A dozen English-medium kindergartens have received a letter from the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI) informing that English is a non-ethnic language in Hungary and should not be used in the institutes. According to 24.hu, the names of the institutes cannot refer to foreign languages, therefore they should rename the kindergartens to not conflict with the National Public Education Act.
In regards to the national basic program of kindergarten education, this doesn’t include the possibility of foreign language education. One of the kindergartens says that they were ordered to not even mention their special language service – neither in their name nor in their leaflets – which is their unique selling point.
Foreign-language institutions are highly sought after among non-native workers who move to Hungary for a couple of years and want to ensure their children receive a high-quality education in their native tongue.
“There is no law that prohibits speaking in English with a non-native child. It seems like if an English-native child comes to the kindergarten, we will have to talk to them in Hungarian,” told a kindergarten principal to Telex, who hasn’t received the official paper yet at the time but is expecting it.
The principal added: “We won’t change to German, English is a world language.”
The focus might only be on private institutions under the operation of Hungarian companies. There are no issues with kindergartens using ethnic-languages like German and large international kindergartens have not been targeted with the letter either.
The aforementioned correspondence was prepared by the Budapest Metropolitan Government Office which falls within Botond Sara, appointed government official’s cognizance. They point out that based on the National Public Education Act, the educating language is Hungarian – partly or fully in ethnic kindergartens and schools and partly the target language in bilingual schools (as per a different policy). Foreign educational institutions have to follow the legal provision of the country that accredited them.
French and Spanish language institutions have also been contacted and as a solution, the letter suggests they may switch to German, being an ‘ethnic language’ of Hungary.
“In regard to the future of new generations, it’s important what language they speak. In today’s world, it’s unacceptable for someone not to speak another language, especially English, which is a world language. It’s essential for every child. A provision like this is unacceptable in 2020,” said the principal of a Hungarian-English bilingual kindergarten, located in Buda, to Telex.
Another principal, who employs an American-born kindergarten teacher as well, believes that there might be ideological reasons behind the sudden change: “I don’t feel that we are taking anything away from these children, or that their patriotism or identity would suffer: we sing ‘Lajos Kossuth messaged’ on March 15 [Independence Day] just as much as we celebrate Halloween.”
Despite the claims of several news portals, government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi said in a press conference that it has been a long-standing 10-year rule for kindergartens. No changes have been made and foreign language classes can still take place. However, the issue of the illegal name practice has recently come to their attention and the name of the kindergartens should comply with their educational program.
Kitti Palmai is a UK-based freelance journalist and copywriter specialising in business, languages and migration. She has written for BBC News, Thrive Global, The Expat Magazine and many more. [email protected]