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Dr Klaus Bung
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© 2010 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it

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Frequently asked questions

The answers to these questions will be revised and expanded from time to time, in response to readers. We start each question with the date of the latest revision.


questions to be answered soon, or still in draft form

Can the IDYLL METHOD® be used to learn facts from subjects other than foreign languages?

Why has the IDYLL METHOD® been called "the Cartesian Approach to Language Learning" or simply "Cartesian Language Learning"? - 2010-11-29 -

Why is it silly to preach the maxim "Revise as often as possible"? 2010-11-29 -

Why do you say that all operations of the IDYLL METHOD® are extremely easy, and why is this approach specifically Cartesian? 2010-11-29 -

Why do you say that Cartesian Language Learning works WITH the laws of nature and not against them? 2010-11-29 -

How does the IDYLL METHOD® differ from mainstream methods in its attitude to writing? 2010-11-29 -

What are multi-strand exercises? 2010-11-29 -

More information to follow in due course. If you have any questions, please e-mail them to:



Why has the IDYLL METHOD® been called "the Cartesian Approach to Language Learning" or simply "Cartesian Language Learning"?

2010-11-29 - In his book "Discourse on Method", the French philosopher René Descartes formulated four principles, which have since become (together with Adam Smith's principle of "division of labour") the basis of modern science and technology.

They are:

  1. never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.
  2. to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.
  3. to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex, ...
  4. in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.

(René Descartes: "Discours de la méthode", 1637. Translated by John Veitch, Everyman's Library, Vol 570, London 1912, Part 2, p 15-16)

In brief:

  1. Question all dogmas = Scepticism
  2. Divide problems into their components = Division of tasks
  3. Solve the problems in ascending order of difficulty = Easy before difficult
  4. Make diagrams and enumerations = Diagrams and lists

Concerning Principle 1, nobody can credibly claim to be entirely free of prejudice but it can be claimed that the IDYLL METHOD® is, often and obviously, less governed by prejudice than some mainstream methods, that it tends to be much more rational and analytical, looking at very small components of the learning process and therefore able to re-assemble them differently and come to different conclusions, making things possible which are apparently impossible in less analytical approaches to language learning. The combination of analysis and synthesis is characteristic of the IDYLL METHOD®.


Principle 2 and 3 are closely related and difficult to describe apart from each other.

Principle 2 is an outstanding feature of the IDYLL METHOD®. It shows itself in the fact that the IDYLL METHOD® has special techniques for the learning of vocabulary (words are easier to learn than sentences) and that we learn many words before we practise them in context.

But we go even further and often look at the components of words and help the student to take advantage of such knowledge for faster learning. When learning foreign scripts we even look at the components of characters where convenient.

We make the student *** aware *** of every detail, to aid initial learning (the very first steps), and then practise in such a way that handling of the language becomes automatic. This distinguishes Cartesian Language Learning from many other methods, including the Direct Method and certain immersion methods of language learning.

Whatever causes difficulties for a student, we spot it, find a way to make it smaller, break it down into its components, then learn the components one by one, and then synthetise the components to re-create the whole. The technique of quasi-algorithms (subject-matter algorithms) can be used to identify (diagnose) exactly WHERE a student encounters problems.


Principle 3 is also an unmistakeable feature of the IDYLL METHOD® and is applied with more rigour than in many mainstream methods. Principle 3 cannot easily be used unless preceded by Principle 2. Therefore approaches which are reluctant to break the subject matter down as much as the IDYLL METHOD® does will not be able to achieve the sequence of Principle 3, ascending from easier to more difficult and making things easy enough at the beginning.

4 Principle 4: This is used not only by the IDYLL METHOD® but also by other good mainstream methods, but not by bad ones.

Why is it silly to preach the maxim "Revise as often as possible"?

There are several reasons why this commonly used maxim is meaningless, confusing and counterproductive.


How many revisions are necessary varies from person to person and depends on the laws which govern the functioning of human memory. These laws do not adjust themselves to how much time you have, when you have time and when you feel like studying. If you want to learn efficiently, you have had to adjust your timetable to these laws, rather than the other way round.

English proverb: If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain (Mount Safa).

