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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.

Answering Rigdzin Norbu’s questions on the Goldlist

Tibetan script

Tibetan script

I received these questions in one comments area, but I decided to answer as a full article so that more people see it. The questions are ones in this case that I have tried to answer in other articles, but there’s no harm in answering them again as they are important and sometimes these important details get lost in the amount there is here and need to be reiterated, so that’s perfectly fine.

Good morning! I have dived into videos and your print post and am now almost two weeks into using the goldlist method (I hope it helps, other forms of vocubulary memorization haven’t been that effective for me). I have a couple of questions I hope you will answer:

I hope so too.

– when you talk about “including all the grammar”, i am wondering how this applies to verbs. do you suggest including the verb root and the different tense forms on one line? for example, in tibetan, chye pa is the root form, followed by chyas chye chyos. all on one line?

There’s more than one way of doing this, and it really depends on whether in the language you choose there are a lot of irregularities or not.

You say that you are learning Tibetan, which I take to mean Modern Standard Tibetan and not one of over 200 other alternative languages spoken in that place. Your biggest issue will be to get your head around the fact that the language is ergative. There are not many ergative languages left and I don’t know any. I have know idea how big a challenge it will be for you to get around that whole underlying aspect of Tibetan grammar.

You ask specifically about verbs, and so what you need to know when you head list a verb is at least the following, and if I were you I’d either include this in the head list or make space for it:
1) whether it is a volitional or a non volitional verb
2) whether it’s transitive or intransitive
3) the root and the present-future, past and imperative stems
4) any irregularities in the way that the inflecting suffixes are added to these stems (in as much as they are regular and predictable from basic paradigms, you don’t need a separate line in the headlist for every possible form.
5) differences between the spoken form and the written form. Often there’s one spoken form, but spelled two or three different ways. You need to probably note most of these at Headlist stage and only the odd ones as you distill will go forward. Ones which become predictable from general rules you would not need to write over again.

– when still adding vocabulary and distilling simultaneously, does it matter how one numbers the mix of lists? my first list will have approximately 1000 words on it before i begin distilling. does the distilled list start at 1001. what if i keep going, adding new head lists? does it matter?

OK, I get asked this a lot and it’s one of the hardest things to just explain without showing it, and then it’s a toughy to film as well. Let me try and explain it this way. take this a paragraph at a time and let each one sink in before the next paragraph. (Sorry, I’m not being patronising, this really can be tricky to envisage, I’m trying a new way now to help envisage it) Read the rest of this entry

Word Frequency Issues for Language Learners

Peter and Jane book 1a Play with us

One well-known and practical application of word frequency analysis, but is the word list still current?

I wanted to address some issues with the whole question of using word frequency analysis when learning languages. It is obviously a good idea to use frequency studies if they are available.

They can function both as checklists to ensure that our courses (whether we are users or compilers of courses) contain a complete coverage of the most frequent words. I do think that a course which claims to give 2,000 words lets its users down if a noticeable percentage of say the top 1000 words are still missing, whereas students are expected to learn words for wainscotting, walruses and woodpeckers.

One big problem with frequency dictionary analysis and word count – especially when comparing between languages or methods – is what does it mean? If we are talking about uninflected languages then the number of individual words is shorter. The original poster referred to Italian, and here it is a problem, because every single verb has umpteen forms, so is that one word or is that umpteen words?

If you use a machine to collate the frequency, then “has”, “have” and “had” will all show up as different words. Should it be three or one? In those cases where a noun has 12 separate declined forms in Czech or Polish, is that 12 words or one word? Or is it something in between, with the forms guessable out of usual paradigms being counted as the same, but the irregular parts being considered separate?

And are words like “jack” or “rose” which have so many individual meanings counted as one word or as ten or so words? If a machine does it the count is objective, but again not true to the substance of the matter. If a human intervenes, then subjectivity enters the frame and the way one person collates it may have very different outputs to the way another person would do it.

That’s why I take statements like “80% of the words used are in 10,000 words” with a pinch of salt. Assuming the same rules for collation of word variation under headwords apply through the list, it is probably proper to parrot Pareto and say that 20% of the vocabulary gives 80% of the effect, but that is comparing relative numbers to relative numbers, which is probably wiser, and more likely to hold good when comparing different languages together, than comparing absolute numbers to relative numbers

And then another problem is the way word frequency changes over time. Even more subtle markers of how languages change over time than the incursion of new words (which obviously don’t show up at all in the old frequency lists) is the change not even so much in meaning but in fashionability of words which are there in the language the whole time. Some of these are glaringly obvious – nobody uses “comrade” in Russia as much as it was used 30 years ago. But in fact it applies to a greater or lesser degree to every word we use.

