Initial thoughts on a long term vocab learning system
I’m sorry if I seem to be obsessing over vocabulary learning, but it always seems to be a large and looming topic in any discussion of language learning, and I’ve had leads to a couple of new resources/ideas in the last day or two, so have been mulling things over more.
The first was actually a WordPress link to another blog by the propounder of the Goldlist system for vocabulary retention. He and some of his ‘followers’ have several Youtube videos on the system, and while I haven’t watched them all, I don’t think I’ll be taking on this system in full, although it may encourage me in the parts that I do anyway. Basically, my very rough understanding (and I only spend about an hour reading/watching information on the system, if that, and a few more making some lists and thinking about some of the pros and cons, so it’s quite possible I have misunderstood) is that Mr James (not sure about the name – he seems to go by several online) is proposing his system for putting (and testing) words, phrases and concepts in the long term memory, rather than the short term memory he feels flashcards and the like focus on.
He suggests using handwriting as a method of engaging the body in one’s learning of vocabulary, and setting aside a nice notebook (not scrappy bits of paper – this is something you’re going to go back to and want to spend some time over) to make lists of the words etc you are interested in learning. Taking time and enjoying the process of making the link (and presumably thoroughly understanding it) between the phrase and its translation/short explanation is important, but after that process, one basically ignores that list for a period of between a fortnight and two months. I believe one is encouraged to make other lists in the meantime, even many in a given day (although leaving some time between making two lists, to let the first one sink in), so that this become a rolling process. After two weeks, or however long you give it, you go back and see how many of the idea/words you remember, and make a new list of the ones you don’t (a retention rate of about 30% is expected, so don’t be disappointed if/when the list doesn’t dwindle that fast) and then repeat the process.
Some of the Youtube videos I saw were by people who have been using the method for some years, and swear by it, so it has plenty of proponents. I can certainly relate to the benefits of writing down vocab and concepts by hand, in a nice notebook (I put them in my diary, mixed in with my thoughts and experiences, and often there’s interplay between the two), and even to rewriting the things one has forgotten, but I don’t think this system is for me, for a few reasons:
- Time: I don’t necessarily have 25 uninterrupted minutes to give to writing something out nicely by hand – every time I try my baby wants my pen and notebook to write with herself!
- More importantly, I know myself and I wouldn’t keep up the practice of going back to the lists regularly. I made a few yesterday, while I was intrigued by the method, and as above I had my older diaries to garner words from, but this isn’t the kind of thing I can see myself committing to.
- Most importantly, however, I don’t really see the point. If I haven’t needed a word or phrase in that amount of time, do I now? How long am I supposed to go on learning words in lists, rather than as they come along, as I do in my native tongue?
That last point really is the clincher for me, and after a lot of thinking and discussing with my husband, I came to the conclusion that I just don’t feel the need to learn lists of words once I’m beyond the beginner stages with a language. This is why the flashcards, and some online systems I was going to discuss in this post but will at this point put off till tomorrow or later, are great for me at the moment with Russian, but are just boring in Hebrew, French, or even German. I don’t believe vocabulary makes for fluency, at all – fluency is what you do with the words you know, and how you get around the ones you don’t, in my opinion. Mr James suggests 10,000 words in long-term memory for fluency, and so devised this system, but I feel it encourages knowing words for the sake of knowing them, without any real focus on which words or phrases will ever be needed again. I agree that to an extent we are at the mercy of which words take our brain’s fancy, but I tend to prefer a relevance (to me) focus. I may be mistaking his system, and I will be inviting the gentleman himself to comment on this post. I’m not sure he’ll make me a devotee, but I can see enough good in the system not to want to misrepresent it.
Okay, I’ve found some reasonably clear videos on the system. The first is about making lists and initially distilling them, while the second is more of an overview of the system as a whole.
- Goldlist thoughts by Cyderspace (huliganov.tv)
- Leitwortstil (year-struck.com)
- How I’m doing with Russian (kaetslanguages.wordpress.com)
- Build Vocabulary (swoslpnetwork.wordpress.com)
- Language Learning: 10 Things You Should Stop Doing (conqueringbabel.wordpress.com)
- How to approach vocabulary for homeschoolers (friknfrak.wordpress.com)
- Reverb 21: Vocabulary (yogameansunion.wordpress.com)
- Vocabulary Review (ptzapblog.wordpress.com)
- Vocabulary Victims? (socialactions.net)
- Core Vocabulary Learning (teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com)
- How to insult your co-worker (papaschoice.wordpress.com)
- vocabulary strategi (blognyaprael.wordpress.com)