In the set of Russian language learning videos I linked to a few days ago, there were two that dealt with the “Gold List” method of learning vocabulary, created by “Uncle Davey“. After watching the videos, I checked out his page on the system. While I’m not sure if the system is for me, it’s still a very interesting one.
What he does is this:
- Writes out 25 head words in the top left of a page, along with their translations and any other pertinent information (gender, special constructions, etc.)
- Waits at least 2 weeks (but no more than 2 months). He then selects 70% of the words that he remembers the least, thus “distilling” the words. In his words: “You are looking to distil out the “hard to learn” expressions and obtain a concentrated, whisky-like list of distilled words that are an absolute bugger for you to learn (by which time you will, of course, actally have learned them, because they will have gone through this distilation process ten times with two weeks’ break in between each time).”
- With that smaller list, he simply repeats the process: he waits at least 2 weeks, and then distils the list again, selecting 70% of the words that he remembered the least (or removing 30% of the words that he remembered best; same thing).
- After you’ve done this process down to the third distillation, for a number of different head word lists, you combine the third distillation lists into a new head word list. This further “concentrates” the list of words that you’ve had trouble remembering.
That is, of course, a very short overview of the process. If you’re interested in it, check out his full explanation as well as the videos.
One thing that I thought was intriguing about his process is that he says that it works best if you don’t really worry about remembering the words. When you’re writing out the words, you shouldn’t be cramming them; instead, you should just write them out slowly and neatly, enjoying the process. His explanation for this is the following:
The long-term memory is not a conscious function. Its samples are taken automatically and subconsciously out of the material which is run through the conscious. What we decide to memorise or forget only relates to short term memory. You cannot decide to learn to the long term memory any more than you can decide to forget to the long-term memory. … We banish unpleasant experience from the long-term memory and garnish pleasant experince to the long term memory.
Following that train of thought, he believes it makes little sense to suffer during vocabulary learning, because suffering won’t help you remember it; in fact, it might make it less likely to be remembered. I’m not an expert on how memory works by any means, but it’s an interesting idea. Can anyone vouch for the validity of his claim?
I do have some aversion to the system, mostly because it sounds rather clunky. I’m particularly against the idea of having multiple books to continue lists in; I can’t really say why that turns me off, but it does. Perhaps I’m thinking too far into the future with the system, and envisioning stacks and stacks of A4 notebooks all over my desk. (Not that that would be much different than the state of my desk now, but I digress.) Perhaps that is the reason I’m hesitant about the system: I’m a terribly disorganized person, and the idea of dating all of my lists, and keeping track of when a list is due to be distilled, sounds like a nightmare for me. There’s a reason I like computer programs to keep track of when a word needs to be reviewed.
The other concern I have is that using this method, I don’t think a lot of contextual information can be given easily. If you were to put a sentence with each word you want to learn, you’d need far more space than he’s allowing. Furthermore, when you distilled your list, would you copy over the example sentence again? How does one deal with words that have multiple meanings? Do you put all of the meanings under one head word and hope you know when to use which word, or do you make a separate head word for each meaning?
How does one deal with various expressions that one can build with one word? There are some words in my German dictionaries that have dozens (literally) of different expressions. Do you make a new head word for each expression, or include all of the expressions you care about under the pertinent head word?
At any rate, as I said, it’s an interesting system. I especially like how he stresses that one shouldn’t “cram” while writing the words out. Just write them out and enjoy the process; it’ll probably help you remember them.