Polyglots and The Gold List Method

This post is just a breakdown from this video, and the article on the gold list method below.

According to Lydia Machova, her four pillars of learning, language learning needs to be:

  • Fun
  • Frequent – Small parts frequently
  • Quantity of Input
  • System – Set priorities to concentrate on for each given period of the learning process.

Overview of her 10 Things Polyglots do differently:

  1. Not Super Talented.
  2. Every polyglot has their own method.
  3. Polyglots learn language mostly by themselves (on their own).
  4. Create your own language learning material.
  5. Learn one language at a time.
  6. Spend more time on Listening and Speaking.
  7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  8. Master the art of Simplifying.
  9. Learn in Small Chunks.
  10. Enjoy learning languages.

Uncle Davey’s Gold List Method

In her video she mentions Uncle Davey and his gold list method for learning languages and I hadn’t heard of that before. Here’s a link to the jist of it:

Foundational Concepts of the GoldList Method

These 8 Basic Concepts are:

  • The concept of the duality of human memory (short-term conscious in addition to long-term subconscious)
  • The concept of a two-week forgetting period as the means to distinguish between the two kinds of memory (…–is the single most important thing which the GoldList Method is based on.)
  • Having numbers, keeping counts, statistics and scores, can be very motivating as well as having an overall learning plan to keep to
  • When it comes to language-learning, it all starts with listening and obtaining an “inner voice” for the language
  • Handwriting with a stylus is more conducive to long-term memory learning than using a keyboard (for most people – even the youth of today!)
  • Language learning requires coping with several different things, but the largest task is vocabulary (and collocation) acquisition
  • Language acquisition happens best using passive knowledge, it does not need continual activation, and when a large body of passively-learned material needs to be made more accessible, then three days of immersion is all it takes to activate it
  • What is pleasant and unstrained, what is creative and enjoyable, what is done without a sense of obligation or stress, these things unlock the route to the long-term memory

If you can get your hands on a collocation dictionary with frequency information, that would be a very valuable tool, but you will see if you search for such a thing that there are quite a few academic papers on how one might go about making this holy grail, and not many actual products we can buy and use for most languages.

And If I can sum it up it basically: Eschews mnemonics and rote memorization in favor of how the brain naturally stores material into longterm memory via physical processes involved in writing out the material and through repetition after the 2 week ‘fermentation’ period. I like the analogy to wine making that he uses.

I also appreciate this line from his earlier discussion of his method:

The use of Omega 3 and Vitamin D is helpful. The GoldList can easily be taken on walks and done outside, because it is ink and paper and not a screen that whites out in the sunshine. Similarly sleeping well assists the balanced functioning of the memory.

Sunlight is essential for vitamins and also for a good mental state.

Maintaining proper health aides memory and fights depression. From some of the survey of language learners it seems a disproportionate number of them also cotravel with anxiety/depression. May be the impetus for learning a new language is the feeling of being unable to fully communicate or socialize in ones own tongue? A way to keep the demons at bay and remain busy? Interesting discussion for another time, to the method!

How to: Uncle Davey’s GoldList Method

But…what is the ‘Goldlist’? You can read about it here but I will try to summarize it as best as I can given my understanding of it.

