Yet another lunacy: Law on teaching foreign languages

The other day I happened upon a very funny 10-minute video. In Hungary bakers must put a big, ugly paper sticker on every loaf of bread before it goes into the oven. But only bread; other baked goods don’t have to have the sticker. So, a journalist wanted to know why the distinction between bread and, let’s say, brioche. No one the journalist asked could give an answer. People in the industry just shrugged their shoulders. At the end, he asked an official of the Bakers’ Association who naturally had no rational explanation for this idiocy either but said that “there must be order in this world.”

Every bureaucracy tends to overregulate, but what has been going on since the Orbán government came into power defies imagination. Regulation on top of regulation in all aspects of life, which naturally makes not only the individual’s life ever more complicated but also negatively affects business activity and hence economic growth.

As we know, Hungarian education suffers from overcentralization and useless bureaucratic constraints. More and more paper work to satisfy the authorities at the top of the pyramid overburdens the teaching staff. Striving for absolute uniformity of teaching material kills the individual initiative of both teacher and pupil.

After “reforming” public education, the Ministry of Human Resources began work on a new law governing higher education. This project, however, was recently put on ice since the proposed bill that had been hammered out by István Klinghammer, the newly appointed undersecretary of higher education, was torpedoed by László Parragh, president of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Parragh has peculiar ideas about the purpose of  higher education–ideas, however, that Viktor Orbán finds attractive. Parragh’s “veto” meant that the entire draft had to be pitched.

Then there was the new law on adult education, a task that fell to the officials of the Ministry of Economics. This is the law, in effect since September 1, that prompted an outcry in the community of teachers of foreign languages. There are large language schools for which, it seems, the law is tailored because they are the only ones who can fulfill all the requirements stipulated in the law. The Ministry refuses to divulge the names of organizations that were consulted in connection with drafting this bill, but eventually it became clear that there were only three: the association that represents large language schools, Parragh’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the National Chamber of Agriculture. There is an association that represents smaller language schools called Nyelvtudásért Egyesület (Association for the Knowledge of Foreign Languages) whose aim is to promote wider knowledge of foreign languages. No representatives of this association were invited to participate in the preparation of the bill. In addition, there are the thousands of private teachers who are either freelancers or who teach in high schools during the day and in the evening have a few pupils.

languages

According to the law, no distinction is made among these groups. All of them must put up 1 million forints as insurance that they don’t run away with the money of their pupils. All of them must follow the same curriculum, the same books, the same lecture structure. All of them, even private teachers, must have separate toilet facilities for the students. All such teaching facilities must provide daily data on the number of students entering their courses as well as school attendance and the number dropping out. The rules even dictate that the teacher must have a copy machine and a printer, two separate pieces of equipment. As one private teacher pointed out, since he has a multifunction printer he is not eligible. The same teacher complained that there is not one word in the law about teaching online, which constitutes a good portion of his teaching activity.

There is one exception to all of these rules: those teachers who concentrate on specific language competencies. For example, special vocabulary for doctors, for mechanical engineers, computer scientists or for that matter pastry chefs or bricklayers. Here I see the hand of Parragh who has no appreciation of anything that is not practical.

If this law remains in its present form, Hungarian foreign language teaching will receive another blow. Only very large language schools will remain, where apparently the classes are too large. According to some teachers, as many as sixteen pupils make up an average class. I know from personal experience that one learns nothing useful in such surroundings. It is possible that smaller language schools operating with only a handful of teachers will not be able to fulfill all the requirements because, as it is, they are struggling to keep their heads above water. They might have to throw in the towel, and their teachers will most likely go to work for the few large schools. As for the private teachers, they will either stop teaching or go “underground.”

The incompetence of the people who have joined the ministries since Fidesz won the election in 2010 is really staggering. First of all, I don’t know why the Ministry of Economics was entrusted with drafting a law that deals primarily with education. Yes, one could argue that the knowledge of foreign languages has something to do with business, but teaching is teaching. Moreover, not only adults turn to language schools or private teachers. Many high school students find that what their high schools offer is simply not enough to pass the language exams necessary to acquire a university degree.

