Meet the woman behind the voice which guides us on our travels on Budapest’s public transportation, Rachel Appleby. She also used to teach at our very own ELTE at the Department of English Language Pedagogy. She shares her views on living in Hungary, the experience of being the BKK announcer and the joys of teaching.
When you first moved to Hungary, how long did it take you to settle in? Were you ever homesick?
When I first moved to Hungary I have already lived abroad for a year in Spain, so I wasn’t so much homesick. I was used to living abroad. There are still things that I hugely miss being in Hungary. One of the things I really miss is a good, big English bookshop. I mean, there are bookshops here but there are no big shelves of English books. I really miss that. And there are things I bring over whenever I go back – really good tea bags, because I am not very impressed with the local tea bags. I’m English, I need a good cup of tea in the morning. I miss family and friends, obviously.
How would you describe the ‘typical Hungarian person’?
The typical Hungarian person… Well, that’s kind of tricky, because I think the people I know may or may not be typically Hungarian, I’m not sure. But in my circle of friends and acquaintances I would say that in general Hungarians are very well educated, they’re quite serious, perhaps quite conservative. This isn’t saying that British people aren’t, but I think this is how I see Hungarians. I think they can be quite reserved. Stereotypically, they are supposed to be pessimistic, but I would say not so much pessimistic, maybe negative. But having said that I found that Hungarians are very genuine and reliable, and once you get to know somebody and you trust them, that trust lasts. It takes long to get to know people, but when you do know them it’s a very valuable friendship.
What is your opinion of the Hungarian language?
Well, I still struggle with Hungarian, because it’s tough. I speak it for getting around town and living here, but I don’t work in Hungarian, so I never really learned as much as I’d like to. I would always try to be better at any language. Hungarian has its own logic, different from the logic of any languages I’ve learned before. I often liken it to a Rubik cube, which is also a thing I’ve never been able to solve. There are moves and twists in the Rubik cube I need to work out, and there are also ‘twists’ in Hungarian I need to work out before I can speak it better.
Maybe it’s a Hungarian thing.
Maybe it is! The whole mindset, Hungarians are very good at maths and chess, and they have these very agile minds, and mine is not a Hungarian mind yet.
Would you agree with the statement that it is one of the most difficult languages in the world?
I think it is. It obviously depends on what perspective you are coming from. Maybe it’s different from, I don’t know, Arabic or Asian languages, or something. But from the languages I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a handful) I think Hungarian is difficult. I speak a little bit of Polish, but I found that there are more similarities between English and Polish, or English and other languages I’ve learned, than Hungarian. Having said that I’ve never lived in Poland, so I never made a huge effort to learn, but I think Hungarian is more difficult. It has a different mindset. It’s tough.
You are the English voice of BKK – so yours is one of the most heard voices is the city. Do people ever recognize your voice?
Funnily enough, I was at a party the other day with a lot of people I didn’t know. It was a wedding, actually. I was introduced to somebody I haven’t met but spoke very nice English, we were chatting in English. Then he said to me “Wait a minute, hang on! I think I do know you!” He said you must be the voice… and I said yes, I was. So people do, but usually people meet me they already know that I’m the voice of BKK.
How does it feel when you are using public transportation and you hear your own voice?
It’s really odd. It’s really bizarre. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often, because I usually ride my bike around the city, except when it rains. But it’s very strange, and I usually forget, because when I get on the metro, a bus or the 4-6 tram I’m thinking about where I’m going and what I’m doing for the day, and it always surprises me, shocks me, suddenly I can hear myself. When I’m on my own, I imagine that other people sitting around me must know when they look at me that I’m the one who’s speaking, but of course, they don’t. That’s one thing. When I’m with someone else, I’m always terrified, a friend of mine or somebody, I’m always terrified that they’re going to shout out “Oh this is Rachel, the voice, this is her!” That terrifies me. I try not to travel on the underground with anybody I know. There was a funny occasion once. I left ELTE and I was going home, and I got off at Deak ter (on the red metro) I could hear my voice saying we’re approaching Deak ter and as the doors open I could hear, going up the escalator, my voice was saying “Please have your tickets ready…”, so I was coming in stereo. That was scary. It was embarrassing.
Which station name did you find most difficult to pronounce?
Well, I have one that is always difficult to pronounce because of the different kinds of s-es and sh-s and things like this, which is (and I’ll do my best now) Puskás Ferenc Stadion. I find that one really tough, I have to really think about it in advance. When I was reading the new Metro Line 4 stops, I had an abbreviated list, or a list of abbreviated forms of the metro stops. I came across the stop that in English I would say John Paul [the second], and it was written in an abbreviated form and I had to guess what it was, and quite by chance I got it right. Something like Második János Pál Pápa tér. That’s a struggle because I never know what order to put the words in, so it’s tricky.
You are also a teacher – what do you find most rewarding about teaching?
What I like most about teaching is the responses I get from students. So when I make an effort to plan lessons which I think are going to be engaging and involving and they are interesting for students, and students respond and give back of what I have given. For me that is the most rewarding. But my favorite kind of teaching is perhaps one-to-one teaching, because you can really tailor the classes to suit what the student needs, and you need to also know about them, their work and their interests in order to provide good lessons. I find that usually I learn much more about them and their work and their jobs than I manage to teach them, and I really enjoy that.
There is a stereotype that Hungarians struggle with English more than other nationalities – would you say there is some truth to that?
That’s new to me. That’s not something I’ve heard. I think Hungarians work really hard and relatively successfully to learn English quite well. Like any language, the earlier you start learning the better your pronunciation will be. But on the note of pronunciation, I spent three years in Slovakia (at one point I left Hungary and went to Slovakia and then I came back), and I noticed that generally in Slovakia they spoke with a better pronunciation in English, but that’s because Slovak has more similar vowel sounds to English so it’s not so difficult. Having said that if you go somewhere like Spain where they have different vowel sounds, their pronunciation is a lot trickier, more difficult. But I think Hungarians do very well, I mean, I know people with fabulous English, and I think that’s impressive. I wish my Hungarian was like that.
And the last question. What advice would you give someone who aspires to become a teacher?
Gosh! I think good teachers are always interested in what they are doing. I think once you give up being interested, and you are simply doing a job, and you are simply turning over the page in the coursebook, then you are not really interested in the students, and you don’t enjoy it and it’s a dead-end job, it’s a burnout job. I think the most successful that I know are the ones who are passionate about what they do, and not just about knowing about their students and providing classes which are motivating for them, but actually being interested in becoming a better teacher in terms of better methodology, learning different ways of using technology or materials to actually engage students. So keeping always “How can I improve, how can I get better”. It’s a busy job. I mean, it requires a huge amount of preparation, but when it works well, and you get a lot of feedback from students, it’s hugely rewarding. I’ve had some great experiences.
Thank you very much!