How does having a Russian mother tongue and living in Hungary influence learning English?

Case Study of a Russian-Hungarian bilingual woman

Seminar Paper 2011 14 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Other


1. Introduction

Nowadays, in a globalized world where cross-cultural relationships are of key importance, multilingualism becomes more and more common, as well as families of mixed nations using more than one language. As a result of these, more and more children are growing up as bilingual or even as trilingual. It is interesting how these children can acquire two or more languages on a native-like level in their early childhood and how they learn foreign languages later at school. This paper also explores this field, concentrating on foreign language learning of bilinguals.

Researchers have been dealing with the effects of bilingualism for a long time; however, their findings are rather contradictive. Earlier studies claim that bilingualism has a negative effect on foreign language learning. For example, Saer (1923) found that bilinguals have a lower IQ than monolinguals because “the symbols first learnt for expressive use by the human mind are very persistent, and man is incapable of entirely changing them.” (p. 25). As a contrary, some research studies in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated that bilingualism influences the child’s cognitive and social development positively. As Cummins (1976) also found, bilingualism represents an enriched form of experience which is capable of positively influencing cognitive functioning.

Researchers are still not agreed on the influence of bilingualism on foreign language learning, the conflict between people writing about the positive effects and those who claim that bilingualism has rather no significant positive effect on learning foreign languages is still unresolved.

The aim of this paper is to explore this field using a case study of a Russian-Hungarian bilingual woman in Hungary. The purpose of the research is to find out what influences the bilingual background could have on the person’s foreign language learning, especially on learning English. The main question to be answered in this paper is: How does having a Russian-Hungarian mother tongue influence learning English? The hypothesized result is that the bilingual research participant experiences many positive factors because she already speaks two languages which is a cognitive advantage for her.

2. Methods


The research concentrates on a case study, with one participant who will be named Szilvia in the paper. Szilvia is a 28 year old woman living in Hungary for 27 years. She was born in Russia and moved to Hungary with her family when she was one year old. She acquired Hungarian as a second mother tongue in her early childhood; she can speak Russian and Hungarian on a native-like level. At home she uses both languages because she speaks Hungarian with her father, Russian and Hungarian with her mother. She started learning English at elementary school, and then continued it during high school. After graduating from high school she learned English during her “OKJ” studies 2 years long and then at College 4 years long. Now she is learning English with a private teacher and she is preparing for a job interview. Besides English, she learned German at high school 2 years long but she stopped it when she graduated.

The first reason why her case is explored is that although she speaks two languages on a native-like level, she did not start learning these languages at the same time, when she was born. In her early childhood she first learned Russian in Russia than she had to learn Hungarian as well because her family moved to Hungary. Secondly, she has been learning English for quite a long time; therefore she might have much experience with learning a foreign language.


As far as the instruments are concerned, interview and questionnaire were used for data collection. The interview was a semi-structured interview with 8 questions focusing on how the participant has learned her mother tongue and foreign languages, what experiences she has and what she thinks about herself as a language learner. She answered the following questions:

- What is your story of learning foreign languages?
- Why did you start learning English?
- What positive experiences do you have with learning English?
- What negative experiences do you have with learning English?
- What influence did it have on your English learning that you had already known two languages before you started it?
- How could you be more successful in learning English?
- What is that you do not want to change while learning English?
- What future plans do you have with learning English?

Besides, the participant filled in a motivation questionnaire developed by Kormos and Csizér (2008) in order to elaborate how she feels about learning English after many years of learning. This questionnaire consists of 75 questions and has 3 main parts. The first part consists of 20 questions in connection with the participant’s attitudes towards English speaking countries. The participant has to circle the numbers on a five-point Likert-scale where 5 means “very” and 1 means “not at all”. In the second part of the questionnaire, participants find 50 statements about their attitudes and motivation towards learning English. The answers are given on a Likert-scale again where the participant has to put an X sign to one of the answers from “totally true for me” to “not true for me”.

Unfortunately, until writing up this paper there was no opportunity to observe the participant during a private class because she did not meet with her private teacher during the data collection period.

Data collection & analysis

Data collection started with a personal interview in April 2011. The interview was ca. 15 minutes long and it was recorded with the consent of the participant. The recorded interview was typed up and analysed with coding and grouping the various interview topics that were also summarized in a coding scheme. Then one topic that needs deeper elaboration (language attitudes and motivation) was decided and in May 2011 the participant filled in a motivation questionnaire developed by Kormos and Csizér (2008). The questionnaire was analysed by grouping the items based on Piniel’s dissertation (2009). As the last step, both the interview and the questionnaire were analysed item by item and the results were interpreted as well.



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Title: How does having a Russian mother tongue and living in Hungary influence learning English?