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.
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.