[lg policy] Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language Policy

Ann Anderson Evans annevans123 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 23 11:32:08 UTC 2011


Coming from a country (the United States) where speaking a second language
is considered exotic or maybe even subversive, I found your posting spot on.

Ann

On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 6:42 PM, <dzo at bisharat.net> wrote:

> Or is it really so weird? I've sometimes wondered why countries with
> essentially one "national language" (mother tongue) don't seek to distribute
> second language learning more often. Arguably it could have benefits in
> terms of external trade and relations, and facilitate a kind of "crossroads"
> effect to the extent that it facilitates selective borrowing (and
> "digestion" in the nationally spoken language) from diverse other parts of
> the world.
>
> Not sure if Hungary has considered that aspect, but could there be any
> merit to this position? Examples? (Japan from the late 1800s to WWII??)
>
> Could this be an advantage of more or less monolingual states that Hungary
> has stumbled upon withou knowing it?
>
> Don
>
> Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
> Sender: lgpolicy-list-bounces+dzo=bisharat.net at groups.sas.upenn.edu
> Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2011 13:48:35
> To: lp<lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
> Reply-To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
> Subject: [lg policy] Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language Policy
>
> Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language Policy
>
> Ann Althouse picks up one of the oddest reports of the week: the
> Hungarian government wants to discourage students from taking English
> as their first foreign language because it is so easy!  The original
> article in The Wall Street Journal is a head-scratcher:
>
>    Hungary’s government wants to dethrone English as the most common
> foreign language taught in Hungarian schools. The reason: It’s just
> too easy to learn.
>
>    “It is fortunate if the first foreign language learned is not
> English. The initial, very quick and spectacular successes of English
> learning may evoke the false image in students that learning any
> foreign language is that simple,” reads a draft bill obtained by news
> website Origo.hu that would amend Hungary’s education laws.
>
>    Instead, the ministry department in charge of education would
> prefer if students “chose languages with a fixed, structured
> grammatical system, the learning of which presents a balanced
> workload, such as neo-Latin languages.”
>
>    Besides giving a deceptive sense of achievement, English learning
> also makes acquiring other languages more difficult, the ministry
> argues. Reversing the order, on the other hand, makes learning English
> essentially effortless, it added.
>
> The mystery deepens as the WSJ reporter, Gergo Racz, tells us that
> Hungary’s real problem isn’t that too many Hungarians take the wimpy
> way out and learn English; it is that most Hungarians don’t learn any
> foreign language at all.  In fact, 75 percent of Hungarians say
> (presumably in Magyar) that they don’t speak any foreign language at
> all, and only six percent claim to speak one well.
>
> Surely a government in this situation would go for the easiest
> language on offer?
>
> Few countries need foreign language fluency more than Hungary.  The
> Magyar language is distantly, very distantly related to Finnish, but
> otherwise Hungarian is in a world of its own.  A traveler in Europe
> who has even a smattering of familiarity with a Romance, Germanic and
> Slavic language will generally get around pretty well; the language
> roots allow you to decipher some of the basics: words like
> ‘bookstore’, ‘toilet’, ‘train station’ and ‘trolley’ don’t vary all
> that much within the language families.  Be able to sound out the
> Cyrillic and Greek alphabets and you can survive if not always thrive
> from Vladivostok to Valencia.
>
> In Hungary you can forget that; when I first visited Hungary about
> twenty years ago, even a word like ‘restaurant’, which is pretty
> recognizable all across Europe, was no use. The Magyar word for
> ‘restaurant’ is (if I still remember this correctly) ‘etterim’. At
> that time, Germany was the English of Budapest, and English was the
> French.  That is, if you needed to discuss directions or money with a
> taxi driver or a news vendor, German was the language to use.  If you
> wanted to talk literature with a journalist or professor, English was
> the way to go.
>
> Poland was a different case back then.  Everybody over fifty spoke
> German and everybody under fifty spoke Russian — but given the
> circumstances attending the introduction of those languages in Poland,
> nobody wanted to admit a knowledge of either.  Almost nobody spoke
> English there back then — the Soviets discouraged English study even
> more than the Hungarians.  If you asked for directions in the former
> occupation languages people pretended they didn’t understand you; the
> only way out was to be able to say in both German and Russian, “Excuse
> me, please.  I’m an American and I don’t speak Polish.  Can you tell
> me…” and then you ask your question.  Once the ice was broken, people
> were happy to help.
>
> None of this explains the mysteries of Hungarian language policy;
> perhaps some Hungarian bureaucrats have a little too much time on
> their hands?
>
>
>
> http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/08/20/hungarians-perplex-world-with-weird-language-policy/
>
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-- 
*Ann Anderson Evans*
*Writer and Adjunct Professor, Montclair State University*
*(201) 792-6892 or (973) 495-0338
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