Every scrap matters - even if it is about languages

My native language is Hungarian. I think I use it accurately and as I was doing loads of lectures during the last 35 years in front of different size of the audience - from 12 in the architect studio till 300 in a big auditorium hall - I learned some techniques too. Also, I wrote several books about architecture and eco-conscious design. So I hope my Hungarian works both in writing and speaking.

But it is not easy with other languages.

When I was raised we learned Russian in the elementary and secondary school (age 10-18). It was during the Russian occupation, and it was compulsory. My first Russian teacher was an elderly lady who was much better in French and learned Russian with us from week to week. I was happy to draw and watercolour the 7 x 12 cm size memory cards for the lessons. At the secondary school we had a native Russian teacher (she arrived at Budapest as a wife of a Hungarian guy who was educated in the USSR). She was desperate and we resisted. Learning meant almost everything for us - I was very keen on math and physics and economic geography - but learning Russian was a bit of betrayal. She had only one card: literature. And she played it well, even today I can recon the letter from Tatjana to Anyegin.

During my early university years, I made some money from translation work. I wrote sum ups - 15-25 lines - for the Hungarian Technical Library from the Russian construction articles and books. I was not able to have a proper conversation but was familiar with cement quality, building site management, cranes, and a lot of other technical details. Also in this partly closed reader room, I had the opportunity to have a look at architectural magazines from every part of the world. It was a tiny window to the other world.

(The other advantage is, now when I travel long hours by train from Budapest to Debrecen and hear Russian voice - to be precise Russian - Ukrainian speakers who are travelling to Ukraina - I can understand the simple conversation about the weather, the prices and family. )

I had a short try to learn German in my elementary years. No success.

We had to learn a second foreign language in secondary school. I was 14 and the English teacher was a newly educated good looking fellow in a black leather jacket. On the first lesson, he hopped up, sat comfortably on the table and sang a song (guess what, yes, it was the Molly Malone). So that was the moment I realized that is has a real meaning to learn a language. At that time it was obvious that we cannot travel to Western countries and speak to foreigners, but it had a sense if I can understand Molly Malone I will get Bob Marley (others were more interested in Beatles). He asked us to tell jokes or write a poem even we had only a few words vocabulary. (Later he wrote language textbooks, then he left teaching and become an ambassador.) It was okay, I think I learned a lot from him how to deal with your audience.

Then when I was in my 30ies - working mom - I met an interesting guy, a newly retired Hungarian who arrived back from Australia. He had his earnings from English lessons, so I picked up some scraps from him too.

Then the changes started slowly, our iron curtain has rotted. My personal life changed too, moved back to Budapest, started a new family and a new job, teaching architecture.

I made friends with artists and other friends from Scotland and Italy. I appreciate the forgiving tolerance with my shortcomings, and this urged me not only to read but talk.

They passed me art and science books, and I was obsessed with visiting the architectural bookstore on Dublin’s Merrion Square or Edinburgh’s Rutland Square. In that time I felt the gap the old-style teaching methods and the new information I sipped up through my new connections. And I started to translate textbooks from English to Hungarian on eco-architecture. Later I was happy to give presentations several times in Glasgow on vernacular architecture, ( https://moly.hu/konyvek/novak-agnes-vernacular-architecture-in-hungary-magyar-nepi-epiteszet ) Hungarian art-nouveau, or on Károly Koós - the “Hungarian Patrick Geddes”. https://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/KósKároly(ép%C3%ADtész) https://hu.pinterest.com/hepiteszet/kós-károly/

Later I started Italian. That time at in my late forties with two jobs, lecturing tours, and family duties I enjoyed every minute of the course I was attending early morning 3 times a week. After 20 years I cannot speak Italian, but now I started to follow Italian movies with English subtitle. It is fun.

Recently I had a visit to a remote village in Japan - Moriyoshi, Akita district -, and our host was using his translator app even far in the forest to show the names of the local ferns and trees. This was extremely convenient for him and us too.

It made me think about the meaning of learning languages. This application is great, very useful, even in extreme circumstances can help you if you need something from the drugstore, or organize your train schedule. It is truly impressing.

I wrote this blog post to remind myself that good apps can help you and are usually very good to know about it, but for meaningful use, you need to be familiar with other aspects of the language, not just the words. Logic and culture matter.

Any age is good to play with words.

Written on May 15, 2020