I have been lucky enough this week to receive questions from two people on YouTube about aspects of the Goldlist Method, along with their permission to respond here so that I don’t have to fiddle about with the 500 character cut-off or however many it is over there.
I’m wondering whether you are familiar with Mnemosyne, an open source computer program that is reminiscent of your method – it makes digital flashcards that come up for review after a variable interval of time. The interval is determined by how quickly you remembered the material the last time, if at all. In what ways is your method superior to this one?
I assume that you are referring to the Mnemosyne Project in which case I was not familiar with it, although it seems to be building on Piotr Wozniak, who in turn builds on other researchers going back to Ebbinghaus. In my case I only learned about Wozniak’s work on memory after my own system was complete, but as you will see if you read the Polyglot Project (available via syzygycc channel on YT as an e-book for free, or in paper printed and bound on Amazon.com for $16.95) you will know that my inspiration came from reading second hand about Ebbinghaus, plus my own experience as a linguist, plus the fact that getting back into numbers in order to become an accountant started to make me think along the lines of a numerically controlled learning system for languages. Continue reading “Answer to Question comparing Goldlist and Mnemosyne Methods.”→
Uncle Davey’s “GoldList” methodology for learning to the long-term memory.
1. No reliance on mnemonics and no creation of strange methods to try and “visualise” words in contexts. No “think of a cat in a cot and you’ll remember that Polish for ‘cat’ is ‘cot’ “. – These are the ways by the way that course makers like Daniels gets phenomenal results over two weeks but they never last. Just as well, if they did, they would create a learner who, when he came to fluency, would not be able to say “kot” without thinking about a baby’s bed. Ridiculous. Oszustwo. Don’t let the oszusty deceive you by filling your shoes with the letter O at tea time.
2. No cramming, no learning against the clock. No learning for next week, or for tomorrow, or for a test, or for an exam. No conscious “memorizing”. The long-term memory is not a conscious function. Its samples are taken automatically and subconsciously out of the material which is run through the conscious. What we decide to memorise or forget only relates to s/t memory. You cannot decide to learn to the long term memory any more than you can decide to forget to the long-term memory. Disciplines based on the ‘aha!’ moment of putting two and two together to understand something can use the short term memory and be sure that they will get a long-term effect, but in languages there is very little “aha!”, and so short term memory is of next to no use at all.
You need to think of memory as a similar function to breathing – we breath best for our bodies when we don’t think about it, trying to breath at a special rate or especially deeply. The body regulates itself. We breathe ideally when we keep our mind off the process of breathing. For memory, when we take over the process consciously, like holding breath or breathing at a faster rate (‘hyperventilating’) we shut out for a time the body’s natural function. In other words when we take control of our memory by trying to memorize something there and then, we automatically shut out the possibility of long-term memorising and switch on instead the short-term memory function. And we can’t keep it up for long, and also it results in repetition of items in order to learn them which might be sampled on first reading even, if we just let go and let the God-given faculties of our body work. That’s why cramming methods and deliberate memorisation methods waste so much time for language learners and serious polyglots never use them.
Chomsky once commented on the inability of the child to learn language so well after the age of five or six, whike language seems naturally to be acquired until this time. Chomskyites and other linguists have conjectured on numerous occasions what this faculty is that is lost, and how to measure it. In fact, there is nothing to measure being lost as nothing is in fact lost. What happens is that at that age an ‘extra layer’ comes in as the child learns by then to be self-consciously learning. The child, by school age, is aware that it is “now learning something” and making an effort to remember, not just being put through life’s algorithms passively. And so the short-term memory starts to come more and more into play, blocking the long-term memory function essential to the easy learning of languages. This method is all about putting back the long-term, unconscious memory into the learning process, which it does by taking any effort to rote learn or memorise on demand out of the progress, and focus instead on the mathematical process, the algorithm of the goldlist method, and on the pure enjoyment of writing out new words and just liking the experience of touching those words with our minds in a relaxed way, without pushing them on our memories.
3. Pay attention to study times. Because the l/t memory is not a conscious function, we are not aware of when it tires. This is measured to happen after 20 minutes. At that point, the sampling process will be become less than optimal, and so the learner to the long-term memory is wasting his time, although he or she may feel interested and want to keep going. The rule is, after 20 minutes, take a break of at least 10 minutes in which a completely different sort of thing is done.
It really doesn’t matter whether the student comes back for one more or ten more sessions of twenty minutes in the day, as long as it is not forced and the interest is still there and therefore the motivation. It is not necessary to do the work every day. The more regularly we come to it the less likely it is that the habit of doing it will break, but we do not need to feel enslaved to it. The language learning is a relaxing, fun thing, not a chore.
