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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

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.

Question by Timmytom7777777 on Icelandic

Germanic languages and main dialectgroups in w...

"You can have Alsace back, but forget Silesia and get out of Ireland, Cornwall and Pembrokeshire!"

I received the following question from Timmytom7777777 on YT and then got his permission to answer it here so that more people could read it – and also I don’t have a character limitation.

I have a few questions about the gold list method to which I have been unable to find answers. I am currently really fascinated with Icelandic language and have been studying it off and on for about four months. I was wondering how I should apply the gold list method to memorizing the countless grammatical changes to any word depending on its use. Should I write a sentence showing the word being used in each different case. I also have questions on what should be done when writing the headlist. Do I just write the words and definition, say them aloud, and then move on to another headlist after a break? What mental processes should be happening when I go over the gold list? When I see the word in Icelandic for dog should I see a picture of a dog in my mind or should I think of the English translation. I also have a few questions concerning audio. Is it okay to listen to audio while doing the gold list? Also should I practice writing sentences and speaking Icelandic to work on my pronunciation?

Icelandic, for those who do not know it, is highly similar to Old Norse and has a grammar containing largely the same elements as German. Unlike in other Scandinavian languages you have noun paradigms with different endings in Nominative, Accusative, Genitive and Dative. You have weak and strong verbs, and in addition to the usual verbal tenses you have the supine.

This makes it a medium difficult language. Attendant difficulties are the relative paucity of materials and the existance of some aspirated versions of consonants which can be tricky for some to master.  A large number of cognates with English and other Germanic languages gives us some ease in the other direction also. And the language is a beautiful one which easily catches the mind and the imagination.

If you have an audio course in Icelandic, something like a Pimsleur (if they did one, I’m not sure) which doesn’t need much by way of attendant reading and reading and the doing of exercises, then just go ahead and do that course first before starting the Goldlist. That is a good order to take them in. The audio courses are never very long and rarely do more than scratch the surface of the language, and already having an idea of how the words are pronounced, especially how to deal with the double consonants and their attendant aspiration, will avoid the risk that the Goldlist, which is heavily a writing based system, should serve to reinforce a wrong approach to pronunciation. 

When using the goldlist, at headlist stage I will happily include a statement of a grammatical rule in English as a line item, in note form. When dealing with regular paradigms of nouns, I would give all four cases of the noun in singular and plural so that this example noun covers 8 lines in the headlist. But the other nouns that follow the same paradigm I would not write out in that way it would be just “as ‘h’ “. Each class of conjugations needs one noun that you use as the captain of its class, and know it well, and which other nouns are in its team.

Similarly for verbs. I would always write the strong verbs out so that in the headlist all the irregularities can be seen. For regular verbs, just write afterwards the name of the verb whose pattern they follow.

Sentences are good for understanding word order, syntax, or examples of how to use words where it differs from English, or where the article use is different, etc. Or if I just liked a sentence and thought it was worth memorizing for whatever mileage I’d get out of it at parties. However, you will get more by building your own zany phrases by combining words on the later distillations. Sometimes a zany combination of words sticks to the long-term memory better than either word did on its own, and producing these combinations is not an activity that seems to switch the conscious memory function on and the unconscious off, which is what you don’t want to happen.

So on the later distillations you are packing more on one line where you had it over various lines, combining items and first and foremost jettisoning from the list items you already remember well enough.

At the end of every 25, you can go back and read them out loud if you like, but just for the pleasure of the sound. Don’t try to remember them or think of ways consiously by whjich you’ll remember them, just enjoy the sound and enjoy the thoughts flowing naturally from the word. You ask when learning the word for a dog, should you see a picture of a dog in your mind. The answer is, don’t push the dog picture into your mind. If you happen to picture a dog, go with it, but don’t go looking for it. Or you might notice something else, such as how “hundur” is like the German word, and has an English cognate “hound”, but don’t necessarily go forcing yourself there either. Let the subconscious do the work. You’re on a train here, you don’t have to hold the steering wheel like when you drive a car.

Then take the minumum ten minute break doing something entirely different, and do another 25!

I would not have music or other audio playing at the same time, I would avoid distractions. I would not be drinking alcohol while doing it, as this doesn’t aid the memory, and I would not do it while in a foul mood or exhausted. It can nicely be combined with exercise, such as doing a machine during the breaks between learning sessions, or doing learning sessions on breaks on walks. Looking back on those days when I did a lot of physically active stuff around the goldlist, I usually have a better recall level.

Don’t expect to ‘feel’ the result of this method like you do in the short term methods where you really feel like you’re learning something and it later wears off after two weeks, but two weeks is the time given to return the course if you don’t like it. This is happening all passively, but happening it is, and using precisely the same subconscious and passive mechanisms that served you so well when you learned your mother tongue.

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