A tourist seeking guidance in English is only able to speak with every fifth Hungarian, shows a 2012 survey of the European Commission. This meagre 20% is the lowest of countries in the European Union. To add insult to injury, the Hungarian government has just passed an amendment to the law on foreign language teaching that necessitates a pedagogical degree (preferably a Hungarian one) for all foreign language educators in state-financed and EU-funded language schools. The amendment was constructed so “well” they almost succeeded in ruling out native teachers.
Hungary has the highest percentage of monolinguals in the EU, and according to a statistic published this year 63% of the adult population can hardly speak a single foreign language. For some mysterious reason the government chose to address this problem by narrowing down the number of language teachers drastically. The Ministry for National Economy claims the measure was necessary to raise the level of language education but heads of schools say it has an opposite effect.
According to the new regulation, strictly those people can teach a foreign language in public education who have a pedagogical degree. This means that a diploma in linguistics or a highly valued international language teaching qualification such as CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is worth nearly nothing now, even though the latter gives a remarkably high-quality practical training and prepares candidates for real-life classroom situations.
Furthermore, the regulation almost managed to exclude native speaker language teachers from the system, but later a modification was added at the end that “only” requires them to have a university diploma. Naturally, those university students who have experience abroad and have learnt a language on a near-native level have now no right to be near any classrooms.
This measure is a step back in the development of Hungarian foreign language education because it reduces the number of near-native and native sources of language input for students. It goes against a more open-minded, synthetic language teaching technique that proved to be very successful in a number of other countries because it encourages students to retrieve the highest native input possible.
The new Hungarian foreign language teaching model now resembles that of the communist times, when the Iron Curtain blocked the access to sufficient input of Western languages and students were forced to take a more analytic approach. This often meant sacrificing the development of their practical language skills and not achieving adequate conversational competence.
The new regulations are unreasonable, inconsistent and harmful, says Zoltán Rozgonyi, president of the Association for National Language Education and Examination (Országos Nyelvoktatási és Nyelvvizsgáztatási Szakmai Egyesület). Rozgonyi said the amendment takes away the livelihood of hundreds of instructors who could have represented a different approach from that of certain faculties of Hungarian higher education in pedagogy.
Although the Ministry for National Economy keeps on claiming that the law is being deliberately misinterpreted, and plenty of options exist for those who do not meet the new expectations, the association says these ways are not worth taking. Even though schools are allowed to employ teachers without a pedagogical degree to teach non-state-funded and not language exam preparatory courses, under the new law they have lost VAT exemption, consequently entailed costs have substantially increased for both the students and the schools that would consider launching these courses.
Rozgonyi also mentioned that school leaders protested several times before the amendment was passed, and they managed to fend off the two most damaging elements of the legislative package, which included the request of a pedagogical degree for native speakers. Nevertheless, all their other remonstrance was ignored.
He said the association deems the regulation pointless because it does not promote in the slightest way the improvement in the quality of the courses. In fact, apart from increasing bureaucracy, it did not have any influence on the quality of education in schools that passed authorisation. The amendment was composed of a bunch of unnecessary regulations that were easy to meet on paper, and that allowed schools with scandalous quality of education to pass. It was also not an impediment for these institutions ratified on paper, to clinch massive assignments for large state-funded programs.
What is the government’s advice to those who would indulge in further training? One of these educators gave a statement to Index, claiming that the Bureau of Education (Oktatási Hivatal) could not give a clear answer to what type of degree in pedagogy is needed, presumably because the range of pedagogical trainings currently available in Hungary is rather chaotic. ELTE, for example, offers a three-semester training in pedagogy that might just be acceptable but to obtain such a diploma would cost about HUF 1 million, which is, naturally, not covered by state funds.