Online learning opportunities for Hungarians

Today’s post will be somewhat irregular but, don’t fret, it still has something to do with Hungary.

During their discussion of yesterday’s post about teacher salaries, commenters ventured into the field of education in general. From there we found ourselves debating the pros and cons of online learning. There are several people, myself included, who see tremendous potential in the new technology and what it has to offer. Enterprising souls can take a wide range of courses given by professors at leading universities.

A few years ago I received an e-mail from the Yale Alumni Association calling my attention to the university’s first experimental lectures. A year or two later several new courses were offered. You can’t get credit for these online courses. Rather they are designed for people who are interested in learning something new out of intellectual curiosity.

I began with a course on the Old Testament which turned out to be absolutely fascinating and continued with Greek history. From there I moved on to Roman architecture. Every time I had an hour to spare I tuned in. I couldn’t have passed the exams because I didn’t do the reading, didn’t really take notes. But that wasn’t my aim either. I just wanted to know more about the subject than I knew before. I think I succeeded in achieving this modest goal.

I also discovered the benefits of online dictionaries. For example, The Free Dictionary gives not only the British but also the American pronunciation of English words. The Beolingus German dictionary does the same for German words. These are useful resources for people learning languages and they should be especially so for Hungarians living in Hungary trying to learn a foreign language.

After this glowing introduction I would like to make it clear that I don’t mean to replace the “college experience” with sitting in front of a computer and writing e-mails to the professor who apparently may have as many as 100,000 “students” on line and therefore is unlikely to reply. But I would highly recommend such courses to people who are interested in adult education and who think that learning should be a lifelong experience as well as to students who don’t have access to such courses in their own schools. And to those who would like to keep up their foreign language skills or even improve them. And since the Hungarian situation is pretty bad in this department, I looked around to see what the Internet offers to Hungarian speakers. While I was at it I also looked at offerings for those who would like to learn Hungarian.

oneline learning

We are all familiar with the problems of teaching foreign languages in Hungary. Naturally, there are some very good teachers who through tremendous extra work and devotion manage to teach their pupils the language, who learn it in such a way that they can both speak and write. But there are very few such talented teachers. This year 30% of college graduates in Hungary will not receive their diplomas because they failed their standardized language exams.

One problem is that there is not enough exposure to spoken languages. At the moment movies and soap operas are all dubbed although, I just learned, come August TV viewers will have the option of choosing whether they want to watch a program from abroad in its original language or in Hungarian. I hope that more people will take advantage of this opportunity than DVD viewers currently do. Movies on DVDs can be listened to in their original language but apparently very few people opt for this feature. As a result people rarely hear extended conversations in English or in any other foreign language. And this is where the Internet comes in handy–at least for those who are interested.

Admittedly, there is a lot of inferior, useless junk online. On the other hand Eduline, a Hungarian website on education, published a piece in August 2012 which gives a fairly respectable list of websites. And naturally there are many others, including the BBC’s English language course for foreigners.

I read an article about an enterprising young Hungarian woman who decided to sign up for one of the courses offered by an American or British university. Obviously her English had to be pretty good because she sailed through her first course. Emboldened, she signed up for another, more advanced course which she found much harder. However, she got through this one as well. What an opportunity for somebody living in Hungary.

As for foreigners trying to learn Hungarian, it is slim pickings, but one site looks promising. I haven’t tried it out myself, but I looked at some of their other offerings which were very good.

As for adult education, as far as I know there is only one possibility for Hungarians who would like to expand their knowledge. It is called Mindentudás Egyeteme (University of All Knowledge). I found some of the lectures truly outstanding. The problem with Mindentudás Egyeteme is that it offers only a single lecture per topic, not an entire course.

Anyway, I think that online learning has its place in the world of education. Of course, there are subjects that simply cannot be mastered online. For example, learning the natural sciences without hands-on lab work is pretty unimaginable. However, the internet is used extensively, for example, in courses on the history of art. By now practically all works of art can be seen online. More and more books and articles are available online and I’m sure that their numbers will multiply. It would be a terrible waste not to take advantage of these opportunities. Especially in a country where continuing education is an almost unknown phenomenon and where relatively few people can handle a foreign language.

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47 comments

  1. As much as online learning is a great concept, I cannot imagine that this would fly in Hungary at the current time. Many of the courses are very expensive for a “regular” Hungarian, let alone for a Hungarian student. No courses would be accepted by Hungarian universities and colleges as soon as any of Orban’s friends would see the hidden money making venture that they could deliver in Hungary online. As Orban implemented the “no free education” system, he would never allow those courses to be taken seriously in Hungary at the expense of his money making model. The only benefit would be for those who already tapped into ways to leave Hungary behind.

  2. I’m now watching a movie in English after switching from hungarian dubbing. The kids switch many of the programs they watch to the original English as they find the dubbing quite annoying. However, they live in a bilingual world where as all of their friends (with one exception) would never consider watching anything not dubbed.

