Love of Language – GoldList Method

July 11, 2020

As a child of an immigrant (I’m Italian-American if you didn’t know), a second language has always been a part of my makeup. Though I didn’t grow up speaking Italian, I learned enough at a young age, and then moreso in college and spending time with my relatives in Italy. Still, to this day, I’m only partially fluent in Italian. Enough to be capable, but not enough vocabulary.

Over the years, there have been many a system to help improve one’s language skills. Rosetta Stone had some early success. And today, I think the freely available DuoLingo is probably the most popular. And while dedicating some time and effort to this each day will help you learn over time, it’s no where near good enough to acquire the skills to master a language (in my humble opinion).

Recently, I happened upon the GoldList method during a talk by a polyglot who referenced the system as one of the ways that she was attempting to assimilate new languages more quickly. Great, I thought! So I looked it up, and became excited to try it myself.

Learning about this method is somewhat involved. Probably takes an hour to understand what it’s all about, and how to learn. However, the simple idea behind it is utilizing your long-term memory for language assimilation through writing, reducing, and repeating lists of words. Sounds really exciting, huh? It is and it isn’t.

If your goal is to learn a language, vocabulary is key to your understanding others and relating your own thoughts. How do we normally learn vocabulary? Through rote memorization, and these attempts hardly ever make it into long-term memory, so you are always resorting to your dictionary. This has been my life-long battle with Italian. But repeated workings with words over time will put words into your long-term memory, almost as if you had never had to actually study them. Some words sink in like that, but most don’t… at least when you are trying to learn a new language.

Of course another way to learn a language is to visit a country and start speaking! But you still have to put in the effort. Reading, writing, speaking, and learning. So nothing changes. You still must attempt to learn vocabulary.

I will share with you the basics of the GoldList method, but if you find this interesting, you’ll find a better and fuller explanation on the GoldList method website. The simple premise is one of reducing a list of words (what is called a “distillation”)that you wish to remember into smaller and smaller more manageable lists over periods of time spaced several weeks apart, until you’ve fully assimilated nearly 70% of the original list of words. Below is an image of how that is accomplished in a notebook on two facing pages.

It really is a quite simple and ingenious method. These 70% of words have become a part of your long-term memory! They are yours to use… forever!

Imagine doing 25 words on a list in a notebook with 100 sheets. So that will be 100 lists of words, or at least 2500 words (or phrases) that will get entered into this notebook, of which you will have memorized just through the action of thinking and writing about them, 70%, or 1750 words! These words will be a part of your long-term memory. This notebook is your Bronze notebook.

That’s wonderful! But what happens to the 30% of words (750 words) that didn’t get into my long-term memory, you ask? These words are the final result of each Headlist and make up the Third Distillation (D3 list) on each page, as seen in the picture above. These become the new lists and get entered into a new notebook. This becomes your Silver List.

As you can imagine, you wouldn’t fill up your 100-sheet Silver notebook with just one Bronze notebook. So you might have three or four Bronze notebooks before your Silver notebook is filled!

And you guessed it, as you complete your Silver notebook, you’ll eventually have newly distilled lists of words that will go into your GoldList. These are the words that have taken you the most time and effort to remember. But through this process, you will get there!

Just like the Silver notebook took three Bronze notebooks to have enough words to fill it, your Gold notebook would take many silver notebooks to fill up as well. But unless you want to become a PhD in your chosen new language, 7000-10000 words is more than enough to become fluent in the target language. So your Gold notebook can be the GoldList for several languages. 3 or maybe 4 languages!

And you can see after all the work you will have put in to learn vocabulary in a target language how this notebook will be a treasured item to you, just like gold! So the name is apt…

It seems like a lot of work, but it should be no more effort than one puts into other methods for learning a language. But you will walk away with a far better grasp of vocabulary in your new language.

My first foray into this will be with French. I have been learning French with DuoLingo, and I printed out the most frequently used 1000 French words. This has not served me well. DuoLingo is fun in a way, and I will always use it as a resource. But for vocabulary, I believe the GoldList method is going to skyrocket my learning!

