The title to this post was taken from Bogi's school notebook (or copybook as it seems to be called). She is, you see, now learning English at school - being in the third grade - I think Romanian speaking children start learning English in the first grade, but those for whom Romanian is a second language start their language learning with Romanian (for obvious reasons) and add in English as a third language when they hit 9 years old.
Now, obviously this is a bit of a waste of time for her, since she speaks English - not perfectly, and she's not that good at writing it, since she learned it from conversing with me, and more recently reading books in it - but she definitely speaks it (and while her Romanian is coming along well, her English is much better). So, because there are no real options at that age, she has to sit in an English lesson for two hours a week which is way below her. But this is fine, and while I think she finds it a bit boring, it's not the end of the world.
But yesterday evening we were enjoying the things that she has had to write down as a student in this class. The teacher obviously takes English expressions and attempts to "translate" them phonetically into Hungarian so that the kids can read them and say them. Except that this doesn't really work very well, because many English sounds don't really exist in Hungarian (and vice versa). Aj em fajn tenks is a good example. (In case you haven't worked out what it says yet, it's the standard response to How are you?) Phoneticaly translating it back into English gives us something like "Oy em foin tenks". Now, Bogi assures us that she didn't put any accents on the A in Aj or fajn, which would have at least rendered those long I sounds fairly reasonably. Áj em fájn tenks would at least have been close-ish to I em fine tenks. But that still leaves the problem of what to do with the short A and the th. You see you can't come up with Hungarian phonetic spelling of either of them, because there isn't one. A short e in Hungarian sounds like a short e in English, not like a short a. A t in Hungarian sounds like a t in English, and nothing at all like a th. So, these children are being taught some fairly deeply flawed pronunciation from the get-go, which is not really a successful way of doing it, in my opinion. The e/a thing is probably something that we can all live with, but the t/th thing, and even more amusingly the v/w thing (the number one in Bogi's book is rendered as van) will I suspect stick with them for ever, and they may never actually be able to pronounce these things well.
Now I don't think that all people ought to pronounce things in some standard RP form (for a start you'd have to work out what the standard was), but there are certain sounds that really need to be used to make sense in the language (Some Hungarian sounds are difficult for me, but i'd rather attempt to say them as they should be said, than make up some anglicised version) And Bogi can pronounce th and w perfectly well, so it's clearly not beyond the capacity of a 9 year old to deal with unfamiliar sounds (and in fact, arguably, this is the best time for them to have to do it).
Anyway, it gave us all a laugh when we read through them and it promises to make English classes all the more fun for seeing what odd ways of rendering English the teacher will come up with next. And if you ever wonder why Hungarian speakers respond to your How are you? with Oi em foin tenks, it's not because they learned their English from the Irish community of Birmingham.
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