Blog Archives

Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill (“Advanced Drill”) with the GoldList Method.

I have mentioned this technique for advanced learners in earlier articles on Huliganov.TV, but today I wanted to make one article explaining who the Literature Drill is for and how exactly to do it, and incorporate it into a full learning programme stretching from complete beginner to near native.

Who should do the Advanced Drill?

In a sense this is about the most advanced drill that can be done, it is already intended for people who have completed all the grammar that is currently used and who know the top 5,000 frequency words – they have probably studied already exhaustively such excellent learners’ material as the “Using French” series from Cambridge University press, the Mot-a-Mot series or some similar, the Essential Grammars and the Frequency Dictionary series that are produced by Routledge. These in turn sit on top of having studied through a goof introductory course or two like the ones provided by Teach Yourself, Colloquial series and Living Language – some swear by Assimil and also there is a very good resource made by my friend Mike Campbell called the Glossika series. Each of these resources can be placed into your Goldlist. Prior to Goldlisting I tend to recommend front-loading audio only (though that’s not necessary with the Glossika method as there is audio for all of it and audio is part of the method intrinsic to Glossika) and so for most learners I would recommend going through whatever is available on Pimsleur before they even start the Goldlist phase and prior to Pimsleur for the few languages in which they are available, I recommend taking the very first steps using Michel Thomas method or Paul Noble for the three languages he does. Since all of these audio-only courses are not about writing this is all pre-goldlist stuff but helps to have an “inner voice” and a knowledge of how to pronounce the language which would be missing if we went straight into goldlisting a language form grammar books which we didn’t know how to pronounce. For classical languages that’s all there really is, I suppose – you can’t do audio only before Goldlisting Wright’s Gothic Grammar.

So I basically just went backwards along a list of things which a learner would be advise to do. If you don’t recognise the steps I just mentioned and can’t say that you know the sort of examples I gave for French in whichever language you are studying then probably the Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill I am going to talk about in a moment isn’t for you. Not yet, anyway. You’ll get there. Carry on doing the kind of steps for now that I’ve outlined in reverse order above.

However, if you are someone who has basically run out of learning material and you don’t know what to do next short of goldlisting a 20,000 word dictionary (which has its merits, too, quite a few people have done it to good effect but is a task not to be undertaken lightly). After all, most learning material is for beginners, there is some for intermediate learners and some for what they call advanced learners (usually the choice gets smaller the further you get) but for anything beyond the most popular languages you are going to encounter a dearth of learning material at the right level and instead you are going to have to “go live” with your languages, reading the same classics of the language which the natives did in school which will strengthen your cultural link with them and greatly enhance and deepen your feel of the language.The easy way in to using literature is graded readers. Read the rest of this entry

Final Thoughts (for now) on the Four Function Diagram


I don’t really like the term “final thoughts” as it sounds as if I am planning to stop thinking afterwards, or maybe stop existing altogether, which I am certainly not considering if I can help it, however I do need, as Victor Berrjod kindly reminds me, to round this off, hence the title.

Let me just get a coffee, this could be a longish article, maybe you would like one as well?

Right, let’s continue. The story so far is that we’ve divided the things or activities that you can do in a language, be it counting, swearing, praying, reading the paper, watching TV, learning the songs of the language or filling in a visa form or a job application into four basic types or functions, as shown in the above table:

1. Reading
2. Writing
3. Listening
4. Speaking

Just about anything you can do in a language bases on one or more of these four functions.

Take a moment if you like to see of you can think of any activity involving language that is an exception, and by all means tell me in the comments. Personally I could not think of any exceptions.

We’ve also considered that for one pair of these functions, listening and reading, the learner is on the receiving end of polished language and therefore is able to use his or her passive knowledge to engage in the function and its related activities. Listening is more challenging than reading because the user has less ability to control the speed, although there are instruments available based on developing listening skills where you can control the pace of listening. We talked about audio courses where you have your pause button, and another good one is Audible where you can buy audiobooks in other languages and set a slower narrator speed, or a higher one in order to develop ‘listening fluency’. However, in the main, for the passive pair as long as a word is known passively the learner will not be put off his or her stride by reading or hearing it as they will be able to recall its meaning when it is given in the language much easier than when he or she needs to generate the expression and knows it passively, but is not in an active state, and the mind goes blank.