Frequency studies, then, ironically, need to be carried out far more frequently! I answered a question the other day on frequency lists for what used to be Serbo-Croat. Quite a lot of change has entered that language, especially as emerging ex-Yugoslav states have sought to distinguish their language from other similarly speaking states, including new letters in their languages and emphasising either regional words or regional pronunciations. There is of course a degree of artificiality about all that, but it cannot fail to influence the language really spoken by people.

However, from my research the last available frequency studies for Serbo-Croat were from the 1960s. They are not available online for free you have to pay to get them, which I did not do. I can only therefore imagine how erroneous they must be by now. The half life of usefulness of such a study is probably ten years, and these were done 50 years ago, in a different country constellation, a different political regime, with a different world going on around it with different things to do than now and different ways to live. High time for new frequency studies to be made in that language, but also in many other languages. I just wonder how old by now the frequency studies are which Ladybird books admirably used to create the Key Words Reading Scheme so known and loved by children in the English speaking world? Can anybody tell me that?

Top 30 Languages to learn for 2050

Map showing countries and autonomous subdivisi...

The Turkic linguation - to a greater or lesser extent mutually intelligible languages. However often not the preferred business languages of their regions, hence only 12th place in this economic utility-based prediction.

Here are my 2050 predictions, originally shared on :

1. Chinese (all types)
2. English (all types)
3. Arabic (all dialects)
4. Russian
5. Spanish (all types)
6. Japanese
7. German
8. French
9/10.Portuguese and Korean(if there is Korean unification, Korean takes the higher slot)
11. Italian
12. Turkish and mutually intellible forms of Turkic Read the rest of this entry

Question on lexical sufficiency

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski - the ultimate benchmark in mastery of an acquired language is surely that of having added to its artistic literature?

Reader (and poster) Bill_Sage667 from’s forum wrote me the following question and agreed kindly to a public answer here:

Dunno whether u’ll be able to find the time to reply to this, 1 in a million chance lol……but I’ll write out my questions anyway lol

You said something about 15,000 words needed in order to achieve a good degree level in Russian. Are imperfective and perfective verbs considered separate words, as well as adjectives and verbs under the same lexemes (e.g. беремменость, беремменая, беремменеть, забеременнеть) when you were estimating the number of words?

And what if someday I want to attain the proficiency of an educated native speaker (might take me 20 yrs but oh well)? How many words am I supposed to know (for active and passive knowledge)? For Russian, that is. btw thanks for releasing the Gold List Method to the public for free!

Firstly, Bill, be careful about the number of ‘m’s and ‘n’s you have in those pregancy-related words. You have too many ‘m’s and not enough ‘n’s. I’ll leave you to review that one.

You’re very welcome about the Goldlist. As I say in the section I wrote in syzygycc’s The Polyglot Project, I’m just paying forward the favours I got from so many people when I was a young learner.

In my opinion 15,000 words, as long as they are properly selected, are perfectly adequate and in the headlist you would use all the forms initially as separate forms (but not the various conjugations and case endings, only the so-called ‘dictionary forms’) and you could soon condense them on distillation.

If you use the frequency distionary I am selling on you will be able to focus on commoner words first. Within the first 10,000 words you do get words that are already pretty specialised that you wouldn’t use maybe more than once a month or so even if you were a native, and so it continues over the next 5,000 as well. You’ll find 15,000 enough to read the great novels comfortably and to appreciate the poetry of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and even Strogonova (the last of which you will find uniquely published in this blog as a ‘page’. She is no poorer a poet than these well-known ones, only far less known.)

I would also like to draw people’s attention to something else I wrote about the 15,000 word ‘marathon’ in a thread over on the HTLAL forum:

What this Gladwell character [I’m referring to upstream discussion of someone who said you must have 10,000 hours of learning to become fully fluent, like a native – a claim almost unanimously rejected by every serious linguist and polyglot I know other than those who teach languages privately, as this idea is grist to their mill] needs to bear in mind is the Pareto rule. If it were true (which I dispute) that you need 10,000 hours to become as native (although how this deals with your accent is anyone’s guess) then you could get 80% of it in 20% of the time. That means you’d need to have 2,000 hours study to get to 80% of native fluency. Since that’s ludicrously overcautios, I’d suggest that the 10,000 hour target for full native fluency is overcautious.

The fact is, a person could be like Konrad Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) and already writing ground-breaking literature in the language he or she had learned and still have a strong enough accent to provoke politely meant but annoying compliments on the quality of his language by native speakers.