  3. Online learning is clearly going to be a part of any educational system. For Hungarian educational systems to ignore this will further put them behind. But then you have jobbik saying that deals with Microsoft should be canceled in favor of local company offerings. Clueless!!!

  4. A friend of mine developed software for English e-learning in Hungarian (he is a foreigner himself), and after years of developing (together with an English language school) he finished it. Unfortunately, he could not get any subsidy for it. Only Ministries and State Companies could get significant amounts.

    So he left only English/Hungarian and not as he was planning other languages as well.

    http://www.dover-elearning.hu/

  5. Ron :

    A friend of mine developed software for English e-learning in Hungarian (he is a foreigner himself), and after years of developing (together with an English language school) he finished it. Unfortunately, he could not get any subsidy for it. Only Ministries and State Companies could get significant amounts.

    So he left only English/Hungarian and not as he was planning other languages as well.

    http://www.dover-elearning.hu/

    I didn’t go into the details but some of the stuff I found was truly terrible. Non-English speaking people were trying to teach the clueless Hungarians for the proper pronunciation. It was painful to listen to. The sentences were stupid and primitive. It was depressing especially since I have been looking truly good online textbooks in other languages.

  6. Eva, I absolutely agree that online courses are wonderful opportunities for those who would like to broaden their horizons or don’t have access to quality education.

    But the change brought on by online technologies won’t stop here. You said you wouldn’t replace the college experience with online courses… but it is exactly the direction this is likely to take. In a better case, not fully replacing the traditional college experience, only partially. It is already happening and it is going to change higher education. As with any new technology, in some ways for the better, and in some ways for the worse.

    In California, they are already thinking about replacing some introductory level college courses with MOOCs (massive open online courses).

    “But navigating MOOCs isn’t easy, and it’s now the subject of a legislative debate in California. Lawmakers there are considering a proposal that would allow students to replace some introductory courses with MOOCs in the state’s three higher education systems, which together enroll nearly 1 million students.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/11/moocs-top-colleges-and-universities/2509883/

  7. A vast subject indeed. A report about e-learning in Hungary was published in 2008 by the European Commission. I doubt that the shortcomings that had been identified then have been seriously addressed since.

    http://ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=1575

    That said, this is also a field where private initiative can trigger significative and unexpected leaps. For instance, ‘training videos’ for action computer games (walktroughs by an expert player commenting his moves) are among the top viewed clips on YouTube… It is striking to hear that the voices and speech of the successful trainers borrow from the style of radio or tv (mostly sports) hosts.

    One might think this is due to the subject matter and the core audience being teenagers. But actually the same trend can be observed in other fields such as distance training in computer techniques for adults, including professionals. My guess is the medium itself calls for a whole new breed of teachers.

  8. An :

    Eva, I absolutely agree that online courses are wonderful opportunities for those who would like to broaden their horizons or don’t have access to quality education.

    But the change brought on by online technologies won’t stop here. You said you wouldn’t replace the college experience with online courses… but it is exactly the direction this is likely to take.

    Perhaps one reason is the incredible rise in tuition. 50,000 dollars a year in certain universities! It is incredible. The Ivy League schools were never cheap but what has been going on in the last twenty or so years is really incredible. That may accelerate the trend, don’t you think?

  9. @Eva: Definitely, the main drive is money… and especially for public universities that have to make do with less and less money each year as states are cutting back on funding. For the same reason, they’ve been increasing tuition and are on the look for anything that may help them bring down costs. Of course, the two for-profit companies offering these courses are also in it for the money… profit (the third company is nonprofit).

  10. We have the Open University in the UK, which is effectively an on-line university. Most courses have a few live tutorials as well, but these aren’t compulsory, and often, with the less popular courses, many students can’t get to them anyway.

    Having completed just over half an OU history degree, I can tell you that it is just as difficult as taking a ‘real’ degree, and in many ways OU students work much harder than normal undergrads, as they have full-time jobs and lives to fit in as well.

    Back in the 70s, when the OU started, it was regarded as a bit of a joke and the degrees considered second-rate, but these days people appreciate the work that goes into an OU degree and the quality of the teaching, and they are now regarded as perfectly good degrees – in fact often better than those from the ‘new’ universities.

    The cost is also considerably less than distance courses with other universities, typically only in the hundreds of pounds a year, rather than thousands.

  11. Switching between original language and Hungarian dubbing in television programs had existed for many years in Hungary. It was back about 8-10 years ago I was watching UPC satellite broadcasts in my village with switchable language. Cable is more limited and in my BP flat I get frequently annoyed when I am watching a film that was made in English and I can’t get rid of the Hungarian dubbing. I was told that it depends on the programming, but thankfully there are quite a few channels where not only switching between Hungarian and the original language, but a few other languages are available as well. Alternatively, there are also a few cinemas that will offer non-dubbed films either with subtitles or just in the original language. However, recently I have noticed that it is getting harder and harder finding these performances as if the increasing departure of ex-pats would have caused the variety of offerings to subside.