Conversely, we’ve recognised that the other pair of functions, speaking and writing, are ones in which we the learner are called upon to generate the learned language and not just fluently recognise meaning and stay with the flow of the presented foreign language material. This represents an additional challenge but one essential to get to grips with sooner or later if you want to SPEAK the language. We are always hearing the term “what languages do you speak?” rather than which can you read, listen to with understanding or even write in. Now more than ever nobody seem to be all that impressed by the ability to write in a foreign language – unless they actually watch you forming calligraphic kanjis with your hand – because things like Google Translate are available. And even though in the main the Google Translate users do give themselves away pretty quickly, seeing that the quality of that service is not yet all one might be led to expect, nevertheless sometimes quite convincing written language comes at you over the internet from people who don’t really know the language in question at all. They are having fun, but it also serves to undermine the value placed by the online community on written foreign language skills and so now, more than ever, the gold standard is really what you can speak. Read the rest of this entry

Xhosas and Effects (South Africa Series 3/10)

Playout date: 12 November 2006
Camera: Fuji Finepix
Post Production: Windows Movie Maker – slight use
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Other people featured: Waitress at Sheraton
Genre: Linguistic
Music used: “This could be heaven for everyone” by Queen – Karaoke version
Languages used: English and Xhosa
Animals featured: None

A very nice lady helps me to get an idea of what the click consonants of Xhosa sound like.
This video managed to get a share of silly comments from people who don’t really get it. Never mind. Tidak apa apa.

A message about homophobes

Playout date: 14 October 2006
Camera: Logitech Webcam
Post Production: Windows Movie Maker – slight use
Location: Home
Other people featured: None
Genre: Spoof
Music used: Promise Me” by Beverly Craven – Karaoke
Languages used: Geordie English
Animals featured: None

Polish-origin Geordie Peter Paczek (pronounced Poncheck) returns to give us a quick lesson for foreigners learning English.

One of the pitfalls for learners of English is the problem of homophobes in English, Peter says. That’s words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Here is a guide to some of them.

We finish up with a rendition of Beverly Craven’s lovely song “Promise Me”. Don’t miss the comments to this one by clicking through to the YouTube original via the video above – there are some classical ones among the comments to this one!

Replies to recent questions about the Goldlist Method.


Voronezh. If you're looking for (<3) trouble, you've come to the right place...

Today I’ll be answering to great letters with questions in. I haven’t been able to answer all questions sent in, but these were both very good questions and admittedly in these cases you wouldn’t get to the answers from things I’ve said before now, which shows that both these guys have been paying attention, and they’ve given me a chance to add something new today that Goldlist Method users won’t necessarily have seen before and will be of potential use to quite a lot of people. If you agree, please be sure and give your 5 stars.

The following great comment appeared today from user Mistervilleneuve, who identifies himself as Jonathan, and I am motivated to answer it immediately, even though I’m painfully aware that another person also has asked for an answer – and has been waiting for ages. Hopefully I’ll do them both in this article, and my apologies to the second, who has had to have so much patience.

First Jonathan’s comment:

Dear David,

I teach English as a second language in the schools of the province of Quebec, Canada and I am also a passionate of languages. My first language is Quebecois French. I taught myself German and Russian to intermediate level and have plans to learn more.

I try to make my students as autonomous as possible, for instance instead of giving them words to learn I suggest them to write down new words they encounter on sticky yellow notes (Post-Its) and put them in view on their desk, and remove them only when they feel they know them by heart. I know that recopying words can have virtues if done right and I had a breakthrough in my mind when I discovered your Gold List videos on YOUTUBE. Your method is quite frankly the missing link I had been looking for for a long time. It ties together and gives the structure I needed to many ideas I already had about language learning. In fact, the GoldList method will now be integrated in my teaching.

