I’ve realized that attempting to speak the native language in Hungary as a foreigner is seen A LOT differently than a foreigner trying their best to speak English in America.
I’ve been in Hungary for over a month now, and I definitely was hoping that I’d magically pick up almost all of the language by now “because I was immersed in it”. Unfortunately, that’s not the case… I can confidently tell you that I only remember about three grammar rules, five greetings, and twelve vocabulary words off of the top of my head.
You see, though, when I meet new people here and tell them my name (honestly, just what translates to “My name is Sydney”), they are astonished! They look at whoever introduced me to them and say (in Hungarian), “What a clever girl!”. Their smile broadens to their ears when I respond with a Hungarian “thank you”.
That’s all I have to say.. Four words (though I am learning more).. for people to respond with, “You speak great Hungarian”.
Yet when they (whether 8 years old or 53 or somewhere between or above) can ask me questions in English, keep the conversation going, use transition words in their sentences, and much more, they say, “My English is not good”.
Now, maybe they think this way because they’ve heard English-speaking countries expect you to be perfect or they will judge you when you visit? Maybe they aren’t supported in their English learning, and they discourage themselves? Maybe it’s a combination of these two explanations, or neither of them, or (probably) there’s way more to it. I don’t know.
But these experiences have made me think about how “the typical American” would respond to: someone who came into their shop only knowing a few English words, someone who sat quietly in church and was whispered the translation of the sermon to, someone who may or may not “pass as looking like the majority of the people in the community”, or someone who walked down the street with a much younger person speaking a different language than the native language in the town.
With my experiences, I don’t think Americans would be so welcoming to the strange “someone”.
Thankfully, as the “someone” in Hungary, I’ve been welcomed like they have been waiting for me for years.
Here’s some questions I’ve been pondering lately (feel free to join me, if you want):
-Why don’t we, Americans, take learning other languages more seriously?
-Why do we, Americans, feel like everyone has to “speak English or get out”?
-Why aren’t we, Americans, welcoming those who are trying to “make better lives for themselves in America”? (Please don’t answer this starting with, “There’s not enough…” There’s always enough.)
-When was the last time I tried approaching someone (who I knew spoke another language than me) to make them feel welcomed near me, to show that a “language barrier” doesn’t have to be a “barrier of acquaintanceship”?