    The question of who would use these opportunities for language study/practice is another one altogether. Television is primarily entertainment in any country, not only Hungary. You have to be into serious study to give up just being amused and combining your bit of entertainment with studying as well. I am not sure if the percentage of people prepared to make this sacrifice is high. Still, if it was promoted properly, perhaps those who would be interested, but are not aware of the opportunities might take it up.

  12. Everywhere there are discussions now about the future of the school/education systemin general and of course some companies want to profit but it’ll take some time to find a balance between online and “personal” teaching.

    Anyway all possible means and channels should be used, knowledge is the capital for all, especially languages (not only English).

    A bit OT:

    I had French and Latin first in school, English came much later but I was interested in American Rock and books (Science Fiction) so I learned English on my own …

    And similarly, much later my wife’s son who learned German in Hungarian school as a student worked in a Videothek and had the chance to watch English/American films and improved his English in that way – and of course later by talking to me …

    PS and even more OT:

    The language courses at that Hungarian school (Gymnasium!) were unbelievably bad:

    The teacher told the pupils they shouldn’t worry about he/she, his/hers etc – so still today he regularly makes mistakes there …

  13. London Calling!

    One of the problems Hungary has is its sheer backwardness in internet use.

    Eva is right – hardly any imaginative use of the internet.

    An easy life is hobbled by the lack of a supporting infrastructure, for example, to support ordering stuff on the internet.

    In addition business is stifled if customers are mainly only able to buy goods in person in disparate shops.

    I have had strange experiences chasing down a medical support garment – travelling kilometres because only a particular type of medical shop sells the item. All day spent chasing down ONE item!

    I have regaled you with my lawnmower problem recently – but that was caused by sheer lack of any internet portals to buy spare parts.

    And you have the ridiculous ‘Posta’!

    Mostly women, it seems, delivering the occasional letter to a few households.

    It must be making a colossal loss!

    I have just ordered 40 (yes 40!) spare halogen lamps here in England for my sparkly bathroom – for £6.99 (2,380Ft) with FREE postage! These spares will last until I’m pushing up daisies and all done in two minutes on the internet.

    I can’t imagine chasing these down in Gyor. I just know that I will ‘stumble’ on a lighting shop eventually and be charged a high price for just one – with 27% VAT of course.

    So commerce is reduced – I buy everything I can in advance before visits just for the convenience, having resolved initially to support Hungarian commerce – it was just impossible in precious vacation visits.

    The Posta is not cut out to deliver small parcels because there is no critical mass of people to support a road-networked distribution system. They are a lovely sight, those solid bicycles – evocative of England in the ’50s – but indicative that very little letter writing – or parcel delivery – is taking place.

    Wonderful Hungarian engineering those bikes! And a throw back to the communist era too.

    And so people just get by without replacing blown lamps – and there is very little commerce as a result.

    And having to travel many kilometres between specialist shops is also a disincentive.

    Some of our Hungarian friends stayed with us in England for a holiday and we had lined up many visits to the museums and the cultural highlights of London – but they were so amazed with the concentrated shopping ‘experience’ in Croydon that all they really wanted to do was shop ’till they drop. (The Whitgift shopping Mall is the largest concentration of shops in Europe – so they claim; anyway a paradise for ‘retail therapy’!)

    They are quite insistent on a return.

    Another sight in England – not just in London – in remote rural areas too – are the are many vans whizzing around delivering goods – DPD, TNT and Royal Mail are just three that come to mind. Nothing like it in Hungary.

    So ‘distance learning’ a la internet will take quite a while to catch on.

    And competitive easy retailing too. Too much red tape for an efficient commerce.

    Regards

    Charlie

  14. CharlieH :
    London Calling!
    One of the problems Hungary has is its sheer backwardness in internet use.
    Eva is right – hardly any imaginative use of the internet.
    An easy life is hobbled by the lack of a supporting infrastructure, for example, to support ordering stuff on the internet.

    There are many sides to this issue. Some (like the low usage of Internet by the very people distance learning could disenfranchise) affect mostly free education initiatives, public or non-profit. Others affect business.

    Since you mentioned shopping, have you noticed how few Hungarian web shops actually allow you to pay online? I have no problem with ordering goods online in Budapest, but most of the time it’s cash on delivery. Moreover, the national market share for debit cards (like Maestro and Visa Electron) is very high, while those same cards are among the least accepted by international online payment systems…

    Clearly, whether you’re a Hungarian entrepreneur or a Foreign company planning to sell online educational services to Hungarians, the context isn’t easy.

  15. What Hungarian I do speak and understand (formulate and process in real time, rather than read or think up beforehand and then speak) is thanks to this site: http://www.livemocha.com. They’ve just updated the site to a new version, which to my eyes looks a bit toy-like (and requires you to accumulate points before you can unlock lessons) – but the legacy site, which I’ve used for a few months, is fantastically useful, and free. (For anyone interested, it’s accessible once you’ve registered, through the drop-down menu next to your username).