I would like to better understand how exactly the self-testing should be done. I find that I am able to understand the words I want to learn (L2 to L1) but I have more difficulty to translate from my mother tongue to the language I want to learn (L1 to L2). This “one-way translation ability” has puzzled and eluded my problem-solving skills for a long time. My students also tell me that although they can understand English, when it comes the time to “produce”, they have trouble to find their words. They know they know them, but can’t recall them. And I am not any better, I can translate over a thousand Russian words, but give me the list in French or English and I am shamely not able to translate them all back in Russian.

Also, I have begun to learn Hungarian and I am developping a multiple-language learning method I like to call “Stepstones”. In essence, it is about using L2 to learn L3, then L3 to learn L4, etc. addition to everything else I use, I have a Gold List notebook of 360 pages, divided in 3 sections. The first section is the lists English–>Russian. The second section, the lists Russian–>German. The third section, the lists German–>Hungarian. I would be glad to have your educated opinion on learning more than one language at once. That being said, if by definition, a good method gives results and a better method gives the same results with less time and energy spent, I think you will not disapprove that I adapt your method to my own purposes.

I look foward to read your response, here or through email.

By the way, last Winter I spent 3 months in Voronezh to visit a Russian friend and if they say that Kiev is the city of beautiful women, Voronezh must be in very close second place :)

yours truly,


I’m delighted to see this reaction from someone who lives by language teaching to the Goldlist system. I have found that the number of language teachers among the small minority who don’t like the Method is quite high, and in a sense that is not surprising, as the method puts the student back in charge and not the teacher, in fact it reduces the role of teacher to coach. That is not a bad thing, we still need coaches, and sports people who achieve a lot in their fields do so because their coaches motivate them to keep going themselves, they don’t run the race for the runner. The runner doesn’t take a piggyback on the coach to get around the track, or if he did he would never become a top class athlete, but the way some language teachers conduct their lessons you will see quite the opposite.

I was reading James Heisig‘s introductions to his Remembering the Kanji books today. Not only are the Remembering the kanji books absolutely first rate as language tools (although I have done a friendly micky take in my article “Professor Huliganov’s Remembering the Romaji”, that doesn’t mean I don’t rate Heisig because I do) but also he is clearly another teacher who wants to put the student in the driving seat. And so are you, as is clear from your letters.

In fact, I was thinking of actually having Goldlist Method certification for language teachers who fulfill the following criteria:

1. They show an understanding of the Method
2. They undertake to attribute the Method to me and to make it available to all their students at no extra cost, or if they do find that it increases their revenues they should promise to share 10% of their increase with Multiple Sclerosis or Autism charities, or Red Cross disaster relief, or similar, marking their donation from Goldlist Method. The materials themselves should not be sold or attributed to anyone else
3. They undertake to enable the maximum independence to students, less teaching them the given language than teaching them to teach themselves language.
4. The qualification will be earned when twelve students of the teacher are willing to give a reference stating that the teacher taught them the method.
5. I will announce where the register will be kept, but it will enable the people who have qualified to be GoldList Method Accredited.

At the moment this is just an idea. I just think it will help along those language teachers who do the honorable thing by their students the way you do. I won’t be making any money from the initiative, but it will be a way of furthering what I think is best practice among language teachers.

Now to your very understandable question about self testing, and when to consider a word as “learned”.

I would suggest the following “rule” – a word is learned when the following things are true about it:

1. When you see the word in the target language, you know its meaning(s) – (as in all the meanings you are supposed to have learned so far, if there is a number of meanings – don’t worry if your study order doesn’t try and foresee all the possible meanings of a word – that’s not necessary and will only happen for those who are studying from a dictionary as a source, which in itself has positive and negative sides).
2. When someone says that word to you, you could write it down spelling it properly
3. From seeing it written down, you’d know how to pronounce it
4. You know all the unusual grammar exceptions applying just to that word, at least those covered in your study approach so far. So if you have, for instance, done English strong verbs as a general grammatical idea, you won’t consider “to tread” as learned until you can say “tread, trod, trodden” – but “to step” is learned as soon as you can say to yourself ‘that’s a weak verb’ when you use it.