And after a year of doing this for French, I expect I’ll get back to my Italian to try to become more advanced. Spanish and Tagalog are soon to follow. But I can see this being very useful for anything that requires memorization… so any host of school topics, but also learning for your hobbies. It’s just a much quicker, more thoughtful way to learn, review, and assimilate knowledge… AND have that information at your fingertips when you need it! Too bad I didn’t have this method when I was younger. But it’s never too late to begin!

I’ll share progress as I go!

All Over The Board…

July 6, 2020

It’s 2020! Check that. It’s JULY of 2020! Half of the bloody year is already gone! And I come to my website to find that I’ve nearly totally abandoned it!

I’m just all over the board it seems. Life for me is a never ending lackluster pursuit of skills and knowledge, initiated with feverish excitement only to fizzle out with little notice.

So let me try anew this decade. Make the 40s-50s be the best yet. I’ll attempt to reinvent myself twice in this decade.

There is so much to tell of the last decade, but let me embark with the idea of completing shorter, more attainable goals. And keep things short. Efficient. And memorable!

See you around!!!

To Thine Own Self Be True

May 12, 2014

Nothing to do with Shakespeare here. Carry on if that’s what you seek.

I know this a bit outside the realm of “Journey Through Music”, but life isn’t always so straight forward. =] What is a personal blog, though, if I can’t write about whatever the heck I want to write about? Whimsical as it may be. Here’s something I found interesting in my life today.

I was listening to a book called “Expert Political Judgment” by Philip Tetlock. I forgot how I decided I should get it. But I did (on audible). 4 hours into the book, and 6 hours left to go, I decided to can it.

The book was monotonous. I thought it would be more story-like, and instead, it was so pedantic in validating the methodology and venturing into the minutiae of statistics that I could no longer endure it.

I removed it, and began to remove other books from my audible library. “The Unwinding” by George Packer was next. It too was a bit lengthy, but there were some interesting stories of famous people that kept my attention from waning so much that I would put it down.

Anyway, it isn’t a book I’d keep on my bookshelf, but I always check the books I listen to for bookmarks, in case I found anything of importance that I wish to reflect on again. And there was one bookmark in “The Unwinding” regarding an advisor working for John McCain.

This advisor was advised himself that when he needed to bring a deep issue before the senator, that he must realize that a senator can really have no more than 2-3 issues in their boat at once. And that if you wish to load that boat with a new issue, something has to be removed from the boat to keep the total load balanced.

So there is the strategy I need to live my life by.

Just today, I had opened about 10 tabs in my browser, full of various articles I needed to read. Some were about the healthcare industry. Some were questions of interest on Quora. And others were total asides, some of those articles of interest you see in the sidebar when you’re reading an article, in this case regarding the new privacy policy of ‘Moves’ app after their Facebook merger (and probably something I didn’t need to be reading anyway but did so since I use the app).

So there could have gone 30 minutes of my day on utterly useless stuff, and then since some of the links led me to very interesting sites, albeit nothing that pertains to me or my immediate needs, I could have very well lost another 30 minutes or even an hour. And don’t ever get linked to a video site… you’ll be lost for hours!!!

Sometimes it’s hard. The serendipity of finding a cool site. But you have to manage this urge. The world is full of well-intentioned people and never-quite-got-there ambitious folks. If you can’t control this information overload, you get lost with your purpose.

Anyway… no doubt, we’ve heard this strategy before… to weed out all the things that are not “adding value” (oh how I hate that phrase!) to your life. Businesses have done it. Southwest Airlines was great. Their mission to be the lowest cost airline in the industry (or something like that) was always used as the bar by which new initiatives were measured. You want to add meals for passengers during the flight? How does that help make you the lowest cost airline?

I don’t know what my drivers are just yet. Certainly I have more than 2-3 issues that I can drive simultaneously (unlike our US Senators!). But that is how I need to go about things…figuring out those mission-critical parts to my life.

The strategy is clear. The tactics aren’t always.

