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Why Hungarian is easy

| 146 comments | Category: particular languages

I’m sure the title of this post will have many people doing a double take, but yes you read that right; Hungarian is easy.

Hungarian is not an Indo-European language (i.e. Hindi actually has more in common with English/French/German/Russian etc. than Hungarian does), so it’s very different to all of its neighbours and this gives it the reputation of being among the most challenging languages in the world.

And yes, it can be “hard”. But not because a bunch of people say it is; it only matters what you think if you are taking on the language yourself. There is no such thing as a hardest language, only a “hard” attitude. If you have your filter set to pessimist then you can find many reasons why Hungarian or Spanish or French is “impossible” to learn.

But the way I managed to be able to speak Hungarian in just two months was doing the exact opposite. Much to the frustration of people who I met, who were convinced Hungarian was the hardest language in the world, I would cheerily maintain how ridiculously easy my task was.

This approach meant I had no mental barriers, no nagging doubts in my head, no fears to just say something and make mistakes, I just spoke and let the progress flow enough for me to be able to have genuine friendships entirely through Hungarian.

But rather than repeating an empty mantra of “Hungarian is easy” over and over again, I was genuinely looking for actual aspects of the language that would support this mentality and I am going to share these findings with you in this post in the hopes that other Hungarian learners will ignore the unhelpful discouragement from other learners and even from natives. The time for excuses is over!

Of course, I’ve done exactly the same thing for Czech and even wrote a whole book about Why German is easy along the same lines.

Best way to learn it?

If you’re new to this blog you might not have seen me say quite frequently that the best way to gain fluency in any language is to speak it right away. Hungarian does not earn an exception to this rule and get granted the “wait until you’re ready” card.

If you live in Hungary, stop hanging out exclusively with expats and if you would like to get into it from abroad, you should realize that there are thousands of Hungarians signed into language exchange sites frustrated that nobody wants to practise their language with them, just a free Skype call away. Seriously.

Get into speaking it now and have a human being guide you through the feeling of the language! Otherwise you can find podcasts and streamed radio in Hungarian, look up words you don’t know on the free online dictionary Sztaki, and read countless websites and books in the language. One cool blog for example is Öt év – öt nyelv (5 years, 5 languages) run by my friend Bálint, who also translated the Language Hacking Guide entirely to Hungarian (which is part of the multilingual download) for people to use as reading practice.

Otherwise you can use traditional study tools, but don’t dwell too much on these. For books I found Hungarian – an essential grammar to be a useful very technical explanation of the language (not for the faint hearted; unlike most courses there are no pretty pictures or dialogues; it’s pure grammar but explained well) and Colloquial Hungarian is a more natural way to ease into the language with lots of examples in context, and learning essential vocabulary in the right order. I also like to learn via another language and quite enjoyed Assimil’s Le Hongrois de poche in French.

Grammar

1. CASES

One of the first things you will hear when someone is describing Hungarian to you is that it has “over twenty cases” (exact number depends on the source). This is pure hogwash.

From learning a Slavic language (Czech) and German, I have a pretty good idea what a grammatical case is; Genitive, Accusative, Dative, Vocative etc. and while I have my ways of getting through these (described in the Czech/German guides linked above), they are still quite a lot of work and will slow you down when you are learning a language.

Hungarian’s “cases” are nothing like these. There is almost no complexity to them at all! It’s just a fancy name for “the preposition gets attached to the end of the word”. So while in Czech, any case requires you to know (or at least extrapolate) up to fourteen possible combinations per word (which luckily follow patterns) for each case, Hungarian just has two or three, which are almost always totally obvious.

Seriously; they are just prepositions! You could call it the “dative”, but it’s actually the “to/for”. So in German’s dative you’d need to have the article (dem, der, dem) agree in gender, then modify the adjective ending, and then sometimes get the right ending on the noun, in Hungarian you just add “-nek” or “-nak” to the end. Which one you use only depends on the vowels in the word.