If you know the word well enough to pass these 4 criteria, then you should be happy to distil it out.

In any event, you can always make two passes, firstly covering the target language side (that’s usually the left side) and see if you can get to the word from your learning language (I use that terminology as often it is good to use as the learning language for Goldlist another language than your own, it can serve as a great checklist for that language which was studied earlier. For instance, I use German – the Langenscheidt Czech-German pocket dictionary to be precise – for Czech, and this has become a great “Czech list” if you’ll pardon the pun, for the occasional German word which it turns out I still don’t know even after having achieved quite some fluency in German, and oll of this is pretty much like your “stepping stones” approach, which is excellent, especially if you need to learn languages that are related to each other) and then if the first pass doesn’t already render enough words for the distillation the second pass can be from target language to learning language, using the above criteria. (It’s a good idea to have them in mind for the first pass too, by the way) and then as a final option if passes one and two don’t give you enough to distil, you can combine woords in a number of ways. Some combination techniques will be included in the forthcoming book, but one thing I’ll give here as a plural is combining words to make fictional titles for notional novels, poems or other art works.

Between these two approaches you should be able to get to the point where the next distillation is going to be something like 60-75% of the preceding list. It doesn’t need to be exact and the less one distils on a given distillation, often it is easier to distil a larger proportion on the next distillation.

When I’m doing big projects on Goldlist Method, I usually plan the distillation and leave my “lumberjack marks” as it were, on the words to be left out or combined a few days before – or sometimes even weeks before – I actually come to do it. This gives an extra memory run. I wouldn’t even do the lumberjack marking run though until at least two weeks have elapsed since I made the list I’m working on. That’s the key secret of the goldlist, leaving that two weeks clearance each time so as not to be led astray by the flatterings of the short-term memory.

On the other matter you mentioned, I certainly agree about Voronezh. I fell in love there but it didn’t do me a whole lot of good. The activities of the then Soviet authorities didn’t help. If you’ve read my account at the end of the Polyglot Project by Claude Cartaginese, you’ll know something about that. You can find it in the boxfile on my LinkedIn profile.

Nice letter.

Now to the second letter which I have shockingly neglected and have to put that right with an apology:

Youtube Channelowner “Stealthanugrah” wrote the following way back in May:

 Hey brother,

I was reading in the Polyglot project your whole crazy testimony, that is one crazy life. I am really blessed to know God got a hold of your life.

Anyways to the question, how do you suggest one memorize music for longterm usage? Musicians tend to forget music quite easily after a few months etc, I’m just curious to see how you would do it.

Here’s another, when gold listing, is it ok to use a language you are intermediate in to learn another one? I am conversant in French and I am learning Spanish, is it alright to be defining Spanish words with French definitions you don’t know, to kill two birds with one stone so to speak? I think that might’ve been a problem.

One more question, how do you feel about how churches memorize songs? You know how at church we just sing them from top to bottom and then it just comes out, but when we do that, these songs tend to lose the meaning in the words they hold (at least for me), how do you suggest we memorize songs, not to mention Bible verses. Should we goldlist Bible verses, because the word of God is something quite important no? If we gold list how much should we goldlist, 25 words? Someone told me instead of reading out all the words, why not shorten the verses so that you write only the first letter of each, (which really works but for short term I’m afraid).

Sorry for making this a bit long, I’m just really curious to see your perspective on all this, and I hope that you’ll answer this on your next blog post.

When we talk about the long-term memory of music, Brother, I think that in the main we remember the way tunes go. If we become very proficient at our instruments, we should be able to play from memory as we can sing from memory. In the main most people haven’t got such big problems singing songs from the long-term memory as they do when playing on a guitar or keyboard. If you are really in command of your instrument and of musical theory that should be the best way of ensuring that long-term memory works, and then the other thing would be to play them a little and often, for pleasure and not to try to learn them or cram them up for a concert. You will always need a bit of last minute practice just to “activate” to concert level, but as with language three days should be optimal for that, if you knew the piece well before.

