you prefer. You can test yourself, by covering up half the page if you want to do that. I personally find no need to do that.

Basically if you make a plan for the distillation, you are marking up the previous list (in this case the Headlist) to show that you remembered the item to your satisfaction and won’t therefore include it again at all, or that you have some recall but maybe not enough of the word or phrase or information the line contains, and you therefore Combine it (or in later distillations possibly reCombine it) with another line in order to lose one line. It is also possible to Combine more than one line at once.

I use a cross with a circle around it for outright kicking out, and the same cross with a circle but with lines coming out to join the respective lines to be joined together for a Combination or reCombination. You can pick your own symbols and develop them, but I have a standard set I use which are as follows:


As you can see there are a lot of signs which can be made and some specific to your own needs as a learner and even differ from project to project. The main place to use such symbols is in a distillation plan and it helps to make sure you get the most out of distilling.

The plan is done not long before the actual distillation, maybe just before it. The plan should not be done prior to the end of the two-week “fermentation” period – as any good whisky maker nows, you first have to ferment before you can distill!

So whether you test yourself or you make a distillation plan or do neither of these things, effectively the questions you are asking in order to decide what happens to a line are the same:

  1. Do I have any recall whatsoever of this line, or is it as if I was blind drunk at the time and have no memory of ever seeing it before?(If there is total absence of recall, and it feels like you are looking at this line for the first time, then you need to write it out again as it is)
  2. Do I feel I have total recall of the line, and have even been thinking about it oor using it recently, since the two-week fermentation period ran out? Or would I know pretty well what it means or remember any irreularities about the item that I included on the line?(If so, then the item should be discarded and not included in the next list at all. If you have remembered it for more than two weeeks, the chances are high enough, functionally high enough, that you won’t forget it, it’s probably made it through to the long-term memory)
  3. I feel like I know this info but not quite well enough to be comfortable losing it entirely going forward, can I find some lines about which I feel the same way to match with in a Combining of lines?

If so, then you can Combine the lines.

5.2 How do I Combine the Lines?

There are several approaches to Combining lines

  1. Produce a collocation whch reflects actual usage of the words involved. (You can do this if you have it in the materials)
  2. Combine them so that you have like an imaginary title for a picture or poem. You can then imagine what sort of picture of poem or story that might be. Because this is a use of Creativity, it does not switch on the Shrt-term memory like forced repetition or forcing Mnemonics can. Creativity was identified in part 2.8 as one of the things encouraging long-term memory, and the fact that there are more letters and syllables in the Combined version than in either of the initial lines doesn’t stop it being easier to remember than either was alone. Because you are giving context. Have you noticed that it is sometimes easier to remember people’s names by remembering the full name and not only the first name?
  3. ReCombining is when you are in a later Distillation and you look again at the lines that were combined and see a situation where one part is, against the odds, learned a bit better than the other. Now you can recombine using the less-well-remembered parts, into a new title for an imaginary work, and lose another line.
  4. Listing things together which are usually recited in order is a good use of combining, for example, numerals, the colour series of the rainbow, the days of the week, the months of the year, etc. These are naturally recited in order and so when combining you could take a Headlist where you have the seven days of the week and put them in D1 as “Monday, Tuesday” in one line, “Wednesday, Thursday” in the next. You might have that recombined as “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” in the second distillation, and in the third you might be able to drop out parts and either abbreviate them or kick them out altogether.
  5. It can be useful to list opposites together also, “black and white”, “big and small”. This helps for adjectives most of all, but even phrases like “more or less” are useful, and in some languages you’ll note that they say “less or more, as in the Polish “mniej więcej”.Finally, if you cannot be sure that you know it, and cannot easily Combine it, and you feel that it is a waste of a whole line still including it, because it is a word you probably won’t use as you don’t use it much in your own language either, then you can also chuck the word out.We are aiming at a big passive reserve, therefore we DON’T keep words included which we know passively and would be quite abe to understand in reading and writing just because it doesn’t spring immediately to mind. This is why testing onceself into the target language from one’s own language leads to overly pessimistic results, unless you are a real superstar (like Lydia, who manages this), so I don’t recommend testing yourself that way. If you must, then test for understanding by covering your existing language, rather than the target language.Finally, when it comes to Distilling, remember Newton’s Third Law of Motion:

    Lex III: Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.

Which basically means that “to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts”. Stated in another way, the action force is equal and opposite to the reaction force.

When you think that the same Creator created both the world of physics and the human mind, moreover placed on in the bounds of the other for a season, it is no surprise to note that in psychlogy this works very well also – restated as “for every conscious action there is an equal and opposite unconscious reaction”. If we consciously throw something away, we rarely go looking for it because we tend to remember very well what we have thrown out. We look around for things we accidentally lost, but what we intentioanlly threw out we tend not to need to look for, but remember the object. Well, we can harness this in distilling too. Hence, Newton’s Third Law of Distilling reads thus: “If in doubt, chuck it out”.

Combining by the way is very flexible and is the thing which has been the biggest hurdle to those who have attempted to make apps for the GoldList Method. You can combine at will in the Excel version, but doing it in an App seems more tricky and nobody has seen a way round that yet.

