[lg policy] book review: WoPaLP, Vol. 5, 2011 Book Review L=?iso-8859-1?Q?=E1z=E1r_?=162

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 20 16:55:20 UTC 2011

WoPaLP, Vol. 5, 2011 Book Review Lázár 162

Pioneers of language policy
Viktória Lázár

Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest

Medgyes, Péter (2011). Aranykor. Nyelvoktatásunk két évtizede 1989 -
2009. [Golden age:
Two decades of our language teaching 1989 - 2009]. Budapest: Nemzeti
Tankönyvkiadó. 160 pages, ISBN 978-963-19-7116-3

Péter Medgyes offers a subjective retrospect of Hungarian language policy by
presenting interviews with charismatic figures of language teaching of
the past twenty years.
The radical shift in the political system and establishment in 1989
was the source of several
changes affecting the language policies of Hungarian governments. The
twenty eventful years
from 1989 to 2009 provide a solid ground for appraising and
summarising. The book should
attract a wide readership: novice and experienced language teachers
and researchers will
definitely find this an entertaining and educational volume.

The landmarks of the two formative decades, the golden age, as Medgyes calls the
period nostalgically, are organised into twelve chapters. Each chapter
begins with an
interview with the author himself, in which he expresses his opinion
on a central issue of
language pedagogy. Then two or three experts of the field, interviewed
by Medgyes, give an
insider's view on the same issue. Photos of the respondents are
attached to each interview.
Details from government decrees, statistical data, some additional
facts about people
mentioned in the interviews provide the background to the interviews.
Each chapter has an
additional section of references of suggested readings, which is of
interest to professionals or

The twelve chapters are organised around those crucial themes that formed the
development of language teaching, and provided significant aspects for
emerging language
policies. The first chapter deals with the antecedents of the radical
changes in language
teaching. In the second chapter the private language schools are in
the limelight, which were
prospering during the period discussed and had a prominent role in
influencing foreign
language teaching. Three chapters (chapters 3, 7 and 11) discuss
aspects of public education:
bilingual schools, the national curriculum, and the introduction of a
preparatory year in
secondary schools for intensive language learning. The problem of the
ever widening choice
of course books is discussed in chapter 4 in two interviews, one with
a Hungarian textbook
writer, and one with the owner of an English language book store.
Chapters 5 and 6 are
dedicated to two uniquely Hungarian developments: the Centre for
English Teacher Training
(CETT), the three-year-long English teacher training programme to
prepare English teachers
within a short period of time concentrating on the practicalities of
teaching; and also, the retraining
of Russian teachers, who outnumbered all the other language teachers at the
beginning of the period, into teachers of English - a project that was
adopted by several postsocialist
countries. Chapter 8 focuses on measuring knowledge and performance; the
assessment of language proficiency and the appraisal of teachers'
work. Although the main
focus of Medgyes's book is admittedly the English language, which is
quite acceptable
considering the position of the English language among others, a
separate chapter is devoted
to the lesser-learned languages (chapter 9). One of the great success
stories of the two decades
was the programme introduced by the Ministry of Education in 2003: the
"World - Language"
project - discussed in chapter 10 - had a great impact on the policies
and practice of language
teaching from primary schools to adult education, and it also left its
mark on attitudes to
teaching and learning. The last chapter, chapter 12 deals with
'export' teachers concentrating
on two different viewpoints: those of native English teachers in
Hungary, and Hungarian
teachers and teacher trainers working abroad.

The choice of applying interviews, even for expressing the writer's
own opinion, lends
a dynamic and colloquial style to the book. As usual, Medgyes's book
is full of anecdotes,
sarcastic remarks, yet he still stays focused. The interviews are
emotional and even biased,
and Medgyes's self-interviews are no exception to this. However, this
is surely one of the
most valuable asset of an interview-collection: individuals voicing
their opinions passionately
about issues affecting their careers and lives. The writer's personal
feelings toward the past
'golden age' reflect his not so optimistic feelings or hopes about the
present or the future.
However, some respondents challenge even the nostalgic concept of
'golden age' (e.g.,
Nikolov, Enyedi, Bodóczky), they did not see it that glittering. In
spite of the individual
opinions, due to the fact that the interviews were edited by the
author so precisely, the text
flows smoothly, to the extent that his voice prevails the whole book.

In the preface of his book Medgyes apologetically accepts the rightful
criticism that
his book mainly deals with the English language, even though the title
promises a broader
overview. However, he justifies this approach with the outstanding
role of English today.
Reading the interviews, the reader has the impression that despite
this limitation the volume is
a complete whole as it encompasses all major topics related to
language teaching. Coherence
is also ensured by presenting the author's roles in different projects
of language policy
discussed in the book. Medgyes's personality provides the organising
principle in his selection
of the respondents, who are, in many cases, his acquaintances or
friends. Most interviewees
are emblematic figures of those twenty years, taking part in
implementing changes in the field
of language teaching nationwide, or maybe within their smaller scope
of influence. Their
formative role is undeniable.

The book makes such an interesting read that in terms of criticism one
can only think
of further areas or people that would have added further valuable
insights into language
teaching. For instance the views of some representatives of
language-exam centres would
have been welcome, just as some additional data about the plethora of
language-exams, as
well as some further information about the reasons why the famous
Pitman exams vanished
from Hungary.

A great asset of Medgyes's book is its qualitative approach: we can
see the individuals
behind the regulations, innovations. The interviewees were either
pioneers or participants of
national projects. They truly deserve to have their voices heard, and
their work appreciated.
Besides presenting the self-evident professional achievements, the
book offers another layer
of interpretation for pure pleasure: the elating life-stories of
intellectuals who could have
become victims of unfavourable changes, but who rather chose to be winners.

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