If you revise as often as possible (which means in practice "as often as you feel like it"), you will probably not revise often enough.

Even if you revise often enough but revise at the wrong times, you will learn less than if you revised at the correct times (the times dictated by the laws of memory). Even 10 revisions done at the correct times can yield better results than 30 revisions done at the wrong times.

It is also possible, for some very rare students, that in trying to revise as often as possible they do in fact revise more often than necessary, in which case they are wasting their time.

The IDYLL METHOD® assesses every learner while he learns and tells him for each item exactly how often and when to revise it.

The maxim of the IDYLL METHOD® is therefore: "Revise as LITTLE as possible, but as often as necessary."



Many IDYLL exercises are in the form of a quiz, e.g. for vocabulary learning. Mainstream learning methods are usually satisfied with producing "correct answers". In the IDYLL quiz it is not correct answers that we are after. What we want is "correct answers AFTER A SPECIFIED PERIOD of not seeing the item."

It is therefore essential that you do not look at an exercise except at the prescribed times. Doing that, and doing unscheduled revisions, is a form of cheating and destroys the function and effectiveness of the quiz.

This is one of several reasons why the commonly given advice "Revise as often as possible" is silly and counterproductive. It is advice given by people as a "counsel of despair" because they do not have anything more precise and more useful to say.

Why do you say that all operations of the IDYLL METHOD® are extremely easy, and why is this approach specifically Cartesian?

The Cartesian approach breaks every task down into several components until each component is so small that it can easily be handled. We do this systematically in the IDYLL METHOD®. It enables us to focus on one problem or one small task at a time. When we have mastered that task, we tackle another. Then we put these two tasks together and practise them jointly. This is done very consciously.

In vocabularly learning we try to find two or three words which we do not know. We practise them until we have mastered them. Then we find another word. Therefore we never have more than two or three words in our sights. We never have to learn 10 words or 100 words, only three. So our task is always easy.

The IDYLL METHOD® always focusses on small and manageable tasks..

There are even procedures for practising each single word. These procedures are also explicit and therefore easy.

One of the first steps is that we focus on just two or three words and bring them to a retention span of two or three minutes.

Since the objective is very limited and three words at most have to be learned, that is usually easy enough. But the beautiful thing about Cartesian Language Learning is that this is the most difficult of all operations (and you will be shown in detail how to carry it out).

What follows then is even easier. We now apply procedures which extend the retention span from three minutes to 15 minutes, then to 1 hour, then to 24 hours, then to days and months until long-term retention is achieved.


Most important: Each of these operations is completely under your control, is demonstrable and can be recorded. Nothing is left to chance, as is usually the case with mainstream learning and teaching methods. If you have learning problems with a word or an item of grammar, it can be identified and there are procedures of dealing with it. Maxim: Nothing is so easy and simple that it cannot be made even easier and simpler for a student who requires it.

Why do you say that Cartesian Language Learning works WITH the laws of nature and not against them?

This observation refers to the laws of memory, the laws of the human mind.

We will explain this by analogies from the physical world. If you hold a stick in your hand and let go, it will drop. That is a law of physics. The IDYLL METHOD® makes you aware of the laws of human memory and shows you how to work with them (take advantage of them), rather than against them, or rather than ignoring them and working at random (like many mainstream methods).

Consider a bird which goes to places where there is an up-wind and rises there, rather than using its wing power in places where there is a downwind or no wind at all.

Human memory is like a railway system. The IDYLL METHOD® tells you when the trains depart (which most mainstream systems do not tell you), but it is up to you to work with the system and come to the station in time (i.e. do all micro-revisions and macro-revisions at the prescribed times).

If you stubbornly ignore the timetable you have been given, your journey times will be much longer and your journeys will be frustrating. This is *** your *** fault and not the fault of the kind person who gave you the timetable.

We cannot change the railway timetable. All we can do is to co-operate with it or ignore it.

Some people say that it is a disadvantage of the IDYLL METHOD® that it imposes a, sometimes inconvenient, timetable on you, unlike mainstream methods. This is nonsense. Mainstream methods may look more attractive because they impose no timetable on you. But as a result you miss most of the trains, and that is one of the reasons why so many language learners fail.

