Hungarians - Europe's worst linguists

Photo: European Commission

The result of a Eurobarometer poll earlier this year suggests that less than one in three Hungarians speak a foreign language - in most cases English or German. This leaves the Hungarians lagging behind even Europe's notorious non-linguists, the British. A fresh survey by the Median research company not only confirms this but paints an even darker picture.

Photo: European Commission
Zoltan Rozgonyi is the chairman of the Union of Hungarian Language Schools:

"We found that the results of the research showed that approximately 25 percent of the age group between 15-45 years could use any foreign language at a practically reasonable level - what is called the B1 level by the Council of Europe. This means that they can operate in one of the foreign languages with little difficulty."

Is that enough?

"Certainly not. Neither the level, which is very low for any professional use, nor the percentage of the population. But the result wasn't very far from what we expected."

How much do Hungarians actually need to use a foreign language?

"About 70 percent of those we asked said they need it occasionally. Far fewer than half of them said they use foreign languages regularly. However, about 40 percent said they need the foreign languages."

When job seekers are required to speak a foreign language, do the potential employers require documented proof or do they test language skills during job interviews?

"It very much depends on whether the company or the institution is part of the state sector and it also depends on its size. Obviously, all the state institutions where foreign languages matter require state accredited exam papers. Typically larger organisers, very often international companies, also require or at least appreciate language certificates. Smaller companies are usually less interested in the actual paper."

Why is the level so low in Hungary?

"Well, it's mostly due to the quality of teacher training in higher education. There is no shortage of language teachers. Some less frequently used languages might not have enough teachers but there are definitely enough German and English teachers. The actual language competence of the recently trained teachers and the methodology training is far beyond what would be required. Unless higher education provides not just a suitable number but well trained teachers, I'm afraid the situation cannot change quickly and significantly."