About Languages (Learning and Unlearning)

About Languages: Learning

Once I knew I would go to Hungary, one of the main aims I set for myself was learning the language - because even if Hungarian is very complex, it is also beautiful to listen to. And when I realised that my favourite author used Hungarian words for names in her books, I got even more determined.

So I started working through online language courses, listening to Hungarian radio stations and music in Hungarian and tried to communicate with the local people as much as possible.

But no matter what you hear about “if you surround yourself with a language all the time you’ll learn it in your sleep” - you can only learn a language if you actually sit down and take the time to study it properly.

And with a language as strange and foreign as Hungarian you get lost pretty fast on your own - how do you pronounce this word? Does this syllabil come from this word? Why do you use this word here but that word there? What is the difference between két and kettő?

There is also a current trend when learning a language that the best effect is achieved when exposing yourself completely to the new language - but how can you learn a language when all the explanations about rules, grammar and important exceptions are in the learning language, too?

Therefore my motivation to learn Hungarian declined more and more - I didn’t have any noteworthy support and half of my questions were answered with a shrug. I didn’t have the feeling that I made any progress. This feeling stuck until Isa joined the project and I realised, for the first time, that I’m actually able to communicate with the people, at least more or less, unlike my new volunteer mate.

To learn a language from scratch on your own is still nothing I would recommend to anyone.

About Languages: Unlearning

While trying to learn the language of a different country, you also have the chance to use the languages you already know. In my case, German and English.

And both languages are useful to know in Hungary. In the more rural areas you find many people knowing at least a bit of German, in the cities and the younger generation there are quite a few English speaking people.

But these people aren’t native speakers, and most of them have last used the language years ago - or are still learning it on a basic level. Thusly, communication in German and English isn’t easy and both sentence structure and the choice of words doesn’t always make sense.

I don’t know how much this influences my own knowledge of the languages. But I find myself questioning my own statements more and more, wondering if the grammar was applied correctly and if the words made any sense in the context.

I feel like I’m unlearning more and more of my own languages, the more time I spend abroad, speaking to people whose mother tongue I don’t know.

But it is easier to deepen the knowledge of a language you already know instead of trying to learn a new language.

So I am working on at least keeping my German and Enlish on their current level and trying to pick up some Hungarian on the side. My success in both points will be something I’ll probably be able to see in the near future.

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