The Goldlist Method – A Scientific Critique And Why It’s a Waste of Time

Choosing the right learning methods has always been one of the most daunting tasks for most language learners. No wonder. Around every corner, you can find yet another popular learning strategy.

But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?

Most people can offer you just their opinions. I am here to show you step-by-step what are the biggest flaws of various language learning methods. In other words, I am going to scrutinize them and show you what their authors don’t know or don’t want to reveal.

The first position on the menu today is the GoldList method.

Before I start, it’s worth mentioning that this article is not meant to offend the author of the Goldlist method nor disparage anyone who is using it but to show one simple fact – it’s extremely easy to come up with a method but it doesn’t mean it’s effective memory-wise.

The Goldlist Method – What Is It All About?

Unless you are into experimenting with various learning methods, you may not have heard of the Goldlist Method. For that reason, I will try to outline what’s all about so we are on the same page.

First of all, here is a great video which sums up what this method is all about.

If you are old-fashioned, here is a description of how it works (the description has been borrowed from a great website called How To Get Fluent),

  • Get a large (A4 size) notebook. This is going to be your “bronze” book.
  • Prepare the materials (i.e. words) you’re interested in. The items you choose will go into your “headlist”.
  • Open your book and write the first twenty-five words or phrases down, one below the other, on the left-hand side of the individual page. Include any integral information such as gender or plural forms of nouns or irregular aspects of a verb’s conjugation. The list shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes to do.
  • When the list is ready, read through it out loud, mindfully but without straining to remember.
  • When you start the next piece of the headlist, number it 26-50, then 51-75 and so on.
  • The first distillation – after at least two weeks open your notebook and cast your eye towards your first list of 1 to 25 (or, 26 to 50, or 9,975 to 10,000) depending on which double spread you’re at. The “two weeks plus” pause is important. It’s intended to allow any short-term memories of the information to fade completely so that you can be sure that things you think you’ve got into the long-term memory really are in there. Make sure, then, that you date each set of twenty-five headlist items (something I haven’t done in my illustrative photos for this article).

David James says that there is no upper limit to the gap between reviews, though suggests a maximum of two months, simply to keep up momentum.

  • Discard eight items, and carry the remaining seventeen into a new list, This will be your first “distillation”.
  • Repeat the process for the second and third distillations (the third and fourth list on your double spread). The interval should be at least 2 weeks.
  • For the fourth distillation, you start a new book, your “silver” book.
  • The “gold” notebook works the same way, the hardcore items from the “silver” notebook’s seventh distillation are carried over to the “gold” for new headlist of twenty-five lines (distillation number eight) and distillations nine (17 or so lines), ten (twelve or so) and eleven (nine or so).

Summary

  • Grab a notebook and write there 25 words which interest you.
  • After at least 2 weeks check if you remember them and discard 30% of all the words. The rest of the words becomes a part of the second “distillation”
  • Keep on repeating the same process over and over again. The only thing that changes is that the older “distillations” get rewritten to other notebooks.

The Goldlist Method – Claims

The Goldlist Method

Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash

The author of the Goldlist method maintains that:

  1. The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.
  2. It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.

The Goldlist Method – A Scientific Critique

1. It doesn’t circumvent short-term memory

One of the big claims of the Goldlist method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.

Is it possible? Not really. I have noticed that 99% of claims of this kind come from people who have never had much to do with the science of memory. That’s why let’s go briefly through what is required to “remember”.

According to the author of the Goldlist method, David James:

” [[ … ]] we are alternating in and out of these two systems the whole time, we switch ourselves into short-term mode by thinking about memorising and switch out of it by forgetting about memorising.”

Unfortunately, this is a bunch of hooey. This is what the actual science has to say about memorization.

The working memory consolidation

In order to memorize a piece of information, you have to store it in your short-term memory.

This process is initiated by allocating your attention to the stimuli you want to remember.

In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.

Any stimuli that capture attention because of their intrinsic emotional salience appear to be consolidated into memory even when there is no task requirement to do so.

Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.

Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.

Contrary to what the creator of the Goldlist method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.

Our brains make two copies of each memory in the moment they are formed. One is filed away in the hippocampus, the center of short-term memories, while the other is stored in cortex, where our long-term memories reside.

You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

There is one more proof which shows clearly that the method doesn’t circumvent short-term memory. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve shows us how fast the incoherent information is forgotten.

What we mean by incoherent is that this is not the information which you can associate with your background knowledge.

This is very often the case when you learn a new language or when you’re at a lower intermediate level.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :

  • means nothing to you
  • has no relevance to your life
  • has no emotional load and meaning for you

On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge which is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.

What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.

Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:

  • frequency of occurrence
  • prior vocabulary knowledge
  • cognateness.

So is there anything nothing magical about the Goldlist method and the number “30”?
Nope. It follows very precisely the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.

You can check it yourself how low this number can get. Simply choose a language which is from the different linguistic family than the ones you already know. Track your progress and see how this number inevitably goes down.

The Goldlist Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals. That makes it less effective than most spaced repetition program right off the bat.

2. Impractical and time-consuming

Relatively high activation energy and time-consuming

One of the most important concepts in productivity is the activation energy.

The activation energy is the amount of energy needed to start conducting a given activity.

Even though the Goldlist Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation. Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.

Limited usefulness vocabulary-wise

However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in. There are hundreds of situations where one has to learn words which they are not interested in.

Good learning methods should work for any kind of vocabulary.s

And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.

3. Inflexible

The Goldlist Method - A Scientific Critique

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

This is one of the methods which collapse under their own weight i.e. it’s inflexible. The Goldlist method suggests that you learn vocabulary in 25-word batches.

What If I need to master a language quickly and I want to learn at least 40-50 words per day? After 10 days I will be forced to go through 20 distillations. After one month this number will start hitting insane heights. More and more of my attention will be required to keep up with all the reviews. This seems very off-putting.

Another important quality of effective learning methods is that they should automate the learning process. The method which necessitates more and more conscious decisions on your part the more you want to learn simply doesn’t fit the bill.

4. Lack of context

The enormous red flag for any language learning method is the exclusion of context from the learning process.

Simply repeating information in a mindless manner is called passive rehearsal. Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

This is just the first problem with the lack of context.

The other one is that almost all the knowledge you possess is activated contextually. If there is no context, it will be extremely difficult for you to retrieve a word when you need it.

In other words – you will remember the information but you will have a hard time using it in a conversation.

