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GoldList Method part 2

Schedule for 24 December 2017
Keywords: `


Playout date: 22 May 2007
Duration: 20:05

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.
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GoldList Method part 1

Playout date: 22 May 2007
Duration: 18:02

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

What’s so special about 14 days?

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

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 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

Final Thoughts (for now) on the Four Function Diagram


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Thoughts on the Four Function Diagram


I am now returning, having received a moment ago a timely reminder from Victor Berrjod, to the discussion on the above diagram, and what it can show us of use to the learners of language.

In the earlier article, I wrote about how in reading and in listening the language user is passive – not having to generate his own grammatically correct language or have the right word at hand. Therefore reading and listening are intrinsically less challenging than writing or speaking.  For someone not in an active state with his command of a foreign language, reading and listening creates less of a problem than writing or speaking. If he, or she, knows the word in their passive memory then it should be that they can deal with reading it or listening to it.  In order to be able to speak or writing a person must find that word for themselves.

So we have compared the two rows in the diagram. Let us now compare the two columns.

In the leftmost column, the one containing reading as the passive skill or function and writing as the active skill, we can say that the learner is able to exercise more control over timing when reading and writing than when speaking and listening. Read the rest of this entry

A question on the Goldlist Method

Français : A small list of common Louisiana Fr...

Français : A small list of common Louisiana French words different from normative French. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nice to see there are still all the time more and more people discovering the method online and finding out about it. One viewer asked me today:

Hello, in the last few days I’ve spent a few hours watching Your videos about the Goldlist Method. They have answered most of my questions, but one. Which is; as You’ve said, it is not a language course, or language learning method, but a way of learning vocabulary, so to learn a language the student also needs a book about the language. But how to use the course, if I’m using the Goldlist method? I mean, to make sure that the words I’ve learnt, I remember with the long term memory, I should not have contact with them for at least two weeks, but I would have if I were to use the course. Should I actually use the course (the way it’s meant to be used) after I learn all/most of the vocabulary contained in it? That would mean spending quite a few months learning the vocabulary, and not being able to really say anything in the target language. Or should I read enough about the target language’s grammar before? Though, that would mean spending some time learning the grammar, without knowing too much vocabulary to practice it with.

When I choose a language course, I try and find one that has vocabulary given in each lesson (as well as an index at the back, and graded grammatical explanations in each lesson. So I copy over the voicabulary items as single line items, and I copy over the grammatical paradigms as well as the explanations in summarised form as line items, just like noting things out of the book. I don’t need to write out all the dialogues and I don’t then usually need to do the exercises.

The fact that common words will inevitably be met again while I’m working further on the course is not an issue. These are the words which are so common of course you are going to learn them if you learn also the uncommon words, but in fact you shouldn’t panic unduly about seeing the words again, you just shouldn’t revise them again, but press on forward.

Even if you end up writing a word or grammar point more than once because you forgot you met it already, and only discover this on a later distillation, it’s really no big deal. Goldlist is quite a long project even though it’s probably the quickest way to learn in terms of total time spent, and these small inaccuracies will all come out in the wash.

Hope that helps.

Answering a person who is not attracted to the Goldlist system.

I’m reposting here my response to the article about why the Owner of the blog Polyglot Posturings isn’t attracted to using the Goldlist system. Please first read her objections here:

OK, first off, I don’t think that flash cards focus on the short term memory. It all depends on how they are used. If you cram them, then you’ll switch on the short term memory. If you take them at a measured pace and make a sort of SRS for yourself from them, you’ll be OK. I have one major problem with flashcards, namely where am I going to keep 16,000 cards? And why bother to waste card for each word when some words will be learned the very first time we see them?

Having cleared up that I am not anti flash card (and I use as well as goldlisting Japanese, and that’s a flash card approach, only on line) let me take your objections in order.

1. It was twenty minutes, but it doesn’t have to be twenty uninterrupted minutes. It is not necessary to do 25 words at once. I am saying don’t do too much in one go because the long-term memory is an unconscious function so you can’t tell when it’s got tired. You have to anticipate that instead, by having breaks. If you were to do 5 or 10 minutes a go that would also be fine. Only not to be stressed about it.

2. Once you get the system going then you develop a batching system and when you get to the end of the new batch of the headlist, then you simply automatically go back to the beginning again. You remember about it because the book is with you. It’s not necessarily a big book. Oonce you get into it it is relaxing and even addictive, and you don’t have to be in front of a screen or playing with scissors, cards and envelopes. The tools are very simple.