Okay, so we have done our first First Distillation. Most people at this point experience a positive surprise that the Method, counterintuitive as it seemed at first, did indeed lead to them being able to comfortably distil the list down and they are starting to get that if they rinse and repeat this process through the further distiallations, then sure, they are like “Hey! I really am going to get all this material into my long-term memory, and as long as this David James bloke isn’t lying about the activation process (why would I, it’s not like I make money out of this) then it is starting to dawn on me that if I keep doing this I will inexorably get to where I wanted to be in terms of learning a foreign language which I never could before”, or, for advanced learners “…really am going to be able to get more out of my decreasing available learning time”.

There is a minority of people, that’s become clear, who are not experiencing this quite yet and so we need to explain and recap a bit in the hope of helping those who are not getting the pleasant surprise most users are having at this point.

5.3 What if I don’t manage to reduce a page by 30% on distillation?

The first thing to say is, for sure some pages are never going to be a 30% reduction. You may have tried to get to something like 17 lines or 18 from your 25 (or 13-14 for 20 line method folks) and either found it easy to do much more than that, or struggled and given up with a lower reduction, maybe only 10% down in some cases.

On a page-by-page basis, this is not something to worry about. It is not necessary for every page to have exactly the right amount, but if you distil let’s say a hundred lines and are not somewhere between sixty and eighty lines as a result from that hundred, then you need to ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Have I understood the above criteria for chucking out, retaining outright and Combining? Or am I setting myself too high a standard, as if the objective was to be continually active and not passive in the language? Because this misunderstanding about what needs to be done in actual fact is the single main reason some people (thankfully only a minority of attempters but you also matter to me, be sure of it) baulk at their result at this point. Please go back and be sure you understood the Eight Basic Concepts in part 2, and see how these are reflected in what we did with the HeadList and the Fermentation Period and the process of Distillation,
  2. The next reason for a lack of success can be mixing the Method with short-term memory methods which is done by approaching the same material with another method during the Fermentation Period. The GoldList Method is the opposite approach which means you leave them to be forgotten if they are only in the short-term memory. We are not renewing those synapses in the short-term memory so as to get ourselves confused in the time of Distilling. In particular people getting better than 40% consistently and then complaining that later on they forgot things they were supposed to have remembered for ever, might be doing that,
  3. Being ill, stressed, on medication, on alcohol, using drugs – these things are all not conducive to the normal function of the long-term memory,
  4. Ignoring what I said about the breaks is likely to cause your long-term memory to have gone on strike at some point in the process, leaving you with your short-term memory or nothing,
  5. If you really don’t like or trust your materials then you probably will subconciously reject them, meaning the unconscious memory, the long-term memory, won’t play ball either,
  6. Distractions, irritations and also music playing in the background are likely to mean you cannot harness the long-term memory to what you want.Some people say that they like to work, even revising for exams, with background music. But I will tell you as an absolute promise and in just a moment prove to you, that you cannot work this way to the long-term memory. As it is an unconscious process, you cannot dictate to the long-term memory which of the various inputs going on around you it should be sampling. You say you has success revising to exams with music? Yes, that figures, I am sure you did. And equally sure that if I put the same exam in front of you two weeks later the retention rate would be very disappointing.  Not a problem if all you intended to do was pass an exam, but if you wanted to build on that info in your brain and use it through you life (as you do when learning a foreign language) then that was a fail, I’m afraid.Think about this, background music study fans: how many pop songs do you know the lyrics to, without ever having made an attempt to rote learn them the way you needed to do for a handful of poems force fed to you by teachers in your early teens? And how many of those poems do you remember? I guess that you know lyrics, at least in part, to hundreds of pop songs. If I asked you to right down what lyrics you could remember from song after song of which I would play you just some opening bars, you would yourself be amazed at the huge long-term memory store you would be regurgitating onto the paper, and someties for sings you hadn’t heard for many years but used to like listening to. None of this did you ever purposefully intend to learn. But you would have difficulty reciting poems you did try to learn at the same time. By now, if you have been reading all of this carefully, you’ll know exactly why this phenomenon exists and you’ll recognise that your long-term memory was busy sampling all these songs effortlessly while your short-term memory was engaged at the other study.If you love music, for sure that will be the first thing the long-term memory will sample, leaving what you think you are studying for the short-term memory which you don’t want for this, or nothing at all – which you don’t want either.I’m not taking any responsibility for failure to get effects with the GoldList Method if they had music playing or insisted on trying to study while some distractions were going on in the background, even maybe some interesting conversation in a cafe. Try to keep these things to a minimum. If there are no other inputs for the long-term memory, then it must sample the language work you are doing, especially if you are motivated and interested and like your chosen materials and have trust in them as reliable materials,
  7. Don’t just expect to be able to push your unconscious mind around. It is not always going to play things the way you want. Ensure you are healthy, with plenty of fresh water, fresh air, exercise, sunlight, a balanced diet with no deficiencies, no bad molecules messing with your system, and plenty of sleep also. Then you can expect to get the best from all functions of your body, the conscious and unconscious ones alike.