As a result, soon enough you will forget a word because there will be no network of other information holding it in your head.

5. Detached from reality

The problem with the GoldList Method is encapsulated in a famous adage used by Marines:

‘Train as you fight, fight as you train’

I can’t stress enough how important these words are.

Always try to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. A waste of time. It gives you this warm feeling inside, “I have done my job for today”, but it doesn’t deliver results.

Tell me, is rewriting words from one notebook to another actually close to using your target language?

6. Lack of retention intention

Another elementary mistake which we tend to make way too often when we fail to retain a word is actually not trying at all to memorize something.

You see, everything starts with a retention intention.

This fact is even reflected in the simplified model of acquiring information:

  1. Retention intention
  2. Encoding
  3. Storage
  4. Retrieval

A retention intention sets the stage for good remembering. It is a conscious commitment to acquire a memory and a plan for holding on to it. As soon as you commit to a memory goal, attention locks on to what you want to remember.

This is how attention works—it serves the goal of the moment. And the stronger the motivation for the goal, the more laserlike attention becomes and the greater its memory benefits.

In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don’t try to memorize the things you don’t know. The same goes for the GoldList method.

A key feature of a retention intention is the plan for holding on to the material. It might be as simple as rehearsing the memory, or it might involve one of the memory strategies described later. Whatever the plan, when you are clear about how you intend to retain the material, it is more likely you will actually carry out the plan, and this can make all the difference between a weak and a strong memory.

7. Lack of encoding

Take a peek once again at the simplified model of acquiring information.

  1. Retention intention
  2. Encoding
  3. Storage
  4. Retrieval

What you can see is that the second most important part of the process of memorization is encoding.

Encoding is any attempt to manipulate the information you are trying to memorize in order to remember it better.

Encoding can be further divided into shallow and deep encoding.

In the world of language learning, deep encoding is nothing more than creating sentences with the words you intend to memorize. In other words, it’s creating contexts for the items you want to learn.

Shadow encoding encompasses almost everything else. Counting vowels, writing down the said items and so on.

Deep encoding is the fastest and the most certain way of memorizing information and maximizing your chances of retrieving it.

If you skip encoding, like the GoldList method does, you immediately revert to mindless repetitions of words (i.e. passive rehearsal).

And we all know how it ends.

Mindless repetition of words has almost zero effect on your learning. If you want to increase your chances of memorizing them permanently you need to use the new words actively in a task (Laufer & Hulstijn (2001:14).

To be honest, I could add some more mistakes which this method perpetuates.
However, I think enough is enough – I think I have pointed out all the most glaring ones.

Potential Advantages

The Goldlist Method - A Scientific Critique

There are two things I like about the Goldlist method

  1. It gives you a system which you can follow. This is certainly the foundation of any effective learning.
  2. It jogs your motor memory by making you write words.

That’s it.

Suggested Modifications

The Goldlist method is too flawed to fix it in a considerable manner but let me offer you this suggestion.

Instead of rewriting words, start building sentences with them for every distillation.

This way you will incorporate some deep encoding into your learning process. You should see the difference progress-wise almost immediately.

The Overall Assessment

There is no point in beating around the bush  – this is one of the worst learning methods I have ever encountered. It violates almost every major memory principle. If you were contemplating using it – just don’t.

If you have nothing against using apps and programs to learn, I would suggest you start your language learning journey with ANKI.

Final Words

The Goldlist method is one of the best examples of something I have been saying for years – anyone can come up with a learning method. Sometimes it’s enough to sprinkle it with some scientific half-truths to convince thousands of people to try it.

My opinion is this – you’re much better off using many other methods. This is one of the few which seems to be violating almost all known memory principles.


 

47 comments

  • I’ve never heard of that method before this. Oh my god, it’s terrible. I wouldn’t be walking around with A4 sized notebooks. Although I do like a notebook to jot down the odd word from time to time.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      My point exactly. I did enjoy notebooks in the past but these days I stick to SRS programs. Way more time-efficient.

  • Holy hell what a mess… I really can’t buy into this “zero effort” bullshit. This stuff has to spread exclusively through idiots and hucksters ?

    Thanks for taking the time to bury the hatchet in this one. I appreciate your merciless honesty aahahahha.

    Looking forward to the next one!

  • Stefan Leżyński

    Bartosz Czekała, how do you think, should David J. James and Lydia Machova read the article? And write their comments here?

  • MARCELO EDUARDO ALVES

    Yes, you are right Batosz!

  • Ahh, Bartosz you always get me laughing !!! 😀 I love you way with words and your honesty.
    “There is no point in beating around the bush – this is one of the worst learning methods I have ever encountered”!

    Quite right, you are too 🙂

  • Good article very thorough. I started doing goldlisting in february in desparate search for an alternative to Anki. What I have found is with Anki I am excellent at knowing flash cards and even having a solid short term memory that enables me to keep up with everything from single words to multi sentence passages from news articles (to keep context) but that Anki creates an environment dependency. (I know it while on Anki, no where to be found when I actually need to apply it. I picked up goldlisting to break that cycle.

    The things I liked, kinesthetic, something I think helps aid my memory by manually writing rather than just typing. Felt like a collection. I could look back easily at all the words I had conquered and feel accomplished.

    Things that I disliked. The 20 minutes sit still part is rediculous as was the idea that you should grab words from a list which killed any potential of learning usage. It was even worse than Anki for being helpful in communication. I looked back to old headlists I left words in since I had “learned them” and realized as soon as let them go they quickly vanished from my memory. I credit my golf listing experiment for making my study of Hungarian relatively fruitless for communication. I participated in a 70 day challenge which made it all the worse as the goal was to do as many lines as possible rather than spend good time with each word. When I asked the questions in the users group about why things weren’t working a certain way in the group, I was assured I just didn’t know how to do it right and that I had to follow the program to a T. Anyway I broke out of the religion and now do a modified version where I make each list thematic, spend lots more time with each headlist, force myself to keep them contextual and use them in production exercises like the speaking and diary challenges. I then also put them in Anki and make sure I keep the source material so I can stay very aware of the origins and context by re diving in weeks or months later.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Very interesting comment! Thank you, Tom! Also, your modifications are spot on. That definitely should make this method more useful 🙂

  • I have been using the Goldlist Method for a few years and have some comments to add that some might find helpful.

