Fluent in Events & Everyday Situations

Interview with Klaus Windheuser, outgoing CEO of Commerzbank Zrt.

| How long have you lived in Budapest? |

By the end of March, we will have lived for almost five years in Budapest. We moved here with my family in August 2015, I first visited in May 2015.

| Why did you want to learn Hungarian? |

We are guests in this country. And as guests it is a polite obligation to at least try learning the language of your host country. Furthermore, as CEO of an international bank I was in frequent contact with Hungarian customers, so the language was key to get insights. Once you know the basics of the language, not only can you communicate better, but also understand culture and context much better.

My initial goal was to become fluent in Hungarian. But I had to recognize that it would require investing a big chunk of time to master this rather difficult language. In my case, I have to admit that I failed at becoming a fluent speaker.

| Can you remember a situation where Hungarians reacted particularly well to you speaking Hungarian? |

Yes, many. 

Let me give an example: Last year, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Commerzbank in Hungary. We had around 300 guests. As for every event, I wanted to deliver part of my speech in Hungarian. I always prepare, but don’t read my speeches from paper. Over the course of my speech I got several spontaneous applauses, the audience was very appreciative of my effort. And there were so many people who came up to me afterwards, who praised me and said: “You really make a difference! There are not a lot of expats who give speeches like that in Hungarian and your pronunciation is so nice.”

I experienced situations like that many times. Hungarians value it highly if you start speaking Hungarian. They are happy and grateful that you speak their language. And it certainly keeps you motivated when you get that kind of feedback.

| You almost gave up learning at some point? |

I would describe it as a change of concept. There was a certain time where I found that I learned a lot of things I didn’t really need…. school Hungarian. At the same time, I found myself in situations where I still couldn’t express myself.

That’s why I changed the concept and told my teacher that I wanted to learn about everyday language, like restaurant and supermarket language. In addition, event language was very important for me personally. Greeting people, telling them that you are happy they are there, wishing them all the best – these are areas in which I am fluent today. I can open events, close events and feel comfortable speaking in supermarkets and restaurants.

So I focused on practical day-to-day stuff in my life. Whenever a new event came up, I learned something relevant for that occasion. I never stopped,, I just changed it to a practical approach. 

| Do you have a favorite Hungarian word? |

How many may I name? Pillanat, it means moment. Gyöngyvirág means Maiglöckchen [Lilly of the valley]. Belváros, inner city. Pillangó, Schmetterling [butterfly]. These are all soft and nice words. I think overall it’s a beautiful language.

Thank you for your time!

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