    The crucial element is the element of on-line community. It’s incredibly encouraging to submit a written or spoken exercise, and then see notifications that native Hungarian speakers have corrected my mistakes, posted encouraging comments, or recorded their own pronunciation of an exercise for me to listen to. Every time I log on or post an exercise, I’m encouraged to do the same for other people (including the Hungarian speakers who are helping me, if they’ve posted exercises) in English and French, which are my fluent languages. A “points” system gives you a feeling of acknowledgement when you contribute by helping other people, and shows others that you’re doing this.

    There are a lot of Hungarian speakers on this site, with varying degrees of English ability. Some of them are learning English, which gives me a chance to help them with their exercises; others are fluent in English – and from their points record, very experienced unpaid teachers. Best of all in a way are the Hungarians who comment on my work in Hungarian, either through lack of fluency in English, or because it’s easier for them – this sends me to the dictionary to unpick what they’re saying, which is practice on “real life” Hungarian.

    If there’s one criticism I’d make of the site it’s that there isn’t a systematic presentation of Hungarian grammar; because I’d spent some time previously with an old-fashioned book, the example phrases presented in lessons (including e.g. possessives, other noun suffixes, and conjugations) fitted into a structure, and this made it easier for me to learn. But there are other resources for this, e.g. the excellent hungarianreference.com.

    I agree that there are a lot of pretty useless language-learning sites out there, many of them apparently just trying to cash in on clicks and get advertising revenues. But a few of them stand out, and the two I’ve mentioned have been invaluable. Livemocha would be very useful for anyone learning any language; I hope it somehow retains its current business model, which apparently subsidises these free offerings by charging for more individual, customised, paid-for courses.

  16. On the dubbing of TV and films: I grew up in the Netherlands, where Dutch people’s command of English is so good that it’s actually pretty difficult for an English speaker to practice speaking Dutch. (They detect you by your accent, and roll out their near-perfect English!)

    I don’t really know systematically why this is; but I’ve heard anecdotally more times than I can remember that one factor might be that foreign TV/film (of which, of course, a large proportion will be in English) in Holland is always subtitled rather than dubbed. And that this in turn has become established because of the relatively small size of the market: it’s far cheaper to subtitle than to hire a whole set of dubbing actors. So I was surprised to read that in Hungary dubbing is the norm.

    Technology has opened up some great new possibilities here. With DVDs you can choose from subtitles in various languages, or none at all. Don’t know much about TV, but digital TV might do this as well. So, in the other direction, I can watch a pretty cheap DVD of Csinibaba, with Hungarian subtitles switched on; and then, when the going gets too hard, “wimp out” and switch to English subtitles. I wouldn’t have imagined this 10 years ago.

  17. CharlieH :
    London Calling!

    And you have the ridiculous ‘Posta’!
    The Posta is not cut out to deliver small parcels because there is no critical mass of people to support a road-networked distribution system.
    Regards
    Charlie

    Do not start me on the Hungarian Post. At many countries the registered parcel and such is being out phased and replaced by other ways to track parcels. Tracking parcels is a very expensive business when you are only sending something small. I stopped sending small parcels to my relatives in Hungary as most of the time the parcel does not arrive. Recently my mom told me about this particular musician who is she crazy about. I tried to fins some of his album on Hungarian portals, with not to much luck. (Either they do not have it or you cannot pay for it online.) I went on eBay UK and eBay Germany, got lucky purchased the CD and it never arrived. I contacted the eBay store 99% good rating from gazillion transactions, and they were kind enough to send a new CD again. It never arrived. (I have 100% rating on eBay from about 100 transactions, buying and selling.)
    If you try to buy something online in Hungary, most of the time you will be out of luck. With the exception of handful of retailers, you cannot pay online. It seems you can, as they advertise themselves as online shopping, etc. but it means you have to send them a check, or go into the store to show your credit card, or pay upon delivery. I tried to buy items with my credit card for my parents and it is not possible with the exception GRoby and such, where I do the occasional “fridge filling up” transactions.

  18. London Calling!

    sebt firstly thanks for the recommendations – I will certainly look at them – and Eva’s site looks good too.

    Re your Netherlands experience:

    Several years ago I was sent to Amsterdam at short notice – with no chance even to learn even the most basic Dutch words.

    Imagine my luck then when I got a taxi – and after establishing that he could speak English – got me to my hotel.

    Then amazing! The next taxi I got to take me to the Rai conference centre spoke amazing English!

    Of course I soon discovered that EVERYONE speaks English! They tired quite easily of my joke that the closest language I could speak was ‘double-Dutch’! (For those that don’t know – ‘doubledutch’ is a synonym in English idiom for ‘rubbish’- as in “You’re talking doubledutch!” – nonsense.)

    At least two Taxi drivers explained that Dutch is so difficult that no one bothers to learn it – and so they have to speak English.

