Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Romanian in schools

Last weekend at a party, my host's son, a 10 year old who has just come back to Romania after living in Budapest for a few years, performed his recently learned party piece. That is, he recited a long and complex Octavian Goga poem in the original Romanian. Romanians present (both Hungarian Romanians and Romanian Romanians) were very impressed by his ability.

Not very interesting, you might be thinking, until you realise that the reciter doesn't actually speak Romanian (or at least speaks very little). His first language is Hungarian, he spent the early part of his school years in Hungary itself, and he is now back here and in the Romanian school system. So, basically he is reciting this poem without understanding it, more or less at all. In fact, so difficult was the poem that many of the adults didn't know some of the words.

But this, it seems, is how Romanian is taught in school. Kids can go to school in their native language, so, for example, most children here go to Hungarian medium schools. But the curriculum is a national one and therefore Romanian (as a subject) is taught as if it were a first language for all. And so, you end up with impressive but flawed scenes such as the one described above. Now, I have my doubts whether kids whose first language is Romanian are getting much benefit from being able to recite by heart Octavian Goga poems, but for non-native speakers of the language it seems the pointlessness is magnified tenfold. There is no provision within the curriculum or within the testing structure for people learning Romanian as a second language. They are Romanians ipso facto they speak Romanian, seems to be the thinking. And so, every year, a large number of kids whose first language isn't Romanian fail and are made to resit their exams or stay back a year - merely because there is no official provision for their situation. It doesn't seem that difficult to create a curriculum for Romanian as a Second Language students. It would also make them much more willing to learn the language if it were properly taught. It's no wonder that when they are older and can speak Romanian well, they'd rather not because their school experience of it was so grim.

8 comments:

Varangy said...

Andy,

Implicit in the tone of your piece is this manifest failing of the Romanian educational (from Hun.-Rom. speakers POV) is that it is unintentional.

What makes you think that?

You have lived in Central/Eastern Europe long enough to know better.

Andy H said...

No, I don't think it's unintentional, nor do I think that I have impled that.

Actually I believe the whole education system needs an overhaul from top to bottom, and all children in the country are affected by that.

(Plus, on one level I do have some potential slight influence on education ploicy and suspect that I am more likely to be heard if I gently point out that the system is not serving Hungarian students rather than presenting it as a nationalist issue from the get go. Possibly that's naive)

Anonymous said...

So, could you give us an example of a country whose educational system has such provisions? (I can't imagine minorities in the UK complaining because they are taught too much English in school)

Andy H said...

It's not the fact that they are learning Romanian, or learning "too much Romanian". It's that it is badly taught and no provision is made for those learning it as a second language. In the UK minorities whose first language is not English are taught "ESL" (English as a Second Language) at school not thrown into a regular English class full of native speakers and asked to read Shakespeare from the word go.

Do you see the difference?

Varangy said...

if I gently point out that the system is not serving Hungarian students rather than presenting it as a nationalist issue from the get go.

Andy,

Everyone knows the educational system is set up to fail the non-Romanian speakers. That is the point. Calling it a 'nationalist issue' conflates the issue. Simple state-level anti-Hungarian oppression.

From original post:

They are Romanians ipso facto they speak Romanian, seems to be the thinking.

No. Rather: They are dirty Hungarians who happen to be Rom. citizens, and we will ensure that they do not obtain proper education in their language b/c they are dirty Hungarians.

Andy H said...

And you accuse me of being hyperbolic and simplistic. For fuck's sake.
I can't even be bothered to responding to that one.
Do you devote as much of your energy to championing the cause of ethnic minority groups in Hungary? I certainly hope so. (But seriously doubt it)

Varangy said...

Andyke,

And you accuse me of being hyperbolic and simplistic. For fuck's sake. I can't even be bothered to responding to that one.

Why not? Please fisk/attack away. Enlighten my douchebagged pro-Hungarian-self.

Do you devote as much of your energy to championing the cause of ethnic minority groups in Hungary? I certainly hope so. (But seriously doubt it)

Of course not. Why? B/c in this respect, Hungary and Romania are in vastly different worlds when it comes to treating ethnic minorities.

If that isn't obvious, well, what is?

Hungary most likely has some problems with its resident Gypsy population -- I'll give you that. But comparing other ethnic minorities in Hungary to Romania -- is night and day.

My mother's Schwab village being an example -- the children are taught in both German and in Hungarian at the local elementary school.

Preserving and maintaining both their ethnic identity, as well as their nationality.

Romania? I don't fuckin' think so.

Andy H said...

My mother's Schwab village being an example -- the children are taught in both German and in Hungarian at the local elementary school.

Preserving and maintaining both their ethnic identity, as well as their nationality.

Romania? I don't fuckin' think so.


That's your example? Do you think all schooling happens in Romanian here? There are five high schools in Csikszereda. One of them conducts lessons in Romanian, the other four in Hungarian. My step-daughter goes to a Hungarian medium kindergarten and next year wil start a Hungarian medium elementary school. And none of these schools are private. They have to learn Romanian, of course, but that is the national language and so it's normal that they should do so. (Just like the Schwab children learning Hungarian in your example.)

I actually can't see the difference between your example of how enlightened Hungary is and what Romania does. Can you make it clearer?