The Goldlist Method

I wrote about the “Goldlist method” quite some time ago (just shy of 8 years ago, wow!), but never really gave it a fair try. (If you’re totally lost about what the Goldlist method is, it’s probably best to start with the creator’s page here.) At the time I wrote the original post, I remarked that it sounded rather clunky to me, specifically in regards to the notebooks. I was concerned that keeping track of a bunch of notebooks with dated pages would be cumbersome; I was also quite enamored with Anki, the spaced repetition software that’s quite popular in the language learning community. I figured, why bother with a bunch of dated notebook pages when I have this software that will handle everything?

I’ve decided to revisit the method, though, for a couple of reasons. First, the ideas behind it intrigue me, and second, I’ve lost some of my love for digital vocabulary techniques; I’ve come to find that writing things out is, in and of itself, a good aid for remembering things, and, for whatever reason, Anki never really did work all that well for me. I did the repetitions, I added cards frequently, but didn’t really feel like I was retaining much of it. I’ve had success using Iversen’s word list method (and enjoyed using it), so I figured I would give the Goldlist method a try, too.

Perhaps the biggest idea with the Goldlist method that catches my interest is the idea that our long term memory isn’t really under our control. You can stuff things into your short term memory, but getting it into your long term memory is a bit of a tougher nut to crack. Furthermore, we tend to remember things we enjoy, and so a big part of the Goldlist method is simply taking it easy, enjoying writing out your words and definitions, and not trying to memorize them. By not cramming, you help move things along to your long term memory, rather than to your short term memory. Additionally, since you’ll be revisiting the words in a few weeks / months to distil them, the Goldlist method has a sort of built-in spaced repetition aspect to it, helping things stay in your memory once they’re there to begin with. Not quite the same as Anki’s, which is down to the very day, but it’s still repeated exposure.

I started trying out the Gold list method about 3 weeks ago; at this point, I’ve done about 8 or 9 headlists of 25 words, and 5 or 6 first distillations. (Yes, I need to use it more; life is busy, gimme’ a break). After doing the first few headlists, I found that some of the words I wrote out (and their meanings) kept popping up in my head unexpectedly, days later, so that seemed like a positive sign. The same thing has happened with the distillations. I also found that, as predicted, I felt I knew a solid 30% of the words when I went to distil the headlists. I also think that the creator of the program is onto something, in that the act of actively choosing to “discard” a word – to not repeat it in further lists – triggers your memory to try and hold onto it even tighter. Some of the words I opted to not repeat are still popping into my head on occasion, and I’ve not forgotten their meanings yet. While my experience with the system is minimal at this point, thus far, I’m tentatively impressed (and surprised), and am going to stick with it to see how things go.

In addition to seeming to work, the method has, for me, another major plus so far: it’s incredibly relaxing. Reviewing cards in Anki always stressed me out, and felt like work. Slowly writing out words and their meanings is enjoyable and calming, which, as the creator remarks, is probably part of the reason as to why I’m remembering the words so well. The idea of doing a couple writing sessions over the course of an hour sounds nice; the idea of reviewing 200 cards in Anki over the course of an hour sounds like drudgery (more power to Anki users, though!)

Putting the gold list method to the testThus far, the biggest problem I’ve had with the method was, comically, not really about the method – it was about paper. Due to the length of the lists, the method calls for the use of an A4 notebook. Finding such a thing where I’m at is nigh on impossible, and I didn’t really want to drop $20 on a nice A4 notebook for what, at the time, was simply a test run. I did have a nice notebook that I was able to make work (mostly), by basically using the top left part of the page for 2 columns instead of 1 (see in the picture). It limits how much I can put down by quite a bit, but thus far it hasn’t proven to break the system. Provided I decide to stick with it for the long term, once this book is full, I’ll probably hunt down some high quality A4 notebooks on amazon.

I’ll post more about my experiences with the method after I have some more lists and distillations behind me. If you’ve used the method, let me know how it worked for you in the comments!

 

How to use an Assimil course

I’m quite fond of Assimil courses, and I use them for French, Spanish, Russian and Dutch. But in one area, they’re very often lacking: instructions. In many of the courses, the instructions amount to: “during the passive wave, just listen to the audio and read the text, and you’ll slowly start to understand; during the active wave, go back and translate from the base language to the target language.” Considering Assimil uses a methodology that is different from most textbooks, the instructions are rather vague, especially for a person who might be studying their first foreign language. There are also “exercise” sentences at the end of each lesson, but it’s never really clearly stated what you’re supposed to do with them; do you not look at the translation, and translate them on your own after doing the lesson? Do you just treat the exercise sentences exactly like the lesson itself, listening, reading, and understanding?

The Dutch with Ease course, unlike the other courses, actually has very detailed instructions:

1. Listen to the text with the book closed. It does not matter if you do not understand what is said. You will gain a general impression of the sounds, hearing the pronunciation without being influenced by the spelling.

