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The Goldlist method: Learning vocabulary by writing it down

Updated Sunday, 1 May 2022
Are you struggling with a foreign language? Tired of flashcards and memorising glossaries? If so, the Goldlist method may help, all you need is a notebook and a pen!

This content is associated with The Open University's Language courses and qualifications.

The basic principle

You start by writing down lists of phrases you want to learn. Then you wait for at least two weeks to find out that you almost miraculously remembered 30% of the expressions from each list—long-term! Sounds incredible, right? Try it out for yourself. Here is a quick manual:

1. Dividing into four - A, B, C and D  Goldlist image 1 (Lýdia Machová)

Open your notebook to the first double-page spread. Let’s divide it into four sections: A, B, C, and D in a clockwise direction, starting at the top of the left page. In section A, write down today’s date followed by a list of 20 phrases you want to learn in one column and their translations in a second column, each phrase on a new line. This is called a “headlist.” Read every new phrase and its translation out loud slowly. Don’t try to memorise or remember anything, just enjoy writing out interesting words.

2. Daily headlist

Create a new headlist every day for the next 13 days only in section A of each new double-page spread. Don’t look at any of the older lists during these two weeks.

3. Test yourself

Day 15: come back to the first headlist. Test yourself on how well you remember the phrases by covering up the column in your target language. You’ll be surprised to see that you remember about 30% of the expressions (6 out of 20)

4. Copy any incorrect answers

Copy the 14 phrases that you didn’t remember and their translations into section B on the opposite page. Remember to write down the date. That’s the first distillation. You won’t see these phrases for another two weeks.

5. Repeat yourself

Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the second, third, and all other headlists, always making sure there are at least two weeks between rewriting the forgotten phrases from section A to section B.

6. Test again

Day 29: come back to the first double-page spread and test yourself on the 14 phrases in section B. Again, you’ll have remembered about 30%. Copy the rest (10 words) in section C below and include the date. Read them aloud, and that’s it. You just made the 2nd distillation!

7. Rinse and repeat every day

Repeat this process every day with all sections: keep writing new headlists (section A) and test yourself on previous headlists and distilled lists in all sections, always at least 14 days after you wrote them. That’s why it’s important to date each list.

How it works

Thousands of people swear the goldlist method and use it happily every day. The author of the method is David James, a polyglot who created the method based on how our brains remember new information: as long as they receive it in a relaxed state, they will naturally pick a few items that will be stored in long-term memory. You can’t influence which words the brain picks but you can make sure your brain is exposed to new vocabulary regularly so that it remembers words naturally. And those that it doesn’t will simply be repeated until it does.  

Goldlist image 1 (Lýdia Machová)

The Goldlist method is very simple and effective. If you’d like to know more details about the method and get tips from a goldlisting pro, get a free detailed ebook called Goldlist Method In a Nutshell at  

Goldlist image 1 (Lýdia Machová)  About the author: Lýdia Machová, PhD, is a polyglot, language mentor, and TED speaker who helps others learn languages by themselves.
She usually learns a new language every two years using methods such as the Goldlist method, and to date, she speaks 7 fluently.
You can listen to Lýdia’s TED talk, The Secrets of Learning a new Language, by clicking here.


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