Thank you for your interest in the Goldlist Method! I see that your article contains a lot of misconceptions about it, so that even though your understanding of memory is accurate, you reach the wrong conclusion in the end. I’ll try to clear things up for you, since I have been using the GLM for many years and to great effect.
“But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?”
This is a rhetorical question, but I will answer it anyway. You know it’s effective when it does what it is designed to do. And the GLM does do what it is designed to. And it is based on real science, namely on the forgetting curve. The two weeks are the core of the method; everything else is more or less optional.
“First of all, here is a great video which sums up what this method is all about.”
Christopher Huff’s video is indeed great, but it is intended as a tl;dr version of the full explanation, so it is good that you have included a link to a fuller explanation. However, it would have been even better if you had also included the link to David’s newly refined explanation so that readers could get it straight from the horse’s mouth. The new explanation seeks to clear up common misunderstandings that have become apparent and that he was not (and couldn’t have been) aware of when he first posted it.
“The author of the method maintains that:
1. The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.”
This is only partly true. It isn’t the method itself that gives you a 30% retention rate. Rather, the method is based on the observation that, on average, people remember around 30% of the words after two weeks. This is illustrated by Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve later in the article, so I will get back to this.
“2. It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.”
A better way to put it is that it is claimed that conscious memorization is discouraged because it is less effective for long-term retention (but indeed better for short-term retention). David does speak in terms of switching on and off memory functions, but he is not a memory scholar, so his hypotheses are not written in the standard academic terminology.
“1. It doesn’t circumvent short-term memory
One of the big claims of this method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.”
Well, around 30% of it, and the method is based on the retention rate, not the other way around.
“In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.”
That’s right, but remember that what David calls ‘short-term memory’ is not the same as ‘working memory’. In GLM terms, the long-term memory is everything you still remember after two weeks, and anything you didn’t remember for two weeks is considered to have been stored in the short-term memory. In standard academic terminology, both of these would be considered ‘long-term memory’.
“Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.
Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.
Contrary to what the creator of this method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.”
In practical terms, it doesn’t really make much of a difference whether a memory is gone or you are unable to access it. The result is the same: you have forgotten it.
“You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.”
Indeed. This is what is called ‘activation’ in GLM terms.
“What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :
– means nothing to you
– has no relevance to your life
– has no emotional load and meaning for you
On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge which is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.”
Exactly. So when the words (or whatever else you want to remember) aren’t random, but part of a language you want to learn, we would expect this number to be somewhat higher. And it does indeed seem to be around 30% on average.
“What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.
Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:
– frequency of occurrence
– prior vocabulary knowledge
So is there anything magical about the method and the number “30”?
Nope. It follows very precisely the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.”
That’s right. And this is what the GLM is based on.
“The Gold List Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals.”
That’s right, and for good reason. Normal spaced repetition systems try to catch words and bring them back as soon as you forget them, but by doing so, you end up reviewing a lot of words that you already know. In fact, based on the forgetting curve you probably know about 30% of the material essentially for life after having looked at it only once, and yet you will spend valuable study time reviewing it.
In the GLM system, you instead wait until you’ve forgotten all or almost all of what you won’t remember for life, and only then do your review. After two weeks, the forgetting curve is almost completely flat, so that is a good cut-off point.
“Even though the Gold List Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation.”
I’m sorry, what? Each distillation lessens it, if anything, because there are fewer lines for each distillation.
“Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.”
The vast majority of distillations require only one book, and it does not have to be A4. Only the initial headlist and each transfer into a new book require more than one book.
“However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in.”
No, it doesn’t mean that in the way you take it to mean. With any method you have to decide which words you are going to learn, e.g. all the words in your textbook, all the words of a certain frequency, etc. These words are the ones you want to learn, or in other words, the ones you are interested in learning.
“Good learning methods should work for any kind of vocabulary.s
And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.”
Yeah, like the GLM. 🙂
Schedule for 24 December 2017
Playout date: 22 May 2007
One of the most important parts of my message on this site and on the YouTube channel, the film which took the GLM public. This is part two of a two parter, so as to keep within the recommendation not to work for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Read the rest of this entry
Playout date: 22 May 2007
One of the most important parts of my message on this site and on the YouTube channel, the film which took the GLM public. This is part one of a two parter, so as to keep within the recommendation not to work for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Read the rest of this entry
Greetings gentle readers after a long lapse in posting.