2. Listen to the recording a second time while looking at the English translation.

3. Read the Dutch text aloud (with the aid of the phonetic transcription if necessary). Be sure you understand the meaning of each sentence, comparing it with the translation as required.

4. Now read the Dutch text again, but this time without looking at the translation.

5. Listen to the recording twice, once while looking at the English translation, and once while looking at the Dutch text.

6. Listen to the recording again with the book closed. At this point you should understand what is being said.

7. Listen to the recording once more. Stop the machine after each sentence, and try to repeat it aloud.

8. Carefully read the comments several times. Examine the Dutch sentences being explained. These notes are very important.

9. Read the exercises. Repeat each sentence several times. The exercises review material from the current lesson and from preceding lessons. If you have forgotten certain words, consult the English translation.

10. Examine the examples of sentence structure. They show how words and phrases are combined in Dutch, which is not always the same as in English.

Of course, the Assimil courses can be used in many ways – adding the sentences and translations to a flashcard program, shadowing, writing out the lessons, etc. – but it’s nice to see detailed instructions as to how Assimil thinks their courses should be used.

7 myths about vocabulary acquisition

At the HTLAL forums, someone linked to an interesting PDF dealing with myths about vocabulary acquisition. The myths:

  1. Knowing a relatively small number of words takes you far.
  2. Word lists are of limited value.
  3. Words learned in semantic sets are retained better.
  4. Words should always be learned in context.
  5. Words whose meanings are inferred from context are retained better.
  6. Words learned productively are retained better.
  7. Vocabulary knowledge should not be tested separately.

As someone who often tires of hearing “only learn words in context, never use lists” etc., this article made my heart sing a little bit.

You can read the full PDF here.

How much listening do you do?

I’m curious as to how much listening others do, specifically, listening to material that you have no transcript for. For a while, I was listening to all sorts of stuff; I used Global Maverick’s guide to organizing foreign language listening material with iTunes, synced it with my iPod Touch, and had ear buds stuffed in my ears for hours on end. I’m not sure of how helpful it really is.

I’m certainly not arguing against listening to your target language, but I’m not overly confident that one learns a great deal when listening in this fashion. That is to say, sure, hearing something I already know reinforces it. But all of the words and structures I don’t know tend to just fly by me, lost. If it’s something new, whether a word or a grammatical structure, hearing it a dozen times isn’t going to teach me the meaning of it; on listen #12, it’s going to be a big question mark for me, just as it was on listen #1. I suppose one could argue that you could write down unknown things, but that’s going to involve a lot of rewinding, and considering that there’s practically infinite written material for the major languages, it makes more sense to just learn new words from reading.

Obviously, having a transcript of what you’re listening to alleviates this problem; listen to the item in question, then read the transcript and look up unknown words (or vice versa). Then proceed to listening to it until you’re bored of it.

Shadowing Step By Step by Professor Arguelles

Professor Arguelles has made some new videos about his shadowing technique, one of which comes to nearly an hour in length. In it he discusses the ins and outs of shadowing, and how to work through a whole course using the method. While “listening to audio and repeating it simultaneously while walking swiftly” is still the basic idea, there’s much more to it than that. Here’s the lengthy video, which I found quite worth watching:

He also made a shorter one discussing the topic:

Success with Foreign Languages: Seven who achieved it and what worked for them

I came across a freely available book some time ago, but forgot to post about it here. The book is titled “Success with Foreign Languages: Seven who achieved it and what worked for them,” and is available for free from this page. You can get the PDF of it directly here. Here’s a summary:

This book contains Earl Stevick’s analysis of the strategies used by seven successful language learners and the implications for becoming a more successful language learner yourself. There are extensive excerpts from taped interviews with the seven learners, with Stevick’s comments on the strategies and beliefs of the various learners. The book ends with Stevick’s summary of what we can learn from the experiences of these learners. This book shows the diversity of approaches and beliefs that can be held by successful language learners and can provide suggestions for strategies that may work for you.

While we all have our own ideas about language learning, and we often feel strongly about them, I think a book like this is wonderful in highlighting the fact that many methods work. Even if a particular method doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean it’s a useless method. If serious language learners could keep this in mind when talking with one another, I think there would be much more productive discussion and far less bickering. While I still like them, the forums at how-to-learn-any-language.com are sadly a fine example of this; there’s almost always at least one thread going on that is mostly two or three people arguing the same points over and over. “No, my way is better!” “No, mine is.” “No, yours doesn’t work at all!” Perhaps all of your methods work, but just not for each other?

I really liked a quote from Geoff’s latest post at Confessions of a Language Addict:

Indeed, it sometimes seems like some people make a fetish of not learning or teaching grammar, as though how you learn a language is more important than whether you learn it.

Exactly. Keep the goal in mind; as long as you’re learning and not hating the process, you’re doing something right.