So Csillának adtam egy könyvet is I gave a book to Csilla. “In” Budapest is written as Budapesten. These “cases” don’t influence articles or adjectives and are a short list to learn, which you’d have to learn anyway in other languages as prepositions.

It takes some getting used to when you attach them to the end of the word rather than the beginning, and the only other trick is that if you use a demonstrative (“this” or “that”) it also gets attached to the word this/that. But that’s about it!

(Possessives work in almost the same way; my/your/his etc. get attached to the end of the word instead of before it.)

Stop thinking of them as cases, and just think of them as fancy prepositions and you’ll do fine. They aren’t even that fancy. Think of things like “with John” as “John with” and the challenge suddenly starts to disappear.

Verdict: easy

2. PHONETICS

Hungarian is an almost perfectly phonetic language.

It takes some getting used to that Sz represents the “s” sound and S alone represents the “sh” sound, the “c” sound is “ts” like in cats (Esperanto and Slavic languages do this too) and “cs” is “ch” (like chair), j is pronounced as “y”, zs is the French j sound like the s in pleasure, the ö and ü (and corresponding longer versions) are different vowel sounds and the famous gy in the language name itself, magyar is also something we don’t directly have in English, but can be pretty accurately approximated by “dy” and “ly” is pronounced as if it was just “y”. The r is rolled like in Spanish.

That’s pretty summarises the most important differences.

Other parts of the phonetics are very straightforward and not strange at all, so you can spell a word when you hear it spoken and pronounce it when you see it written for the first time (unlike in English). Learn the above differences and you’ll do fine. It may seem complicated, but pronouncing based on spelling in French for example is way more complicated.

Verdict: easy

3. CONJUGATIONS

This follows a very European style of 1st, 2nd, 3rd person singular and then 1st, 2nd, 3rd person plural and strangely enough seems very similar to Spanish or Italian in a lot of ways.

For example, speak is “beszél”, but you speak is “beszélsz” (remember, sz is pronounced “s”), like Spanish’s hablar–> hablas. Because they aren’t actually related, similarities are more coincidental, but they aren’t that far off.

The absolute easiest part of Hungarian conjugation is the fact that it is basically based around just three verb tenses; past, present, future. Any other European language will have past perfect, pluperfect, etc. but it’s more straightforward in Hungarian. All conjugations are very consistent and there are way less irregular verbs than there are in many other languages.

The one thing that does indeed take some getting used to is separating the definite and indefinite conjugation, which doesn’t exist in other European languages. While this is indeed tricky to get used to, the basic premise isn’t that complicated (does the object in the sentence have an “a” or a “the” is the basic question you need to ask yourself), and even if you mess up while you are learning, Hungarians will always understand you.

Like in any language, you are required to study a few tables to get the gist of how conjugations work, but I find the complexities in Spanish’s conjugation to be much more diverse and found Hungarian’s to be very logical and predictable, even after taking “exceptions” into account.

Verdict: easy

4. NOUN GENDERS

Oh sorry, Hungarian doesn’t have grammatical genders. So there are no extra ways to learn how to say “the”, no adjective or case agreement to worry about and no memory techniques required to make sure you aren’t using the wrong one.

Verdict: way too easy

5. PLURALS

Hungarian is pretty much as good as English here! English uses ‘s’ (dogs), Hungarian uses ‘k’ (kutyák). If the noun ends in a vowel then it gets an accent and if it’s a possessive, it becomes an i before the ending possessive letter. That’s about it.

Verdict: Child’s play

Vocabulary

This is what usually intimidates people the most; since it’s an unrelated language it simply has too many words that are totally different.

DIFFERENT WAYS TO FORM WORDS

Usually if someone wants to really intimidate you, they’ll give some obscure term that shows how big the words can get, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Keep in mind that prepositions and possessives go at the end, but get attached to the word rather than coming with a space. It’s like in English if we said friendsmywith instead of “with my friends”. It takes some getting used to, but it’s not that bad.