    One also told me that the Dutch were very friendly to the English (as I later understood) and absolutely hated Germans! (Which I suppose is understandable after the war efforts.)

    I stopped apologising and engaged them in conversations about life in Holland – and came to the conclusion that if ever I needed to move to another country – I would choose Amsterdam for its wonderful feeling of freedom, safety and friendliness.

    The Rijksmuseum (before renovation); the Van Gough museum; and all the many places to visit – including the Ann Frank museum and other historical places would keep me occupied for a long time!

    For fear of sounding like a tourist information booth – the contrast with Hungary – which I think shares some parallels in the ‘obscure language’ stakes, couldn’t be starker.

    And in true ‘Little Englander’ tradition – I didn’t pick up one word of the language.

    Oh! Happy days!

    Regards

    Charlie

  19. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :
    Since you mentioned shopping, have you noticed how few Hungarian web shops actually allow you to pay online? I have no problem with ordering goods online in Budapest, but most of the time it’s cash on delivery. Moreover, the national market share for debit cards (like Maestro and Visa Electron) is very high, while those same cards are among the least accepted by international online payment systems…
    Clearly, whether you’re a Hungarian entrepreneur or a Foreign company planning to sell online educational services to Hungarians, the context isn’t easy.

    Sorry, I posted before I read your comment, so I wrote something similar that actually supports your post.

  20. Theft and the Hungarian postal service. Outrageous. A bunch of thieves. What an advertisement of the country abroad. Shameful. I have given up sending anything. It may not be a surprise but I simply arrange to buy something in Hungary.

  21. London Answering!

    Yes – with my partner’s help – I too have tried ‘internet shopping’ in Hungary with complete lack of success.

    One of the problems is a complete lack of prices – one of the necessities is to know what price the goods are!

    My particular case involves trying to buy a fitted kitchen for the property near Gyor.

    Hungarian fitted kitchens are 99% ‘bespoke’ – you have to give the ‘carcass manufacturers’ a ‘cutting list’ and tell them which edge you want the melamine edging.

    Very expensive kitchens.

    In England we have at least 8 major fitted kitchen manufacturer’s websites – with the assistance of design software to work out the dimensions and facilities of your kitchen.

    Competitive retailing and good design.

    Very competitively priced kitchens.

    The quality of ‘bespoke’ Hungarian kitchens is poor, depending on the expertise and quality control of the machinists who cut the wood.

    On several cupboards I have examined from these facilities the housings have all the signs of blunt router cutters.

    On the products from the English vendors the melamine is perfect and safely packaged in much protecting cardboard.

    So only ‘Mobillix’ (A German company I think) – were prepared to give prices – but the quality was truly awful.

    I have to say contrary to your experience, Some1 all the parcels of clothes and medical pills sent to Hungary have arrived – although one went via Australia! (Yes Really!)

    Yes give it another ten years and we may be able to order stuff online in Hungary!

    Regards

    Charlie

  22. Goodness! Thanks for the warning, Eva – (and Some1) – I’m obviously being lulled into a false sense of security

  23. And yes – Oh goodness yes! Cash in Delivery

    How quaint! How risky!

    I was amazed that the ‘post-woman’ collected about 5000Ft in cash (!) for a useless Vodoofone internet dongle (that didn’t work btw!).

    Someone had to be in to receive it – and the Posta deliverer had to have change!

    All the expense of having to Bank such small amounts and the risk of being ‘intercepted’ and all those receipts.

    Yes the Posta must be making an enormous loss – which I think I read about somewhere that they are.

    But no surprise.

    (Ok the English contributors will say that Royal Mail is unprofitable – but ‘Parcels’ are making an absolute killing from all the internet parcels even with cut-throat competition. And Royal Mail is about to be privatised – it’s survival being due to all the junk mail being delivered!)

    Yes ‘Posta’ and those bikes – and COD! So so ’50s era! So Commocracy!

    Do you still have telegrams delivered by bike?

    Regards

    Charlie

  24. Eva S. Balogh :
    Theft and the Hungarian postal service. Outrageous. A bunch of thieves. What an advertisement of the country abroad. Shameful. I have given up sending anything. It may not be a surprise but I simply arrange to buy something in Hungary.

    I concur with you and Some1 on this. I stopped ordering dvds from Germany, the UK and France two years ago, especially from famous vendors who advertise their brand name on the package. Bigger, unmarked items go through fine, though.

    But is it the postal service, the customs or both ? I’m still amazed that, when I’m not at home to get the parcel, I have to go to a special customs booth at a special post office… for parcels sent from within the EU !

    @Some1 : Perhaps the Government could spend less time arm-wrestling in the news those foreign (boo, hiss) banks, and more time enticing them to promote online payment systems to Hungarian businesses.

  25. re foreigners learning Hungarian…

    For anyone wanting to learn Hungarian, and is willing to put in a lot of old-school effort, I strongly recommend the free materials (recordings, exercises, grammar lessons and a Hungarian Graded Reader from beginner to advanced) made available onine (from archival books and tapes) by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute.

