Monday, October 11, 2004


Mercenary Mates and the Lure of Loot

Most English people differ from Hungarians in one crucial respect. They hate to say, "No". So, whereas we would carefully weigh the circumstances before asking anyone for a favour, Hungarians will wade straight in with nary a thought.

I had mastered the language way before I mastered the art of turning down requests and my workload became almost unbearable as a result. Over the last couple of years, I have pruned it down to a more reasonable level and only accept work I can contract via my company.

Unfortunately, I have become a blip on the radar of one of the largest multi-national companies ever to straddle the globe in search of tax breaks and cheap labour. The language of the company in question is English, even in house memos have to be written using it so this and the requirements of video conferencing mean that the demand for tuition is correspondingly high.

It has become clear that Hungarian teachers, whilst being more than adequate for lower level employees, are not fit to leave their imprints on the plush carpets of the top floor and only a native speaker will suffice. Now you might conjecture that this would provide a wonderful and remunerative business opportunity and you would be right. You would also be dead wrong.

I have been there before. In situations where companies have tried every language school within a reasonable radius, sent their employees on residential language courses, paid teachers to teach after school...everything, in fact. Then the solution of last resort. The native speaker.

The problem is two-fold. Firstly, learning a foreign language is exactly that. Learning. The choice of text book and/or teacher, although a factor, is only a very small part of successfully learning a language. A teacher can facilitate, guide and provide assistance as required but most of the work has to be done by the student. Unfortunately, the Hungarian mindset is such that they expect to be almost spoon-fed the told what to do every step of the way. The company has tried many alternatives and all have failed to produce the required result. The students have not learnt. Usually it's a problem of motivation and self-confidence. "I need it for my job" is not normally enough to strengthen the will to put aside enough leisure hours for study, and most of them are of the firm belief that they are too old to learn or that somehow they do not possess the genes they suppose control foreign language acquisition.

The second problem is one of expectations. They have tried many Hungarian teachers and, in their eyes, all of them have failed to teach them English. What can they do? Reach for the native speaker is what. "If only we had a native speaker, everything would be hunky dory and I will finally acquire the language." Wrong. I do not have a magic wand...I will use exactly the same methods, approaches and techniques that have thus far singularly failed to achieve the desired results. The only difference will be that the standard of any Hungarian used in the classroom will take a nose dive. End of.

They are fully aware of the fact that, "I do NOT need this" and have quite sensibly refrained from approaching me directly. They know that I would tell them, in much more flowery language and with infinitely more politesse, to "fuck off and die". I have however, recently become aware of the outcome of a strategy meeting they must have held on this very subject.

Now, a friend of mine is the owner of a language school here in town, one which presently holds the contract for provision of language teaching at the company in question. It is a lucrative one and one which his company would find it difficult to live without. It would appear that pressure has been brought to bear. Allegedly, you understand. Pressure that he feels obliged to pass on in my direction.

I responded to his request and we met. Placing his palms together and fixing me with his best little kitten lost expression (copyright. Shrek 2), he begs.

"Simon. Please?"


"Why don't you want to help me?"

Ouch. Quite a long way below the belt, that one but I let it ride. I go through all the reasons why spending even only 2 hours a week in the belly of the behemoth would reduce my quality of life by a factor too large to even approximate in words and then he plays his trump card.

"I'll pay you double your usual."

Now why didn't he say that in the first place?

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