In the end you just have to accept what English speakers accepted for their own language in the main long ago – that as long as it doesn’t hinder comprehension, a foreigner’s accent in English is just as valid as a “native” accent. This is easily accepted by multi-national or mega-regional languages like Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc, but in places like Poland as there is largely only one way of speaking, the bar is raised for their own language.

So in fact that means that the same n-thousand hours done by an Englishman in Russian could have the Russians noticing very little different about the foreigner, especially if he has a bad haircut. Whereas if he has a really bad haircut and the same n-thousand hours of Czech, the reaction will probably be “he looks like one of us, but our language is difficult and so we must forgive the way he sounds, although obviously we are frank and friendly people so we will tell him to his face at regular intervals that his Czech sucks bigtime.”

Given this subjectivity, I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s linguistic shadow, but simply to set amounts of words as targets. 15,000 words is in language learning, to my mind, what the marathon is in athletics. If you’re fit, you can do it with patience and training. And if you can do it, nobody can say you’re not fit.

There are longer races, there are tougher events. But the marathon is the ‘classic’ and the marathon runner knows that it’s really a competition against yourself and not really against the runners alongside. Even people coming in at six hours are clapped and get a medal. So should language learning be.

If this article is of interest you can look up the article as plenty of people have some interesting stuff to say, both about the 10,000 hours nonsense and the number of words needed. I get into a discussion with “Lingua Frankly” blogger Niall Beag (known as Cainntear) on when the Pareto rule isn’t just a number like 10,000 with no real basis for being a law. There are also those who are ready to stand up for the honour of the number 10,000 and tell the detractors of 10,000 hours to mind their jolly manners. Excellent thread.

I’m going to add more thoughts there today.

A Question about the Russian Future by Shannon


One viewer on the youtube channel, a lady called Shannon, wrote to me the following question:


Could you please tell me the English equivalent for the Russian simple and compound future tense.

I think I’ve understood both past tenses, but the future tense is something I’m still struggling to get my head around.


The problem is that they are not really tenses, they are aspects of a single future tense.

Now in English we have aspects, but we don’t always use a verb to show the aspects, sometimes we use other words in the sentence.

Let’s take the example of “yest’/s’yest”. If I say in Russian “Ya s’yem ves’ …” then the expected word afterwards might be “tort” – I will eat the whole cake.

If a Russian says “Ya budu yest’ ves’…” then the rest of the sentence that suggests itself is “den’ ” – I will eat all day.

In this case in English if you can replace “eat” with “eat up” then you know that it’s a perfective aspect. In English it’s not incorrect to say “I will eat the whole cake”, or you can also stress the perfective nature of that action (although it won’t have a very perfecting effect on the figure) by saying “I will eat the cake up”.

Contrast that with the second sentence. “I will eat all day”. You can’t say “I will eat up all day”, it becomes meaningless. You can, of course say something like “All day long tomorrow, I’ll be eating up my fussy children’s left-overs” – in Russian this repetitive future performance of a perfective action would call for bringing in the iterative suffix. “Budu doyedyvat’ “sounds a little clumsy but would give that kind of meaning. The “yv” part of that verb being the iterative suffix.

So in the case of a sentence where in English we could use a simple verb or a phrasal verb, especially a phrasal verb where the sense involves finishing something (eat up, do in, beat up, bring in, etc) we can get a good idea of whether to use a perfective or imperfective future aspect in Russian by asking us where the phrasal verb is just as good if not better than the simple verb, as in the above “eat the cake up”

What about cases where you don’t have a phrasal verb indicating completion to hand? Well, sometimes there are aspectival pairs in English that we don’t even realise are aspectival pairs because this is almost subliminal in our language and not explicit as in Slavonic. So I could give you two sentences:

1. I will fish all day tomorrow

2. I will catch many fish tomorrow.

Which is future imperfective? That’s right, the first. Budu lovit ryby ves’ den’ zavtra. The second is perfective. Tomorrow I will not just fish I will catch many fish. Poymu mnogo ryb, zavtra.

how about this one:

1. He will speak to me about the changes this afternoon.

2. He will tell me about the changes this afternoon.

In which of these am I expressing subliminally that I’m not necessarily expecting complete information? That’s right, the first. In the second, I expect the transmission of complete facts, not just blah-blah. So speak and tell are an aspectival pair.

And sure enough, you find the same in govorit’/skazat’ in Russian. You never hear “on budet skazat” – the closest is if you make it iterative “on budet skazyvat mne raznye veshchi” He will be telling me various things. He will, in other word, repeatedly perform the perfective action of transferring orally various complete pieces of information. He will speak to me about the changes – on budet govorit’ so mnoy o peremenakh means that I’m focussing menatlly on the fact that he is going through the motions of informing me, regardless of whether any actual units of meaningful information, any ‘whole story’ is transferred to me in the process. “On skazhet mne o peremenakh posle obeda” on the other hand means that I’m expecting to hear the whole caboodle from him after lunch.