3. I found this argument the most surprising, and I would politely take issue with what fluency means and if it’s really the most important thing. If speaking is the most important skill, moreso than listening, reading or even writing, then I understand why people focus on keeping their smaller vocabularies actuve. It gives them the impression that they have really gone somewhere in a language, even if all they have is 1000 or 2000 words on the tip of their tongue. You cannot watch a film and understand it properly with that, you cannot really read a newspaper, you cannot delve into the literature of the culture you are looking at. You can get by like a glorified tourist, and that’s that. If all the vocab you need in a language is the vocab you’ll use all the time, then you’ll be on a par with the thickoes of that language, able to talk nineteen to the dozen but not being able to formulate very precise thoughts and limiting themselves always to a small pool of words. Your written work will not be interesting to read, anything beyond ordering food or buying shopping will be tough as you will struggle with nuances on only the words you have when you stop being a beginner. If you want to have a decent vocabulary, then it’s a question of building it up to 10,000 or maybe 15,000 words or more. Certainly that is the level that professionals using English in their work as a non-native language are attaining to and if you want to speak their language to them rather than have them simply override your attempts and slip into English with you, that’s what you’ll have to achieve. And that task takes time. Much much longer than the time spent learning just the basic grammar and the main irregular points of grammar,

Let me give you an example from real life of how I once countered the argument against the amassing of vocabulary: I was in a car with someone who said his university lecturer in English said to concentrate on grammar and not vocabulary as if you didn’t know the odd word you’d be able to guess from context what the meaning is. So I said “I see your teacher is an imbecile”, to which he said “is that good or bad?” I rested my case.

Nobody is saying that you have to achieve 15,000 words if you don’t want to. I would say it is very well worthwhile to achieve that “degree level” knowledge and it does mean a completely different kind of fluency than that pseudofluency of always having the 2000 words on the tip of one’s tongue, which actually isn’t possible for more than a few languages at once at 1000-2000 vocab levels anyway. The the passive acquisition of larger vocabularies is a better way to spend time than to spend it continually activating and reactivating a small and stagnant vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with knowing words for the sake of knowing them. Words are the tools of thought and of ideas, and you never know where they will take you. Words are deeply exciting. So are phrases, for that matter. Knowing words for the sake of knowing them is infinitely preferable to not knowing words for the sake of not knowing them.

Learning 15,000 words in an ineffective way can take so long a person may well never do it. Using Goldlist it should take 600 hours in total, but in small bursts. You can see at every moment and calculate exactly how far along the road you are, and this aids motivation. You know when you pass the half way mark and every other numeric milestone.

Reakcje na metode goldlist na forumie Spolecznosci GRMG

Gold List

#1 Mikulew

Postów: 408
Dołączył: 21-luty 09
Napisany 15 luty 2011 – 21:04

Słyszeliście o tej metodzie zwana Gold List? Metoda została stworzony przez David J. James który potrafi mówić w 20 językach! Rozmowa z nim w DzieńDobry w TVN

Najpierw oglądnąłem ten film który podałem powyżej i zachwyciłem się nim niedowierzając, że ktoś jest w stanie komunikatywnie rozmawiać dwudziestoma językami!
Znalazłem go na youtube (ma ponad 1000 filmów na youtube w różnych językach) i znalazłem filmy jak mówi po Polsku – jestem zaskoczony jak on jest w stanie mówić po polsku – jakbym nie wiedział, że jest z Anglii pomyślałbym, że to rodowity Polak! I wtedy znalazłem ten film
Metodologia Gold List #1 – Pochodzenie i Dlaczego To Dziala

Metodologia Gold List #2 – Jak To Dziala w Praktyce
(nie wiem czemu, może tak jest tylko u mnie, jak kliknie się w ten link zaczyna się od 24 minuty więc trzeba przewinąć na sam początek)
Ten post był edytowany przez Mikulew dnia: 15 luty 2011 – 21:08
Życie jest po to żeby żyć, a nie da się żyć bez osiągania. Nie żyje się po to żeby osiągać. Żyje się po to żeby żyć i żyjąc osiągamy.
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Answers to Krzysztof on layout of Goldlist books.

Snail shell

As it goes around the cycle, it gets less and less. The outer cycle is like bronze, the middle like silver, the inner like gold.

One Polish viewer, Krzysztof, asked me the following questions about the Goldlist over in Youtube, and agreed that I could answer in English and over here so that more readers can benefit. I haven’t translated the questions, as the questions will be obvious from the answers.


Chciałbym zadać kilka pytań o Gold List, otóż mam taki który ma 40 lini jednak gdy piszę 25 słów pod sobą to jest to mało czytelne, czy nie mogło to by być 20 słów ?

If you have large handwriting, and go over the lines, you may need to look for another book with larger lines, but these ones frequently don’t make up 40 lines per page. In such cases instead of having 25 lines in the headlist, you might need to reduce it to 20. 100 is easily divided by 20, so dividing the headlist up into 20s instead of 25s is a very valid alternative method.