I was recently contacted in e-mail by a Christian polyglot some of my readers will know personally from Gatherings, Brother Fiel Sahir, who wrote:
Hi David! I did some googling but maybe I messed up and I haven’t found where you’ve discussed this, but have you further developed the GLM for scripture memorization? I know for a fact that you were goldlisting sentences when I met you, but what I recall was you used those sentences to help you remember a focus word rather than the sentence itself. Just something interesting, because a friend of mine has encouraged me to begin memorizing scripture. A spiritual discipline that is definitely underated and under practiced in my opinion, first and foremost by myself. Anyways, I look forward to your response, but a blogpost would be more beneficial to the world, so I await that as well! Thanks David. I hope to see you around soon!
In response to this, I wrote the following:
Dear Br. Fiel,
Anything which is to be learned to the Long Term Memory can best be learned using GLM. My suggestion would be to select a passage which you would like to be able to repeat verbatim, at any time later in you life, and place it into the headlist with let us say no more than five words per line.
- The Lord is my shepherd
- I shall not want. He
- Maketh me to lie down in
- Green pastures, he leadeth me
- Beside the quiet waters. He
- Restoreth my soul…
When you have left this two weeks as with any other GoldList project, if it is a passage you already substantially knew, but are trying to get word perfect I would try to write it on D1 position as accurately as possible, but in pencil, covering the original over on the left side. Here you can write maybe seven words at a time. Then note any mistakes you made, in the little words, bits missed out altogether, punctuation, if that’s something you want to get right too, verse numbers (which I didn’t include in the example, but if you ant to be able to remember them, then pay attention to that) and highlight those errors with a red pen or highlighter. Your 25 lines will now anyway be 17 lines just by dint of writing 7 words instead of 5 at D1.
Obviously that’s not a strategy that can continue indefinitely, so at D2 you will take a slightly different approach. You will probably not try to write out the whole from memory at D2, but instead write out the parts where you had had a problem before. The bits where you had no problem, just write the first letter of each word. Write tightly, allowing as many words per line as is comfortable.
Remember you are leaving at least two weeks again between D1 and D2, and the same when you turn D2 to D3, but here you can simply leave out and not even write the first letter of words if you know that you remember confidently the whole sentence. In order to remember the flow of idea in a longer passage, consider writing the first and last words in each clause, and maybe with abbreviations.
- The Lord..want, he maketh..gpast,he leadeth beside tqw. Restoreth.
That may well be where you are by D3 or D4, with 6 lines now looking like a single line.
And you can carry on that way. So, please let me know how you get on. And since you asked for a blogpost, I will base one on your query and my answer. Can I use your name and text?
To which Fiel responded that I could. And thanks to his query and willingness to let me share, we have here something which I hope will encourage many of you to try a project of GLM for long term memorization of a holy text.
Even if you are not Bible believing, you can probably try it on the Qur’aan or on some poetry you want to rote learn for life. I recommend Scripture though. It is what David said needed to be “hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee”, and if this tool can help towards the hiding of Divine words in the heart, I don’t know what higher thing can be said of the GoldList Method.
One commentator on Chris Huff’s Video states “I’m not sure that Davey’s method does reflect Ebbinghaus, but it seems to work anyway”. True or False?
True. It is only a working approximation to Ebbinghaus. Supermemo and Anki can get on his curve much closer, but the problem is in order to work they repeat material you really already know and this method enables you to skip writing that again, thus focusing only on the unlearned material. In order to achieve that economy, I have a working approximation to the curve, which works on reiteration of unlearned material. Like scissors cutting the hair too long but then cutting again until you get what you want versus electric shears with a set depth which might not be precisely the depth you wanted and only work if a short cut is desired, and the shears won’t work at all unless you have electricity.
It’s harder to see the curve that it is with the Supermemo algorithm, but by the application of the 14 days with iteration, you do cover the same thing, only with less work and less risk of switching on more short-term memory.
In addition to that I have a scientifically untested hypothesis which is divergent from Ebbinghaus, namely that short-term memory and long-term memory are distinct functions, the one happening when we remember consciously and the other when we allow it to function like breathing when we forget about it. This idea is my own conclusion from non-scientific observation of my own case and the case of users.
The number of contented users of GLM who keep going with it into repeated projects year on year, some of whom have done as many if not more than I have and probably will end up doing much more, proves that the method certainly works, it works probably regardless of people’s views about their own learning type as long as they at least enjoy the process of writing.
In short you’ve made a fair comment about the relation of Ebbinghaus. I want to acknowledge the input of what I learned from Ebbinghaus, but you correctly note it doesn’t stop there.
Not enough real science has been done with memory and if anyone wants to fund or test in a real university setting the hypotheses underlying the GLM then I’m happy to be involved.
A Facebook friend whom I shall call Miriamm (not her real name) asked me:
Hello, Hallo, Hola, Shalom, Ave, Chaire, Zdravo, Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt, etc, etc…
I have a question about the Goldlist Method.