    1. It is not meant to be used as a first step or a single tool to learning a language. This is a tool that I find immensely helpful at an experienced beginner/early intermediate level and used in conjunction with lots of meaningful input (listening and reading).

    2. Out of context vocabulary learning does not work, no matter the method. Goldlisting can be used this way, but those who enjoy it don’t tend to use it this way. Phrases and short sentences, typically as part of a theme are what make up the majority of my headlists. For example, if I’m reading an article that is a bit above my comprehension level, I highlight words that are unfamiliar or that I’m not sure about, and create a new list in my notebook with the clauses or sentences that the words are contained in.

    3. You can make as many lists in a day as you want. You are not limited to a single list. Since this is only a small part of my study habit, I typically do one to two lists a day at a maximum because most of my time is spent listening, reading, or conversing, but there are days when I look at what I’m reading and realize that I have several pages of text with three or four highlights per page, so I’ll make another list.

    4. Lastly, the 2 week restriction does not mean that you do not see that entry for 2 weeks. Ideally a language learner is studying in all kinds of ways–using the language. If anyone tells you that one method can make you a true user of a language (my idea of fluency) then you should run! If you are reading and listening a lot, you are going to see those phrases in that 2 week period, so when you come back to it to distill, the familiarity will vary based on how much that phrase, sentence, or component has shown up in your studies.

    Thank you for this article–I definitely find it helpful to think critically about the things that I am doing to help me decide if my methods are working for me at the moment. I am a tactile learner and the act of writing things down helps me a great deal.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Thank you for your comment, Michelle. Unfortunately, even we factor in everything you have said so far, the method simply loses with even the simplest of SRS programs. With ANKI / Memrise or any kind of program of this kind, you can automate the learning of all the words you want but you are not BURDENED with remembering about all the impending reviews. It would even be much better to use SRS program like his: every time a word pops up, you write down a sentence with it. Bam. The entire process is simplified.

  • André Jeannelle

    I’ve been using the Goldlist method for about a year to learn spanish. For me, it works wonder! I’ve memorized much more vocabulary and grammar than with any other method.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Thank you for your comment, Andre. How have you learned previously and what is your measure of success vocabulary-wise?

  • I tried this method with 2 languages where I am a beginner (A1 – Hebrew and Tibetan) and another language where I am at an advanced intermediate level B2 – German. My personal findings were that this was not at all useful for my opaque beginner languages (words or sentences) and that it was slightly more effective with German sentences and contextualised meaning.
    For me, simply the most efficient method of learning vocabulary is to create a pool of words from a single common source (short stories, news, etc…) or frequency list (not ideal) and then use Iversen’s List method (5 words as a cluster, back and forth translations) or writing sentences with self referential meaning – and I try to keep the sentences using the senses (visually usually), sexual or other emotionally weighed content. Then, learned terms go to Anki for review (NOT for learning). The other method is to do FSI style drill cards for productive output.

    I’m not trying to remember the meaning of a word. I’m trying to remember how to use and understand it.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Your learning method certainly has plenty of advantages – kudos! As for the Goldlist Method, I believe that most people who find this method effective simply learn language who are relatively similar to the language they already know, which might give the illusory impression that they indeed learn fast. The other possibility is that they have never before used any systematized learning system.

  • Hello! While I don’t use this method myself, I do think some parts of actual language learning are missed in the evaluation of the method that are an essential part in me speaking 11 languages by now.

    The most essential thing is that experience, not memory, is what helps you actually speak a language. And I think that is exactly what this method triggers. I usually say that the most important skill in learning a language is how well you can forget, because until you have forgotten, you still rely on memory instead of experience. If you think this is bullshit, think again: how often when you speak your native language, or any language you speak well, you actually try to remember things? And worse, when you actually need to remember something, communication gets terribly slowed down! That’s why I think it’s great to have a method of learning that tries to avoid remembering, even if maybe the reason stated for it to work doesn’t agree with your scientific lingo of how things work.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Hi Joop! Thank you for your comment but I don’t think you understand how memory works. First of all, you’re trying to compare the acquisition of your native tongue with learning a foreign language. These are to absolutely different processes. Now we get to another matter. I don’t think is bullshit, I know it is bullshit. You are trying to paint a truly mystical picture of being able to use the language which reveals your lack of understanding of the matter. Here is a long article about what helps us to recall a piece of information: https://www.universeofmemory.com/difficult-to-recall-vocabulary/. Please read it and take another look at the Goldlist method and tell me that it fulfills any of the conditions required to efficiently retrieve information.

  • You lack the basic understanding that the best method for language learning is one that you enjoy and will make part of your everyday life. As you stated on another post, “Enjoyment? What a load of crap. If you want to get results quickly, learning won’t be pleasant.” — that attitude sadly shows that you are out of touch with the majority of society. For most people, they will not stick to learning anything, let alone a new language, if the process is unpleasant. They will become discouraged and give up.

    I tried SRS programs and hated them. I wasn’t able to stick with it, and doing it felt like a chore. However, I love the Gold List Method. Because I love it, it is more effective for me.

    There are some basic aspects of the method that you seem to be unfamiliar with, but I’ll leave it to the pros to dive deeper.

    However, here is my list of things you missed about the method while you were hiding in your castle of No Fun: The tangible “trophy” of filling up notebooks is extremely motivating. My vocabulary acquisition has skyrocketed. It was noticeable almost immediately after I started the GLM. I worked through a book of the most 5,000 common words in my target language, including sentences (which you seem to not realize is part of the method). I had tried to do the same thing with Anki previously, and wasn’t able to stick with it, and the process actually discouraged me from studying my target language for a few months afterward. However, I finished the book using the GLM in less than a week and immediately my comprehension of the language grew tremendously. My retention rates with zero conscious effort have been between 30-40%.

    In combination with lots of reading and listening, the GLM has proven to be the best language learning method I’ve discovered yet. However, when people ask me for my advice about learning a language, I always tell them the same thing: The best method is one that you enjoy. Most people do not have the motivation to continue learning without enjoyment.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      One thing is definitely true – if you believe this statement to be true, it is true FOR YOU. It is definitely not true for me. My experience is that the best language method is the one which allows you to progress the fastest. Because of the results of your work are the best possible motivator. If you think that learning a language for 4 years instead of 1 is better for you because you’re having fun then go ahead. It’s your life and it’s your time. I can tell you this, to contrast your opinion, I specialize in rapid skills acquisition. People come to me to learn fast. And I have never had even one person who wasn’t extremely motivated to learn more after discovering that they can start having basic conversations after a couple of weeks.

