Learning the Language of Love


Two days after the publication date of this issue, as you surely could not have failed to notice, Valentine’s Day falls. It is a holiday, or perhaps more accurately an occasion, that has grown massively in terms of visibility in Budapest in the 22 years since I first arrived here. Back then it seemed like most Hungarians, even most florists and retail outlets, had little idea that here was a day made for monetizing love and all its essential accessories: flowers, wine, and chocolate. I soon gave up trying to find a greetings card dedicated to anonymously declaring my feelings for the woman who became my wife.

Now hotels advertise Valentine’s specials (usually offerings of food and drink delivered to your door in these COVID-conscious times of ours), travel agents offer the promise of romantic getaways, shops dress their windows and you can even spot specially themed cards on those rotating racks in your local supermarket.

It is possible that is simply because time has passed and expats have raised awareness of the day, but I suspect it has much more to do with the marketing output of chocolate producers (among others) and the ubiquity of cultural references on TV, the movies and the internet.

But rather than the “language of love,” I wanted to talk about the “love of learning language.” Our Special Report this issue looks into Language and Translation.

Just as with every other sector of life, language schools had to switch to an online mode to continue studies. As Kester Eddy points out in his excellent overview of the schools market on page 10, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have “ravaged” the sector.

Interestingly, some players we have spoken to talk about initial reluctance to move online (the fear of the unknown, one assumes), bookended now by a reluctance to do anything else. Language classes are actually allowed to meet face-to-face (or at least to offer a mix of online and off) under the government restrictions, provided they adhere to certain criteria, though many chose not to do so.

As for the experience of the student, some do just fine following online methods, while others miss the social aspects and even the “push” given by a teacher or their peers within a classroom setting. Zoom (other service providers are available) can do many things, but it cannot replace that, a point made to me the other day by my oldest daughter, who confesses to have had enough of the whole home schooling experiment and interfacing with her education via a computer screen.

It is probably redundant to make the point that translation agencies require staff with excellent language skills, so here’s another thought. Given the importance of language skills to the future career paths of my daughter’s generation (not least her peers who, unlike her, did not have the advantage of growing up bilingual), one can only hope that: a) the government really does prioritize language learning across a student’s entire school life, with money as well as fine words; and b) that language schools targeting the rest of society can bounce back post-COVID. Hungary’s improved competitiveness will likely depend upon it.

Robin Marshall


This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 12, 2021.

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