Keep in mind that it’s just a different way to think about forming words. When you immediately go to cry-baby mode and complain about how it’s not the same as in English, then you’re missing the point entirely. You’re learning a foreign language because it’s different! If everything was the same as English it wouldn’t be a foreign language.

Go with the flow rather than crying about it. Accepting the differences rather than constantly complaining about them is the best way to get through them quicker.

Words have a vowel agreement structure that actually helps with the musicality of the language. This was a little easier for me to get used to because Irish has a similar vowel agreement structure in spelling words, but it’s very logical. It’s different and takes some getting used to, but the basic rules behind it are easy.

HUNDREDS OF WORDS YOU ALREADY KNOW

I like to remind people when they take on any language that they are usually starting with hundreds or thousands of words already; it’s impossible to start any language off from absolute scratch because there are always some features that resemble whatever you are coming from, especially vocabulary.

Hungarian is no exception. It may be from a different language family, but being located in Europe means it took on many loan words from its neighbours and if you familiarise yourself with this list you’ll have a nice wee head start.

Keeping in mind that the spelling changes to be true to Hungarian phonetics, you’ll certainly recognise these words: alkohol, analízis, asztrológia, bank, busz, kategória, kombináció, kommunizmus, dizájn (pronounced precisely the same as “design”), dráma, elefánt, feminista, idióta, liberális, magazin, misszió, neutrális, opera, park, pesszimista, placebó, probléma, szex, sport, stratégia, stressz, taxi, toalett, túrista, tradíció…

The list could go on and on, and it does! When I was getting help in Hungarian from Káta, we kept noting such words and compiled a list of almost 500 of them. You can see that in this PDF (click to view directly on the site or Right Click/control, Save As to read through it later.)

While this is a great start to get you into the flow of saying something, they are clearly not the more typical words you would be using, but those are formed with incredible consistency.

WORD FORMATION IS VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD

When you have a good memory technique, learning all the new vocabulary will come much easier to you. But the good news is that you will start to see patterns that make it much easier to assimilate new vocabulary as you encounter it.

Words are formed by adding a host of predictable prefixes and suffixes, which means that once you learn a base word you have way more flexibility to create words based on that than you ever do in English or other languages.

For example: szent is “holy” or “saint” (pronounced the same). Szentség is holiness/sanctity (adding the noun-forming suffix -ség ‘-ness’). Szentségtelen is impious/sacrilegious (addition of the adjective-forming suffix -telen ‘un-’). Megszentségtelenít is defile/profane (addition of verb-forming suffix -ít, i.e. “to make something do something” and coverb meg (usually indicating a completed action) which is used very frequently in the language in such situations).

If you see words like impious or defile in English there is no way you could simply figure out what they mean. But learning a very small number of prefixes and suffixes in Hungarian (a great list and explanation is given in “Hungarian – An essential grammar” linked above) will exponentially increase your potential in forming and understanding words, and this reduces your workload dramatically.

For example, -ász or -ész is added to verb stems to form occupations. So épít = build, építész = architect, gyógy- = cure, gyógyász = doctor, hal = fish, halász = fisherman, nyelv = language, nyelvész = linguist, szín = scene, színész = actor. This is way more versatile than English, and once you have learned the small ways to change words, and learn some basic core vocabulary, you have an instant set of thousands of words!

Verdict: EASY!

Start as you mean to go on

There’s no way I can summarise an entire language in a relatively short post like this, but that’s not the point. Of course you can retort this with a list of reasons why Hungarian is hard, but there’s no need – that’s what pretty much every language course does anyway!

On top of that, trying to prove any particular language as the hardest serves no purpose whatsoever beyond mental masturbation for linguists, or pride for native speakers. If you are learning the language anyway for cultural heritage, living in the country, or because you genuinely want to then who cares how it stands relative to other languages?

Seeing nothing but the differences and hard points is a bogus way to look at a language. It does absolutely nothing to help you.