      Please look at my other comments – I don’t think that the typical use of SRS programs is effective and I fully understand why so many people have problems using them. The way I usually put it is – the algorithms are close to perfect, it’s what you do with these algorithms that really counts. Thank you for your comment!

  • I have been an active user of anki, memrise and quizlet. I have learned more than 3000 Chinese items with the help of it. I stopped because the words and sentences didn’t stick. I got bored with anki and its interface. I feel like vomitting when i start the app. Does it have to be like that ? learning won’t be pleasant.? it has to be, otherwise you won’t remember something quickly. Sometimes I find that a look at the colorful billboard and I remeber that phrase instantly. Any SCIENTIFIC CRITIQUE ? GLM works like that.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      I fully agree with you – programs like ANKI and memrise and so on don’t work well. But there is a reason for that. Most people who use the use the learning strategy approach called passive rehearsal. It is simply a mindless act of rattling off a cluster of information. Think about it as trying to memorize a phone number by simply repeating it in your mind. Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

      So to sum up – the programs like these won’t work if you don’t understand how to use them properly and what is necessary to create permanent memory traces.

  • I think we have a bad case here of “The problem with the Gold List Method is it works in practice but it doesn’t work in theory,”

    Really the only way that one can tell whether it’s superior or inferior to other methods is by comparing its results over a long period with those achieved by other methods. To condemn it on purely theoretical grounds is not good science.

    But even on purely theoretical grounds I think it has more going for it than you are giving it credit for. For a start you have misunderstood what the author is saying about “short term” and “long term” memory. (I admit that it’s not as clear as it should be in the instructions). But apart from that it is the best method I know for regularly reviewing material until you really know it.

    I’ve used both SuperMemo and Anki extensively and what I’ve found happens every single time is that they start off brilliantly but the reviews get longer and longer and harder and harder. I think the SuperMemo algorithm (which Anki and others are based on) is on something like its 17th version in order to deal with just exactly this problem. The Gold List Method on the other hand is something you can keep going year on year out without this happening. Ok, you may not learn as “efficiently” as you would with the other methods, but you are not going to learn anything at all with them if you give up because you have got so far behind.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      It’s extremely easy to find people who didn’t find any success using this method. The more interesting question is – why do people find success using it. My guess would be that it provides some structure which a lot of people lack in their language learning. What’s more, we get to another question – what does a person mean when they say that they learn vocabulary successfully thanks to this method? For most people, there is just one criterium for this – recalling words in a relevant context. If you use the method which is deprived of the contextual element, you will never achieve it.

      As for ANKi and Memrise, people who have failed to find success with these methods did so because they don’t understand that the most important part of this program is what you do with the algorithms, not the algorithms themselves. We have known since 70’s that so-called passive rehearsal is useless for long-term retention, yet 99% of people use these programs exactly like that.

  • I am a seasoned language learner. I have tried various methods and techniques for learning. I find this method to be really helpful and focussing. Previously I would cram words, phrases, verb drills, etc and seemingly learn a language to a good level quickly. However, when I came back to that language a few months later, what I’d learnt was hard to recall. The Gold Method helps with retaining phrases over a long period of time.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Thank you for your comment, Andy! Being a seasoned language learner, unfortunately, doesn’t mean much. It means that you have tried a lot of methods without knowing what makes one or the other effective. There are dozens of factors which can influence a potential success of using a method. Scientifically, the GoldList Method is bad. If you like using it, I am not going to argue with that. I am stating the facts. Whether somebody uses them is another thing.

  • So you’re saying that what really makes the difference is not whether a person is using The Gold LIst Method or Anki/Memrise/etc, but whether they are recalling words in a relevant context? Well, yes. I agree with that, but it’s no more difficult to do that with The Gold List Method than it is with Anki/Memrise/etc.

    You also say in your review “What If I need to master a language quickly and I want to learn at least 40-50 words per day?”

    In your answer your figures are totally and completely off. You say:

    “After 10 days I will be forced to go through 20 distillations. After one month this number will start hitting insane heights. More and more of my attention will be required to keep up with all the reviews. This seems very off-putting.”

    This is doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the truth of the matter. If you put two batches of 20 entries a day into the Gold List system, after 10 days you would be doing zero distillations. That’s because distillations don’t start until Day 15. From Day 15 onwards you would only be doing 2 distillations a day. After 29 days you would start doing four distillations a day, though two of the four would be shorter. So far from hitting “insane heights” by the end of the month you would have a very reasonable workload.

    By contrast if you put 1,200-1,500 words into Anki in a month you would be completely overwhelmed by the number of repetitions – I know, I’ve done it. As you say in one of your other articles, you wouldn’t even have time to do any reading or listening in the target language.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      You’re hearing what you want to hear. I am saying that recalling words in a relevant context is the ultimate gauge.

      1) ANKI, even though people use it in a wrong way, is far superior to the GOldist method because it is automatic and it is based on the Ebbinghaus’ curve which has been verified in over 120 studies. If you claim that it’s better to burden your memory with remembering about reviews (Which are not optimized!) then we have nothing to talk about. I am pretty sure people can easily make up their own mind concerning this matter.

      2) Let’s put it like this – even if I am wrong about the number of distillations we come back to the point zero – you have to remember about doing them which makes this method impractical.

      3) Mark, I am willing to challenge you, or any person who spreads such bizarre claims – let’s choose a language of any kind and choose anywhere between 1,5k to 3k words. You use the Goldlistmethod, I use mine which is based on ANKI. I can guarantee you that it won’t end well for the Goldlist enthusiast. ANKI systematically spreads reviews according to your level of knowledge. The same thing can’t be said about the Goldlist method.

      4) Once again, you hear what you want to hear. I have written clearly that there is no point in doing listening, and especially reading, at lower levels if you know how to acquire vocabulary effectively. IF somebody wants to do it anyway, there is definitely time for that. There is just little logic to it.

      If you want to quote me, please don’t twist my words. It just shows potential ill intentions.

  • Dear me, I don’t think I’m the one hearing what I want to hear.

    You are wrong about the number of distillations by a huge factor. So huge that one wonders why one should trust anything else you say about the GLM if you can make such an egregious error.

    You talk about burdening my memory with having to remember reviews, when all the reviews are in the same place, clearly dated so I can see at a glance when a review is due. Again, if you don’t understand that why should anything else you say about this method be relied on?