For my reading habit, however, I can look to (I want to say) Tim Ferriss. The rule employed was “how does this reading material help my immediate needs”. If it’s not worthy of what you are doing currently or in the very near future, put it down forever. If it’s something you might need for a future project, save it for later. But do not read it now. Save that time for yourself.

That is the tactic I employed today. Saved me enough time that I could write up this post today. =] And for that, I’m sure I’ll be ever so grateful. Because (1) writing things down helps to solidify the concepts, (2) sharing it on my blog might expand the conversation and give me the opportunity to learn more, (3) posterity… one day, the little Marks of the work just might learn something from my experiences.

Meet Jacopo Peri – Creator of the Opera

March 22, 2014

Jacopo Peri (1561 – 1633)

Jacopo Peri – Creator of the Opera

Never have I heard of this man.  And most likely, neither have you.  But it will be easy for me to remember him from now on.  For on my birthday, October 6, in the year 1600, Eurydice was performed.  It is the first opera that still survives to this day.  (Dafne was composed in 1597, but does not survive)

How amazing!  I’ve never given much thought to opera.  I know I will while on this journey.  But when we think of opera, one hardly ever thinks back to the beginning… how opera came about to begin with.  To me, this is fascinating.

Nevertheless, I’m interested in learning about baroque music this month.  So my first stop is to YouTube to see what pops up.  And no doubt, I was able to find some examples of Jacopo Peri.  So I listened to Eurydice.  I am not a huge fan of opera (at present), mostly because of its length.  But there were certain parts of this one that I liked.  And I did enjoy certain styles of the vibrato that I had not heard before.

Moving on, I clicked on Tu dormi e’il dolce sonno.  I did not think I would enjoy this piece.  But the opening melody of the title is so hauntingly beautiful.  You must hear it to believe it.  A bit minor and sad, and then it takes a turn toward a more cheerful mood, only to return again to the sadness.  Please forgive me if the links to not work.  I can’t control YouTube.  If they do not, a quick search should give you a number of choices to listen to.

As I continued to read through the entry, I ran across other topics of interest:  madrigals, recitatives & arias.  I realize quickly that I can attempt to explain all this stuff, but this journey would spiral into unimportant technicalities.  I’m not here to teach.  Instead, my intent is to share the things that capture my interest and that may capture yours.

While recitatives and arias are of interest insofar as knowing what they are, madrigals on the other hand are totally captivating!  And it is something I have never heard of, well not by this term.

I admit my ignorance.  I thought that a madrigal was an instrument.  But it isn’t.  Madrigals are more or less the predecessor of the barbershop quartet.  They are very, very distantly related, but that is the easiest way to get across the basics of this amazing to the modern music listener of this amazing style of composition.

The barbershop quartet is just four people, singing in harmony, and a cappella (unaccompanied by instruments).  But a madrigal is polyphonic (everyone pretty much singing their own melody, but in sync with each other), a cappella, but usually with between three and eight singers.

Another modern example that might give you a sense of what a madrigal sounds like would be from the Christmas song “Carol of the Bells”  It is very similar except that usually we hear this in the form of a chorus.

But then the best way to experience the madrigal is to listen for yourself!  This is the one I listened to as my first. “This Sweet & Merry Month” by William Byrd.  It was too cool!!!  I just sat there with a weird smile on my face.  And let me link to this page that is full of English madrigals.  I recommend this because while I think music can be enjoyed despite having no knowledge of the language… hearing this form is probably best enjoyed in one’s native tongue.

And then one other very interesting thing about the madrigal is that they are through-composed, which simply means in this context that it is non-repetitive.  There are no repeated melodic passages.  It just carries on straight through.  And you know what, as foreign as that is to the modern ear and the structure of musical composition we have come to know, it is wonderfully different!

So you see, it is easy to get lost in this world.  My first steps of this journey are already full of such promise and such interesting history, culture, and music!!!

So get out there and explore some of these links!  You just might be fascinated, too!

My Journey Through Music History

March 12, 2014

Today I came up with the BRILLIANT idea that each month I would read up on the history of a single period of music, and listen to the works of as many composers as I could.