One of the best ways to understand this is by looking at what we mean in English when we differentiate “until” and “by”. Most languages have a single word for this pair, and in Slavic it’s aspect which gives away which one is needed. Russians and Poles say “do”, German’s have “bis”, but we have two words and we can’t understand why foreigners are always muddling up “until” and “by”.

So you’ll hear Slavs saying “I need you to write the report until Thursday”. At this, you might say “what happens after that, then, does someone else take over?” This sentence in English contains no markers that getting it done before then is required – on the contrary the marker in “until” rather means just keep on going up to a certain time point, and finishing doesn’t enter into it.

So Thursday comes and you are asked for the report, and you hand in a huge 100 page opus and immediately the boss asks “Where’s the Executive Summary?” And so you say “There’s no Executive Summary – how can there be one if the report isn’t finished?” “But I asked you to write the report until Thursday!” “I did! I was writing it all the time, only taking short breaks for food and sleep. That’s why the thing is 100 pages long. but you didn’t tell me it had to be done BY Thursday!”

The boss doesn’t understand this, as to him “until” and “by” are synonyms and not markers of aspect, and promptly sacks the Employee for over-correct use of English.

So you can see from this example that if he had really meant “until”, in Russian he would have used a future imperfective. “Budete pisat’ …” For the meaning “by” he would have used a Russian future perfective “Napishite”.

I hope that helps you get a grip on the idea. If it has, then that is a milestone on your journey towards knowing Russian.

Who is this mystery customer?

Countries where the Russian language is spoken.

The Russian Linguation

The following review can still be read for Derek Offord’s “Using Russian – A Guide to Contemporary Usage” on (not the American Amazon and I really don’t understand why they don’t carry these reviews over, when I want to write for only the UK or only the US I shall forget about the internet altogether!) As it was way back in 2001 I seem to have lost the accreditation for the review along the way. At first it was under my name, but at some stage they must have had a technical blip and the older reviews became “A Customer”. but it’s mine, well enough. I don’t know if my style has changed much in ten years.

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars
This is essential reading for those doing a Russian degree.
28 Sep 2001
By A Customer

This review is from: Using Russian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage (Paperback)

I bought Using Russian when I was browsing in a bookshop for another language, as I already speak Russian, but when I looked at a few pages it immediately appealed as an excellent update to the way the language has developed since I did my degree. Sections in the book refer to different problems that face the English speaker in particular, such as faux amis. There are also sections on homonyms and other confusing aspects and they act rather like a checklist of what you need to have got right in your head in order not to make too many ‘howlers’ in translations or in conversation.

One particular plus in this book and as I found out in the whole series of ‘Using’ books that this is part of is the focus on register. If there is one thing that separates the wheat from the chaff among language students. it is the understanding and application of the idea of register, and this applies to Russian perhaps more than most European languages, as this is a language in which not only the vocabulary, but also the syntax, grammar and phonetics are all subject to complex nuances. This book was not available when I needed it. Now that it is I urge you to make use of it. It is the book about Russian that I would have liked to have written myself. If I thought there was demand for it, I’d offer to do a sister volume for Polish.

In any event it made me go out and by the sister volumes already in existence for French, German and Spanish. They are of a similar quality to this volume, the weakest is probably the German one, the Spanish one I would put as second favorite. It can be read cover to cover, or simply dipped into as a work of reference.

It is not material for learning the language from scratch, but would be a very useful second step after completing any of the standard self-instruction books such as the Colloquial series, the Teach yourself series or the Linguaphone course.

Either A-level or degree level students of the Language will profit from it and find it enjoyable because of its good presentation and readable style.

The Polyglot Project Update

I understand that the download from DocsStocs made by Claude Cartaginese has now reached into over 5,000 downloads, with also many other sources of this document appearing also on the web as people share it freely as intended, so that the full number of downloads may be as high as 10,000 or more.

The Polyglot Project - 42 contributors, 534 pages, including the whole background to the Goldlist Methodology and how I came to invent it.

Set against that, though is the fact that not nearly so many paper copies have been ordered. The only place they can be ordered is Amazon in America, not the UK Amazon as yet, and the link to the product is embedded on the thumbnail.