These incompetent bureaucrats feel so powerful and knowledgeable that they don’t ask experts in the field to help but instead listen to lobbyists and leaders of business or agricultural trade associations who surely are unfamiliar with the topic of foreign language teaching. Moreover, I even doubt that they understand what the professions they represent actually need. Let’s hope that the outcry that this law spawned will result in some changes. If not, its consequences will be dire, the profession predicts.

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Paul Thomas
Guest

Reblogged this on lls // online.

Minusio
Guest
I heard of this before, but with less of the staggering details. Everything goes the way some people predicted – even before April 2010. “Many high school students find that what their high schools offer is simply not enough to pass the language exams necessary to acquire a university degree.” My “ceterum censeo” remains that noone should be allowed to enroll at a university without all necessary language exams passed before entering university. To demand such language qualifications at the time a university degree should be obtained is ludicrous. I means that you can study a field – only knowing Hungarian and not being able to read the pertinent foreign literature – until the day of your exam. That can’t be the idea. And I have heard of this practice only in Hungary. Plus, I knew a few people who studied and produced papers for ten years and then failed to get a degree because they couldn’t pass any language test. But, admittedly that was long before Orbán. It probably started in communist times. But that doesn’t make it any better. BTW, I’m sure these silly and annoying paper stickers are put on the loaves after baking (remember 451 Fahrenheit?).… Read more »
Varese
Guest

they probably only bake the bread at 375 fahrenheit. maybe 425..

Minusio
Guest

I believe you, of course. But as a child I saw bakers using a little flower dissolved in water and putting them on after baking when the bread was still steaming hot.

Latest rumor has it, though, that nowadays these labels are stuck on pre-baked products which come from factories. In that case the loaves are not so long in the oven and the heat is lower and not so long as they are only crisped up.

Anyway, your post is about the unimaginable chicanery on language teachers and language schools and not primarily about annoying bread stickers.

andy - Quo Vadis...(Where do you think yar goin, mate) eh?
Guest
On the day – as member of the diplomatic community – that I was given an advance tour of the spanking-new and rebuilt Hungarian President’s mansion in the Castle District I saw the foreboding of an era of militarization ethic in this country. Here were soldiers in old style unifroms stiffly saluting each other marching up and down in front of the premises. A few months later, in a cascade, came laws for the uniformization of various aspects of the civil services. Taxi vehciles’s carosserie color, the per km fixing of prices for the service, the ownership of schools and hospitals, all decisions having to be made from the ‘very’ top-down…. Alarm bells were resonating in my ears, from every-which direction… Lets be frank, I seen lots. And I know that when – in the intimate sphere – within a couple, one gets very fussy with expectations, that means throuble sooner or later. Victor Orban has a case of expectation-sickness toward others in a ‘heavy duty’ way. I personally think it may be a slightly female trait, I’ve received most of these kinds of requirement specifications from females… HOWEVER this just means that Orban – who would like to appear… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Here is a website where people report their personal stories of bribery, including language exams:

http://www.fizettem.hu/osszesbejelentes

An
Guest

This is maddening and idiotic bureaucracy but it has a logic. The deal is the same as in the case of the extensive government regulation recently introduced in other fields (tobacco shops, taxis, pharmacies): to eliminate market competition and to impose stronger state control so as to to hand over the market to the Fidesz faithful and loyal. Even among language schools. The very essence of the regime is this modus operandi. You have to increase state control and regulation to be able to control who has access to the “goodies.”
Little by little the Orban regime is extending its spider web over to every corner of life… the goal is to control the society in a way that people’s livelihood will be directly dependent on serving the regime. Free market does not fit into this picture.

Minusio
Guest

@An. What on earth have we been talking about all this time? Can’t you remember what some of us had it about – even pre-April 2010?