    The FSI recently discontinued the online portal, but the materials are still available on many other sites. The books and recordings seem to have been devised in the 60s or 70s and in many respects are laughably out of date (according to my Hun contacts)… but this is more than compensated by the thoroughness of the program.

    IMHO the lack of thematic drills, grammatical explanations and other back-up resources a consistent shortcoming of Livemocha, Hungarianpod101 and other contemporary e-learning systems. Though these are terrific as a supplements, personally I’ve found studying Hungarian in particular demands way more than these systems offer (at least so far).

  26. It was repeatedly heartbreaking, when our child was born, to receive empty wrappers – originally sent from abroad – in the Posta. We would then receive bizarre visits from a Posta rep and had to sign some form confirming that the Posta had managed to lose whatever had once been inside those wrappers (with no hint that they were actually going to do anything ABOUT the theft)! So my child might have lost some toys or clothes or good wishes – but at least I got to sign a form, in triplicate, as is traditional.

  27. I bet that if the management of the postal services wanted to put an end to the thievery they could do it. You catch some and the next minute he can pack and leave. A few dozens of such occurrences would do miracles.

    Otherwise, I suspect that the customs official are also corrupt to the core.

  28. The very first package I had sent to Hungary, around ten years ago (some pullovers knitted by my mother!) never arrived. Since then, it’s very common to receive packages where it’s clear that someone has opened it. Sometimes, things have been stolen (e.g. cosmetics) whereas other things (English-language books) remain.

    Having said that, we haven’t had anything stolen for a long time, ever since we get things sent to my wife’s work address (she works for a well-known NGO, and perhaps they wouldn’t dare steal things sent there).

  29. London Calling!

    It should be very easy to catch the thieves – In England all Post offices operate under camera surveillance – and Bank Cards, for example, are presented to the post office already sorted into individual post-person’s rounds. (Actually all large commercial mailings are presented to the Post Office like this for bigger discounts.)

    So if stuff goes missing it is easier to spot ‘bent’ posties.

    In Banking fraud we would inform the Post Office who their bent posties where, long before they knew, as were able to tell from which postal round the Bank Cards had disappeared from.

    Not only are cameras used – but there is always an observation ‘gallery’ in sorting offices with a double-sided mirror so no one can actually know whether they are being watched.

    An interesting low level fraud was discovered by a Boy Scout – who just incidentally remarked that he had seen a postman putting out a small fire on some waste ground on his way to school, thinking nothing of it.

    But one of the parents worked in the Post Office and knew exactly what was happening and asked him for more details.

    The Post Office then put the waste ground under surveillance and ‘arrested’ a post man caught in the act.

    He was opening children’s birthday cards and stealing the £20 notes that relatives often put into them.

    It is impossible to know how many children never received their present – or how many aunts and uncles thought their nephew’s were ungrateful through lack of thank-you letters.

    Apparently dishonest post-people have ‘X-Ray’ fingers. They can ‘feel’ any card likely to contain money through handling so many.

    The Boy Scout was rewarded with a tour of a modern sorting office and treated to a dinner in their restaurant!

    In addition ‘traps’ would be set with small transmitters – but I might just be giving too much away!

    It is regarded as a huge betrayal of trust to interfere with Her Majesty’s mail – and it attracts relatively large prison sentences.

    Without maligning Hungarians there is a tradition of the five-finger bonus in much of Hungary’s commerce.

    As you say, Eva, where there’s a will there’s a way.

    And your tale, Ivan is particularly sad.

    Regards

    Charlie

  30. Eva S. Balogh :
    I bet that if the management of the postal services wanted to put an end to the thievery they could do it. You catch some and the next minute he can pack and leave. A few dozens of such occurrences would do miracles.
    Otherwise, I suspect that the customs official are also corrupt to the core.

    Consider for a moment that all this may be encompassed in that old commie joke: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” In other words, Hungarian labour has worked its own ‘equalization’ project: either “hala penz” or outright theft as per Posta. No surprise, is it?

  31. Re the quality of the Hungarian postal service:

    We have sent and received many packages in Hungary – my wife exchanges things with her sister – and they usually arrive after two days. Larger packages are brought by a van, not by the nice lady on her bicycle (she really is nice and I would trust her completely – she also brings the pension in cash to many villagers).

    Maybe it’s different with international mail and packages ?

    At first I also was critical of sending anything “valuable” by package, but my wife said she had been doing this for a long time – without any problems. Of course some books, clothes or the famous paprika powder that our brother in law produces aren’t really that valuable …

    On the other hand I know that also in Germany some packages disappear – for example medicine (“illegal drugs” for weight loss, painkillers. doping hormones etc …) which even in the EU may not be sent via post officially. There the thieves know that no one will dare complain …

  32. We’ve had one or two things go missing, but oddly mostly from Hungary to the UK.

    These days we send most things over to Hungary via a courier – a Hungarian husband and wife business that’s very reliable and pretty cheap. Trying to run homes in both countries now that the cheap airlines have restricted baggage so much, would be very difficult without this courier service.