4. Get comfortable when learning, don’t rush, and use attractive materials. We banish unpleasant experience from the long-term memory and garnish pleasant experience to the long term memory. By all means eat and drink during the 20 minute sessions of learning, but not alcohol, and also avoid music and background noise. After all, when learning to the l/t memory, you don’t have to work that hard. Less is more – less effort to cram means more of what you do learn actually sticks.
The use of Omega 3 and Vitamin D is helpful. The goldlist can easily be taken on walks and done outside, because it is ink and paper and not a screen that whites out in the sunshine. Similarly sleeping well assists the balanced functioning of the memory. If the gold list system doesn’t work for you even if you are sure that you understood the whole rationale and why it should work even though it is counter-intuitive (and by now there are videos all over the internet which back up the fact that this works – you’ll find some of them below) but you are finding a different story, then you need to look at how much Vitamin deficiency you may have, get sunlight, omega-3 and other vitamin and mineral supplements and ensure you are getting enough rest, enough sunlight, fresh air and water. Check your water for fluorination, which is something everyone should do anyway, and use filtration in the home.
5. Use a variety of materials that present the content in a different way. For example, which explain the use of a particular tense or case in different ways. One book should be the “pace setter” and the other courses supplement it. A good choice of pace setter will be a course book which has vocabularies in the back going in both directions and which clearly teach something like 2000 words or more. There should be graded explanations of grammar, not shying away from grammatical terms but giving plenty of explanations and examples. Lengthy passages just on culture are a mere padder in language books – you can learn about any culture without learning the language properly. Photographs likewise, as well as cartoons and pictures. Discount these when choosing a language book in the shop. But give a premium to courses which offer a lead on second book for intermediate level, and advanced.
6. When using the key item in language learning, the vocabulary book, ensure that all the grammar for each word accompanies the word into the book. For instance, you would not just write “to begin” but also (began, begun) to show that it is a strong verb. You would not just write “Jugend” but “die Jugend” or “Jugend f.” Write the word on the right hand side of the page in your own language or the language from which you are learning the target language, and do 25 words at a time. 25 words can be comfortably written out that way in the course of 20 minutes, with time just to read the list through aloud at the end. Always work with units of twenty five head words, which wshould be written at the outset on the top left hand page of a double page A4 hardback writing book. You number the headword list from the beginning onwards so that the 5th such page will have numbers 101-125, etc. You always note the date you added the owrds to the list. You make an overall target of words to cover with no short-term time limit. It will be something like 2,500 words, which gets a learner up to what we used to call O level, and means that they become intermediate and most teach yourself course have roughly this number of words. I’m coming to the timing shortly.
7. You write the words into the vocab book by hand, in a beautiful hard back book, as neatly as you can, without getting stressed over it if it’s not as neat as you would like – so that the learner can take a pride in the look of it and not hurry over it. Write at a pace that is comfortable and natural. Do not do this in a computer, latch onto the natural memory that is linked to handwriting. It is a long-term memory function, which is why your signature always comes out the same, year in, year out, and you don’t even need to think about it consciously. Also, as stated above, you want to take your goldlist with you, and do it in the sun and in the bathroom and all sorts of places – even on aircraft when the fasten seatbelts sign is on and you can’t have the computer on. Also fiddling with diacritic signs means that the computer is not the best place for this – you will work slower and more arduously and less flexibly than you think. I like the computer as much as anybody does but we need to remember its limits. With computers it’s a bit like with the guitarists in a student Christian Union meeting or a youth worship meeting – the best guitar is the one that knows its place and doesn’t chime in when not needed, and the best guitarist in the church is the one who knows when to stop playing and give primacy to the voice. Computers are best when we reserve their use for the bits they do best. You could have your source word list or grammar book open in the computer, for example, no problem with that. Especially when so many good language books and audio files, often out of print in paper versions and replaced with more dumbed-down versions, can be found being file-shared on pdfs.
8. The explanation of the grammatical models and the practising of basic sentence types goes like any other system. The gold list is not a course book it is an approach to the course book. In fact you don’t only need the goldlist method for languages, I’m sure it also helps with history, geography, case law for those studying law, and latin names of things for scientists and doctors. There are many possible uses for goldlisting other than languages, but languages is the place where the dividends it pays are the most clearly evident.
My system differs in how you approach the learning of the vocabulary, which is 80% of learning a language if you consider that the irregularities of grammar can and should be linked as I say to the specific words they refer to.
9. After writing out the vocab set of 25, and reading it through, a process which should take 20 minutes, you break for at least ten. You did not try to learn those 25 words, you just enjoyed writing them out in a nice book with a nice pen slowly and in pleasant comfortable surroundings. you do nothing more with them. If after ten minutes, you would like to go on to the next session, then you turn the page of the vocab book, go to the top left of that double page and do the next 25 numbered words. Then read them out aloud, and then take another break. You are enjoying the language, not cramming it.
