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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.

Grammar and the Goldlist

English: Greek: Present Active Indicative, Imp...

Image via Wikipedia

I am often asked (or, for hypersticklers, ‘it is often being asked unto me’) “Is the Goldlist only for vocabulary or is it also for grammar, and other things?”.

It is a good question. The answer is that I personally use it for everything involving writing which is involved in the learning of a language, and I prefer to keep a language within a single Goldlist system if it’s feasible. ‘

There are sometimes cases to be made for doing multiple goldlists around a single language. If we are talking about, for instance, and understanding of the grammar points in Japanese or Chinese, it may be easier for some people to deal with these and get them out of the way in PinYin or Roomaji (there are pluses and minuses to that approach, as hiragana is used in Japanese for most of what would be considered grammar, and getting used to the look of that grammar in hiragana is essential, but you can get to it later once you’ve grasped what’s actually going on using Roomaji) A separate goldlist book can be used for that, and that would enable a person to use their main goldlist to keep track of pure vocabulary as it grows.

Likewise phrases, proverbs, lines of songs in the language that you want to remember – if you don’t want them getting in the way of the pure vocab count, stick them in a separate goldlist. It doesn’t bother me much in my case, I know anyway what the composition of a given headlist is and where I got the material to be memorised from.

Whether you have a separate grammar Goldlist or a mixed one, when it comes to grammar and the goldlist there are certain things which need to be borne in mind.

– In most languages it is possible to talk about regular grammar, the basic rules, regular verb conjugations, noun declensions, etc, and then there will be irregularities. The regular parts are learned as tables, and the use of the grammar as well as syntax is driven home by typical practice sentences. All of these things can be included as line items in the gold list once over, and not any more for those words which follow the regular paradigms.

– the irregular verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc, all the words which don’t follow the tables which have been memorised as deafult tables should have their irregularities learned at the same time as you learn the word. In the headlist you might spread the word over different lines for all the parts in which it is irregular, and then combine them in later distillations or leave them out once you remember them.

If you are talking about Spanish, for instance, (a language whose nouns are strightforward in the main but the verbs can be a nightmare) it is possible to determine from three or four of the “persons” of a verb in any declension how the other positions will look. Therefore even in the Headlist when looking at the present definite of an irregular verb, it will show only four rather than six positions. If you prefer to write all six in H (notation for the Headlist) just to get a better feel for them, then that’s up to you. If you do that, it will be possible to take the verb to four lines in D1 (notation for first distillation) and in D2 you might get those four verb forms all on one line, writing the part of the root that doesn’t change, a concatenation mark and then the parts of the verb which change with commas after them. If you are aware that you are writing the yo, el, nosostros and ellos part of the verb each time, then you don’t need to add those pronouns. By D2 you’ve probably droppoed the infinitive anyway, so as you see the rate of distillation of grammar done that way is faster than for normal vocab. After D2 you’ll probably be unable to do any more compaction, so dropping lines is a function of already being comfortable with all the irregularities.

If we were doing Japanese verbs, the Goldlist for them would look quite different. On almost all verbs it would be possible to get to one line quite quickly. The exceptions here are things like modestive verbs and aspects like the potentive form of suru is dekimasu. Most other unusual aspects can be derived from the rules by which connexive forms are made from different stems of the basic form, and that rule can be condensed to fit on one line anyway, plus general rules about phonology that you learned when you did the katakana tables and hiragana tables anyway. It’s no surprise that ‘matsu’ becomes ‘machimasu’, that isn’t even an irregularity, but I can envisage a person wanting to include it in H anyway just by way of getting used to it.

Tables of the regular paradigms can be included in the Goldlist. Some of my Czech goldlist contains pure tables and the numbering at the side is broken so as to include the number of lines in the tables, but sometimes the tables can be manipulated and this actually aids learning. For instance the adjective endings table includes at one stage of distillation M, F, N and the two plurals going across the top and seven cases going down – that’s a seven line deep table. One trick for further compaction, possible only if you are just looking at the endings and not the stem, is to turn the table on its pivot and have it presented in the less usual way of  M F N Pl (with the masc animate and the others separate using “/” signs just for the nominative and accusative where they differ going down and the seven cases going across. That turns a 7 liner into a 4 liner.

In these cases I skip a line number where the table headers are. Sometimes it’s also nice to use colours on the grammar tables to highlight areas which are identical.

I haven’t yet learned a language whose grammar would be the biggest task. I can’t think of any language, even Spanish with its irregular verbs taken at a very gradual pace, where the grammar has been the big deal. In a challenge to gain a 15,000 word vocabulary and all the grammar, the Goldlist parts needed to learn pure grammar will be something between 5 and 15% of the total.

I hope this has been useful, and either clears up people’s questions about the use of Goldlist for grammar, or corroborates what they do naturally with the Goldlist or gives them some new ideas.

Newsflash: Soon I will start a new goldlist for Indonesian and this time it’s my intention to use it as a model goldlist that will illustrate the forthcoming book. I am going to start off by doing the Pimsleur before I even look at a written word, therefore dealing with the first issue of phonics, intonation and accent which is in my view the weakest area of the Goldlist method. I will then do a particularly careful Goldlist which will be linked to the TY book, and therefore anyone wishing to follow the whole logic can get hold of the same materials, and see if they like how their application of the method differs from mine. Which doesn’t mean mine is necessarily better, but we can all compare notes that way. If anyone is interested in joining in that project, please let me know.

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.

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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