Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the hodgepodge method of language learning

Have you tried the hodgepodge method? I would describe the hodgepodge way of language learning as one in which all kinds and types of effort are applied to learning a language. It's a kind of do-it-all approach and can be constructed in various ways. Absolutely no plan whatsoever is needed! Try some technique out and if you don't like it you can just discard it. Then try something else. When you get bored with that, pick a new activity to go to work on. There's one caveat though.
Results will vary!

That's right. Your results will not be exactly the same as those of someone else. For obvious reasons, one hodgepodge follower can not replicate the exact steps of another hodgepodger. Some will, unfortunately, have disastrous results that lead to giving up after a lot of effort has been expelled.

Yet another may stumble across an activity that helps propel them forward and keep going. For those who don't give up, they reach a stage of communicative ability in the target language. This ability to communicate and carry on conversations is, at times, mistaken for fluency. At other times, it is realized that fluency has not truly been reached. When feeling the need to justify all the time spent learning the language, the learner will say he is fluent, especially to those beginners or non-learners who cannot verify the claims for themselves.

This behavior is not so much to be frowned upon as it is to be considered normal. However, the unfortunate and somewhat to be expected outcome is that the hodgepodge method becomes the advice of the well-intended and ever-so friendly so-called successful language learner.

Techniques that prove to be of little use to others are justified by the benevolent label, "learning styles." Claims that "we all learn differently" are all too readily accepted in language learning conversation circles. Yet no one has ever claimed to learn their first language differently.

Regrettably, the notion that one must learn the language forever is reinforced by those successful learners who love to say, "I am still learning." They latch on to the self-pardoning claim that you'll "never be as good as a native." And to them, the window of opportunity for native-like pronunciation has already closed.

It does not occur to the successful hodgepodger that they could actually have reached a higher level with less toil. It is unfathomable to them that one action would have a negative affect on another action. They will not entertain the thought of speaking and understanding a foreign language in the same way and with the same ease that they do in their first language.

From their own experience, the hodgepodge men have figured out how to learn a language. And this is what they are happy with.

For a language learner like myself, the hodgepodge method is unacceptable. We do not want varying results. We all want the same thing. The only standard of speaking a language is the native speaker. This is what we want to reach. This is the only acceptable result.


  1. Hodgepodge rules! I've been doing it for a year or so now. Once you get some initial vocab down and maybe a few grammar rules, it seems to work really well for lazy people like me. I continue to improve daily, I have fun, and ... Wait that's all I need. Hehe.

    As for 'never be as good as a native', I don't subscribe to that, though. I'm perfectly fine with taking years to get there, but I -will- get there.

    And "We do not want varying results." ? Tough luck! ALL methods produce varying results. There is no method guaranteed to work for everyone in the same way and speed.

    Hodgepodge uses the varying results from various methods to attempt to get the best results from your time. It's rarely 100% successful, but it does good enough for me. :) It's definitely better than just sticking with 1 thing to the end and then finding something else afterwards.

  2. Haha, I should have known how that was going to end. Keith, you're pretty tricky, teasing people with a "new method" and then throwing in that "you must learn the natives do if you hope to be like a native." Good, article.

  3. The only comparison a learner should make is to the native speaker, and any method or hodgepodge of methods that falls short of that goal in the time it takes for a child to learn their mother tongue has to be unacceptable. I fully agree.

    It is not true that adults never reach fluency in a foreign language. However, and you also alluded to it, there is overwhelming evidence that some (most) approaches to language 'learning' result in a limitation of the level that can be achieved. Where is this overwhelming evidence? Everywhere around us. Every single student approaching language as a body of facts to be studied, something to be analyzed, constructed, translated, discussed etc. Be it traditional school or SRS or LingQ or speak-yourself-to-fluency. It never compares to the native speaker.

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  5. Where is the empirical evidence that the hodge podge method is ineffective?

    Where is the empirical evidence that your method IS effective?

    With the lack of evidence all I see from you is arrogant assertions of fact.


  6. There is no arrogance in this post Duncan, just plain guts.

    I like it.

  7. No.. I see no guts.. Assertions without evidence is often arrogance..

    Hodge Podge can often take guts to execute..

    Evidence is required.. not this elitist crap that the Author of this blog (with a gay haircut) sprouts.


  8. Absolutely, evidence is required. I agree completely. But there can be no empirical evidence that the hodge podge method is ineffective simply because there is no method, you'll just have to look around the LL blogosphere and you'll realize that quickly. Where there is a real method i.e. Keith, there is sufficient evidence. Just browse through this blog, the blogs in the blogroll or simply ask him.
    If you are looking for arrogant, elitist crap, this blog is probably the last place where you can find it. Try "The Linguist on Language" you won't be disappointed. :P

  9. The only problem I have with the post is that Children learn via a hodgpoge (it is undeniable I have raised three) also they achieve different levels in their native language in the same environment and by variable methods and interests (consider the illiterate child who learns his native language vs the literate child who develops a love of books from an early age for starters) approaches, results will vary.

