Why are so many Transylvanians Multilingual?

Many ask, what is the language of Transylvania? Coming from Western Europe one may find Transylvania old fashioned due to its sometimes bigoted religious roots, the tensions between ethnic minorities and the Romanians, yet one of many positives is the approach towards learning foreign languages. The fact is that many young and middle-aged people speak two or more foreign languages at a reasonably nice level. How could a nation at once be so ensconced in its identity  and at the same time be so opened to the West?

Transylvanian Education System

One of the answers can be found in the educational system and Romanian and Hungarian schools in Transylvania in particular. Since Hungarians form a sizeable part of the nation, there are some secondary institutions, where pupils learn everything in their mother tongue, except for Romanian culture classes, like Romanian literature, history and geography. In addition, whereas it is required to be fluent in the language of the state, Hungarian children are to learn German, French or Italian beside English, which is the most prevalent foreign language taught in school. In many institutions Latin is also required at an approximately intermediate level. This way any diligent student will have learned three languages by the time of leaving secondary school. Many of them start their higher studies with a considerable knowledge of languages, and speak 4 or 5 languages including their mother tongue.

In Romanian schools there is a strong emphasis on both French and English. Romanians speak French with a very nice accent, mostly on account of the similarities between it and their mother tongue. The case is similar to English, Romanians often speak American English easily, which is mainly due to the fact that they watch American movies and TV shows with the original soundtrack (with Romanian subtitles, as movies are never dubbed in Romanian television).

There are also plenty of opportunities, during the university years or in language schools to learn additional languages. Here we must also point out that in Romania certain major studies such as international law, international media studies are only taught in English while several medical and other core higher institutions also have their own English sections.

Of course all language skills also open new gates towards the West, both to study and work abroad. But the matter of the fact is that language in Transylvania is as integral to education as learning maths, literature, physics, geography or History.

Update: Unlike the Transylvania region, the rest of Romania holds second place behind UK for least foreign language skills.

Author: Orsolya Laura Péterfy