5.4 Second Distillation

OK, so now another few weeks have gone by, and we see that we are all caught up to within two weeks of the Headlist as far as the First Distillation is concerned, and also some of the D1 list, which we dated every new day, is now also older than two weeks and is therefore “ripe” for distillation again.

So we make the second distillation at the bottom right of the double page, right under the place we had the first distillation.

Let’s just remind ourselves of the image I showed you earlier in Part 4:

As you see we are following round in a ring on each double sides, for purely ergonomic reasons. Last time you got used to moving distilled items from left to right, now from top to bottom. Both of these are directions in which we naturally work in languages using the Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, etc alphabets.

If you are work with a Semitic writing system in at least one of the languages (the target language or the language of instruction) you might choose to start with H at the top right, then go top left for D1, etc, ie make a mirror image of the above. I would suggest that would be more natural and ergonomic for those scripts.

So in the majority of cases, D2 is on the bottom right and to get to that list we distil the D1 exactly in the same way as we distilled the Headlist to get to D1. We are asking questions about the contents of the line see if whether we leave it out altogether going forward, because we know that we remembered the meaning at least passively (doesn’t need to have remained active) so that we know what it means, wouold know also if it were written incorrectly, and can remember any irregular info about the word in the line. For two line expanations, we are maybe trying to abbreviate them to single liners, or reduce three line explanations to two lines. We are building series like “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” that might be a bit longer that the series Combined in D1, and we are making reCombinations of the lines Combined at D1 with the object to lose further lines.

In the main you’ll often find that a page’s worth which was hard to reduce by 30% in D1 is actually a lot easier at D2, while it’s possible also to find you did a better than 30% reduction in D1 but aren’t able to be so aggressive in D2. These things tend to happen and if you notice that, it’s normal.

You’ll often notice at D2 also that items Combined in D1 were easier to remember in their Combined form. By this time also you’ll be noticing duplicates you made in the earlier work and they will be falling out also.

You do not need to be looking at the Headlist, you are deriving the D2 list from the D1 list, and already at D1 you shouldn’t have needed to check back to the materials if you were Headlisting properly. You may suddenly have doubts about something if it seems to conflict with something you learned later and in such cases you’ll want to look back at the materials, and if the confusion still exists check in other materials, on-line or in Groups. Unfortunately few materials are free of errors, and therefore it is not a concrete rule that you shouldn’t check back, you should simply be attempting when you Headlist to need that as little as possible.

In short everything about Distillation from 5.2 above is true here. You will start to encounter Recombinations and there is some value in doing a Distillation plan just prior to actually writing out that Distillation, using your own set of marks or the ones I developed in the above picture. There’s no rules around the notation you use for that, nor even about whether you self-test covering over half the lines or not.

Your D2 is once again about 70% or so of the D1, so therefore it is clear that you now have learned to the long term memory just over half of the material as 70% of 70% is 49%. However, don’t forget that doing what you just did means that you’ll have another 30% of 49% going into the long-term memory, you just don’t know yet which lines they are, until the two-weeks fermentation period is out and you come to distil again.

Therefore, referring back to the pie chart at the top of this section, you will be pleased to note that having completed the second distillation on a certain number of lines, you’ve done about two thirds of the entire work to be done on that material. It’s all plain sailing from here.

5.5 Third Distillation

This starts to become a case of rinse and repeat. YThose using 25 in their Headlists will have tried to eliminate something like 8 lines to get to a D1 of something like 17 lines, and then 5 lines to get to a D2 of something like 12 lines, although sometimes you are going to be on 10 or 15 lines, and don’t worry when that happens. Now you’d be looking to reduce by 3 lines to get to 9 lines per double page in D3, but I could show you examples where I don’t have anything left at all at D3, and also where I have 13 or 14 and it is a sweat to fit it in under the Headlist.  The average run rate shouold be something not that far off 9 and anywhere between 5 and 11 is still absolutely fine.

I do like to be a little more aggressive in distilling at D3 than I was at D1 or D2 if I can get away with it, and the architecture of the double page means that you are more squeezed for space here than you probably were for D2. I like to be slightly less aggressive in the next distillation, for reasons I’ll come to, so the time to be a bit pushy is now.

Right now those of you who have been kind enough to read pretty much everything I’ve written before now on the GLM might be saying “hang on, you haven’t told us that before”, well, for sure there has to be something new for the Book right? Otherwise you senior user guys won’t need to read it.

The process of making this third distillation on the bottom left (except for the Semitic mirror technique mentioned above) accounts for 10% of all the work, as you saw in the pie chart, so by finishing the D3 stage you’ve covered 76% of the work, more than three quarters of what you need to do, for all that material.

“What about the other quarter?” I hear you ask. I hear you go on to say “We have a quarter still to do, but we don’t have any space left in our books, you never thought of that, did you, you fat Englishman?” Well, yes, I did, actually, so don’t get hasty with me. The solution to where we go from here is in the next Part.






















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