    You claim the reviews in GLM are not optimized, when they are based on Ebbinghaus’s findings that what you remember for two weeks you are likely to remember for a long time.

    It’s easy to issue a challenge when there’s no possible way in which it could be arranged between us. But if I were to accept I would want strict limits to be set on the amount of time that could be spent each day on it.

    My remark about about being overwhelmed by Anki repetitions was based on my own experience (and I have read many reports from other people saying the same thing – and SuperMemo is still trying to solve the problem).

    I’m sorry you think I was misquoting you. I was thinking of where you said “I forbade Mathew to read and listen to anything for first three months.” and where you said “Ok, so that might be another thing which might seem bizarre to you – Mathew had no other conversational partners besides me. Not that it was forbidden or anything, his schedule was simply too hectic to find any people who would be willing to conform to it.”

    Sorry if I mistook that to mean that he didn’t have enough time or anything.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Mark, it’s a bit silly that I have to say it but take a look at the Ebbinghaus’ curve. It’s in the article so you don’t have to look far. The Goldlist method doesn’t follow it.

      “You claim the reviews in GLM are not optimized when they are based on Ebbinghaus’s findings that what you remember for two weeks you are likely to remember for a long time.”. Oh my. That’s difficult to discuss this issue with you because, and I mean it as respectfully as I can, you clearly don’t know much about memory. What you said would be true if, bear with me, you did all the previous repetitions. It means that yes, your chances of remembering items after two weeks would increase your chances of remembering them for a long time if you repeated the said items after roughly: 1 day, 3 days, 1 week and then 2 weeks. What’s more, because you clearly don’t know this, the optimization mechanism of the Ebbinghaus’ curve doesn’t work if you use the mechanism called passive rehearsal to learn. The very same mechanism which the Goldlist uses.

      I have clearly said that I understand all the comments about ANKI. But once again – the problem is in the way you use the optimization algorithm, not in the algorithm itself. If you feel that the Goldlist Method is the way to go then go ahead and use it. I clearly can’t change your mind.

      Although, I can’t understand anyone who basically says “rewriting sentences from notebook to another is a superb idea, if you don’t understand it then you shouldn’t write articles!”. Sounds outright ridiculous.

  • I’m looking at the diagram of the Ebbinghaus curve on your website and what I see is a line that starts very steep and then levels off. I presume if it were extended further it would level off even more. This is exactly what the Gold List Method is based on. The likelihood of a particular fact being forgotten decreases the longer the interval since it was learnt. In other words if you’ve remembered something for a week then the chances of your forgetting it within the following week are much less than in the first week. This effect gets greater the longer the interval.

    “What you said would be true if… you did all the previous repetitions”

    This is nonsense. The graph shows the effects of memory on items which have NOT been reviewed. Even I, who clearly know nothing about memory, can understand that.

    “your chances of remembering items after two weeks would increase your chances of remembering them for a long time if you repeated the said items after roughly: 1 day, 3 days, 1 week and then 2 weeks.”

    What on earth has that got to do with it? If you’ve remembered something for two weeks already, why would anyone want to go back to reviewing it after 1 day, 3 days, 1 week and then 2 weeks”?

    “the optimization mechanism of the Ebbinghaus’ curve doesn’t work if you use the mechanism called passive rehearsal to learn.”

    There is no optimization in the Ebbinghaus curve. It merely shows the rate of decay of memories if there is no review at all.

    I’m not convinced that you actually understand what “passive rehearsal” is. It’s certainly not the method used by The Gold List, which used “cumulative rehearsal”. Look it up.

    “the mere idea of rewriting words from one notebook to another is just ridiculous.”

    It’s only on the fourth distillation that you write the remaining words in a different notebook. And by that time your original 25 is down to 9.

    But why “ridiculous”? Writing things down by hand is a well-attested memory aid. If you don’t believe me, look it up.

    I guess I’ve said everything I have to say about this, so I’m going to leave the last word to you if you want it.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      “This is nonsense. The graph shows the effects of memory on items which have NOT been reviewed. Even I, who clearly know nothing about memory, can understand that.” “There is no optimization in the Ebbinghaus curve. It merely shows the rate of decay of memories if there is no review at all.”

      I am really happy that you have written this 🙂 You see, I though to myself that even though you clearly know very little about memory, you won’t admit it so it’s enough that I don’t give you some information and with very little time you should make yourself look silly. I didn’t have to wait long. Yes, there is optimization in the Ebbinghaus’ curve. Algorithms in programs like ANKI are based on so-called critical points from this curve. So why would anyone want to go back to reviewing it after 1 day, 3 days, 1 week and then 2 weeks? Because that prevents the decay of memory traces. But you obviously didn’t know this, right? Once again, there are over 120 studies which confirm it. And yet, you’re standing here waving your hands and screaming “it’s silly!”. Yeah, science is indeed silly. Please take a look at the following graph: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/3314994/Imported_Blog_Media/ebbinghaus-diagram.png?t=1532699733218 . It shows how reviewing words after 1, 3 and so on days affects memory retention.

      2. “the optimization mechanism of the Ebbinghaus’ curve doesn’t work if you use the mechanism called passive rehearsal to learn.”

      Ugh. I am pretty sure you see this definition for the very first time so I will help you with it. I will also simplify it for you: Passive rehearsal is simply a mindless act of rattling off a cluster of information. There is no encoding and most of the time, there is no context. And here is some research 70’s proving that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973). Even if you optimize your repetitions.

      Next time you decide to answer, please answer these question because you don’t address them anywhere – where is the element of encoding in this method?

      3. Once again, please educate yourself. I don’t have to take your word for it. I read 30+ memory studies per month. Here is an entire article about writing: https://www.universeofmemory.com/writing-or-speaking/
      Writing gives SOME memory benefits. So does chewing gum. Or looking at trees. Or changing the color of light while learning. There is research backing memory benefits of all these things. What you didn’t understand from this article is that only deep encoding guarantees efficient, fast and long-term learning. Writing is NOT deep encoding. It’s shallow as heck.

      Once again – where is the element of deep encoding in this method? If you want to defend do it properly.

  • Perhaps you could be slightly less offensive when you reply. I’m trying hard to remain civil but you are making it very difficult.

