Question by Timmytom7777777 on Icelandic

Germanic languages and main dialectgroups in w...
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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.