That’s what’s happening. It is all according to plan (even if the detailed plans are changed every other day, and less and less of daily things work anymore or have become so costly that nobody can afford them).

But the Grand Plan was visible long before the 2010 elections for those who had eyes to see and intuition to imagine. After all, this way of highjacking an entire country isn’t the first time, is it? But nobody had so much time and money to plan for the slightest detail to gain power and how to keep it.

The EU will not do much unless it can identify a strong and trustworthy opposition. Then some of them might be all gang-ho about it. But as yet you have to look for the opposition just in Budapest – and with a microscope, no, several microscopes. Not so much to write home about…

An
Guest

And maybe one day, people will be arrested for illegal language teaching 🙂

andy - Bon appetit
Guest
When I began writing my comment-essay about uniformization there had been no comment as yet. By the time I had finished, I noticed 4 more brief comments had arrived in the meanwhile. Mostly about the cute-but-bothersome bread ‘stickers’. Well, I got somethin’ of my own to say about these little devils. In the happy old barracks ‘commie days every single product had to have a label stuck on it describing what it was or what its intended function whould be: Eg. “Soap holder” or “Bedroom night-table”. And it would need to appear in the Hungarian language, Polish or Czech was insufficient. Just so youd know what you were gonna use the soap holder for… (apparently they were already secretly lookin down at the general population, their fledglings). As for the sticker-labels on the bread, I respectully disagree with a few. Yes it is annoying to have to cut it off and lose a part of the delicious crust, for sure, but I personally vouch for its usefulness. Not to be contrarian. But just that with ALL the bread (STILL often quite DELICIOUS in Hungary) being manufactured and delivered and shelved in massive quantities, it would be REAL tough to figure… Read more »
Minusio
Guest

@andy -. In this country, every bread in the supermarket is wrapped in a bag that is printed with information about what’s in it. After baking on the spot, the loaves are taken out by gloved hands and stuffed into the individual bags.

But still: Topic of post: new language teaching regulations in Hungary.

andy - narrow logic
Guest

Minusio… stay to the topic, disregard previous comments, plough ahead into the darkness… Order, command. That is the stuff hard heads are made of. We see it… all the time

Louis Kovach
Guest

Spanolo????…..Shaking head in Puerto Vallarta…….

LwiiH
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
Minusio, honest to goodness, I saw the bakers sticking them on the dough!

If you’ve ever cut of a sticker you quickly realize that the sticker is baked into the bread. I mean, it’s part of the bread. I’ve always found it odd but then, who cares as long as the chemicals in the ink don’t leach into the bread. As for the paper burning, as long as there is moisture in the bread the paper cannot burn

Narwal
Guest
An has the point. Fidesz wants to capture as many markets as it possibly can, because distribution of the goodies (issuing the licenses) means another form of control and another source of money. (Next are the 11 new licenses for slot machine play halls and there is a lot of thinking going into how to reorganize the sale of alcohol in Hungary, after all the market is based on licenses in the US, and heavily restricted in the Scandinavia.) But remember: these marker captures happen always in line with EU laws and practice, as there are plenty of examples of restricted taxi services and pharmacies. So Fidesz can always point to long-standing EU examples. Putin does the same, so nobody can criticize his laws on public demonstration, because in the UK the law is even tougher (the potential fines are bigger). These dictators are pretty smart. As the EU can only think in terms of “rule of law” and is crazily over-legalized and over-procedural, these dictators will always win the legal arguments against the EU as they have done every time so far (remember that Orban never retreated on any issue as a result of any EU action, all the… Read more »
steveh
Guest

Never mind the bread… this absurd law on teaching language may well have its origins in some misguided economic view of the world but it’s a shame that no language acquisition experts seem to have been consulted. If they had, they would have made the important point that having a centralised syllabus simply doesn’t work. We know now much more about how languages are learned than we did, even 15 years ago since there is a large and active research community. Without going into lengthy detail here, it’s clear that this law will backfire badly and hurt those who are at the bottom of the this particular ladder: the students.