How does the IDYLL METHOD® differ from mainstream methods in its attitude to writing?

Many mainstream methods are prejudiced against writing and can therefore not take advantage of the many benefits that writing can bring even in the initial stages of language learning. The IDYLL METHOD® recognises the importance of correct pronunciation and of speaking skills for most language learners but it does not wrongly generalise and draw the false conclusion that writing is useless or harmful in the acquisition of good pronunciation and speaking skills.

The IDYLL METHOD® combines speaking and writing (sounds and letters) for a variety of carefully analysed purposes, for beginners and for advanced students. The details of how sound and spelling are combined are discussed in the chapters on IDYLL's learning algorithms. Here we give only one example of something beneficial that can happen during vocabulary learning.

Gradual approximation

Let's assume a student has to learn some very difficult vocabulary in a language unrelated to his own, with no obvious memory aids as in most European languages related to each other.

Some mainstream methods deliberately do not allow the student to see the written form of such words. In that case, by and large, the student has only two options, he either gets the word right or he gets it wrong.

In the IDYLL METHOD®, the first aim is to place one of these words correctly in the student's memory for, say, 20 or 60 seconds. We have described these words as "difficult", ie the student will remember none of them just like this, not even for 20 seconds, and when tested, he will either not respond at all or make a great variety of mistakes.

The IDYLL algorithms treat every mistake alike and draw the appropriate conclusions (tell the student what to do to eliminate his mistake).

However, after a while (after several trials), to student will notice that he is making progress even though he is still making mistakes. For example if the correct answer is / ras'sa:s / and the student responds with / 'sasar /, he can rightly regard this as progress, a step in the right direction, on which he can build during his next try, 20 seconds later. While copying the model answer, he can remind himself of the fact that the stress should be on the second syllable, that the "r" should be at the beginning of the first syllable and that the second syllable should be long. Maybe next time round he will get the whole word right.

Another example of this type is the student writing / ba'rado /, when he should have written / 'doraba /. This is praiseworthy progress if in previous trials he first wrote nothing and then wrote / xar'gos /.

It is an important part of training the student in the IDYLL METHOD® to make him recognise such progress and to be happy and optimistic about it rather than get angry with himself and say: "Oh, I am no good. I can't get this right. It's too difficult, I am stupid, I am bad at languages." Such emotional responses do untold harm to language learners.

One maxim of the IDYLL METHOD® is: "Do not be upset by mistakes. Mistakes are the rungs on the ladder to success."

Learning vocabulary by practising to write it (rather than only to say it) enables the student to manipulate his responses, to build a word letter by letter, to eliminate his mistakes gradually and controllably. The student is in charge at every step. He can control minutely what he is doing, and if he follows the procedures exactly, he will inevitably succeed.

Written responses make it obvious to the student that he is making progress, that he is learning, even though his responses are still wrong and they may still be completely incomprehensible to a listener.

By contrast, when making only spoken responses, the student has to get his answer right in one step. When making written responses, the student can work on every aspect (letter) of his response, push the letters around until they are where they should be, reflect on every aspect of his mistakes and eliminate it, ie he can move towards the correct answer in a hundred small and easy steps. (It is a bit like playing scrabble or doing a crossword puzzle.)

The IDYLL METHOD® uses a large variety of techniques and utilises them in a focussed and well-balanced way for different carefully specified purposes. It does not a priori exclude any one technique and it does not rely one any one idea to act as a magic bullet, a panacea to solve all problems. Different techniques are used for absolute beginners as opposed to intermediate and advanced students.

Intermediate and advanced students

The IDYLL METHOD® also can add to some mainstream methods in its use of writing by intermediate and advanced students, and they have been discussed elsewhere.

What are multi-strand exercises?

Sometimes it is convenient to create an exercise which is packed with different kinds of information, i.e. difficult to master initially, but to tackle it in several easy stages.

exercise containing 10 arabic nouns

Example: Consider an exercise of Arabic nouns. What the student has to learn is

  • a how to say each word (= write it in IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet)
  • b how to write it in Arabic script
  • c the gender of each word

If the student were required to get all three aspects right before an item is accepted as mastered, he might never succeed in an acceptable amount of time.

