Hodgepodge

Yesterday I came across some interesting discussion on Keith’s Voice on Extreme Language Learning about the hodgepodge approach to learning languages, which he describes as follows:

“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!”

This is pretty much how I learn languages, and the results certainly do vary. I don’t go in for plans or methods very much, and just try to practise all language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing – as much and as often as possible. Often I think to myself that perhaps I should be a bit more systematic in my approach, but rarely do anything about it.

Keith goes on to explain why he’s not keen on this approach:

“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.”

Achieving a native-like proficiency in a language is certainly worth aiming for, however it may not be for everybody. Some people are happy to acquire a good reading ability in a language, others might be content with an ability to understand it, or to communicate in it at a basic level. It depends why you’re learning the language and what you want to do with it.

Are you a hodgepodger or do you use a particular method to learn languages?

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12 Responses to Hodgepodge

  1. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I’m definitely for the hodgepodge approach. Not only do people learn different languages for different reasons, the materials available to the learner can vary a lot depending on the language.

    Moreover, even when the goal is to speak like a native, it’s not necessarily the same native for everyone. The accent and vocabulary the learner wants will depend on the region they’re interested in, the socioeconomic stratum they intend to converse with, the type of thing they want to talk about (is it for business trips? Tourist trips? Scientific study?), and probably other things I haven’t thought of just now.

  2. ESL Guru says:

    As a language teacher I can never fully get behind a hodge podge approach, but honestly I think it depends entirely on the person and their learning style. Some people may learn better with a cafeteria style of language learning while other people may need a more systematic approach. There are so many second language acquisiton theories out there, it’s hard to say which is the “right” way. I guess as an intensive English teacher I vote for the standard classroom learning, if for no other reason than job security!

  3. Declan says:

    Well I think to achieve native like fluency you have to have immersion of some sort, or near-immersion. It is possible with out it, but extremely unlikely or successful.

    Personally, I have a hodge-podge approach to the languages I’m not learning for exams. Those, I obviously have to be prepared for the exam papers, but outside of that, what interests me. German, even though I’m studying it for an exam, I really like and am interested in most at the moment. At present, I’m listening to Die Fuenf Freunde (the Famous Five) abridged radio plays, and I listen to German music, and that’s where most of my improvement is coming from at the moment. Latin I’m learning slowly, very slowly, extremely hodge-podge. When I have a few minutes, I learn a phrase, review a declension etc. I also go through fits and starts. I might learn a lot of Latin one week, a small bit for a few weeks, get a bit of free time and go through another fit etc.

    I’ve said it a number of times, and I think interest, not approach is the key to mastering a language, or anything for that matter. I find myself thinking in German, trying to construct sentences, checking grammatical points and learning new words pretty regularly. That reflects my interest, not my method, and it’s why my German is rapidly improving, while my French and Irish are staying pretty static.

  4. I go half-half. Sometimes I like some methodologies very much, and then I get tired of them. So I start “hodgepodgeing” for a while.

    But at the very start I listen to it as much as I can, specially from radio. Probably because this is my most evident weakness.

  5. Shaday says:

    After teaching and learning several languages in different ways, I definitely agree that there are some general requirements for proper language learning, like time quality and practiced interaction.

    However I do think that the best strategies and methods differ depending on the languages and the languages the student already masters with fluency. An easy example: the required writing exercises and approach to a language like Chinese for someone who only speaks English are very different from the ones required for a Spanish speaker learning Portuguese.

    I, for example, saw not much difficulty studying the pronunciation of Japanese, but more need to master the grammar and writing, while with Chinese I saw a clear need for more time studying the pronunciation. Also, with Chinese, character memorization ended up being undoubtedly a special project of its own that couldn’t being compared to learning an alphabetic language.

  6. TJ says:

    You know what’s the problem with this method? I think it is greatly affected by a) mood, b) time.
    I myself didn’t continue learning (at home) some of the languages but I do still have their books at home because, simply, I get bored easily and besides, I don’t have someone to share it with me.

    But with the “regular” method, let’s say, it is a bit of pushing yourself into it, whether you liked it or not. Of course, I think this way shouldn’t be taken unless you are serious about it, but if someone want to learn for fun, then yeh maybe the hodgepodge is better!

  7. michael farris says:

    By nature, I’m a hodgepodge learner, I like to bounce between different kinds of materials and difficulty levels and kinds of materials – linguistic analysis vs teaching materials. But then I’m not the average learner.

    My biggest problem is that I get the grammar down a long time before building up the vocabulary and I want to transfer to realworld materials too soon (and end up frustrated).

  8. Tommy says:

    I compare most of my foreign language endeavors to my native language, English, which can get by on hodgepodge polishing, but could be improved, for example, by a systematic approach to reading, creative writing, public speaking, etc.

    So my basic strategy for foreign languages is to first go through a period of “serious” systematic method-based learning and record-keeping (which also needs to be continuously tweaked and improved), because at this stage hodgepodge learning is, at least for me, fun but inefficient.

    There are some interesting ideas at How-to-learn-any-language forums and on Youtube about language learning methodology (for example, the methods of Dr. Alexander Arguelles, Moses McCormick, etc).

  9. Tommy says:

    @Shaday “I, for example, saw not much difficulty studying the pronunciation of Japanese, but more need to master the grammar and writing”

    When you say you “saw” not much difficulty studying Japanese pronunciation, I assume you referring to romaji (the romanization of the Japanese syllabary), which is, for English-speakers, a straight-forward and deceptive indication of the pronunciation of the language. If, on the other hand, you are referring to the overall sound system of Japanese and the way the language really “sounds”, I would have to disagree with you.

    In any case, what would be your method for studying pronunciation, in Japanese, Chinese, or any other language?

  10. GeoffB says:

    I’m definitely a hodge-podger. If I seriously needed to learn a language by a set date, I’d find and stick to a program. But for me, the learning can be as much fun as the knowing, particularly when it comes to trying a new method or thinking about a language in a new way. I think the one thing to keep in mind is whether you’re hodge-podging to keep yourself tuned in and entertained or as an excuse to look for a new book instead of studying.

  11. Phil says:

    I’m a hodge-podger… by default. A very reluctant hodge-podger. There is a very specific system that I would like to use when learning a language, one that is so incredibly effective that learners using this system have difficulty keeping up with the amount of language they’re learning. That is of course the method I use when teaching ESL classes. Unfortunately, very few people (possibly not more than one) use this method, so I have to plump with whatever’s on offer for whichever language I’m learning.

    I agree with Keith, the only standard we want to achieve is that of native speaker. By native speaker I mean, of course, someone who has a huge vocabulary, is confident in a number of registers, is particularly adept at mimicking the different accents and dialects of his or her mother tongue and has a good knowledge of literary and archaic language as well.

  12. Alan H. says:

    I’m also a reluctant hodgepodger (is that even a word?) for two simple reasons: time and money. Between work, family, Cub Scouts, kids’ activities, and religious obligations, finding a regular time for language study is next to impossible. The cost of a college course is also prohibitive, especially for something that isn’t directly related to my profession. As a result, I end up picking up things here and there. Podcasts are free have been a great help – right now I’m listening to Journal D (from Deutsche Welle) in the background.

    Would I love to go through formal programs for German, French, and Latin? Absolutely. Is it going to happen? Not any time soon.

    Alan H.
    Pennsylvania, USA