Even for people who can easily fit in 25 in the headlist, limiting to 20 allows the goldlist book to take an alternative form which may appeal to some people: 20 for Headlist in the top left, then D1 (1st distillation) on the top right has maybe 14 words of the 20, in the middle right you have D2 with let’s say 10 words, and D3 on the bottom right with say 7 words. You would then be coming back up the left hand side with D4 on the bottom left on about 5, and have D5 on the left in the middle with maybe 3, and just take maybe 2 forward to the next book, if by that stage you even wanted a second book. I’d see it as a perfectly viable alternative.

Czy dobrze zrozumiałem, iż nie mam się tego uczyć, czy może warto to przeczytać kilka razy po napisaniu ?
Ciężko mi uwierzyć, że po przepisaniu 25 słów w języku niemieckim zapamiętam je.

You won’t have learned them all, only about 30% will have stuck. But you won’t know which really have stuck unless you leave it lie for two weeks at least at each stage. If you want to read your page out loud once, after writing it, that’s not likely to be a problem, but for pleasure. Repetition is what starts to feel like forced learning – you switch on your conscious memorizing and the unconscious one turns off – they don’t both work at once, you see. And the unconscious memory is the one that samples effortlessly a certain percentage of all you see when you are not actively trying to memorize, direct to the long-term memory.

Jednak to pan się zna, więc proszę o radę.
Te słowa mam pisać pod sobą, czy w jednej linijce można napisać

I would write them one at a time in the headlist. Condensing gradually into phrases or fictional book titles is fine in later distillations, and helps the memory process.

Po co są następne zeszyty brązowe, czy tam trzeba robić kolejne słowa z danego języka czy kolejne destylacje ?
Jednak pan mówił, że na kolejne destylacje jest zeszyt srebrny.

The second bronze book keeps going with the headlist and distillations 1-3 when you have run out of space in the first one. The silver book can be a lot thinner and contains distillations 4-7.

Answer to Question comparing Goldlist and Mnemosyne Methods.

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

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

I have been lucky enough this week to receive questions from two people on YouTube about aspects of the Goldlist Method, along with their permission to respond here so that I don’t have to fiddle about with the 500 character cut-off or however many it is over there.

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

I’m wondering whether you are familiar with Mnemosyne, an open source computer program that is reminiscent of your method – it makes digital flashcards that come up for review after a variable interval of time. The interval is determined by how quickly you remembered the material the last time, if at all. In what ways is your method superior to this one?

I assume that you are referring to the Mnemosyne Project in which case I was not familiar with it, although it seems to be building on Piotr Wozniak, who in turn builds on other researchers going back to Ebbinghaus. In my case I only learned about Wozniak’s work on memory after my own system was complete, but as you will see if you read the Polyglot Project (available via syzygycc channel on YT as an e-book for free, or in paper printed and bound on for $16.95)  you will know that my inspiration came from reading second hand about Ebbinghaus, plus my own experience as a linguist, plus the fact that getting back into numbers in order to become an accountant started to make me think along the lines of a numerically controlled learning system for languages. Read the rest of this entry

Abdul’s question on Goldlist scheduling

Arabic as official language

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

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


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

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

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

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

I suggest we therefore take the following order:

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

And so you continue, until the target is done.

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

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

Questions on the Goldlist methodology for university students

"Arabic Language" in the Arabic Al-B...

When studying Arabic or Hebrew using Goldlist, it is probably more comfortable to place the target language column to the right of the vehicle language column.

The following is a discussion that started with a PM on another forum, but the software in that forum baulked at something in my answer, but I was able to save it here, and I have the person’s permission to publish the correspondence. Which in a way is just as well as here it will benefit more people. The rest is the correspondence.

Hi, I’ll try and lace my answers in with your questions.

— Previous Private Message — Sent by :****** Sent : 16 December 2010 at 8:42am Hello, Sorry for bothering you with some trivial questions, but given that you have created the Goldlist method and learnt Russian, I thought you would be the best person to ask. I study Russian (and Arabic) at university, and although this forum is very good for methods on how to teach oneself a language, I find there aren’t that many resources for university students.

Fair comment. There seems to be less and less for University students, but only more taxes for them to be paying later on. I don’t know how Clegg looks at his face in the mirror.

My first question would be about the extent of the vocabulary I should ideally acquire at university. Indeed, I’m now on my year abroad (3rd years), and will shortly start using the Goldlist method, however, I’m a bit lost regarding the amount of vocabulary I should learn to reach a good degree level, and to some extent, fluency. Read the rest of this entry

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