    Incidentally, re airline baggage restrictions – Wizz Air still allow almost any size of baggage and up to 32k a person – a far cry from eJ’s meagre allowances (you have to pay, of course, but it’s per piece of baggage, not per kilo).

  33. Repeat post from the previous thread.
    OT: Please visit the Detki Keksz Kft’s webpage and provide a comment regarding their unfair practice of not hiring gypsies. http://www.detkikeksz.hu/vendegkonyv
    THis is what I posted: “The Detki Keksz Ltd. does not employ Hungarians with romani origins. Although they received millions of forints from the EU in grants to create new workplaces, they refuse to hire “gypsies” as they are worried about the boycott of their products. They bus workers in from other cities instead of hiring the local “willing to work” gypsies. Please, boycott the products of this bakery, until they are willing to use fair practices.”
    Here is the footage about the current uproar from the local gypsy population. Unfortunately the footage is only available in Hungarian, but you get a sense of what is going on. It is a shame that those romani people who would be willing and happy to work are cut off from this opportunity. http://index.hu/video/2013/07/24/kekszgyar_tuntetes/

  34. charlie’s story of the Dutch taxi drivers reminds me when I once found myself in Rotterdam years ago for some reason that I can’t remember. Anyway, I got on a city bus and asked the bus driver for some information. Of course he spoke perfect English, but what really surprised me was that along the way he picked up someone else that he clearly knew, and spoke Spanish with that person during the bus ride! His Spanish wasn’t as good as his English, but it was still pretty good. I realised then that the bus driver was taking advantage of this opportunity to practice his language skills while working. I was pretty impressed. He seemed very cheerful too.

    In Hungary, this would be impossible for a very simple reason: you are not allowed to talk to the bus drivers while they drive, which in my opinion guarantees that they will be lonely and miserable. The phrase “A vezetővel menet közben beszélgetni tilos” is perhaps one of the saddest phrases in Hungarian.

  35. Some1: About this Detki Keksz Kft. do you think these kids are able to work there or their mothers? Do you think that they have the right education to work there?

  36. Ron :
    Some1: About this Detki Keksz Kft. do you think these kids are able to work there or their mothers? Do you think that they have the right education to work there?

    I do not think the kids are the ones who are looking for employment.They are the ones who’s parents are denied employment. duh (You know people who protest for qual rights are not all homosexuals, including me.)
    I am not sure if there are some special skills required to bake cookies. My grandmother done it without any education and she was a darn good baker.
    Detki Keksz received 19.200.000 forint for creating 35 new jobs. I highly doubt that they created 35 new jobs that required highly educated skill sets.
    By the way my comment was removed from Detki Keksz’s comment page. If I would of been wrong, they would of simply replied that we needed IT engineers to fill the available jobs.

  37. Some1: As far as I know (from a conversation I had a year ago with an ex-colleague) it was “only” 10 new places, but guaranteeing to keep 125 employments. The warehouse was “cleaned up”, and new “state of the art” machines were acquired.

    This factory came up in the conversation, as my ex-colleague who lives in Gyongyos is looking also for a job there or around the area, as it was one of the few places hiring people in stead of firing them. The other was a slaughterhouse in Gyongyos.

  38. Ron :
    Some1: As far as I know (from a conversation I had a year ago with an ex-colleague) it was “only” 10 new places, but guaranteeing to keep 125 employments. The warehouse was “cleaned up”, and new “state of the art” machines were acquired.
    This factory came up in the conversation, as my ex-colleague who lives in Gyongyos is looking also for a job there or around the area, as it was one of the few places hiring people in stead of firing them. The other was a slaughterhouse in Gyongyos.

    Ron, I did not co e up wit the numbers on my own. I am not familiar with the place (but wit their baked goods), but I stick wit the numbers, as those are the numbers that were provided by HVG. The expansion money is also on the Facebook page of Detki. I would like to include that Detki also received almost half of the money required for the expansion from the Hungarian government (217,000,000 forint). 80% of the town’s population is roma. Some of the gypsies do have vocation training.

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130724_Romak_tuntettek_a_Detki_Keksz_gyara_elott
    https://www.facebook.com/bestkeksz
    http://veddamagyart.info/gazdasag/6318-felmilliardos-fejlesztes-a-detki-keksznel

  39. Eva S. Balogh :
    Theft and the Hungarian postal service. Outrageous. A bunch of thieves.

    That about sums up our experience with posting to Hungary. About the July thing that gets through are letters but even those have to be registered or you’re taking a risk. Shameful!!

    But… A Croatian friend of mine spent time in a hungarian refuge camp. He said that what ever aid came to the camp was picked over by the Hungarians running the camp before they even saw it. Don’t know if this was a camp rumor or not but…….