So today was really just a foray into the possibilities.  There is no real structure to this idea just yet.  But I thought I’d tackle the Baroque period first.  I went to Wikipedia and immediately found a wonderful timeline of baroque composers.  This is perfect, I thought!

Timeline of Baroque Composers

Timeline of Baroque Composers

As I perused this list of composers, I realized that although I felt like I had at least a little knowledge of Baroque music, the fact that I knew barely 5 or 6 of the men on this list meant that there was so much more to learn.

And so I began… at the beginning of this list.  Jacopo Peri.

Here I must also add that this journey, for me, is to be mostly one of listening and appreciating music.  I am also interested in the history, the instrumentation, the composition styles, the theory, etc.  And so it is ever so wonderful to have the tools to be able to manage this from the comforts of my own home.  Between Wikipedia and YouTube, I think I’ll have more access to more information and more music than I ever had in any one library.

That brings to mind the time when I was studying music at the University of South Carolina.  I was considering becoming a music major and taking the theory, the sight-singing and ear-training courses.  And practicing diligently to be prepared for performance classes.  The library there had more music than I thought I’d ever be able to listen to.  I loved finding records of the pieces I wanted to learn, checking out a pair of headphones, and going over to an empty turntable to sit and listen over and over to learn the dynamics of a piece.  It was great fun.  And yet, it was so… time-consuming.

With YouTube, I’m able to find recordings of almost any piece.  And with Wikipedia linking to all sorts of related topics, it’s going to be difficult to stay on track at all!  But come what may, it will be a phenomenal ride!

Cold Mackin’

June 27, 2013

… or rather, Colemak-ing…  WTH?

So a while back, I wrote up a blogpost (Improvement Through Unlearning) about how I was pushing QWERTY aside in favor of Dvorak.  I just reread it and was impressed that it was decently written (just kidding!), but even more impressed that I would even take on such a thing.

That was three years ago… (hell, I haven’t even written a blog post in a year!) So here I am again.  Ready to take on a new challenge, with the Colemak layout.  Behold!






So why take this on?  Because I am experimenting with rapid skill acquisition, an idea I picked up in a book called The First 20 Hours  by Josh Kaufman.  In it, he explains that to gain relatively expert level skills in a chosen topic, it takes about 20 hours of intelligent, focused, and deliberate practice.  I won’t get into the hairy details.  You can pick up the book yourself.  It’s interesting.

But to test out his theory, I’m trying to undo 25 years of typing in the QWERTY style (I actually learned how to type on mechanical typewriters for which QWERTY was developed)… remapping my brain to take on a new layout.  And achieve hopefully faster typing speeds, but at least my normal speed…  And I’ve come down a since my typing tests of three years ago.  I type pretty much in the 70 WPM range if I want to be 100% accurate.

More importantly, though, if you watch some videos of people typing using Colemak, you’ll be amazed at how calm the hand appears.  It rarely moves much less frequently off the home row.  And this can dramatically reduce hand fatigue for me since I spend a lot of hours on the keyboard.  Go to and read up on it.  The improvements in efficiency are pretty impressive which you can geek out on here and here.

So the obvious question is… what happend to Dvorak?  Simply put… I gave up.  It was a fine layout, but it was not developed during the heyday of computers… and thus, most of the common keyboard shortcuts in use in Microsoft Office and many softwares were no longer easy to use because the keys were mapped elsewhere.  Colemak preserves much of the lefthand layout of QWERTY for precisely this reason.  And this makes it a TON more useful for me.

In the end, I’ll never be rid of QWERTY… nor will I forget how to use it.  In fact, I hope to be “keyboard bilingual”, effortlessly going between workstations if needed.  But my main goal is just to test the theory of rapid skill acquisition.  Once I log 20 hours of training, I’ll come back with the details to share… then maybe you’ll give it a try, too!  And I’ll, of course, move on to the next skill I wish to acquire and excel at…






Another “Mamma Said” Story…

March 30, 2012
It is a cleaning day today.  Since we got the new couch, we have to get our living room in pristine order.  So Mamma was dusting the wedding pictures and frames to place back on the piano today.
I told her that she was missing one and asked her to guess which one.  She immediately replied Raff and Chichi.  I said, yes, but that’s wrong.  She thought and thought, but could not think of any others that were missing.