To present this information in three separate exercises, one for (a), one for (b) and one for (c) would be time consuming in constructing the exercise and also be slightly misleading, since the ultimate goal is that the student master all three aspects (strands) of the exercise.

Therefore the IDYLL METHOD® prescribes that, in such exercises, each strand of the exercise is practised and mastered on its own, applying all the rules of the IDYLL METHOD® to each strand in turn. One written exercise of this type is thus turned (on the fly) into a three exercises by the way it is handled.


Insert image here

If the student has to do Exercise 2, which consists of three strands (a), (b) and (c):

  1. Master (a): saying each word and writing it in IPA
  2. Master (b): saying each word and writing it in Arabic script
  3. Master (c): learning the correct gender of each noun
  4. Master the exercise as a whole. For each item give in succession the sound (IPA), the gender and the Arabic script.

This technique enables us to keep the exercises reasonably compact while keeping them easy to master by providing single-strand run-ups before the full exercise is tackled.

Examples from other languages

The same technique can be used for other topics and other languages, even where the writing system is no problem, e.g. for a speaker of English learning German.

1 house

   das Haus, die Häuser


1 house

   Haus (n), "er


1 house

   s Haus, "er

If a list of German nouns is to be learned, together with their genders and plurals, especially nouns whose gender or plural is not obvious, the exercise can be handled in three strands:

a translation
b plural
c gender

If the stem forms of English irregular verbs are to be learnt in the traditional triple pattern, the following strands can be practised one by one:

a) present b) past c) past participle

do, did, done
go, went, gone
have, had, had
sing, sang, sung

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Questions to be tackled soon

00 What is the Quiz Principle in the IDYLL METHOD?

Draft: Everything is converted into a quiz. Even material for sequential learning.

00 What is the 'xabaz syndrome?

00 Why is the IDYLL METHOD using IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet)?

00 Can you provide an example of sequential learning?

Draft example: Sequence of Arabic alphabet; Memorising a poem.

00 What is Microscopic learning?

00 What happens in the quarry in the IDYLL LEARNING ENGINE?

00 What is the very first step of learning in the IDYLL METHOD?

Draft: Copying and preparing a quiz, and while copying understanding as much detail as can be understood

00 Why does the IDYLL METHOD prescribe daily slots for learning?

00 Why do you recommend the A6 format (ca 9.5cm x 16cm) for IDYLL workbooks?

00 How can we learn extraordinarily long or complicated words (cf the 'xabaz syndrome)?

Draft: Make special items; learn morpheme by morpheme, syllable by syllable, cluster by cluster, letter by letter

00 What do you mean by claiming: No subject matter is so easy that it cannot be made even easier for a learner who requires it? (i.e. everything can be learnt by a learner who wants to learn; nothing is beyond his reach, however hard he may find it)

00 Some of the things you describe look extremely complicated. That makes the IDYLL METHOD rather unattractive. It looks inefficient. Mainstream methods do not require all this rigmarole. One just follows one's instinct. Examples: quarry work, sequential learning, the 'xabaz syndrome, etc.

Draft reply: Mainstream methods ignore the details of learning mechanisms and leave everything to subconscious events and to chance. That's why they produce so many failures, so much frustration, ... The IDYLL METHOD, by contrast, is has been designed to control every component of learning. That's why we can guarantee good results for most people who go to the trouble of learning about these innate mechanisms and to utilise them. Leaving success to chance is like driving cross country without a map and depending on the sun, the stars and an instinctive sense of direction and occasionally asking for the way (as opposed to using a map). It is like the difference between driving without ever having had any driving lessons (as opposed to having spent many hours on advanced driving lessons).

The IDYLL METHOD, by contrast, takes care of every detail and can therefore guarantee success to most people who sincereoly wish to succeed and who follow the instructions of the IDYLL METHOD in every detail.

It is worthwhile investing the extra time of learning how to use a map, how a car engine functions, and practise advanced driving skills. This investment will pay for itself very quickly.

00 Main stream methods do not require daily learning slots of time. That makes them superior to the IDYLL METHOD which depends on these daily slots.

Draft response: No, ...


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