When you focus on how impossible it is, you are setting yourself up for failure. Calling a language hard is a self-fulfilling prophecy of you finding more and more evidence to support that theory (and you will find it I’m sure), getting discouraged, and not being able to speak because of this. It’s not the difficulties themselves causing the problem, it’s your mentality towards them!

Start on the right foot and focus on points like those above. When you come to something difficult, take it in your stride and accept that at first you won’t be able to say it perfectly. There are many ways to speak a language from day one without being an expert in it, and you can indeed get by pretty well in the language in no time when you have a positive attitude to it.

And more importantly, I can tell you from experience that Hungarians are very appreciative of people learning their language and will always encourage you and help you, and will be patient with you as you make mistakes.

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So what do you think, Is Hungarian easy? Of course, any language takes many years to master perfectly, but there is nothing stopping you from trying to get by in it and to live parts of your life through it. Nothing but your own doubts.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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  • http://cad.cx Colin Dean

    Great article! I didn’t realize Hungarian was quite so similar to Germanic languages and is rather rule-based.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I wouldn’t say it’s similar to Germanic languages, just that you can find similarities if you look hard enough ;)

  • http://www.jak-stworzyc-strone.pl Paweł Pela

    I totally agree with you. I’m from Poland. I was in Hungary for just three days in total but I’ve learned so much. You should have mentioned that Hungarians speak very very clearly (maybe due to the vowel harmony). The language is so straightforward – it’s just like building blocks added together. üdvözletet barátok :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Yes, thinking of Hungarian as logical was a major part of how I got my confidence. Glad you found it that way too, and yes Hungarians do speak very clearly (at least in Budapest).

      • MW

        If you go to the other villages beware! you will probably get deer caught in the headlight eyes from not understanding the dialect! Though, people are generally friendly and patient. IMHO

  • http://twitter.com/garikoitz Garikoitz Knörr

    Thanks a lot for this article, Benny. I’m a big fan of your blog and really enjoy most of your writings, but this in particular is the kind of post one expects to find in a language learning website.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Glad you enjoy my blog! This isn’t actually a “language learning website”, it’s a language speaking website, and that’s why I talk a lot about mentality and meeting people rather than grammar ;)
      But occasionally I’ll have a post like this too!

      • http://twitter.com/garikoitz Garikoitz Knörr

        Thanks for the correction. I must admit I wasn’t quite happy with that expression to refer to your blog as I was typing it. I guess I’m still an old school language learner — but hey, maybe that’s why I’m interested in your methods!

  • http://www.yearlyglot.com/ Randy the Yearlyglot

    How dare you say Hungarian is easy! You don’t know anything! Whine whine, cry cry! You’re a fraud! :P

    Great post. I especially like how you explained the features that people find hard, but in a way that reveals the fact that they’re just details, and there’s nothing particularly difficult about them.

    After reading your description, I wonder if Hungarian is in the same language family as Turkish, which is also heavily agglutinative, lacks gender, and uses vowel harmony.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      “Just details” – precisely ;)
      There’s a linguistic debate that some Hungarians are actually fond of to investigate if Turkish and Hungarian really are related because of those particular points, despite lack of similar vocabulary. The current concession is no, but it’s still open to debate.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PBKSQRDEGUVCFJIWALBQXDXEKM Judit KrisztinaS

        I had a boyfriend from Turkey so I started learning Turkish, got pretty much obsessed with it and I found it to be sooooooooo easy bcs it was so similar to my native language (Hungarian). And we have a lot of shared words, so i donno why you say the vocabulary is not similar. Then again modern day Turkish language just copies English words and writes them down with Turkish sounds or letters, which makes me quite sad.

        Anyway, I major in English and German and I have disagreed with my professors many times, cause I myself believe Hungarian has more in common with Turkish and more Eastern parts of the world than with Finnish for example…

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

          I also talked to Fins who found Hungarian to be almost nothing alike. I think the debate is still very much open on which language family it belongs to.

          • http://www.facebook.com/fkjuliano Fabio Juliano

            My understanding is that while there is no dispute that Hungarian and Finnish are related, they are only distantly related, as are, to use your example, English and Hindi.