Expecting always to be able to play without errors at the drop of a hat is a wrong expectation like being able to spark off fluently in a language someone hasn’t spoken for months. The long term memory is great as so many things fit in it, it seems fit to last us for a thousand years of memories, not just a hundred, but we have to accept that it’s neither natural nor necessary for everything in their to be active at once. The three day rule is part of the God given design of our minds, to activate something, to effectively bring about a change in our state of mind. It also reflects the way our Lord was three days as Jonah in the belly of the great fish. Our bodies are full of natural reminders of Biblical truths.

Your second question I think I answered above  when talking to Jonathan – it’s a very good thing to use one language to learn another, and if the new language is related closely to a language you learned before then it’s more than a good thing, it is the best way to avoid interference and the deleterious effect of the new language on the old, as it will highlight for you careful attention the differences between the languages. You can use internet bookstores to get any number of books that speakers of your older studied language would use to learn the new one.

Now onto the use of Goldlist for spiritual purposes. I would contend that Churches, in simply singing the songs or hymns on a regular basis as well as in NOT trying to force people to learn them, but by rehearsing them out on a regular basis in a stress free way, actually give people the best chance of long-term memorizing them. If people want to learn a favoured hymn they can use the Goldlist method to good effect – indeed they could to learn a secular poem if they wanted to, but personally I’d advise any minister against imposing either the method or a tempo for it from the pulpit. If ever the day came where I learned that someone was imposing goldlist on someone else as a religious service, I would be deeply saddened by it.

When trying to learn any favorite hymn, you’ll find that most verses you know, it is a question of remembering the least favorite verses and also the seques to new ideas. In  a rhyming couplet, I wouldn’t have to say too many syllables of a known hymn before someone who had sung it on numerous occasions could finish the couplet, but he or she might then have difficulty remembeing the bit that comes next.

The above also applies to Scripture. Memorising scripture gives the Christian a source of great strength and guidance, especially in the fight against sin. David says “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee”, and Dwight L. Moody said “either the Bible will keep me from my sin or my sin will keep me from the Bible”. The problem is really to decide which places to start. I personally don’t like to prefer any part of the Bible above another as God can use even the geneologies and the Levitical laws to speak to people’s hearts, and there is nothing that is not relevant to study, even things which we no longer strive to adhere to in the Age of Grace.

Writing out a thousand page book into the goldlist method and distilling it would be a very long process – far longer than learning languages, and there may well be easier ways to learn Scripture. You could record yourself reading it – maybe put up on YT to help others to, and then listen to it back. Or listen to someone else reading it, but on a regular basis. I’d be inclined to use Goldlist for the memorising of passages you especially want to know well, like the “Romans Road” verses for evangelism, some key psalms, or some of the more rich passages of where Christ is speaking such as the Sermon on the Mount, the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, or some of the beautiful doxology and sermons and passages from the letters of Paul, the peon to faith in Hebrews, the hard parts of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation that repay the most meticulous study. I would also suggest it for any parts where God has blessed you and you decided to memorise the passage but find it elusive.

You can also use it for study around the Bible, to learn names of protagonists, places, and the dates that things happened.

Don’t make a work out of it, though. It’s purpose should be to actually put LESS work into the memorising of things you were wanting to memorise anyway. And may God add His blessing to your study of His Word.

Incidentally, August 2011 starts tomorrow and I am going to make that a Blitz Month – with record numbers of postings – mainly of the older YouTube material that I was planning to have up here by now but time was not available. I hope that subscribers with enjoy this “Summer Special” – each of the films will be commented with a bit of extra information I didn’t put onto YouTube, as well as feature some of the most interesting comments received from viewers so far.

True to Type?