LwiiH
Guest
Forget language schools and stop dubbing all movies and TV shows. As for special language training for professions.. I can only comment on software developers. Contrary to popular belief, programming languages aren’t for computers, they are for Humans to read. They are to provide us with a higher level of abstraction in which to describe a solution to a problem. They also allows developers to develop a vocabulary that helps describe the problem space they are working in. Take HTML for example. It describes how to render this text in your web browser by using tags such as for paragraph (the brevity of ‘p’ is considered bad form), and so on. While the vocabulary for HTML is well defined, it’s parent, XML come vocabulary free which helps others define their own vocabulary such as FPML for financials. As you can see, computers don’t need any of this. Regular programming languages serve the same purpose which essentially means the vast majority of programs are written in “English”. Reading a program written by a non-native english speaker is sometimes interesting. If you understand the flow of a persons thoughts you can survive a mislabeling and still derive intent. However this doesn’t work… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

It is heartwarming to see that our leadership takes care of the fideszization of caves and spelunking too:

http://nol.hu/lap/hetvege/20131214-fold_alatti_rendszervaltas

patent kapolcs
Guest

As soon as Fidesz/KDNP came to power it was obvious that their main thrust was control, control, control. In the past 3 1/2 year this has succeeded completely, to the dismay of liberals and democrats. The flip side of the government’s task was to fix the economy and in this Matolcsy, Orban and Varga have been dismal failures. The Fidesz/KDNP control freaks with their nationalistic, irredentist, kuruc arrogance have succeeded in turning economic investment and (non-Fidesz) business confidence in Hungary into a wasteland. Language teaching? More of the same.

A personal “Thank you” to Prof. Balogh for writing this blog. It must be hard work but there are a lot of readers on this end who depend on it for counter-balancing information against the propaganda and who appreciate the research effort necessary. More power to you!

District 7 Observer
Guest
“If this law remains in its present form, Hungarian foreign language teaching will receive another blow” Yes and no. Smaller language schools will certainly take a blow whereas Fidesz institutions (eg International House) will mop up the legal market. However, the desire or necessity to learn a foreign language does not depend on the regime. International House and the other Fidesz schools presently charge the highest price; admittedly IH also does provide a relatively high standard of teaching but they do at present charge 2 even 3 times more than the typical quality smaller school. Once its competition has been removed, then logicakky those prices will go up even further. However, as I said, simply because only the Fidesz elite and their spolit brats can afford to study at IH it doesn’t mean that the normal decent folk will just decide to give up. *Unofficial* private language teaching operates in a purely free-market environment (best teachers get the most students) and due to its flexible and ad hoc nature is almost impossible for the Orban bully boys to stop. Now, most of those teachers would love to operate legally but why should they prostitute themselves in front of a scumbag… Read more »
Joe Simon
Guest

Curly: Thank you for the correction. Still, while the US current-account deficit is around 100 billion, Hungary`s 830 million euros in the black is not bad for a country with practically no resources.

SL
Guest

95% of Hungarians still can be fooled by the rulers of any current systems.
Even in the last days of uber-patritoic post-KISZ apparatchnik Orban, there will be still a love-fest in the open.
It is strange that too many fellow Hungarians lack straight logic.
VOTE DK.
What would our resident smart guru, Petofi say?

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[…] vereinheitlicht und privaten Fremdsprachenunterricht illegalisiert,  vgl. Hungarian Spectrum:  Yet another lunacy: Law on teaching foreign languages, December 14, […]

buddy
Guest

OT but what to make of this bonkers story about Tamás Deutsch, with his usual foul language and boorish manner, threatening the Prosecutor’s Office to shut down kuruc.info… OR ELSE!
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20131214_Lejart_Deutsch_ultimatuma

Incidentally what an odd photo Deutsch has on his Facebook profile page: Orbán looks supremely bored, and Deutsch himself is biting his fingernails. I guess he can put up whatever photo he wants of himself but it’s not exactly the most flattering one…
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000694338124

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Joe Simon :
Curly: Thank you for the correction. Still, while the US current-account deficit is around 100 billion, Hungary`s 830 million euros in the black is not bad for a country with practically no resources.