So I blurted out… “MINE!”  She said… “You will never get married.”  I laughed out loud and asked her why not.  She said that all the girls I’d find would cause me trouble, and that they are not what they used to be.   

I told her that was not true and that I could find one in the small villages in the Philippines or Thailand.  She said, nope.  Even they are too modern… And that she saw them going with the old men at their hotels.  Haha.  =]

But the really funny part was when she finished arranging the pictures on the piano and asked me how it looked.  I said that it was nice but she was forgetting my metronome.  

She walked over to me and started shaking her hand in
that familiar don’t-be-an-idiot way.  I’m not sure if there is a name for the gesticulation, but it’s the one with the palm facing up and all five fingers come together in a point, and then you shake it from the wrist and forearm in an up and down motion as if to say, “What the heck are you saying… don’t be stupid.”


Here’s a nice YouTube video explaining some of them.

She said, “Don’t you be in a rush.  Why all of sudden are you worried about this ‘matrimony’?”

I looked at her and deadpanned, “I said metronome.” It registered a second later.  She said “Ohhh!” and obviously relieved, went about polishing the metronome.


Colin Cookin’ Chitlins In My Kitchen

January 13, 2012

MEMORIZE A DECK OF CARDS!  Yeah right.  But wait, can it be done easily enough?  Apparently so, with the right techniques.  After reading “Moonwalking with Einstein” and reading a website or two regarding Person-Action-Object (PAO) systems, I was ready to give it a try.  


I decided that I’m not quite ready to try the PAO system, but I did run across a website that had a neat twist on card memorization.  Make each suit a category and each rank will be a different person in that category.  So that’s what I did.  This morning, I created my lists.  

For the suit of Hearts, I used my family… starting with my Brothers, Ace=Gene, 2=Les, 3=Raff, 4=Jean, the children 5=Caitlin, 6=Max, 7=Dallas, 8=Preston, 9=Caroline, 10=Martin, J=Giovanni, and finishing it off with Queen=Mamma and King=Mark.

For the suit of Spades, I used my friends… and similarly went through my list of friends, using the number of letters in their names to choose my different friends, so 2=Ho, 3=Min, 4=Josh, 5=Colin, 6=Richie, 7=Rick(Richard), 8=Manny(Emmanuel), and some other arbitrary stuff to choose the rest, so Guido, Guidry, Karim, etc. were in there.  So basically, you just have to remember which cards represent which people.  And so as to make this proof of concept not entirely too difficult, I started with only these two suits, and I kept my cheat sheet of names in front of me since I had not yet committed them to memory.  That part I will eventually do with enough practice.

I attempted to memorize just 10 cards in order.  After 1 minute and 40 seconds, I felt I had them memorized, and I recited them back perfectly!  I followed it up with a second effort in 1’30”!  The concept works!  

Erm…what concept?  The concept is simple.  You combine these images of friends and family with your Memory Palace.  The memory palace concept is simple – the brain is extremely good at remembering places and spaces.  Just think of the last time you went to a friend’s house for the first time, or visited a new shopping center.  You don’t think about it much, and you certainly didn’t try to commit it memory, but you probably remember very well how to navigate through that place.  So by choosing a place for which you are very familiar (like your home or office building) as your memory palace, you will be able to remember many arbitrary things rather effortlessly.  

For the task at hand, as I saw each card, I created an image of the person represented by the card in different parts of my home.  That is, I  would envision different things happening in different parts of my home as I “walked” through the house.  So while 5 of Spades followed by A of Hearts might not be all that memorable, especially when they were the sixth and seventh card I had to remember, the image of Colin cooking chitlins in my kitchen while chatting with Eugene putting dishes into my dishwasher is unforgettable!  The technique simply works!  