Photo of keyboard and pen

The pen is mightier than the board

Over on YouTube this morning, a viewer called Fightingnate commented on the  second Goldlist film  with the following very good question:

How do you not think you use muscle memory for typing on a keyboard? how do you think some people can type 100 wpm? Why do you think there are typing lessons and programs? Typing (if you type correctly and efficiently) requires just as much memory as writing.

I knew immediately that the answer to this question was going to go well beyond 500 letters (more than 500 words, for that matter) so I left there a request to look the answer up here and I hope the asker and some others who are interested will read it here, and also commenting at length of desired is easier here, as long as you have a wordpress account, or have something like facebook or one of the other methods for logging in here.

I am ready to admit that there are memory functions associated with typing. It’s a perfectly valid observation that there are lessons and programs to learn typing which certainly require the use of memory, including long-term memory and the long-term memory will certainly be involved in learning to type.

Whether it “requires just as much memory as writing” as you claim I would suggest is an unfounded statement. It may be true or it may not be, I am uncertain that it can even be measured reliably. However what I would say is that even if typing is more demanding on the memory than stylus writing is, that still wouldn’t make it optimal for language learning to the long-term memory.

In a sense you might take as an analogy that using GPS will still engage your memory, but working things out with an old fashioned map may be a more natural way of remembering how to get to a place. Typing numbers into a calculator may help you churn numbers out faster at the cashier’s equivalent of the secretary’s standard of 100 wpm, but whether it really helps you retain the parts of maths that need to be rote learned as well as paper and pencil calculations do, well, I doubt it.

Learning to the long-term memory is, I believe, done best when we are not giving to our brains signals that we are making efforts to learn, and not making our brains feel as if they are working. A more relaxed way of writing is preferable. Maybe for Generation Y-ers and Z-ers you feel more relaxed writing in typing than in stylus writing, but that is a bit unnatural. The way of writing with a stylus developed thousands of years ago, if you include knives and brushes as well as pens and pencils in that class of implements, and it was developed in a sense “naturally” in a form basically dictated by the biological shape of the human hand as well as the workings of the human brain. The keyboard layout on the other hand is an attempt to impose a certain predictated logic onto a flat surface and in a sense we have to use an extra layer of effort and memory to remember where, in two dimensional space, a letter is. In a sense the typist can remember the shape of the word and will find that enduring typoes bear witness to the fact that memory – if at times erroneous memory – is involved in that process. But you are only feeling keys. You are not feeling a word being crafted by your hand against the paper. There is no big difference between the feel of one key and another.

The keyboard restricts the movement of your body to one place, while in stylus writing you are moving your hand forward (even in right to left or other systems that still counts as forward) across the sheet. You can also move your body in relation to the writing more easily. You can hold the book at more different angles and in different positions. You can grasp the pen and book from a standing start or take it with you anywhere far more easily than the computer. Even the tiny computers which we now call telephones bear testimony in their new stylus-imitating input methods that the keyboard is not the most relaxed or efficient way of doing things.

Even when the speed typist sits and types her 100 wpm, or his in order not to be sexist, and shows up a certain advantage keyboard writing can have over stylus writing at high speeds, can the substance of what is being typed be remembered just as well as with the typist or handwriter going at much lower speeds? I venture to suggest not. The long-term memory is a subconscious sampler – that’s a key tenet of the Goldlist method and if it were not so then the whole system wouldn’t work. But what determines the sampling rate? Is it the same rate at high speeds or is it a sample of so many passes per second regardless of the amount of material? We don’t know for sure, but I believe that the way perception works will make it a bit of both. You certainly remember more details of a street when you walk down it than when you drive down it, but the ratio of details remembered to time spent could well be lower on the walk, as at slow pass speeds some items will be sampled more than once.

Pen writing doesn’t fade like a screen when you work on it in the sun. You don’t need electricity and you can carry the book with far less weight on a walk. Writing languages in it which are full of diacritics, or writing in Japanese or other character-based languages will be for more English-speaking learners far easier to do. And most of all it will be personal. Your handwriting is special because it is your personal body language in paper form. For literacy, handwriting something rather than typing it is the equivalent to saying something with your own voice instead of letting off a recording of somone else saying it, and just listening. The printed page may be all your words but your body language has not melded with the language as it does with the handwritten page. You do not become one with it. And that is why the specific memory aid that comes with that melding and crafting of the written words in writing as nice as you can make it and done with a sense of the pleasure derived from such craftsmanship, is not really delivered by the process of typing.