    I’m not a memory expert, no. But I have been a long-term user of SuperMemo and Anki, have read a large number of the technical papers on the SuperMemo site, have read quite a few books on memory over the years, most recently “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown and “How We Learn” by Benedict Carey”, and invented my own memory method in the 1970s based on memory intervals. using which I taught myself enough French in my spare time to qualify as an Interpreter.

    I haven’t mentioned any of that before because I believe arguments should stand on their own merits. However since you have directly addressed it, I have too.

    Now for the other points you raise:

    There is no optimization in the Ebbinghaus curve. That’s just a fact. As I said the diagram just shows the rate of decay of memorized items when there has been NO review. I am well aware that people have chosen various points from the curve and identified optimal review points. That was not the point I was making.

    The point I was making is that after a certain time the rate of forgetting without any recall levels off. That is the effect which The Gold List uses.

    The commonly understood meaning of passive rehearsal is learning things individually without reference to what has already been learned, i.e. the way in which Anki presents you with a card for review on its own without your being able to see the preceeding cards. Cumulative rehearsal is where you are able to see everything you have reviewed or learnt during the session before you learn or review the current item. This is what you are able to do with Gold List. Cumulative rehearsal is considered to be the superior learning strategy.

    As far as I can understand what you are saying about coding, you think words should be used in context. Well, yes. That’s hardly the great insight of the ages, is it? That’s something that is recommended in The Gold List instructions. It’s something I do regardless of what method I’m using. But in fact I believe that the latest research has found that “interleaving” is very important too. (I read that in the first of the books I mentioned above).

    “Writing is NOT deep encoding. It’s shallow as heck”.

    Well, no. It’s not deep encoding. I didn’t say it was. It’s enlisting one’s senses in the whole memory process (it’s good to read it aloud while you’re writing too).

    To sum up, you’ve got just about everything about this method wrong. You obviously only gave it a cursory reading before writing your article condemning it on the basis of what you though it was saying. I hope that you read your scientific papers with a bit more care and comprehension.

    Now, I really have finished.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      I apologize for any offensive remarks, certainly didn’t mean anything wrong. But that’s my point. It’s hard to discuss something with a person who knows little. The books you have mentioned are like cliff notes of real memory-related literature. And as for your method – I have devised well over 20 in the last 12 years. It doesn’t mean that they were good. Most of them were quite terrible. It took a lot of tracking, statistical analysis and reading to discover where I was wrong.

      As for your points:

      1) I definitely misunderstood this point. Yes, it certainly levels off. But the thing is that there is research comparing reviews done using the critical points from the Ebbinghaus’ curve and fixed intervals which the Goldlist method uses. The latter almost always fare worse. And it’s not very surprising why.

      2) Passive rehearsal in the memory science (not in psychology) has exactly the same definition which I have given you. And the GOldlist Method uses it.

      3) I don’t think you understand what deep encoding is. It’s not just about context. It’s about creating your own sentences (i.e. the context). And this is the very thing which the GOldlist MEthod doesn’t include on top of the inefficient review schedule.

      I think I have finished as well. Now everyone can make up their own mind. Thank you for this discussion, Mark!

  • Szanowny Panie, liczni użytkownicy Metody GoldList prosili mnie w ostatnich dniach o stosowanie się do Pańskiej “krytiku naukowej” GLM. Jednak, szczerze mówiąc, nie mam za bardzo jak. Przedstawiona wersja Metody przecież tak bardzo odbiega I odchyla się od tej mojej, że ciężko mi nawet wiedzieć gdzie zaciąć.

    Nie tylko nie linkował Pan do oficjalnej pełnej wersji wyjaśnień z http://www.huliganov.tv, ani nie był Pan.uczestnikiem grupy dyskusyjnej na Facebooku gdzie mógłby Pan dowiedzieć się prawdy o Metodzie, ani nie udał się Pan do żadnego kontaktu ze mną z tym samym celem, ale Pan skorzystał ze skróconych, często niepełnych wyjaśnień. Dla mojego rozsądku pierwszym krokiem badacza wzgl. naukowca jest sięganie do źródeł. Prawdziwych źródeł. Czy nie tak uczą w dolnośląskich uczelniach?

    Skoro Pan nie raczył mi (no i sobie z resztą) zrobić tej podstawowej grzeczności, to nie za bardzo mam tu czegoś do powodzenia, oprócz że przytoczoną przez Pana metoda przypisana mojej osobie ma tyle do czynienia z faktyczną metodą GoldList jak korańska wersja Chrystusa ma do czynienia z biblijną.

    Jeżeli Pan raczy stosować się do tego co ja faktycznie napisałem i publikowałem a nie do tego co jest z drugiej ręki, nie wykluczam a) że stosuję się do wszelkich konstruktywnych krytik, ale nie do takich wyrażonych w tym bezczelnym I aroganckim tonie tego artykułu, oraz b), że faktycznie Pańska wiedza ulepsza metody dla przyszłych użytkowników.

    Pamiętajmy, że ja, w odróżnieniu od Pana, nie sprzedaję nic tylko bezinteresownie daję pomóc ludziom, przy czym ta pomoc jest realna i sięga do setek zadowolonych użytkowników Metody.

    Tak, jak jest, naprawdę szkoda słów…

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Wersja, jak zapewne Pan wie, została zaczerpnieta ze strony How To Get FLuent, gdzie wyraznie zaznaczone jest, ze zatwierdzil ja Pan i wniosl do niej poprawki, wiec nie bardzo rozumiem skad rzekome nieporozumienie. Nie bardzo rozumiem, czemu mam robic Panu grzecznosc? Stworzyl Pan metode i aktywnie ja promuje. Jesli ma Pan odwage zbierac pochwaly to i powinien Pan sie liczyc z potencjalna krytyka. Nie bardzo wiem, co ma grzecznosc do tego. Nigdzie nie atakowalem, i do tej pory nie atakuje Pana osoby lecz metode, ktora jest po prostu zla. Pan przedstawia swoje argumenty, ja swoje. Koniec koncow artykul nie jest ani dla mnie, ani dla Pana, lecz dla czytelnikow. To czy odniesie sie Pan do krytki to Pana sprawa. Ewidentnie meczy to Pana bardziej niz mnie szczegolnie zwazywszy na goraczkowe sprawdzanie moich profili na mediach spolecznosciowych.

      A argument a propos tego, ze ja sprzedaje produkt jest tak trafiony, jak oskarzanie piekarza, ze kasuje za chleb , kiedy Pan za darmo piecze go ze starych skarpetek. Pozdrawiam!

