How I Learned Hungarian

Hungarians and expats alike are always asking me how I managed to learn this crazy language (the word crazy is my own). So here’s the scoop about Hungarian, which will hopefully inspire rather than discourage those who are working on it. First, a pep talk – because it can be done:

The good things about Hungarian:

1. It uses Roman letters. I was particularly happy about this since before Hungarian, I learned Japanese.

2. It’s phonetic. Once you learn how to pronounce the many vowels (14) and how to spell other sounds (cs = English ch) then you can read ANYTHING. You just may not have any idea what it means. At least you can ask, or look it up in a dictionary (contrary to Japanese).

3. Word order is free. You can say “Pizza love I” and not sound silly.

4. Try, try, try. Hungarians get as giddy as they can get when they realize a foreigner is trying to say something in Hungarian, which they know is difficult. Since not too many people try to learn, they really appreciate the effort. 

What I did:

1. Study, study, study. Private lessons, 3x a week for two years. I spent the first year learning grammar, and actually started speaking in the second year when I got a new teacher who realized that it might be a good idea to actually learn to have a conversation. So shop around for a teacher who can balance grammar and conversation.

2. “Target practice.” If your spouse is Hungarian, do NOT expect to practice with him/her. I could not bring myself to speak to my Hungarian husband in his native language for at least a year. What was I going to say, “Where is the bathroom?” Besides, his English is so good I was totally intimidated. So my “target” instead was his grandmother, who couldn’t speak anything but Hungarian and German, and I don’t speak German. We got along great, next to a cup of tea and some Gerbeaud cakes. And she was very patient. If you need a partner like this, go and visit an old people’s home, for example with the North American Women’s Association Bingo Babes – the group plays bingo with old people at two homes in downtown Pest twice a month, and the residents are thrilled to have someone to be with and talk to! Details on www.nawabudapest.com.

3. To repeat myself, try, try, try. Don’t worry about the grammar. I have a Norwegian friend who speaks wonderful, understandable Hungarian because she worked on the pronunciation and doesn’t worry too much about the grammar. I’ve been surveying Hungarians for 11 years on various grammar rules and all of them agreed that many are superfluous. You can get your message across with less-than-perfect grammar.

Any questions? Write me at adri@adriknows.com or post a comment. Sok sikert!

About adriknows

One day, people looking for tips on life in Budapest started coming to me. Friends, then friends of friends, and so on. People were telling newcomers and longtime Budapesters alike, “Adri knows!” Now it’s time to share what I’ve picked up over more than a decade of fun-and-frequently-frazzled family life in the big BP.
This entry was posted in Cultural Quirks, Loving Life in Budapest and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How I Learned Hungarian

  1. És szuperjól is beszélsz, gratulálok!

  2. well this hungarian not easy iam still trying since 3 years. But problem everbodz speaks english and bitt lazy to make my brain works after working days. But never give up “)))

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