  1. Choose your source material for vocabulary (that should include audio) and a Notebook, this will be your “Bronze” book ‘headlist’ source material and should include at least 2,500+ vocab words or phrases (probably less phrases.
  2. Daily, Write a list of 25 vocab words or phrases on the left hand page of two pages and their translation next to them on the same line. You may repeat this step multiple times in one day, you can do this in 20min intervals interleaved with ten minute breaks doing something unrelated. Leave the adjacent page empty for now, this is where the distillations will go. You can do this as long as you’re feeling up to it but should do no more than 10 x a day (250 words total)
  3. Wait two weeks, like beer or win the timing seems to be inexact here as long as 2weeks minimum. You will continue to add new lists each day during this “fermentation” period but will not re-visit that first list until the forgettoning (my term, not his for longterm memory repetition) at which point you will perform the…
  4. First “Distillation”. Revisit the page and test for recall, keep the hardest 17 words and rewrite a new list on the page next to the original list that you left blank. In his words ask yourself, “I know that I must now discard 8 of these 25 words which are on the top of the left page and write 17 of them on the top of the right page. Which do I think I have remembered best?”
  5. Wait another two week ferment.
  6. Perform Second “Distillation”. Repeat step 4 below the first distillation- reduce and rewrite the hardest 12 from that list. “Which 5 of these seventeen words did I remember best?”
  7. Wait ANOTHER two weeks.
  8. Perform Third “Distillation” at this point only keeping the 9 hardest words and writing them under the original list.
  9. Once you’ve done a third distillation you will have a nearly full notebook as you will be daily adding 25 words to a new page and repeating this process on each page. Take the 3rd distillation from 3 or so pages and make a new 25 word/phrase list in a new notebook.
  10. This new notebook is the “Silver” book.

At the end of the process of writing down vocab/phrases/translations and distilling them you will be left with a “Gold” Book of words and phrases that will have naturally been repeated multiple times, be unique to your own learning difficulties with the words you’ve come across/ chosen and can be used indefinitely as you write new words into the books

Think the concept is less to end up with an actual gold book but to create a process of mining out the Gold/difficult words until you look at the list and realize they’re all easy. He claims it will take an average of 3.3 repetitions of most words but may require as many as 10 to get a word to stick. If my math is correct then you should

He claims this will take you to the intermediate language learner level without the fuss of ‘trying’ to force memory of words via spaced repetition flash cards and be more leisurely and enjoyable.

Either way I see it as a nice tool to have on hand, sometimes I think the thing that matters most is just having ‘some’ process with a goal in mind in order to sustain movement towards SOMETHING. As soon as I feel lost in a curriculum or unsure of where to go then motivation quickly fades as decision fatigue mounts.

Example Gold List

Let’s take an example and strive for the ‘holy grail’ mentioned above and make our own personal ‘Most Frequently Used Words Gold List’. What we will do is take the first 25 words each day from one of these frequency lists. And write them on a numbered line notebook on the left hand side as Uncle Davey mentions;

  1. и
  2. в
  3. не
  4. он
  5. на
  6. я
  7. что
  8. тот
  9. быть
  10. с
  11. а
  12. весь
  13. то
  14. как
  15. она
  16. по
  17. но
  18. они
  19. к
  20. у
  21. ты
  22. из
  23. мы
  24. за
  25. вы

Next to each word write out a short sentence using the word (for Russian, Yandex is helpful for finding example sentences or a phrasebook if you have one, or a Target language dictionary) and then its translation to the right of it, example:

  1. и – Мой друг и я I, My friend and I

Repeat this for all 25 words on the page and you’re done.

Example distillation after two weeks:

  1. не (example sentence) translation,(sentence translation)
  2. он
  3. на
  4. что
  5. тот
  6. быть
  7. а
  8. весь
  9. как
  10. она
  11. по
  12. но
  13. они
  14. у
  15. мы
  16. за
  17. вы

Second Distillation:

  1. на
  2. что
  3. тот
  4. а
  5. она
  6. по
  7. но
  8. они
  9. у
  10. мы
  11. за
  12. вы

Third Distillation:

  1. на
  2. а
  3. по
  4. но
  5. они
  6. у
  7. мы
  8. за
  9. вы

I actually like the idea of this if for no other reason than as an additional tool to review the top frequency words and as a way to practice handwriting without any expectation of what I need to think to write as the output.


3 thoughts on “Polyglots and The Gold List Method

  1. Thank you for this. Very little has been written about the GoldList Method for a few years now, and yet it remains very useful to those who have got the hang of it. I generally do it whenever I have time and use it now slightly more for non-language than for language learning.

    Please let us know how you get on and if I can be of help with any points I am happy to. In the site which you kindly link to there is a lot of grnaulr detail on how to get the most out of the method. Certainly Lydia’s presentation is a lot more digestible than mine but hopefully there are things in the whole section of the site that will repy the time taken to read them.

    Liked by 1 person

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