            Some linguists believe that Hungarian and Finnish are related not only to Turkish, but also to Mongolian, Korean, and even Japanese.

  • Anonymous

    Your description of Hungarian’s case system reminds me a lot the particle system in Korean (and Japanese). They, too, use suffixes to perform the functions that prepositions (to, at, in, from, with, etc.) perform in English.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Good to know! So when I take on those languages and people use that as a scare tactic, I can say “been there, done that” :P
      It’s really not that big a deal ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Absolutely! It’s harder to explain many concepts in languages like Portuguese and French than it is Hungarian ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’m still using Hungarian as part of the current mission – and have been speaking it a few times here in Medellín. But that’s only really maintaining rather than aiming for fluency.
    I’ll decide in December if I’ll keep working on my Hungarian or hang up my hat for it so I have more time for other languages that I may be more passionate about, as I did for Czech.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    No need. I’m speaking Italian in person here and in pretty much every other city I live in, using the methods I describe in other posts :)
    Thanks anyway!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    It’s all in your head ;) Hungarians seem to have been repeating to themselves over and over again that Hungarian is hard, that it just seems like a fact of the universe, never to be questioned… if anything, natives should find their own language the easiest!

  • Anonymous

    Great summary. I didn’t know that my native was so easy :P Thanks for mentioning and keep up the good work! Rock on!

  • Anonymous

    Great summary. I didn’t know that my native was so easy :P Thanks for mentioning and keep up the good work! Rock on!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      No worries, thanks again for contributing to my Hungarian project in several ways :D

  • Anonymous

    Great summary. I didn’t know that my native was so easy :P Thanks for mentioning and keep up the good work! Rock on!

  • http://miraculousfuture.com Andi

    wow! ez aztán a cikk! máris továbbítottam a külföldi barátaimnak. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Köszi Andi! :D

      • http://miraculousfuture.com Andi

        Szivi Benny ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Hahaha, I don’t use PUA techniques with girls. I read that material, but actually use it to meet people in general (“peacocking” with my stethoscope etc. is for both girls and guys) and to build up my confidence based on social advice. Girls like confident guys, so I don’t really need to use lines and magic tricks; if I see a girl I like, I’ll just walk up to her and tell her she’s pretty :)

    Hungarians weren’t used to seeing a foreigner speak the language as imaginatively as me. My level was weak, especially in the first weeks, but they found it cute that I was trying so hard. Sometimes being cute is way more powerful than being a smooth player!

    • http://twitter.com/chrissarda Chris Sarda

      I will second that Benny, confidence is much better than magic tricks, and not being in “cry baby mode” lol, is most important…

  • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

    “Any other European language will have past perfect, pluperfect, etc. but it’s more straightforward in Hungarian.”

    Technically, Russian also only has three verb tenses (though we have the issue of aspect).

    Not going to lie, I kind of want to learn Hungarian after reading this! It sounds like an interesting language. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Glad to spark people’s interest in it! The usual approach of “go on, it’s the hardest language in the world – you’ll seem smart if you succeed with it!” is a horrible way to promote it :P

      • languagepotato

        yup, a better way to promote is:
        90% of people WRONGLY think that it’s the hardest language in the world even though there is no such a thing as a hardest language, you’ll seem smart WHEN (not if), you succeed :)

    • http://www.lefeuilleton.com Paul

      I was going to make the same point about Slavic verbs.

      The Czech verbal system is actually easy-peasy because of the paucity of tenses and the aspect issue is nothing that doesn’t have parallels in English. The verb systems in English and French are far, far, far more complex.

