Native language underappreciated

April 3, 2008 — by Dorey Schranz

Most people don’t have someone they barely know scream “I love you” in an obscure foreign language at them every day.

Apparently, I’m not most people.

It all started one day when I was at lunch with a group of friends, and somehow, the discussion shifted to the fact that one of my friends had gone to Hungary the previous summer with his youth symphony. He still had a card of “useful” Hungarian sayings in his wallet, which he received from a restaurant they stayed at the first night. He knew that I was fluent in Hungarian and showed me the card.

The phrases on the card included Jo Napot (Good Day), Egesegedre (Bless you), Egy Sur (One beer) (smart move for the restaurant) and the ever popular, Szeretlek (I love you).

Why, on your first day visiting a strange country, you would need to be able to profess your love for its natives is beyond me; not that I can blame anyone for being in love with Hungary and all of its inhabitants.

Steven Colbert even led a campaign to have a bridge in Budapest named after him and went so far as to have the Hungarian ambassador come on his show and proclaim him fluent in Hungarian (one of the requirements for the contest). For the record, he can say one word, hid, which is fitting, since it is the Hungarian word for bridge.

While Steven Colbert may not have been successful in having the hid named after him (the final requirement is that the person be dead), he certainly did his part for spreading Hungarian.

Following in his footsteps, I try to do my part as well. Most of my friends have picked up key phrases from hearing my parents talk to me. They know the basics: Szia (hello or goodbye), Igen (yes), Nem (no) and Menyel a szobadba! (go to your room!). Teaching others to speak Hungarian, however, is not an easy task. Even the friends who have known me over five years still can’t formulate the simplest of sentences. This probably arises from the fact that Hungarian grammar has fewer rules than mud wrestling (and is just as messy).

The only real way to learn Hungarian is to memorize phrases and haphazardly place them together.

Don’t worry, though; with constant practice, you should get the hang of it in about 10 or 12 years.

Considering how difficult Hungarian is to master, it’s a shame that it is not recognized as the treasure it is.

Recently, my French teacher told my class about a poetry contest in which speakers of another language can write a poem in that language and submit it to be judged, for a $100 first place prize.

I had already whipped out my pad and paper and written my first line when my dreams of fame were crushed. The end of the flier noted that the only poems they were prepared to accept were those written in Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Portuguese.

Apparently Steven Colbert was not running the contest.

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