I have already asked this in the Polyglot group, but I didn’t get an answer, and somehow I can’t tag you, so that you get notified.
So, my question is:
Where do you take your first 25 words for the Headlist? Are they just random words or do you read an article, take notes during a lecture, watch a movie, whatever?
I have used Anki for quite long, until I got frustrated by the huge number of words it forced me to repeat before going on. I’m testing Memrise now and it often gives wrong pronunciations (it writes poder, but it says “el poder” for the verb “to be able to” in Spanish…)
It is annoying, because it gets hardwired in my brain like that.
Plus, it just takes random words without any context or grammar built around them.
I want to try the Goldlist method. I wonder how it works to skip the short-term memory, though. If I read an article beforehand and take the unknown words from there for my Headlist, they are already in my short-term memory by the time I write my list, aren’t they?
I read somewhere a while ago that you have to hear or read a word in five different contexts to be able to use it actively.
So, ok, I write my headlist and DO NOTHING (???) for two weeks?
If I hear or see a word from the headlist again in the meantime, it already tickles my memory before I should write my second list, right?
So how can I try the Goldlist method according to the rules?
Do you have a detailed video about it without the charming Russian accent? 🙂
Should you start a new Goldlist method experiment or challenge set to a certain starting date, please include me. Maybe I should try it with a language that I don’t know yet, maybe Swedish.
Anyway, I don’t know why, but my brain can’t learn a new language in my mother tongue, which is Rhaet-Romansch. It slows me down extremely. I always learn the grammar of a new language in German and English in parallel, so my Goldlist would also have three columns.
Miriamm, you start a new Goldlist using various kinds of material depending on where you are with the language. At an early stage (assuming you have done some audio only work like a Pimsleur or Michel Thomas course first, so that you have some basics and a knowledge of how the language sounds) you’ll pick maybe a Teach Yourself series book or a Colloquial series book, Living Language, Assimil, you name it.
What goes in the Headlist is the vocab, the grammar notes, example sentences, everything you need in order not to need the book with you when you distil it. You do these 25 at a time because that’s what fits on the top left of a double-page in a writing book 40 lines deep, while leaving enough space for the future distillations.
When you’ve done one of these, taking maybe 20 minutes if you have the material prepared at hand, then you take the page after a ten minute break in which you did something else, like walk a kilometre, make a coffee, peel some vegetables, go to the toilet, etc etc, and you do turn to the next double page in the writing book to do another 25. This is the complicated bit as it involves taking the right hand sheet of the double page in between your fingers and moving it to the left, ensuring you only take one sheet and not 2 at a time. It is known as “turning the page”and does not generally take two weeks to do. The point about the two weeks is that you do not review the earlier material, instead you carry on deep into the book even though you have not necessarily memorised the earlier material, because you need the book in the Headlist and you’ll memorise the whole thing on later distillations.
This is a bit counter-intuitive for those who are used to really covering and memorising one chapter before they go on to the next and so on until they finish the book, at which point they put the book away and don’t need it again. It is a completely different, but far more effective, way to work through the book, and commit it to memory.
The thing to do once all the material in a book has been covered is either to get a more advanced book to work from or to work through a small dictionary, or start literature work.
In this way you can go from beginner to post-graduate levels all in a single memory system, tracking your vocab numerically and measuring the degree of memorisation of the material all the way.
By the way, don’t miss Christopher Huff’s Academy Award-Winning four minute movie about the Goldlist Method:
Now let me come to the additional point which you mentioned about the fact that your short-term memory is switched on while noting words down from reading an article.
My tendency would be to use the Goldlist as the direct place you note down the words and then their German and/or English equivalents once you have checked them in your dictionary or from a translation of the article (which is why I like to use literature, there is usually an audio-book to listen to, and then you can read the foreign language text to grab any bits you didn’t really understand form the audio, and then finally read the translation in your own language for what you didn’t quite understand in the foreign language original. Right now I am in this process for Hermann Brochs “Die Schlafwanderer” as far as German is concerned.
I would not say that this process switches on a short-term memory learning process. You are focused on understanding a passage and not on committing it by dint of force to a memory to be tested on next Tuesday. Therefore some of it will of course be remembered short term but the long-term memory is free to make its usual samples in a relaxed way and the more you like the story the better that should work. With the Goldlist Method, you carry on confidently with further material and if you happen to come up with the same word again and write it again, this is really no big deal. It happens to everyone now and again. When you know that word as you will after 1-3 distillations most likely, you’ll be able to kick it out even more rapidly so what you lose on the swings, as we say, you gain on the roundabouts. The point is not to repeat material intentionally, partly because it wastes time, you don’t need it for this way of learning, and partly because two frequent repetition builds the kind of synapses which are intended to disintegrate after two weeks, for reasons deep in our history and connected to the lunar hunting cycle.