If you would like a book worth in fact over 50 USD if it had not be gifted by over 40 volunteers each telling how they managed to learn multiple languages for less than 17 dollars, and also support Uncle Claude who had to fork out some of his private lolly on making the first bunch of paper books that are not selling, even though people have been eager to take the free version, then either click on the link here (which gives you the same price and I think I’m on 6% without costing you any more) or if you don’t want to give me 6% but still pay the same, then find the link just by going normally to and searching for it.

If you read the e-version and liked it, why not buy the paper version as a gift for someone else? It will always be possible to get a free version of this booki, but the printed one is very nice too and a good use of seventeen dollars, so please let’s be having a few more purchases of it.


What to make of illiterate “romaji” Russian courses, or audio only courses?

Today over on the Google Group “Huliganov and Friends”, I wrote an article in reponse to one thread:

So if you follow that link you should see the whole thread, but just for some context here I’ll include the post just before mine, by Harry, which I basically agree with:

Nola I am with you.  I have looked at books that have no Cyrillic and
they are a joke.  Even for the absolute beginner, and we all were
there at one time and confused.  I think these books are attractive to
some because let’s face it the Cyrillic alphabet is intimidating to a
beginner.  If you are serious about learning this beautiful language
don’t waste your money on books like this.  Since the language is
purely phonetic it is essential to understand the alphabet before
going very far.  This helps a great deal when you hear words and can
recognize verb conjugation or the case of the word which Nola has
pointed out.  Unless you recognize these two things you may recognize
the words the other person is saying but you will not have a clue as
what they are trying to communicate.  Learning phrases is useless if
you can not understand the person’s response.

I have reviewed a lot of learning programs and of course everybody has
their own preferences.  Personally, I am impressed with the Michel
Thomas method.  The format is an instructor with a male and female
student as she teaches them.  The advantage of this method is that you
get a lot of grammar explanations on the spot for both male and female
verbiage.  Hope I it is OK to plug the course here.  I would be
interested in Doctor Victor’s input.  I love his course and
methodology but the lessons are incomplete.  After you are comfortable
with Rl101 and Rl102 you will be hungry for more.


OK, so here’s my reponse to the thread, not just what Harry said although I do refer to it in one or two points:

There is no point in books on Russian which are simply written in
transcribed Latin letters. I understand why books about Japanese need
to be written first off with romaji, I understand why western learners
of Mandarin need to lean on pinyin for a while. I can see that with
three separate sets of consonants depending on which tone group the
word is in, learners of Thai need to use their own clumsy Latin
transcription system (or pick one of a number of conflicting ones)
I’ll even go so far as to say that because of the lack of vowels
(although you can add them, of course) Arabic and Hebrew learners need
to lean on their own alphabets for a while. The shorter the better.

Gerald Ford wearing an ushanka and Leonid Brez...

"Mr Brezhnev, I've seen your name written in a number of different ways, could you tell me what the right one is?" "Sure, comrade. Ze right vay iss ze Russian vay, simply as zat!"

Now you probably DO need to know how to transcribe Russian into
“western” if you intend to go far with it, but then what you need to
know is that each language has its own system for transcribing
Russian. So the person whose eyebrows are similar to mine, and who is
older than me so I can’t even say I thought of them first, is known as
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev in the English speaking world, but you just
look at his wikipedia entries, you’ll find the following:

German: Leonid Iljitsch Breschnew
French: Léonid Ilitch Brejnev (you’ll also see them writing the ending
in “eff” in older texts)
Czech: Leonid Iljič Brežněv
Spanish: Leonid Ilich Brézhnev
Polish: Leonid Iljicz Breżniew
Italian: Leonid Il’ič Brežnev (which is bizarre, as those signs aren’t
even part of the Italian language)
Danish: Leonid Iljitj Bresjnev

So while there’s general agreement about the “Leonid” with only the
French dissenting, and that only because of the demands of their
farmers, we have in a sample of eight languages including English,
eight different ways of spelling his patronymic and eight different
ways of spelling his family name!

And they are all quite correct, for the language they are used in.

If there were a single international system for the transliteration of
Russian, a kind of Russian pinyin (there is actually, but only really
used by librarians and people quoting scientific papers) that they
would look after, then there would be a bit more marginal value in
using it to learn, but even in that case it would be stupid, given
that actual cyrillics can be learned so quickly. Thousands have
learned cyrillics off my 101 series. If it’s taking more that two or
three weeks then the person either isn’t getting the method right or
they are not very adept, and either way that gate will prevent those
people wasting their time getting into the meat of the language, which
they probably won’t be able to get their heads round either, if they
baulked at the alphabet, so it’s a mercy for them.