  • Byłem zadowolony że mój przyjaciel Gareth Popkins chciał dać swoim czytelnikom informację o Metodzie. Zmieniłem parę rzeczy ale tak naprawdę, aby już wystawić na publiczną arenę bardziej pełną lub definitywną wersję spędziłem dużo czasu tego lata pisząc właśnie to opisanie.

    Jeżeli Pan ma jakąkolwiek szczerą chęć pomagać czy swoim czy też moim czytelnikom, to sugeruję jednak stosowania się do prawdziwych źródeł.

    Fakt że Pan chce zarabiać ze swojego chleba nie znaczy, ze jest ze starych skarpet. Pański artykuł tutaj conajmniej takim jest.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Czyli rozumiem, ze artykul ze strony Gareth’a jest zupelnie niezgodny z prawda? Mam szczere checi i robie to za darmo od lat. To ze w procesie dostal Pan rykoszetem i Pana ego nie moze tego zniesc jest ewidentnie Pana problemem.

  • Wow, that’s the first time I hear about this “The Gold List method” and thanks God I’ve never learned with it. It seems to be like lots of hours wasted just on writting down words I’m interested in, but where is speaking, active using them and simply fun of surrounding yourself with languages?
    For me just another crap to forget.

  • No idea why anyone would use it but each to his own I guess.

  • Thank you for your interest in the Goldlist Method! I see that your article contains a lot of misconceptions about it, so that even though your understanding of memory is accurate, you reach the wrong conclusion in the end. I’ll try to clear things up for you, since I have been using the GLM for many years and to great effect.

    “But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?”

    This is a rhetorical question, but I will answer it anyway. You know it’s effective when it does what it is designed to do. And the GLM does do what it is designed to. And it is based on real science, namely on the forgetting curve. The two weeks are the core of the method; everything else is more or less optional.

    “First of all, here is a great video which sums up what this method is all about.”

    Christopher Huff’s video is indeed great, but it is intended as a tl;dr version of the full explanation, so it is good that you have included a link to a fuller explanation. However, it would have been even better if you had also included the link to David’s newly refined explanation so that readers could get it straight from the horse’s mouth. The new explanation seeks to clear up common misunderstandings that have become apparent and that he was not (and couldn’t have been) aware of when he first posted it.

    “The author of the method maintains that:

    1. The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.”

    This is only partly true. It isn’t the method itself that gives you a 30% retention rate. Rather, the method is based on the observation that, on average, people remember around 30% of the words after two weeks. This is illustrated by Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve later in the article, so I will get back to this.

    “2. It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.”

    A better way to put it is that it is claimed that conscious memorization is discouraged because it is less effective for long-term retention (but indeed better for short-term retention). David does speak in terms of switching on and off memory functions, but he is not a memory scholar, so his hypotheses are not written in the standard academic terminology.

    “1. It doesn’t circumvent short-term memory

    One of the big claims of this method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.”

    Well, around 30% of it, and the method is based on the retention rate, not the other way around.

    “In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.”

    That’s right, but remember that what David calls ‘short-term memory’ is not the same as ‘working memory’. In GLM terms, the long-term memory is everything you still remember after two weeks, and anything you didn’t remember for two weeks is considered to have been stored in the short-term memory. In standard academic terminology, both of these would be considered ‘long-term memory’.

    “Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.

    Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.

    Contrary to what the creator of this method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.”

    In practical terms, it doesn’t really make much of a difference whether a memory is gone or you are unable to access it. The result is the same: you have forgotten it.

    “You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.”

    Indeed. This is what is called ‘activation’ in GLM terms.

    “What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :

    means nothing to you
    has no relevance to your life
    has no emotional load and meaning for you

    On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge which is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.”

    Exactly. So when the words (or whatever else you want to remember) aren’t random, but part of a language you want to learn, we would expect this number to be somewhat higher. And it does indeed seem to be around 30% on average.

    “What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.

    Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:

    frequency of occurrence
    prior vocabulary knowledge
    cognateness.”

    So is there anything nothing magical about the method and the number “30”?
    Nope. It follows very precisely the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.”

    That’s right. And this is what the GLM is based on.

    “The Gold List Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals.”

    That’s right, and for good reason. Normal spaced repetition systems try to catch words and bring them back as soon as you forget them, but by doing so, you end up reviewing a lot of words that you already know. In fact, based on the forgetting curve you probably know about 30% of the material essentially for life after having looked at it only once, and yet you will spend valuable study time reviewing it.

    In the GLM system, you instead wait until you’ve forgotten all or almost all of what you won’t remember for life, and only then do your review. After two weeks, the forgetting curve is almost completely flat, so that is a good cut-off point.

    “Even though the Gold List Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation.”

    I’m sorry, what? Each distillation lessens it, if anything, because there are fewer lines for each distillation.

    “Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.”

    The vast majority of distillations require only one book, and it does not have to be A4. Only the initial headlist and each transfer into a new book require more than one book.

    “However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in.”

    No, it doesn’t mean that in the way you take it to mean. With any method you have to decide which words you are going to learn, e.g. all the words in your textbook, all the words of a certain frequency, etc. These words are the ones you want to learn, or in other words, the ones you are interested in learning.

    “Good learning methods should work for any kind of vocabulary.s

    And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.”

    Yeah, like the GLM. 🙂

    “This is one of the methods which collapse under their own weight i.e. it’s inflexible. The method suggests that you learn vocabulary in 25-word batches.”

    That is one of the suggested ways of going about it, but it isn’t the only one. You can do 20 instead and it’s perfectly fine. You don’t even have to do the whole batch at once if you don’t want to.

    “What If I need to master a language quickly and I want to learn at least 40-50 words per day? After 10 days I will be forced to go through 20 distillations. After one month this number will start hitting insane heights. More and more of my attention will be required to keep up with all the reviews. This seems very off-putting.”

    Like its creator says, the GLM is not a tool for learning *quickly*. There are other tools for that, and I’m sure you know many of them. The GLM is a tool that optimizes time spent learning. It makes every minute count, because you don’t waste time reviewing things you won’t forget anyway.

    “Another important quality of effective learning methods is that they should automate the learning process. The method which necessitates more and more conscious decisions on your part the more you want to learn simply doesn’t fit the bill.”

    Oh? I thought engaging with the material would be good for memory.