Magyarország jobban teljesit? Does Hungary perform better?

According to Eurostat
Poverty share in % of the Hungarian population in at least one of the following three conditions:

1) at risk of poverty, meaning below the poverty threshold,
2) in a situation of severe material deprivation,
3) living in a household with very low work intensity.

2008 2011 2012

28,2 31,0 32,4

The EU average was 24,8

So while the Oligarch Maffia gets richer, the Hungarian population becomes poorer

Source
http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/People_at_risk_of_poverty_or_social_exclusion

see also:
http://www.napi.hu/nemzetkozi_gazdasag/itt_vannak_a_friss_szamok_magyarorszag_nem_teljesit_jobban.571852.html

tappanch
Guest

At the far end of the money pipeline, there is a new, social-democratic handler, Herr Steinmeier, so Orban suddenly is declared to be a “genuine social democrat”.

The prospect of continuing joy of robbery overrides ideology.

http://hetivalasz.hu/itthon/orban-igazi-szocialdemokrata-71003/

Member

Joe Simon :
Curly: Thank you for the correction. Still, while the US current-account deficit is around 100 billion, Hungary`s 830 million euros in the black is not bad for a country with practically no resources.

Joe, that is actually bad. Developed countries run current acount deficits. Poor countries have surplus. This is not a thing to brag about.

Guest

“Yet another lunacy: Law on teaching foreign languages”

They way I understand the word it is not lunacy, just another example of the logic of dictatorship. A dictatorship will bleed to death unless its borders are closed. It is unlikely that the Hungarians will tolerate that their borders get closed once more, so the Fidesz-dictatorship must look for other ways to keep people in the fold. The new law on language teaching is meant to imprison the majority of the Hungarians in their own language. Those who know only Hungarian will stay in Hungary, because they cannot get jobs abroad. Those who can afford to learn foreign languages in the new competition-free schools belong to the Fidesz nomenklatura. No problem with them.

The law strikes two flies with one stroke. The slowing down of the depopulation is the primary objective. Taking away the business from small language schools and giving it to the Fidesz mafia is a minor collateral advantage. Not the same scale as the slot machine and the tobacco affairs.

Member

Hungary: Sinkhole for Human Rights and Justice in the European Union

Senator Cardin, in the US Congressional Record, December 11 2014, gives a temperate but extremely alarming summary of the ongoing events in the country that is rapidly unravelling democracy while enjoying full membership in the European Union.
http://gov.mtopgroup.com/art1/record/delta/2013/12/11/senate-section/article/S8804-3

petofi
Guest

SL :
95% of Hungarians still can be fooled by the rulers of any current systems.
Even in the last days of uber-patritoic post-KISZ apparatchnik Orban, there will be still a love-fest in the open.
It is strange that too many fellow Hungarians lack straight logic.
VOTE DK.
What would our resident smart guru, Petofi say?

There is a similarity between the technique of American evangelicals and the Fidesz party (namely, Orban)–declare the people’s exceptionality; that you alone fully recognize it; and that you are the seer to direct them. It works for those who can’t, or won’t, think for themselves.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that Hungarians have been mis-educated. The Catholic Church has a great responsibility for this because they can’t get their hands on young children early enough to indoctrinate them. This mal-formed Christianity is infused into the society. The idea of Independence is not promoted anywhere in the education system.
Moreover, I have seen little indication that the wisdom of other cultures in books is promoted
at either the high school or university level.

When one is the ‘greatest’ and ‘leading edge’ of civilization, what need is there to know of others?

Can book-burning be far behind?

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