10. Don’t do more than about 10 such sessions a day. If you get anywhere near that, make sure they are spaced out with other things going on between them.
11. After no less than 2 weeks and no more than 2 months, go back to the headwords. No less than 2 weeks because the short term memory effect has passed, so anything you still remember is already learned to the long-twrm memory, and you will not deceive yourself. No more than 2 months in order to keep up a certain tempo. This should be a relaxed process, but there should be a limit to stop the laziness that is in human nature from making it ground to a halt. By 2 weeks a really enthusiastic learner may have already put all 2,500 words in their headlist but not have memorised them, resulting in words being repeated by accident, but that is really of no importance in this process.
12. What you then do with the words in the vocab book headlist that are more than 14 days old, but less than 60 days old is that you “distil” them. And this is what I call a “distillation”: Hermann Ebbinghaus’ experiments and the knowledge about the sampling habit of the long-term memory means that some of these words will already have been learned, despite the fact (actually because of the fact, but this is of course counter-intuitive) that all you did was try to enjoy them, not memorise them. In fact the prediction is that up to 30% of the words will be retained. You are looking to distil out the “hard to learn” expressions and obtain a concentrated, whisky-like list of distilled words that are an absolute bugger for you to learn (by which time you will, of course, actally have learned them, because they will have gone through this distilation process ten times with two weeks’ break in between each time). I call that the “gold list”. On the way to the gold list you will use up the first hard back book and a thinner second one.
If you intend learning, say three or four languages to fluency (over 10,000 words) then you’ll need three or four first books per language (with the head list and the first three distillations) I call these the bronze books or the bronze lists. Then you will find that as the 4th time you distil there are only about a quarter of the words left that you started with, you only need one second level book, or “silver” book, as I call it, per language. And likewise when you come to the final distillations in the gold book, you’ll find you only need one gold book for several languages to fluency, as by those higher level distillations there is less than 10% of what was in the first head list in the bronze books.
13. The first “distillation” therefore takes the first 25 words from the top left hand side of your A4 hard-back writing book and you pick from them 70% of the words which you least remembered, and write them again on the right hand side. You can test yourself by covering over the English, but that is not the best way. The best is to say “I know that I must now discard 8 of these 25 words which are on the top of the left page and write 17 of them on the top of the right page. Which do I think I have remembered best? These you ignore, and list 1-17 the least remembered of 1-25 from the headlist. If you cannot bring yourself to drop out a full eight words, then instead in one or two places you can conjoin words to make a phrase, and then learn them together in the system from then on. When writing the words of the first distillation, you take it nice and slow and keep to all the princliples of the writing of the headlist, namely easy, confortable work, not more than 20 minutes work at once, and read the side aloud when you are finished.
14. The act of discarding words from the distillation by the way is the final stimulus to learning them, by the way. Psychologists have discovered that, just as in physics for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every conscious action there is a subconscious reaction. Note that we tend to lose and spend time looking for things which we intended to keep and often put in a special hiding place, but we rarely forget the things that we have thrown away or given away. We don’t usually think we still have them and look around for them. So the very conscious act of discarding tricks the subconscious memory, namely the long-term memory, into being sure it jolly well has got those discarded bits. So if in doubt, discard rather than merge, when distilling.
15. Again, you do nothing with the words of the first distillation for a period of at least two weeks (this is why you always date when you do the distillations also) and not more than two months (same reasons as given above) and then, when that time comes, you go back to the first distillations on the top of the right side page, and make from them the second distillation on the bottom of the right hand page. From those 17 words you will be looking at keeping 12 and discarding or merging 5. Again, first plan and ask yourself “which 5 of these seventeen words did I remember best?” and put a cross next to them, don’t write them out again. It is a game with by our brain, an exploration of how our own memory worked – in some ways a discovery of ourselves and can be very interesting as an exercise in its own right – actually it is a lot less boring than cramming the vocab for a Callan lesson. Some users of the system have found it an interesting voyage of self discovery – why did they find this word so easy to remember and some other word harder? And for each learner it would be different, which means that group learning of languages is intrinsically wasteful of time as each person in the group has their own individual things they remembered automatically. The only common thing is that for each person, if they had allowed their long-term memory to function not just the short-term, it would be in the order of 30%, as Ebbinghaus found.
16. It will come as no surprise when I mention that you put the third distillation on the left side under the head list at the bottom, and that it has the best remembered 9 words of the 12 on the bottom right, and that you need to leave between the two a space of no less than 14 and no more than 60 days.
17. A person can structure this so that they are working on the later parts of their headlist while bringing the early parts already into the second or third distillation, or do the whole of the headlist, then the whole of the first distillation, etc. That depends on the learner, their time available, and the number of words they plan to cover in their language learning. For really big projects, learners will be working on different distillation levels for the earlier and later parts of their vocab stock. As long as all the above rules are kept, this won’t matter at all.