  40. I have been somewhat snowed under today and I had no time to comment on the limits of online shopping in Hungary. I just want to say that in the last couple of years I have been doing pracctically all my shopping online. We needed a new fridge and I just picked the one that seemed like the best price for best quality. One had a pretty good idea what we will get from the very detail description and the pictures. The comments of people who already bought this particular model were also very helpful.

    I bought my new computer on line. Of course, one cannot buy clothing or shoes but everything else can be obtained much more easily without running around. I agree with Charlie.

  41. Eva S. Balogh :
    I have been somewhat snowed under today and I had no time to comment on the limits of online shopping in Hungary. I just want to say that in the last couple of years I have been doing pracctically all my shopping online. We needed a new fridge and I just picked the one that seemed like the best price for best quality. One had a pretty good idea what we will get from the very detail description and the pictures. The comments of people who already bought this particular model were also very helpful.
    I bought my new computer on line. Of course, one cannot buy clothing or shoes but everything else can be obtained much more easily without running around. I agree with Charlie.

    You did not do that shopping in Hungary online. I think it needs to be clarified. lol

  42. Some1 the website of the firm confirmed what I said (http://detkikeksz.hu/gop_emop_palyazatok), but as to the Roma I believe that there such a law that each firm over a number of employees need to hire X% of total workforce handicapped persons and minority members (not necessary Roma). If not the Company will be penalized, unless Fidesz withdraw this law, which I doubt.

  43. As to online shopping, we use it regularly in Hungary. However, we buy only from the UK, Holland or Germany, so far we had no bad experience (knock on wood). Thing we buy, are kids clothes and shoes, specialized food products, laptop (once), and other IT equipment (occasionally).

  44. Ron :
    Some1 the website of the firm confirmed what I said (http://detkikeksz.hu/gop_emop_palyazatok), but as to the Roma I believe that there such a law that each firm over a number of employees need to hire X% of total workforce handicapped persons and minority members (not necessary Roma). If not the Company will be penalized, unless Fidesz withdraw this law, which I doubt.

    I am not sure about this law, and i only know at this point that for a town with an 80% Roma population, the workforce of Detki seems to me not even close to represent those numbers. I would be curious to know how many of the Roma are involved in Orban’s forced labour work in this town, where they do not even have to pay the minimum wage. I also say that it seems to me that the place is discriminatory in its hiring practice. With all fairness they may have some bad experience from the past but that did not stop them to expend the facility versus relocating it. With all the grants they received for sure they could implement a loss prevention program, as well as make this place so attractive to work at that people would excel in their jobs. THis place could of become a flagship place for integration, and best practices, but they choose to go against basic values the EU represents.

  45. Foreign language learning in Hungary : out of 9 937 628, according to the 2011 census,
    2 134 437 speak at some unspecified level one or more foreign languages.

    Since mother tongue specified is Hungarian for 8 409 049, a total of 1 528 579 speakers of foreign languages may have learned these other languages as their mother tongue and not as a foreign language ( minorities, bilinguals, migrants).

    That leaves a disheartening total of mere 605 858 people in Hungary in 2011 who learned another language through foreign language learning exclusively.

    2012 EU language survey : OTHER LANGUAGES SPOKEN

    The majority of Europeans* (54%) are able to hold a conversation in at least one additional language, a quarter (25%) are able to speak at least two additional languages and one in ten (10%) are conversant in at least three. (Europeans* = EU).

    Hungary National Foreign Language Strategy ( the one from 2003 I think) is a beautiful well-written framework I consulted when I first started to teach English as foreign language . Nothing except a lot of steps in the opposite direction have been taken since. Rózsa Hoffmann included.

    Instead of implementing that strategy, this is what was done:

    – instead of channeling funds to support normal state schools, bilingual and minority schools like the strategy recommended, money was directed to programs which paid for extra skilled foreign language teachers ( native speaker teachers, international foreign language teaching degree certified teachers ) to teach in church owned high achiever schools. Not to mention the situation in segregated schools ( which we do not have officially) or deprived areas where due to lack of teachers for years there was no foreign language taught at all.

    -instead of increasing overall exposure of population to foreign languages, media law made sure that the passive exposure to foreign languages remained virtually non-existent, except on insignificant and individual learner level. ( downloading TV programs in foreign language or bying DVDs and watching them with subtitles).

    -instead of supporting and using teaching experience from minority bilingual education institutions as an important resource and encouraging more monolingual Hungarian children to attend bilingual minority schools, new state school funding legislation has effectively ended all minority mother tongue education as the few schools that exist will now be funded and treated as any other monolingual state school – they will not be able to provide for extra teachers, teaching materials or even mother tongue classes due to having to meet targets set for everyone else ( targets like cost effective number of students per square meter of school space since they have small number of students, targets for overall school academic achievement due to a large number of minority students coming from deprive backgrounds etc, accommodation for students in student homes, travel expenses for school buses)

    Success!!! 99% of people in Hungary speak Hungarian language.

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