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Reply with quote  #1 
Hi everyone,

I am Hungarian and my husband is Nigerian (Yoruba), living in Budapest. We are both non-native English speakers, although my husband has been speaking the language since the age of 5, as it is one of the official languages in Nigeria; thus, he is kind of bilingual. I am fluent, but not perfect in English (who is?), as being a journalist and interpreter/translator, I use the language for work and for daily communication as well.

When our 5-year-old twin boys were born, we both spoke English to them, thinking that they would learn Hungarian in the community later, when they would go to school, plus for knowing the fact that foreign language education system is not very advanced in this country, and many Hungarians speak English with Hungarian intonation/stress - "Hunglish"... And so it happened, they went to a Hungarian nursery and their Hungarian is nearly perfect now. However, funnily enough, I am beginning to realize that my boys are not that keen on speaking English to me any longer! When I talk to them in English, they often answer in Hungarian, and they usually initiate conversation with me in Hungarian, except when my hubby is present (he does not speak the language). Do you think they are losing their bilinguality, and if so, what should I do to maintain it? Interestingly, our third boy (3) speak English to us parents and Hungarian in their nursery equally, with no problems.

And now I am expecting our fourth baby (due in September). I would love her to be exposed to English, Hungarian and Yoruba as well! Do you think it would be a good idea if I spoke only English and my husband only Yoruba to her, and she would learn Hungarian from her brothers and the community? Do I want too much? And what impact would her trilinguality have on the boys - would it be an inspiration or a pull-back?

I shall appreciate your detailed response very much.

Kind regards,
Moni Oye
Reply with quote  #2 
Hi Moni,

Sure, why not. It will require some effort on your part, because the older boys are likely to resist. Most realistic is probably to try to teach them the basics as you go along with number four so that they don’t feel left out. They’ll need to understand Yoruba, even if they don’t speak it. So, talk to your husband how he feels about it — the ball is in his court really to get the boys on board. The potential downside is if they would revert almost completely to Hungarian because their main English influence is gone. It is difficult to say. Give it a try and see how it goes. You can always change back.

The fact that the boys are quicker to speak Hungarian doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t know English. It is just more readily available in their thoughts after e.g. a full day of Hungarian at school. Just prompt them and they’ll probably switch seamlessly. Kids tend to forget or not quite notice that they use a different language.

What you describe about “Hunglish” is very common. As they really “need” to speak English with their dad you probably don’t need to be too concerned about them loosing their bilingualism. (However, if he starts speaking Yoruba you’ll have to keep an eye on it...) The Hungarian intonation in the English will  likely disappear by itself if they get a chance to spend some time where the language is spoken (either on a vacation or later in some school exchange program). Movies, music and any other materials for them to hear the correct pronunciation would help too.

Good Luck!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Christina Bosemark
Founder & List Moderator
Multilingual Children’s Association

Reply with quote  #3 

Hi Christina,

thank you very much for your response and also for the detailed information. I must tell I am quite excited about the changes this little baby on the way will surely bring into our life - not only language-wise. :-) Meanwhile, I talked to a Nigerian lady living here with her Hungarian hubby, and she encouraged me the same way you did: she said she only started talking her mother tongue to the second baby, and in a yeartime, the older child that had been bilingual (English-Hungarian) before, became trilingual (English-Hungarian-Igbo)! I really hope for the same, and eventually, I shall report the "result" to this board.

Only one note on your reply: it is not my children that use "Hunglish" intonation, but the community in general. Unfortunately, our edu system for foreign languages is still so much based on grammar and quite neglecting the pronunciation, stress and intonation, and this is why many Hungarians, although they learn the language from the elementary school, are too shy to speak, being worried they would say something wrong... The ones that speak correctly are mainly those have lived abroad for a while.

And this note brings me to another question: what do you think about bilingual children learning literacy in one of their languages as a foreign language? As even in bilingual schools here, Hungarian is somewhat "benefited", in the meaning that children learn to read and write in Hungarian, and then, when knowing all letters, they will start reading and writing in the foreign language. How could I help this (homeschooling is not legal in Hungary)???

Thank you and kind regards,

Moni Oye

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