Passing your driving test is one of the milestones on the road to becoming a “grown-up”. It is no surprise, therefore, that foreign students living in Hungary often cannot wait until they return home before getting their licence. A Hungarian jogsi is valid throughout the EU and driving lessons are relatively inexpensive. As this newspaper found out, however, the process is not as foreigner friendly as it might be.
The march of progress
Tamás Kúti has been a driving instructor for 20 years and teaching in various foreign languages for five of them. Many choose to study in Hungary only because it is a relatively cheap way to get a driving licence, Kúti says. Several thousand non-Hungarian speakers have been applying for licences here in recent years. The trouble, as so often in Hungary, is the language: until recently foreigners could take an oral exam with the aid of an interpreter. However, as of a few weeks ago, they must now sit the theory test on computer, and can do so in their own language.
Problem solved, you may think. Not quite, he says: “The Hungarian [computer] questions are not very different from those in the oral test but we still don’t know how they’ve been translated.”
Caution: bumpy road ahead for foreign
Some learners taking the test in a language other than Hungarian have reported that the translations in some cases are difficult to understand and even illogical. Some even suspected that the translations may have been produced by machine, Kuti adds.
Lost in translation
“In the oral test the interpreter was able to help to explain words that are difficult to understand,” the instructor explains, while in the computer test the questions follow one another in rapid succession. Confusion arises in particular when it comes to road signs, of which there are 250 in Hungary compared to just 60 in England. Moreover, Hungarian sometimes has two terms where only one might exist in other languages, and each is governed by distinct rules in the Hungarian highway code, known as the KRESZ. “There’s no German equivalent if the given sign does not even exist in Germany,” Kúti points out.
The assiduous student might decide that the best approach is to get some past papers and mug up on the answers, bad translations and all. They will find, however, that the old tests are available in Hungarian only.
The Budapest Times asked the National Transport Authority (NKH) about this, only to be told that it is not responsible for the publication of test papers in foreign languages. “Driving schools that cater to foreign learners will presumably translate the Hungarian subject matter and prepare their learners accordingly,” the authority added.
A bit of bias…
Kuti ran up against a similar bureaucratic brick wall. The explanation given to him by the NKH is that driving schools have no right to make multiple copies of or sell translated test papers.
However, the NKH has not explained why the same principle does not apply to the Hungarian test papers, he says. So Hungarian candidates have the chance to practise with past papers before the exam, while foreign students go in blind. The same problem awaits non-EU expatriates who want to have their existing driving licence recognised by the Hungarian authorities: they also have to take the computer test in English.