Surprising facts about foreign language learning in Hungary
More and more Hungarians speak foreign languages each year. However, despite the amount that has been spent on language education in the past 20-25 years, our results are still very weak, abcug.hu reports.
Compared to other European countries, the number of foreign language classes in Hungarian public education is one of the highest. Hungarian students have almost twice as many language classes as Danish, Finnish, or Austrian students, and Hungarian students are sorted into classes based on skill level, a method which hardly exists anywhere else. However these advantageous circumstances are not reflected in the language skills of Hungarians. Language teaching is not efficient enough in public education, while higher education offers rarely any opportunities for language learning. Hungarians still equate language exam certificates with language skills, even though these two are often completely unrelated.
Still only very few people speak foreign languages, and those who don’t speak well enough, says Marianne Nikolov, a university professor and researcher who has studied language acquisition and its results in public education for decades.
One of the main reasons for this lies in the methods used in public education. Once the initial excitement of students wears down, the playful, interactive tasks are replaced by uninteresting and monotonous teaching methods which easily discourage children.
Despite the focus on communicative language teaching, teachers soon return to the same methods they themselves were exposed to when they were students.
Children hardly speak in class at all, they read from the text book, do translations, and grammar exercises, says Marianne Nikolov.
A previous study revealed that one third of the language teachers still speaks in Hungarian most of the time, while they also use frontal, teacher-centred instruction methods. Furthermore, the students have to memorise words out of context, and most teachers immediately correct students’ mistakes and have them repeat the correct answer.
The latter is the reason why most Hungarians think that it’s not even worth attempting to speak in a foreign language unless it’s perfect, since teachers give the impression that making mistakes is something that needs to be corrected immediately. According to Marianne Nikolov, these old methods should be replaced by watching videos and films, having conversations, and doing role-plays.
There is a tendency in Hungary to give language exam certificates greater importance than they actually hold. Language certificates are often equated with language skills, even though passing an examination once may not be a realistic reflection of one’s language skills, especially a few years down the line.
The Hungarian public, however, still treats language certificates as the most reliable proofs of language proficiency.
No language courses at universities
According to the latest research, one third of the university students is not allowed to graduate, because they do not have an intermediate level language exam.
There has been no opportunities for foreign language learning at the Hungarian universities, so students are without any help for years. What students can have are paid language courses, says Nikolov. However, students are still required to have advanced language skills by the time they finish university, states the researcher. “What I don’t understand is how these students, for whom their university provided no help in developing their language skills, allow these requirements, which are not part of the university curriculum, to stay in place,” asks Nikolov.
Moreover, despite the fact that students learn languages in secondary school, universities offer very few opportunities for people to continue their studies in their chosen field in a foreign language, thus maintaining and developing their language skills this way.
Kindergarten holds no miracles
More and more kindergarten-aged children learn foreign languages around the world, including Hungary. In the EU, the majority of people consider age 6 to be a right time to start language learning, but 39pc of them supports foreign language learning for kindergarten-aged children as well, especially in English.
However, there is hardly any correlation between the age at which one starts learning a language and how much one knows, Marianne Nikolov’s study concluded.
The foreign language acquisition of children is very slow, much slower than that of teenagers or young adult learners. The quality of education seems to be much more important than the number of lessons per week, or the years spent on learning languages.