18. The head list and three distillations will cover the full space available on the ‘bronze” excercise book, and so after that you take a fresh book, the silver book, for distillation number 4, etc. Now distillation number 4 will have numbers 1-25 of that distillation on the top left hand corner of the first page but they will be taken from the first 36 of the third distillation which was the toughest to remember of the first 48 of the second distillation which was the toughest to remember of the first 68 of the first distillation which was the toughest to remember of the first 100 of the head list and therefore will be taken from the first four double pages of your old book. The gold list system in full f/x, used here on basic Spanish. This illustration shows a mature vocab book with the head list and the first three distillations finished.
19. So the second book (‘silver’) will only need to be a quarter of the thickness of the first one (‘bronze’) or there will be one silver book while there are three or four bronze books, getting your headlist up past 16,000 words, which is a degree level knowledge, if you want, and will be worked through on the same principles as the first one, but in a quarter of the time. Always taking 20 minutes and taking your time and sticking to the same principles throughout.
20. The second vocab book then takes you to the seventh distillation. That would be enough for most people, but if you want to take it further then you probably don’t need a book for the last bit, as the 2500 words in the headlist have become 150 words identified in this process as the toughest to rmember words. by this time you already know them better than most people anyway, but of out of interest you wanted to continue than in little time engaged you could keep going on and distill this away to nothing. If you get to the seventh distillation you cannot be less than three and a half months from the beginning of learning even if you learned it to the max, as two weeks should be rested in between, or the short-term memory will deceive you.
21. Because you are in for the long haul with the long-term memory system, use the fact that you have numbered the words to motivate yourself. You will know that you are 40% through your target of 2500 words when you have 40 pages of headwords. As the number of repetitions on average that are needed in order to learn the words to the end is 3.3 (some are learned after one but some will only be learned on the tenth reiteration or ‘distillation’) then we know that having 40 percent of one’s head list in place is equivalent to 13 percent of the whole work. Use these numbers and statistics to motivate yourself, and note that even a small learning session can represent a small but irreversible advance on the road to learning the language. The s/t memory method makes huge advances at the beginning which are forgotten and the learner goes backwards, despairs, and drops out of class. The l/t method means that you are only ever going forwards, so the method is a more effective use of time, and much more motivating once the student understands memory in language learning and understands what is going on.
22. Need to activate – language learners using the long term memory will obtain a large passive knowledge of the language. They will quickly move towards being able to read newspapers and novels in the language. But they may have difficulty and be discouraged when placed in a situation where they have to “activate” their knowledge and start talking. They will feel tongue tied, and not be able to find words that, when someone tells them, they know they knew. The activation of a language learned well in my method by means of immersion in the environment of the language takes a maximum of three days. In this time, the person who has spend the hours with his vocab book doing what I suggested above, and doing grammatical exercises, suddenly starts speaking the language with fluency, and the experience of this “activating” can be very exhilirating, actually. The person who thinks that they will learn by immersion and have not put the hours in beforehand will not have this, and will learn to the short-term memory, and forget it all on his return out of the milieu, and not achieve the results of the learner to l/t memory, who is able to reactivate his language every time he goes into the milieu for a few days, for the rest of his life. He appears to be someone who has learned thousands of words in a few days – a claim which not even the boldest short term system would make – but of course he knows them, he is only bringing them “to the front of his mind”, which is a different matter to putting them there in the first place. Some people, witnessing the remarkable effect of immersion on activating the language ability of the long-term memory optimising student, and not giving full credit to the work this student did in his own time beforehand, think that the immersion method is a great way to “learn languages”. So you get people trying to combine Callan and immersion, then doing more Callan and more immersion, and then more of the same, and never getting off the ground with it. One Callan victim I knew had done the callan-immersion mix three years running, and when her boss came from England the first thing she said was “would Meester like the cup off tea?” and we’re talking about an otherwise educated person whose knowledge of her mother tongue is nothing short of eloquent in both speech and in writing.
Any questions? Please contact me, but questions are MOST appreciated from those who have seen the available videos which are all here in the same “goldlist methodogy” section here on www.huliganov.tv and still have queries about things I may have overlooked to talk about so far.
Also your feedback is appreciated. The more people come back and tell me that they had success with the method the more I am motivated to keep sharing it on and developing it. Also please tell your friends about it, and anyone who thinks they cannot learn a foreign language, like that was somehow more difficult than learning his or her own.
Teachers – consider teaching this method to your students so as not to waste their time – they will thank you. Spend lesson time showing how it works and working on their lists with them until they get the hang of it. You will not only have liberated them for the learning of the language you were teaching them, but also put a tool in their hand which they can use throughout life to learn many languages.