‘What is it called in Hungarian?’ – language learners’ adventures with our language 2.
Although in the first part of the article series I already got to know Zsuzsanna Ballai, Hungarian as a foreign language teacher’s opinion on what motivates somebody to start learning Hungarian, I was curious to hear some first-hand stories from the language learners themselves. Hungarian roots? Pre-requisite at university? Personal challenge? Let’s hear what they have to say!
My first interviewee, the Serbian Vladica Rakic started learning Hungarian last summer, at the age of 60. By doing so, she fulfilled the promise she made to herself to acquire the language she was so fond of in her childhood. At the moment, she is preparing for an A2 level language exam.
“I live on the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, which is a really special place linguistically. Besides Serbian, Hungarian, Romanian, Slovakian and Ukrainian are also official languages, which means that in the smaller villages, there are a lot of bi- and trilingual inhabitants. I spent my childhood in one of these villages, where the use of Hungarian was common. Thanks to this, although I was never a native speaker, I got by using Hungarian very well. However, when I was 10 years old, we moved to Novi Sad, a bigger city and Hungarian almost completely disappeared from my life, because there everybody was using Serbian to communicate – even my bilingual friends found it easier to use this language. Therefore, during the next 50 years, I almost completely forgot the Hungarian language and when I started it again, I could only remember a few nursery rhymes.
However, I am happy that I fulfilled the promised I made to myself and upon retiring, started learning Hungarian as my unique method to fight old age dementia. There are a lot of memories, tastes, faces and feeling that connect me to this language and to a certain extent, it is a part of my identity and it is therefore really important for me to make it part of my life again.”
Little Riding Hood, love and word cards – because we are special!
However, there are some people who do not have any personal connections to the language, but for some reason became interested in it and fell in love with it. Aldwin Dominic Fernandez, a student from the Philippines started learning it because he was mesmerised by what he learnt about Hungary and the uniqueness of the Hungarian language in his primary school classes. Although he has never been to the country, thanks to the online video classes and word cards, he can already speak the language at a basic level.
“I have always been motivated to learn a language that everybody considers impossible to learn and when I found out about the Hungarian culture, I immediately decided that this would be the language for me. Now the only thing I must work on is making it to Hungary one day.”
Aiam Magro Brazilian student’s story is somewhat similar. He fell in love with the language when he participated in a German course with students from all over the world where he asked his course mates about the name of internationally renowned fairy tale characters in their languages. When one of his friends said that Little Red Riding Hood was Piroska in Hungarian, he was completely mesmerised by the sound of the word. This was the word that got him interested in the Hungarian language and today, he is living and studying in Hungary.
Colm Fitzgerald is connected to the language through a different love. “I met a group of Hungarians back in Ireland; one of them was the girl who would later become my wife. As none of them spoke really good English, I started learning their language to be able to communicate with them. Although at the beginning, I found the language incredibly difficult, since I moved to Hungary, I have found it easier to cope with it.”
A jump into the unknown
However, there are language learners who had absolutely no idea what they were in for before they started learning Hungarian. The French Lise Martin, for example, was sent to Pápa, where, according to her, nobody speaks foreign languages. Therefore, it had to be her to learn the locals’ language.
“Before coming to Hungary, I had no idea what was waiting for me here, how the Hungarian culture was, the people or the language. I always thought that Hungarian was like German or Romanian. Therefore, when I started learning it, I was taken aback to find that it had nothing to do with them, what’s more, that it was the hardest language that I had ever come across despite the fact that I can already speak four languages! But I am really happy that I started learning it, I absolutely adore its complex grammar and the fact that it has such a melodic sound. However, there are some sounds that I just cannot get my head around; for example, I always mix up the words ’agy’ and ’ágy’.”
The American Todd Slusar also started learning Hungarian for practical reasons. After coming to Hungary on holiday in 2010, him and his family decided that they would like to come to the country on holiday more often and therefore, bought a house here.
“In my opinion, it is a really bad approach to think that just because my mother tongue happens to be English, I can just lay back and expect everybody to talk to me in English. In my opinion, if I am interested enough in the culture that I want to spent some part of my coming years in the country, the least I can do is learn some Hungarian to be able to talk to the neighbours and shop assistants in their own language.”
Last, but not least, there are some who feel close to the language because of the language’s roots. Dmitry Matorin was born near the Ural mountains, where the local languages played an important role in his childhood.
“I can feel the inner link between myself and the Hungarian language and people. It feels like being able to relive something through this language that I lost together with my childhood. It is an incredibly uplifting feeling. Whenever I come to Hungary, a deep feeling comes over me that I have a connection to this place. Being a linguist, the best way for me to cultivate this feeling is by learning the language as best as I can.”