So I just demonstrated that with a book on Russian in English letters,
not only will you not communicate properly in Russia, but also you
won’t communicate properly with people who did the same thing as you
did but coming from other language groups, even neighbouring languages
to ours. So it really is a pointless exercise, other than to make
money for the author, of course, as it’s an easier book to typeset,
and will attract its share of buyers despite being hopeless,
especially if they are not honest enough to describe online or in the
paper catalogue the absence of proper cyrillics.

Thankfully with things like Amazon we have the opportunity to add our
own reviews, and I’d really encourage you to flag up any language
books which don’t teach proper literacy. Both in Russian and in any
other language – the new TY series have removed proper literacy from a
number of their books and this really deserves to be flagged.

That doesn’t mean that audio only courses like Pimsleur or the
superior Michel Thomas method by Natasha Bershadski (should be –
dskaya, of course, which is not a great start – I hope she doesn’t
teach the language that way getting the genders of adjectives all
wrong) which Harry talks about hoping I won’t mind (of course not!)
are not valuable. They might be a nice entry-level way to see if you
like the sound and the kind of structures that you have ahead before
you ever put pero to bumaga in Russian. What the course consists of
I’ll come to in a second

I got told off by my friend Harold Goodman (I hope he’s still my
friend!) who did Michel Thomas’ Mandarin Course for suggesting in a
forum ways in which these courses could be available for less than the
cover price, and given that the cover prices of all MT courses fell on
Amazon by 30% (looks like what I was saying and some others too
started filtering back to Hodder) and given that you have to
appreciate the work the authors and everyone else put into this, and
most overridingly given that there won’t be any more courses in the
new series of MT if they’re not making money, and I seriously want
Harold to make the Hebrew course, I shall not be giving that advice
out any more. If you know it, you know it – and if you don’t, you
don’t. If you want something free, what’s on Youtube is free.

A course like Michel Thomas method contains generally 8 CDs of about
an hour in length for the foundation course. The first two of these
will be a repetition of the two CDs in the introductory course, hence
the latter is not worth buying unless all you want is an answer to the
question whether the method works for you or not. I’ll give you the
answer to that, if it doesn’t work, nothing will, so just go ahead and
buy the foundation course, especially while it’s 30% off. After this
you get an “advanced” course (it’s not really “advanced”, off course,
expect in comparison with the foundation course) and that has 4 CDs
with the pace slightly upped so that you really score as much vocab
again off the advanced course as you did on the Foundation course. And
then after that you get for most languages a vocab course (for Greek
there isn’t a vocab MT course but the authress has craftily made her
own Chinnor-based vocab book and CD set and Amazon sells it of course
as a set with her two MT products) and in the case of MT Russian you
get 4 CDs. And you are getting drilled on the vocab as it emerges –
you are using it in sentences that also reinforce recently learned

So if you take the three together you have 16 hours of recordings.
Used properly, ie with the pause button, you’re going to use 50 hours
of your time or more to go through the three level course. Equivalent
class room time would have cost a good deal more of course, but you
would have been able to ask questions. But I’m really no fan of the
language classroom, not as an efficient means of learning languages,
anyhow, however pleasant and collegial it may be.

And maybe we can say that Pareto’s rule has applied to MT’s method
course, that these 50 hours, spent efficiently, will give you 80% of
what 250 hours of conventional learning would have given. That may be
a bit overgenerous on my part, as I am still not convinced that a lot
of what goes on in the lessons isn’t going into the short term memory.
Only a staged presentation system that goes over two weeks can really
tell you that. But on the other hand if you don’t rush at a Michel
Thomas course like a bull in a china shop, but take it relaxed, and go
back after two weeks and check you can still do it – don’t try to
learn while you are doing it – then you may well find that the key
drivers of the goldlist method as regards short and long term memory
can also come into play in the MT method.

However, all of this still only gets you, regardless of the ambitious
names of the courses, at a level where you will be close to entry
point once you start actually writing in Russian. If you did the MT
course, you’ll feel a familiarity with the words when you come to
write them. While doing the MT course, an absolute beginner might do
my RL 101 which keeps the actual Russian content intentionally low for
the first half – those cyrillics equally well apply to almost all
languages written in cyrillics. And then that beginner should drill
the Russian alphabet as I say, by writing his own language in
cyrillics. Or they can learn (using Wikipedia, for example, or Google
translate) how place names and personal names are transcribed into
cyrillics by Russians. That will be a very good drill for cyrillics,
as well as be useful for the future for the learner to know, but won’t
conflict much with what the MT tutor Natasha is presenting the MT way.
It’s coming in from a wholly different direction.

Then when you finish all that MT has to offer and also feel really
comfortable with cyrillics as a writing system, then you go an get a
nice, traditional book and put the two together, or you can watch what
there is of my RL 102 course, an unfinished work as we all know, and
go to the course book from there.