So, to test it further, I tried it out with Mamma tonight.  Mamma is a great test case.  She claims to be awful at such tasks, but even moreso now since she thinks her memory is no longer what it used to be.  So I made it extra tough on her.  We did 20 cards together!  I weaved together a nice little story of friends and family entering the house, eating at our dinner table, watching television, playing on the porch, cleaning the bathroom, etc. and after we were done… roughly 4 minutes later, we went back through the 20 cards… flawlessly!  She got each one correct AND in the proper order!

What’s even more impressive is that after about an hour of doing other things, pretty much forgetting about the memory technique, I asked Mamma to go back through the list again.  Although she made one or two errors, she got 90% of it right!  And that was with almost zero effort in trying to really commit this stuff to memory!  It was the amazing Person system coupled with the Memory Palace.  
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

So why am I doing this?  I personally find it damn impressive just to be able to recite the order of a deck of cards!  But while it’s a stupid human trick to be sure, what if it can be applied to learning other things?  …like languages?  …or business stuff?

Indeed it can!  And so that is my ultimate goal.  I’m going to go through some of the fun stuff first, like cards and 50 digit numbers.  But really soon, I expect to put this stuff to the test and see if I can’t quickly memorize 1000 words in Spanish with the goal of really helping me improve my fluency in the language.  And by quickly, I mean roughly 100 words a day for 10 days.  After that, I’ll find something new learn, I’m sure.  

What are YOU attempting to master these days?

PS  It is quite random and coincidental that I also played “Memory” from Cats on the piano today.  Weird!  

Effort is Everything!

November 8, 2011

Have you ever heard of the Periodic Table of Swearing?  I read about it here.  I’ve always been a big fan of the best combination of cuss words.  And this table covers it all pretty thoroughly.  I even learned some new ones!


But aside from the awfulness of such a work… you really have to give a great deal of credit to the person who put this together when you consider that they spent an awful lot of time constructing this table, grouping and sorting the swear words in a logical order.

So kudos to the shit-flap sod who designed this masterful piece of work!


September 19, 2011

Yesterday I went orienteering again, and did my third RED course (about 6.5 km), this time at Sweet Water Creek State Park near Six Flags of Georgia.  It was not the most beautiful of parks.  But once I got in the woods, it got better and more scenic!
After 6 targets, I felt pretty good and I was making great time.  Then Lucky #7 struck.  I got lost.  VERY LOST!  I thought I was on my way to another DNF (Did Not Finish).  But I eventually got back on course, managing to find my way by taking my time and thinking.  And I was able to finish the course in 2 hours 54 minutes.

I had lost about 45 minutes on stupid mistakes.  And that was just the quantifiable stuff.  The hit I took to morale was noticeable.  My energy levels were low due to forgetting about eating and drinking, and disregarding changes in elevation too many times.

So after performing below expectations , I knew I needed to have a plan for the next one.  So since I was up late last night and thinking about the orienteering event, I had to start writing it all down.  I decided that I needed a guideline for approaching each and every target…  and I came up with this…


My mnemonic device for remembering this… Proceed Ever Vigilantly, Punk!  But it really stands for the four steps I need to consider…

Path – If there is an easy path, take it.  It will give you time to plan ahead for the next targets while on a clear and easy trail or road.

Elevation – Avoid the changes as much as possible.  This is what drains me of my energy the most.

Vegetation – More than once I have been slowed to a crawl because of vegetation, and maybe lost my bearing, because of not wanting to take a path 100 meters outside of my direction.

Preservation – This really means, Don’t Get Lost!  When a target doesn’t a great catching feature, really focus on the path that will not get you lost.

Additionally, dehydration and food energy are two major issues that always catch up with me after the two-hour mark.

And two secondary problems:
(1) I tend to drink a lot of water at once… which just jostles around in your stomach (not a good feeling).
(2) Food takes about 45 minutes before the glucose levels hit the bloodstream so, if you don’t eat early in your race and up through about the one-hour mark, all that food is coming too late to help you during the race.

So my new process:
For Water:  Sip 2 oz. of water at every target, refilling along the route.
For Fuel:  Eat one hour prior to the race.  Eat a couple of nuts at each target (followed by the water).  And have a banana about 30 minutes into the race.

I’m looking forward to testing out the theory in October with my brother, Gene!