One YT user asked today:
“Hello, Mr. James. I wanted to say, thank you for sharing this great information about the long term memory. It all makes perfect sense, and I have started a Gold-List for my language learning! I have a couple questions, if you are able to answer I would greatly appreciate it! Do you recommend the use of flashcards at all for learning a language? I understand for the Gold-List, you should avoid the words you wrote down on the list for not less than two weeks, but should you not think about the words at all? I suppose using flash cards would “jog” your short term memory again, but I am not certain. Maybe they are just different strategies, and don’t work together. Also, if I am trying to practice with sentences, should I not use the words I wrote in the list, or only after it “passed”.”
Please join the GoldList Method User Group on Facebook if you can. That way, good questions like these are flagged up for a bigger audience. Anyway, here goes:
1) flashcards are the standard system but they are a bit fiddly. You have to really manipulate a lot of small pieces of paper. if you actually want to do a nice big project with thousands of words and you want a proper card that will withstand all the mauling, it is a good deal more expensive and when the wind wafts in the window you’ll wish you had used a book.
The other thing about even on line flashcard systems is that in the classic system you are presented with them a lot of times until you can remember them, but not always are you asked to write anything. Without a re-write, it may be hard to know if you are doing a proper re-presentation of the material to the memory. Re-presenting material to the memory when you may have learned it only to the short-term memory is deceptive. People are sure they have learned things on systems like Memrise, Anki, Supermemo, etc when actually they haven’t. GLM calls for a bit more patience in the process but saves you a lot of time in the long run and makes sure that your long-term memory is optimised.
I am not sure how I could test this scientifically, but it would not surprised me to discover that the method even trains the L/T memory to be more effective. After all, if you show your body that you are relying and using a function, usually that function gets stronger, and if you are learning mainly to the short-term memory with methods of short-interval repetition, I would not be at all surprised if the long term memory even weakens as a result. Don’t take this paragraph as science, it is however reasoned speculation.
Cards might make the thing a bit more “gamey” but unless you have someone else committed to play it with you that might not be such great fun in reality as it appears before you do it.
2) About not using words on the list during the interim of 14 days – I notice that some people get a bit stressed about this and worry that they are going to be using the words in the intervening period and that then they will be still in the short-term memory when it comes to reviewing a list after 14 days. Let me say a couple of things on this point. Firstly, most people who are in the phase of trying the goldlist don’t use it exclusively as their only approach to a given language, while there are some others who, once they become convinced that GLM is the most effective approach, pretty much use only that, or, as in my own case, I use only the Goldlist once I have front loaded one or two audio-only courses to give me a good mental pronunciation of the new language, and then I get on and start the big project with GLM, but even then I migtht use more than one set of materials and alternate between different sets and even if I only have one set, some words are going to keep re-appearing. These are probably mainly words with a very high frequency in the language. I wouldn’t worry too much if they are not going through the GLM as efficiently as some other words – as these are the high frequency words of the language you can’t help coming across them a lot, you always will be coming across them a lot, and one way or another as long as you persevere you will certainly learn those higher frequency words. The trick is not to keep representing that list in that form to yourself in the fermentation period of at least 14 days. Don’t return to that same material, leave it be, but also don’t sweat it if the same words come up in different material.
I hope I understood and answered the questions OK. I’ll copy this also in a couple of other places so others can benefit from your good questions.
Fintan, a language learning fan, wrote to me the following:
Hi David, I am a language learner and am impressed with your Goldlist system. I want to ask you a question about the Goldlist method if that’s ok. Why did you choose 2 weeks as the minimum period for the first distillation? Was it efficiency/management of growing bronze lists that decided this period of time as I can’t find info on the association between 2 weeks and the end of short term memory? I understand the 20-30% retention by this passed time but I just want to check with you. Also, it occurred to me that one could activate this first 20-30% after only 2 weeks rather than waiting to be finished all distillations. By activating, I mean using a full circle method like Luca Lampariello to translate the known passive sentences back into the target language. I think this does not contradict the long term memory goal as you are only activating known words. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Fintan.
My reply, as ever when someone asks a great question which others could really benefit from;
Can I write the answer as an article on huliganov.tv?
To which Fintan kindly responds:
Absolutely 🙂 Looking forward to it! Thanks
So here goes…
Now and again in my writings (which anybody could be forgiven for not having read all of), I have spoken a few times about what the significance of the two week fermentation period in Goldlisting is.