    “The enormous red flag for any language learning method is the exclusion of context from the learning process.”

    You seem to assume that the GLM is only for random words, but this is not the case. You can use it to learn all the words in a dictionary if you really want to, but a textbook is preferable. You have as much context as your source material gives you.

    “Simply repeating information in a mindless manner is called passive rehearsal. Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).”

    Well, good thing the GLM isn’t mindless repetition, then.

    “The other one is that almost all the knowledge you possess is activated contextually. If there is no context, it will be extremely difficult for you to retrieve a word when you need it.”

    Well, yes. So you should choose good source materials.

    “In other words – you will remember the information but you will have a hard time using it in a conversation.”

    That is until you activate it. The GLM is only one part of the learning process.

    “Always try to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. A waste of time. It gives you this warm feeling inside, “I have done my job for today”, but it doesn’t deliver results.”

    It does deliver results. You increase your knowledge of the language (or other subject) you are learning.

    “Tell me, is rewriting words from one notebook to another actually close to using your target language?”

    This is a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer it. It depends what you want to do with the target language, and it certainly helps you write it. Either way, this is built on a false premise. Spending your time activating your knowledge, i.e. practising the language, takes away time that could be spent learning more. The more you learn before you activate it, the more useful the activation/practice will be for you.

    “Another elementary mistake which we tend to make way too often when we fail to retain a word is actually not trying at all to memorize something.

    You see, everything starts with a retention intention.

    This fact is even reflected in the simplified model of acquiring information:

    Retention intention
    Encoding
    Storage
    Retrieval”

    This is not wrong, but the problem is that you will still be unable to access most of what you’ve learned in two weeks unless you spend more time reviewing it.

    “In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don’t try to memorize the things you don’t know. The same goes for the Gold List method.”

    Remember that the GLM term ‘short-term memory’ is not the same thing as memory science’s ‘working memory’. In fact, David advises paying attention to the words and enjoy the process, meaning you make sure the words are kept in your working memory while you write them. The advice is to not try to memorize the words, because that is less effective. Maybe that claim is wrong, maybe not.

    “If you skip encoding, like the Gold List method does, you immediately revert to mindless repetitions of words (i.e. passive rehearsal).”

    Nobody stops you from goldlisting sentences. In fact, it is encouraged, and many members of the community do it.

    “To be honest, I could add some more mistakes which this method perpetuates.
    However, I think enough is enough – I think I have pointed out all the most glaring ones.”

    I hope I have cleared things up for you. Feel free to add more mistakes any time.

    “There are two things I like about this method

    It gives you a system which you can follow. This is certainly the foundation of any effective learning.
    It jogs your motor memory by making you write words.”

    Here are some more things that you might like about it:
    It optimizes time spent learning.
    It does not require an Internet connection.
    It does not run out of battery.

    “The method is too flawed to fix it in a considerable manner but let me offer you this suggestion.

    Instead of rewriting words, start building sentences with them for every distillation.

    This way you will incorporate some deep encoding into your learning process. You should see the difference progress-wise almost immediately.”

    David James himself also recommends this, and he has done so since the very first article about it.

    “There is no point in beating around the bush – this is one of the worst learning methods I have ever encountered. It violates almost every major memory principle. If you were contemplating using it – just don’t.”

    Hopefully I have cleared things up for you now. You might want to reevaluate your position on this.

    “If you have nothing against using apps and programs to learn, I would suggest you start your language learning journey with ANKI.”

    That is an interesting recommendation, since they are both spaced repetition-based, but Anki is more geared towards learning more in a short amount of time (e.g. in two months), while the GLM is geared towards optimizing time spent learning.

    “My opinion is this – you’re much better off using many other methods. This is one of the few which seems to be violating almost all known memory principles.”

    You might want to reevaluate this now.

    • Hi Victor! Thank you very much for your comment!P) I have talked with David and agreed that I will reevaluate my stance once I read his full description of it. It definitely seems that both Gareth’s article and the said video contains only a partial explanation of the method. Definitely, some of your remarks show me what’s been missed, although I don’t agree with some of them. Anyway, thank you once again for your time!

  • Have you reevaluated your stance? Are your current thoughts on the GLM any different to what you have written in your article?

    • Bartosz Czekala

      I have not. I stand by every word and I haven’t seen any compelling evidence to make me retract even one claim.

  • I found your article very interesting and I bow to your superior scientific knowledge and yet I have still found the Goldlisting method has helped me a lot. The bottom line is we all learn in different ways and maybe the way some people learn goes against what should be happening according to the science. No matter what the science says about memory I doubt you can ever say this is what happens 100% of the time to 100% of people.
    I am an experienced linguist. I worked as a language teacher for over 30 years and have taught myself several languages. Over the years I have seen countless techniques come in and go out of fashion. What I have learnt is you just have to find something that works for you.
    I am using the method now for three languages at three different levels. Romanian at about level A2/B1, Polish B2 and Russian at about C1. I have found the lists have helped reduce stress by giving my vocab building a focus. I just had too many lists, cards etc for various sources and regularly reviewing them systematically was something I struggled to do. My sentences are not random. I have learned and accepted that I am a very auditory learner. I really struggle to remember vocabulary I learn in texts. Therefore I watch a lot of Russian and Polish TV and make lots vocab notes, which I then put into my goldlist books. When I review them I can hear the character in the programme who said it and the scene. The reviews help me focuss more time on the things I find harder to remember. I am genuinely surprised at how much better I seem at remembering new material since I started doing these books. It is not as time consuming as you think. The later distillations literally can take seconds and between the second and third I usually prune out the words in the sentence I remember and build new sentences with the harder stuff which reduces the list too. I have only ever started one silver list book but to be honest if I’m finding it that hard to remember something I think I’ll stop stressing about it and focuss on something else.
    The thing is you don’t learn a language uniquely with any method. The words I really want to know and use I will. The words which are most useful I will meet again and again. This is true if you use flash cards, spaced repetition or whatever app you’re into. Using these lists I find has given focuss to this part of my learning, is enjoyable and gives me a sense of achievement. Therein lies the crux. I enjoy it so I remember the vocabulary better. Give me another method that science dictates will be more efficient but I don’t enjoy it and guess what. It won’t be as efficient.
    As a scientist you have to know that sometimes things can defy explanation. I don’t dispute any of your science. How could I? All I can say is that sometimes some things work for people when really on paper they shouldn’t. And for me it does.

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