Most of us do a lot of typing, sone of us are even threatened with Repetitive Stress Injury from the amount we do, and also we have fewer and fewer occasions to cultuivate the hand and as a result when we need nice handwriting it evades us. The insistence on having Goldlist Method a handwritten method is not anti-machine – it simply reminds us that there is an alternative to the machine and that the computer is not the only tool when it comes to language learning – even a language learning method that bases on a quite mathematical algorithm.

Answer to Question comparing Goldlist and Mnemosyne Methods.

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

Not hard to see where the two weeks of short-term memory fits in with Ebbinghaus' ideas!

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.

Let’s kick off with this one from YouTube channel WellConditionedChimp

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 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. Read the rest of this entry

Abdul’s question on Goldlist scheduling

Arabic as official language

Where does Arabic get spoken as a first or official language?

As part of the discussion in one of the pages here I got into a discussion with how one reader, Abdul, can tailor the goldlist to his study of Arabic. The nesting in the meantime has become so narrow that I need to continue with a fresh article. Have a look under the page “About HTV” to see the earlier part of the conversation, I’m only quoting the latest part.


Hi Victor, That explanation has really helped me out and I think I now know what I need to do. Based on your explanation I attempted to create a basic plan for learning over the next few months, which I really would like for you to see. The one query I had at this stage was ‘overlap’. For example, in my plan I’ve planned to do 4 headlists a day, 7 days a week, 28 headlists a week. Over the course of 4 weeks, this gives 112 headlists and consequently 2800 words. Do I do ALL the headlists first (112) and then move on to D1 – do ALL D1, then D2 and ALL D2, etc etc all the way to D7. That is, do I leave 4 week gaps for all movements across distillations? Or do I move to D1 after two weeks, in which case D1 distillation of headlist 1 will coincide with the beginning of headlist 57 (28 headlists per month, beginning of 3rd week), and this overlap will keep on continuing with D1 distillation of week 3 coinciding with beginning of D2 distillation? I know that sounds complex and I’d really like to send you my excel plan sheet if that’s confused you. I just want to know if its ok to be doing distillations and headlists on one day etc? Many thanks, Abdul

Abdul, you’re welcome to send me the excel file on , however maybe it isn’t needed, as we can try to use the notation to set you a programme.

If I planned to do 2800 words, I would do the following bit of mathematics at the outset.

2800 words, each goldlisted off equates to an average of 3 iterations per word, so it is a task of covering 2800*3 ie 8,400 words, spread over the 8 levels of distillation including the headlist. At a rate of 28 sessions a week, which is, including the scheduled ten minute breaks a 14 hour a week job, you are able to headlist and distill the words you have in your target, namely 2800, in precisely 336 sessions (8400/25) and by the same token you would know all these words if you keep up the work flow without flagging in the course of 12 weeks. However, you know that it is in fact not possible to keep to the standards of delay and still do everything in 12 weeks because you have two weeks minimum standby time for each one, and hence the bare minimum to take it to 7 distillations would be 14 weeks.

I suggest we therefore take the following order:

Action 1 = H1-H2100 which takes three weeks of your time at the work rate
Action 2 = D1 1 to say 1500 which distils H1 – 2100 and takes a little over two weeks so hopefully you don’t run within two weeks of the headlist. If you do, just go back and add H2100-2300 or something to keep the flow right.
Action 3 do the rest of H, that is take H to the target of 2800. This will take you another week. We are into week six at the moment.
Action 4, and 5 So we’re in week seven and you’re turning the D1 words from D1 1-1500 to D2 say 1-1100, which will take you a little over a week, when you get to the end you are still nicely timed for turning H2101-2800 to D1 1501-2000 or however you manage it depending on your material and your confidence.
Action 6 If it were me I’d now be going back to H and adding more words beyond 2800, but if that was the target, then that was the target, so you’re left with nothing to do at H if you want to adhere to the target. If you are now far enough on in time (two weeks) to take the first words of D2 and turn them to D3, then you can do so, and you’ll follow that by doing the second batch of words which initially were H2101-2800 and take them to D2 level. But the process of taking 2100 headwords to D3 and 700 headwords to D2 from the respective preceding distillations is only about 5 or 6 days work at the work rate you gave, so now you have to wait unless you want to add more at H.