Before I finish I will say that a learner’s book should have the
cyrillics with stresses on the stressed vowels and the two dots on the
‘yo’, but also make it clear to students that they shouldn’t get used
to them. I decided in the video course that as I was sitting there
giving the pronunciation for the words on screen anyway, that neither
of these crutches were necessary, and so it is in real Russian. Which
you may say is ironic.

Hope this was useful.

Viktor D. Huliganov

Pytania i odpowiedzi lingwistyczne w języku polskim.


Jeden z najlepszych narzędzi dla poliglotyzmu dziecka

W dniu dzisiejszym odchylam się od zwyczaju pisania w języku angielskim, ze względu na otrzymanie dwóch pytań od widzów względnie czytelnikow moich klipów i postów. Najpierw na facebooku otrzymałem ten zestaw pytań od Pani Agnieszka F.

Jakiś czas temu w sieci trafiłąm na wywiad z Panem w TVN.

Przesyłam wyrazy uznania i podziwu dla Pańskiego talentu i pracy.

Z dużym zainteresowaniem obejrzałam Pańskie filmy w języku polskim na youtube. Od stycznia z dużą determinacją próbuję według Pana metody uczyć się języka hiszpańskiego. Poza tym, że przepisuję słówka to czas spędzany w komunikacji miejskiej spędzam na słuchaniu audiokursu. Chciałbym Pana prosić o odpowiedź na kilka pytań: 1. Czy jest limit słów, jaki danego dnia mogę przepisać? Jeśli mam czas to danego dnia przepisuję nawet po 300 słów. 25 na stronie krótka przerwa i znów 25 na stronie itd. Czy jest tu jakieś ograniczenie. W wakacje planuję wyjazd do Hiszpanii i zależy mi na czasie.

Oprócz trzymaniu się reżymu regularnych przerw, tak jak Pani robi, jedynym innym limitem jest granica wytrzymałości Pani zainteresowania. Jeżeli zaczyna to być już nudnoscią lub utrapeniem, trzeba to już odstawić na inny czas. Ja też nie przerabiam więcej niż 300 słów/linii dziennie.

2. Wstyd się przyznać, ale jesli chodzi o język angielski mam bardzo słabą i to bierną znajomość, tzn. potrafię coś zrozumieć, ale mam blokadę jeśli chodzi o mówienie. Teraz jeśli będę dalej chciała kontynuować naukę tak jak sobie wszystko zaplanowałam do września powinnam mieć angielski komunikatywny, a przez następny rok akademicki opanować go tak, by móc pozwolić sobie na czytanie książek biznesowych. Czy Pana zdaniem jest to w ogóle możliwe?

Pewnie. Jak by stosować goldlist w takim tempo jak 300 słów dziennie, 5 dni w tygodniu, to w ciągu jednego roku ma się pod pasem 300/3*5*50 czyli 25,000 słów. Tylko 15,000 słów jest potrzebnie, aby z pełnym komfortem podejść do czytania np kurs ACCA. 

3.Czy można się uczyć jednocześnie dwóch języków przy użyciu opracowanej przez Pana metody? Jesli tak to czy mogę jednego dnia uczyć się trochę angielskiego, trochę hiszpańskiego czy lepiej jednego dnia angielskeigo drugiego hiszpańskiego? A może jest to w ogóle niemożliwe? Będę Panu bardzo wdzięczna za ewentualne odpowiedzi, a tym samym ogromną pomoc. Jeśli prowadzi Pan jakieś statystyki mogę również poinformować o swoich postępach. Z wyrazami podziwu, Agnieszka F

Można, ale odradzę od robienia dwóch językow naraz tej samej rodziny. Na przykład angielski z niemieckim, duńskim bądz niderlandzkim. Uważam wręcz, że nawet pomaga bardzo kiedy się uczy drugiego języka obcego używając materiały przygotowane dla mówców pierwszego języka obcego. W ten sposób mogła by pani zakupić kurs zaawansowanej angielszczyzny z hiszpańskiej księgarni internetowej, na przykład.

Mam nadzieję ze to pomoże, no i naturalnie zawsze jestem ciekaw usłyszeć o wynikach i postępach ludzi, którzy stosowali moje metody i porady, więc bardzo proszę!

Drugie pytanie jest od markam91 na forumie

— Previous Private Message —
[B]Sent by :[/B] markam91
[B]Sent :[/B] 14 January 2011 at 11:12pm

Czy mógłbym się dowiedzieć w jaki sposób nauczyłeś swoją córkę trzech języków? Jedyne, co przychodzi mi do głowy, to sposób mojego polonisty, który postanowił sobie, że żona będzie odzywała się do nowo narodzonego dziecka wyłącznie po polsku, a wspomniany polonista tylko po angielsku.