However, I don’t think I’ve really said enough about it and so this question is a very useful one for those who would also like to know more about the topic and many readers no doubt will be interested in delving into this particular issue more closely just as Fintan is.
As you know, the Goldlist method is based upon the findings of Ebbinghaus, known as the father of the study of memory as well as the father of clinical psychology. Very little prior to Ebbinghaus’ work had been done on the human mind and memory using the scientific method, namely experimentation and the testing of various theories by performing logical experiments giving tangible evidence which can be repeated by other people. Ebbinghaus was groundbreaking because he did this for the first time in a very imaginative way – and in a way very interesting for polyglots. That is to say he taught himself nonsense words and measured how quickly he would forget them. One weakness about his method was that he used himself as the main subject, being too kind to inflict the rigours of learning nonsense for the pure sake of forgetting them while measuring the rate of doing so on his students.
If you want to know more about this pioneering scientist, a good place to start would be the Wikipedia articles on him and on his theories.
Reading them however you will probably notice that two weeks per se is not mentioned. And neither is the idea of there being a short-term memory which is for conscious and long-term memory which is for unconscious learning. You can look for these concepts in the work of Ebbinghaus in the way that you could look for the term Trinity in the Bible, or indeed the name of God in the book of Esther. These are things which are intrinsic, and go without saying to a degree. It is not possible to understand all the observations of fact without such a theory, and therefore it emerges from the work even if not explicitlt mentioned.
Of course, it is also possible that I’ve read into what Ebbinghaus did more than he ever intended, and if that is the case then of course on the one hand that would put me in a position of being less “scientific” than such methods as Supermemo by Wozniak or Anki which certainly do map onto the forgetting curve in a way which the Goldlist method does not, but for reasons I’m going to come to an moment that actually doesn’t matter.
Let me just grab a picture of the forgetting curve if I can. Bear with me one moment.
Right, here we go. Thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Icez for this, which he placed into the public domain.
As you will see, it is not that you remember everything well for two weeks and then get a sudden deterioration. Not according to this, anyway, and not according to the raw data Ebbinghaus made from his experiments with himself.
There are reasons that I will go into a little bit later on in this article that make me think that such phenomenon does exist. However I don’t know of any actual scientific evidence proving the observation is measurably true rather than simply anecdotal but I will give you all the reasons why I think that the two-week cut-off is more than just an arbitrary point in the forgetting curve. That’s coming up below in the article. Read the rest of this entry
One reader with the pleasant name of Marlon wrote in one comment recently the following great question, and thus coaxed me to impart some advanced goldlisting knowledge which I was keeping back for the book:
I am eager to start the Goldlist method. However, I need further clarification about scheduling. I read your post responding to Abdul some years back but I am still not sure how I can avoid distillations and new headlist overlapping. I do understand I could simply insert a batch of words and not use the step system, but it is not my desire to take that route.
I would prefer to use the step Goldlist method. I think I am most confused by time allotment. I decided to use the 20mins/25words/10min break format. When distilling to the first set (from 25 to 17), I believe you suggest use the same format, that is to use 20mins/25words/10mins. What about D2? Do I still need to use 20 mins to go from D1–>D2 (and D2—>D3)? In other words, do I perform as many distillations as possible after D1 is completed in the 20 min allotment? For example, Would it be prudent to distill maybe 2 sets from 17–>12 in one 20 min block?
I am looking forward to your response.
I will write the answer to this as a main article, partly because it’s a better way to get more readers to read it, and it is a good and useful topic for those who are using the Goldlist, and partly because I can use tables better in a new article than in a response.
I think it’s an excellent question, which shows that you’ve understood most of what I need you to understand in order to work successfully with the method.
I have in the past left people to fill in the blanks for this one themselves, as there are a number of ways in which you could fill in the blanks and they would all be good as long as the basic tenets are agreed to, and also I was leaving something back for the book, but just to give you an example of what works for me, imagine that you decide to do a project in which you have a good idea how many lines will be in the headlist in total, and lets say it’s going to be 3000 lines of headlist.
I would split that task into Batches, and each batch I give letters of the Alphabet, so Batch A, Batch B, etc.
Now because we want to avoid running into within two weeks of ourselves, as well as not have too long periods of not getting to review the same material (more than a quarter of a year is not necessarily harmful, but means you have little momentum, in practice, which can be demotivating) we need to plan it so that the first batch is the biggest batch, and then they get gradually smaller.
So the last batch will be 100 words, the second from last will be 200 words, etc.
Now follow me through this logic: Read the rest of this entry