And so you continue, until the target is done.

Please let me know if I should elucidaye any part more clearly.

Excellent question, by the way, for which I thank you, and which you every pleasure and success with your study.


Here it is the start of a new series of posts on this blog, and they’re gonna get their own category.

I also thought of another new series today – but I’ll start it in the new year, God willing.

In the meantime, the ICMTSU series is exactly what it says it is, and this piece I found in the Telegraph this weekend is a prime example of what I mean.

When I saw this I was moments away from sending it to the Private Eye, but I realised on time I have a perfectly good publication myself, if with a smaller readership for the time being, namely this blog, and so here it is!



Just a Few Days Away… (via SYZYGY ON LANGUAGES)

Hello All, The release date for the Polyglot Project is less than 10 days away. Officially, it’s November 15, 2010, but it may be sooner! A link to the complete, free PDF of the book will be posted here and on my YouTube Channel (syzygycc). It contains over 500 pages of the best language learning techniques, as explained by successful YouTube Polyglots and language learners. If you want to learn how to successfully learn a language or two (or ten … Read More


The concentrated vs the disconcentrated polyglot

Map showing the distribution of language famil...

Supertribal linguations in geographic space

I posted this on here today, when it seemed a fruitless discussion on what should be a fun activity, a play with words, was turning into the next Punic War, if you’ll pardon the Pun.

There’s more than one way to be a polyglot. Let’s allow the not-strictly-true-but-true-enough assumption that the average word in any linguist‘s portfolio takes the same time to learn, and let’s give a value of one minute to that.

Now, say one polyglot has learned 60,000 words taking 60,000 minutes of his life but these are divided over 60 languages. This Polylot speaks 60 languages with one thousand words in each language.

Another has learned 60,000 words taking 60,000 minutes of his life, but these words are concentrated into 4 languages. He speaks 4 languages with 15,000 words in each language.


1. Which of these two polyglots has learned more language?

2. Which is the greater linguist and polyglot?

3. Who has worked harder?

4. Who has the greater achievement?

5. Who has the more impressive achievement?

6. Who gets more utility from his work?

Anyone who can answer these questions, kindly go ahead.
Because I can’t.

Do elephants need the Goldlist method?

The eye of an asian elephant at Elephant Natur...

The eye of one who doesn't forget in a hurry...

I’ve put down a goldlist for years and picked it back up and continued. The long term memory is the long term memory. Humans and elephants have it in spades. The difference is that we can turn ours off by switching on the short-term memory in the process of conscious cramming or deliberate rote learning. Elephants probably cannot do that – an elephant never forgets. Their sample rate is higher as their brain is 7% Hippocampus and not just 5% like ours. They have a language which we have a lot of difficulty in understanding as it is in infrasound, travels 10 km and they use they feet and trunks as well as their huge ears to pick up the auditory signals. We need machines to hear any of this, and then we don’t really experience it but see it as vibrations on a screen. They on the other hand can eavesdrop on human speech and they take a particular interest when their keepers describe what plans they have to do with them.

If elephants were formal linguists and polyglots then they probably wouldn’t need something like an SRS or a goldlist method, as they are very natural in their use of their facilities. But since we humans do very silly things with our minds in aid of learning, under the influence of schoolteachers utterly uneducated in how the brain actually works and using a “one size fits all” method for learning, we do need something that can get our minds working more optimally again while approaching the learning of other languages. And that’s what this method and some other methods try to offer.

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