Jeden rodzic mówi w swoim języku, drugi w swoim języku, a środowisko ma jeszcze trzeci język.

Na przykład, w naszej rodzinie ja z córką mowiłem głownie po angielsku, żona po rosyjsku, a środowisko (czyli szkola, telewizja, przyjaciolki na osiedlu) jest polskojęzyczne. Od tego, że ja mowię do żony głównie po rosyjsku, i tez pracuję, więc często nie ma mnie w domu, trzeba bylo uzupełnić angielskie wpływy poprzez kupienie DVD ulubionych filmów dziecięcych z Anglii bez języka polskiego, i wiecej książek po angielsku, plus wakacji u moich rodziców, którzy tylko mówia po angielsku.

Questions from Kahnkanter about activation and Hangeul.

The word Han-geul in Han-geul. Hangeul is read...

This is how you write Hangeul in Hangeul!

As mentioned in the last post, I also received a couple of questions from another YouTube viewer this week, and this time it was channel name Kahnkanter.

Hi David,

Thank you for sharing your method. I would like more information on two things:

1. Activation. How does that happen? You have mentioned that it takes a maximum of 3 days, and uses the passive long term storage of vocabulary in that language. But how does one ‘activate’? By simply being surrounded by that language?!


When I talk about activation taking three days, I am referring to the case where someone learns a language in a country where it isn’t spoken, and has the problem that not everything they learn is on the tip of their tongue. I explain to people that actually that is not a problem. As long as they know something passively (ie, they immediately remember and know the meaning of the foreign word when it is presented to them, would notice if it were misspelled or mispronounced or used in a wrong context, etc) then the fact that they are having trouble at five minutes notice to be able to put themselves into the language they learn well enough to have their whole vocabulary at the tip of their tongue is normal, is part of the economy of the mind and is there to actually enable us to learn and know more without having a consiousness overload.

People talk about the back of one’s mind and the front of one’s mind, but those are old ways of talking about it and don’t necessarily equate at all to where the physical synapses are. I never worried too much about left brain, right brain frontal lobes, medulla oblongata or all of that as I never had, and still don’t have, any plans to perform brain surgery on anyone. So when I talk about these things I am talking about them in a push-button-user’s way. Don’t even ask me what the physical mechanisms are.

I know it takes three days because I have travelled a lot and spoken to many other linguists who say the same thing. It just means being in an environment where you can sense that you need all that knowledge and it all comes to the fore pretty quickly. Three days probably evolved as you can get by in extremis even without water for three days, but after that things start to get rather nasty. You need all your linguistic mental resources to be completely focussed on a given situation within three days, but you don’t always need them immediately. 

Now I think I understand right that you are living in Korea but you are not Korean. You want to learn Korean and you are either in Korea now or about to go there. In this case you will not experience becoming activated until you leave Korea for more than three days and become unused to learning the language. Especially if you have to think into using a different language that also is foreign to you in that period. When that happens, wait till you go back and see how at first you have to think for a bit before finding some words, but you don’t have that any more after three days, even for words which didn’t come up in conversation or your reading in those first three days back.

In short, if you learn in the country, you won’t experience the strange but fascinating “miracle” of three day activation that people learning at their desks away from the country can get. You’ll be activising as you go because you live there. You’ll just get a mini version of that if you leave and don’t speak Korean for some weeks before going back.

2. I am hoping to do this for the Korean language. It has its own script and so I wanted to know whether I put a word in its own characters (most of which I can read) plus its romanization on the one line, then continue for another 24?



I think that as far as using the Hangeul / Hangul is concerned, it’s not an unduly difficult thing and so I recommend starting to rely on it and not romanise as soon as you can manage it. I would not necessary be saying the same if you wanted to learn Korean kanji, but since not every Korean even knows Korean kanji (it drifts on and off the syllabus in the education system there, sometimes it skips generations, like an embarrassing mental illness)

In the time before using the Goldlist I would have just played about with Hangeul by writing out all the ways they transliterate Western personal names and place names, then go on to recognising, (if you want to be ultra rational, in population order) all the names of cities as they look in hangul. This would be like a pre-Goldlist just getting used to the script, and enjoying its uniqueness, cleverness and exotic feel.

Then for the Goldlist proper I would put everything from the first thousand words in Hangeul and romanisation in the head list, but only use the hangul in the D1 distillation unless there are any you didn’t remember in which case you could keep those Romanisations on the line by way of exception. That’s what I would do.

Hope this helps, and please let us know.

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