Can you really feel at home in a country if you do not speak the language, or nowadays English is always enough? Konzervtelefon asked two foreigners about their relationship with the Hungarian language.
Kenneth is a student of Linguistics from the United States. A few years ago, he was at a crossroads in his life when his sister was delegated to the NATO Air Base in Pápa, and so he decided to come to Hungary with her. Since 2016, he has worked as an English teacher at the local secondary grammar school.
Given his background in linguistics, learning the language was never really a question for him, also because, as he says, “it is hard to be a foreigner in Pápa”. He started learning the language because he wanted to improve the communication with his students; now he is planning to obtain Hungarian citizenship.
“First, it was only words. Then I continued with grammar. And now, I can say that I speak Hungarian very badly”, says Kenneth (of course, with almost perfect Hungarian).
A challenge he has faced is that Hungarians are often unable to explain the nuances between certain phrases, while he personally finds it very important to understand the reasons. “Learning languages is like playing a board game. If you don’t know the rules, you cannot play.”
As for advice on language learning, he says that it is very important to find a motivation that really keeps you going; travelling to a place where people speak your target language is a good start. And the thing he would travel back to the US for? “Walmart”, he says, on the thought that he often has to travel as far as Győr to get something he needs. “You just cannot compare it to Tesco.”
Similarly to Kenneth, Julia too works with languages on a daily basis. With a Bachelor’s degree in Hispanic Studies and two Master’s degrees (for teaching and research), she is a Spanish teacher at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
She often comes across things in Spanish that are difficult to explain to non-native speakers, but over the years, she has developed her methods. When asking for help from Hungarians, she usually starts by asking in English, “Do you speak English?”. When she gets “kicsit” (a little bit) as a response, she is already happy: that is more than enough for her.
Although she is currently not planning on settling down in Hungary, she is having a great time here. As she says, Budapest has a very strong Spanish community; this is also how she met her partner, Erik, who works here as a mechanical engineer.
Whatever the future holds for them, they have both already spent more time in Hungary than what they had originally planned for. What they miss the most from their home country is the food in general, although Julia admits that Hungarian foods like lángos are to die for.
According to the Educational Authority (Oktatási Hivatal), around 200 people attempted to take a Hungarian language exam both in the years 2018 and 2019. Even if this is less than half per cent of the total exams taken, the success rate is remarkably higher than in the case of the most popular languages:
The success rate for Hungarian language exams is over 70%, compared to 59–68% for languages like English, German, and French.
You can currently sign up for a Hungarian language exam at the ELTE Origó Language Centre and at the Foreign Language Centre of the University of Pécs.
Kenneth has a point about Walmart (known as Adsa in the UK) and Tesco’s. The supermarkets in Hungary are truly awful. Tesco only sell a fraction of what they sell in the UK and Lidl & Aldi are even more hopeless. In language terms, both my parents were Hungarian and I spent a lot of time in Hungary as a child so my language skills are enough to get by but official letters are a bit too complicated for me (mind you, my relatives who have lived here all their lives don’t understand them either!). Having studied Latin at school has been a help with getting to grips with the grammar because there are similarities. But all in all, I think that it would be very difficult to live here just relying upon English.
When I visit Hungary I always make an attempt to communicate in Hungarian. When I get it correct, the response from Hungarians is great.
It’s just good manners to try the language when in a foreign country.
Could I know where was the main phone taken?
The best and fastest way to learn Hungarian is to find a Hungarian partner besides attending a language school.
When I visited Hungary a few years three years ago, I managed well with my 5th grade level Hungarian. I found the Hungarians very tolerant if one’s Hungarian is limited (unlike tbe French). I will return 2022 with my daughter.