    Children don't have a plan, they are exposed and they react (again in variable ways) the average child achieves an average level in their mother tongue some fall far short and some excel, fall short enough and it can be a medical or cognitive problem or a dysfunctional environment. Talk to sixteen year old who speaks English but thinks termite is "turdmite" and gophers are "golfers" doesn't know what a barnacle is, doesn't know what a woodlouse is "its a 'grandfer'" He has many similar problems outside of the animal kingdom and yet talk to him and you realize that he is actually quite smart. Do you want to use his natural approach to learn English? Do you aspire to talk like this native?

    A successful hodgepoger may have a very simple plan constant and varied input, with regular progress checks against real language. The execution of that method can look random but is it any more random than a Child? Can we ever expect consistent results?

  10. 1 Children acquire their native languages. They're very good at this. They all end up native speakers. Education is a separate issue.

    2 Children also study foreign languages. Generally speaking, they're not particularly good at it.

    Adults are mostly students of a foreign language although they might devise methods so that their study time resembles more no.1 and less no.2. If they want no.1 they must come up their own recipes.

    A good jambalaya requires a good cook.

  11. Children do aquire their native language but not in a consistent manner, many don't even aquire a level that would be desired by a foreign student, seeking "native level" in their language. Education always achieves variable results in every field, there is no method that will achieve consistent results in any endevour unless we are all clones or you lower the acceptable level of acheivement to such an extent .......

    Children will acheive an certain proficiency in their native tongue but they will not all acheive the same proficiency regardless of education, in the hodgepoge that is learning your native language some children will aquire better than others either because of natural talent or a better hodgepoge, what we consider an acceptable level for a native is simply that cut off point that most of the population consider an acceptable minimum below which we will ascribe cognitive defect or a dysfuntional environment.

    If nature cannot produce consistent results then we can't expect a method to either.

  12. All native speakers are unmistakably and consistently native. Nature delivers. There is no "acceptable" level of nativeness. You can be a stupid, uneducated native speaker with a lisp, poor vocabulary and a learning disability. Rejoice! Most adult learners are unmistakably and consistently foreign no matter how perfect they otherwise may be. A successful method would allow adult learners to express themselves in a foreign language in a natural, native-like manner according to their own education and capabilities.

  13. All native speakers are not reconisable as native speakers, it depends on the language and circumstances, admittedly the English accents and dialects are weaker now but I worked with a contractor from New Zealand who encountered someone with a very strong Bristol accent, he said "I never thought I would meet an English speaker I could not understand I thought he was speaking a foreign language at first" . In the 1980's I crossed the English Channel with a friend from Newcastle who had a particular strong and specific Geordie accent he spoke two sentances to an English crew member who replied "sorry I don't speak German".

    Some people would say that English is a native language in India, you can certainly meet many Indians with a high native level of English but a strong Indian accent, wait though is that accent less valid than the accent of English from an Australian?

    I would wager that I could parade a number of English speakers in front of an American and the American wouldn't know if they were native or Europeans speaking English.

    If you are correct though I can learn to speak Mandarin with strong QingDao accent and I have suceeded?

    In language learning I feel that for every person that wants to complicate what is simple, there is another who wants to simplify what is complicated. Have you ever met an Italian or an Iranian who speaks excellent English with a strong Welsh accent (I have). Who would think they were native, how many different answers are there. An English man may say native, where a Welsh man may say not (actually their Welsh English accent isn't quite right), an Australian may decide the the Welsh man is not a native speaker.

  14. Keith does criticize language-learning methods alot for someone who does not speak a foreign language. Videos of Keith "speaking" Japanese are not impressive at all. Stuart Jay Raj and Richard Simcott, however, who according to their blogs and/or youtube videos use a hodge-podge method, are extremely impressive.

  15. @Chris
    As one of those Indians whose native language is English, I'd wager to say that there is no standard Indian accent per se. Since there is a separate regional language for every state, you have a cornucopia of Indian "accents" that sound nothing like each other. In fact, these accents can be used to accurately determine where the speaker is from.

    The most common Indian accent which most English speakers are familiar with is, I believe, the Punjabi accent (could be mistaken though). As long as one's pronunciation is correct, having an accent is really not much of an issue in my opinion. You can have an accent and still be absolutely fluent using vocabulary and expressions that natives use.

  16. Chris, you are talking about different dialects and varieties of language. Nature sets you up according to your circumstances. That part is as perfect as it can be.

  17. @chiro kun apologies I was trying to make a point, there are also distinct variances in Welsh accent, English Geordie and I am told Australian. I am just suggesting they are all valid English accents.

    @reineke So then what is the perfect Native level the method must provide? How many words, what accent and who gets to decide?

  18. Oh, I don't care about any methods, just the principle. A perfect method producing perfect results doesn't exist, nor is it likely to exist any time soon. I am not sure there is a pressing need for one either, but if we want to phantasize, sure, it wouldn't be a method but probably a tool - if you've seen that movie "Outlander" you know what I mean.

    A good method would provide above-average results, which would certainly be below the level of an educated native speaker. No method can take you there. It could take you a part of the way and provide a good base to build on, but every learner will eventually be on his own for the bulk of the work. Someone's laughing behind my back, calling us all a bunch of nerds.


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