  • Zsolt

    Szia, Benny! Nagyszerű cikk. It’s a great article. You mentioned it in one of your previous Hungarian-topic post the phonetics is easy because even if that’s not a Indo-European language we write it in latin letters.
    I just wanted to note: we used to write before AC 1000 in the old Hungarian script, called “rovás” (they have similar shape then the germanic runic letters) and more and more people use it sometimes nowdays in the modern life as well (there are fonts for example too). But it’s easy to learn, maybe just a few hours practise is enough to recognize they meanings. Beside that it’s more logical because for the double letters – such as “sz”, “zs”, “cs”, “gy” “ty” – means only one individual rovás letter.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Irish also used a different writing system over a thousand years ago ;) Although it was less complex and not phonetic I believe, so Latin script was a huge improvement.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rovas.info Rovás Infó

        … but in case of Hungarian language, the traditional Hungarian rovas alphabet fits much better than the “current” latin based alphabet. This is why folks like and use (!) their heritage, so the Latin script was NOT a huge improvement in this case, however nobody wants to replace it, of course. :-)

  • Traci

    I love these posts, mainly because they show just the right mentality. I’m taking Japanese in college (it’s my major) but have been hitting my head against the wall because my teacher insists that we learn to read and write (which are useful of course) but has practically given us NO experience speaking so when she speaks I don’t follow. I’m currently convincing my classmates we need to speak in Japanese to one another since we’re all pretty proficient in writing and get used to the way a sentence sounds. I figure if I can’t speak my sentence out loud and HEAR it’s wrong, how will I ever improve? Plus, while reading and writing are great, I won’t likely ever have to write down a question or ask for directions etc… I’ll SPEAK them. I keep referring my classmates here, telling them I know of this amazing guy who challenges himself to learn languages quickly by not using English…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Best of luck getting your classmates together to start speaking. It’s great initiative and will help you so much in the long run! :)

  • Tom

    Not related to Hungarian but rather to the attitude of people and their belief in which language is the ‘hardest’, I was chatting on skype not so long ago to an Italian lady who said that for English speakers, Italian is ‘very very very very difficult’. I informed her that it is infact very easy, has many similarities to English and could be learn’t in a relatively short amount of time (as demonstarted on this site). Her reaction was great – with a greatly reduced level of conviction she said…’Oh, I…never knew’.

    As you’ve pointed to before and have mentioned again here, It is largely the case that something is only as hard to do as you believe it is.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    In my experience everyone says every language is the hardest. Many people ranked Hungarian above Mandarin, and you can see that the right attitude can help you there. I have met MANY people who tell me that Mandarin was very easy for them to learn.
    Of course there will always be people who tell you the opposite. Whether you believe the language is hard or not, you’re right because that will influence the outcome.
    I’m not interested in ranking languages as that is (as I said in this post) nothing more than a linguist’s mental masturbation. It serves no purpose at all for people learning one language in particular, other than discouragement.
    So I don’t give a crap at all about Mandarin’s relative difficulty. When I get to it, I will consider it an “easy” language (read, not “easier than…”) as that’s the best way to get through it and it will likely be the only language I’ll be learning at the time, so it’s position above or below others is absolutely irrelevant.

    • http://twitter.com/chrissarda Chris Sarda

      Besides attitude/motivation, which is probably the most important, Benny is also a very experienced language learner, when Mandarin comes around I’m sure he’ll have no trouble getting pretty deep in the spoken word part of the language in three months, I am curious to see if he takes on any reading and writing for Mandarin though and how that’ll work out.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Awesome, not surprised at all either: most people blow how hard learning ANY language is way out of proportion. Also, the thing with the cases/prepositions sounds a LOT like how Japanese works. Speaking of which, when are you going to do an Asian language? That’s the only type you haven’t done yet, isn’t it? You’ve done Romance languages, you’ve done at least one Slavic language (Czech), you’ve done at least one Germanic language, so there’s not much left now is there? I mean, you could learn an African clicking language or something, but that’s not really all that useful. Scandinavian languages are a part of the Germanic language family, so that’s already covered. You really need to do an Asian language, what say you?

    I’d be especially curious to see how you handle the writing system and what advice you’re going to give to people for learning it, because every other language you’ve studied has used a phonetic alphabet, and nearly every one (with the exception of the Slavic languages, but at least they still use an alphabet that works pretty similarly to ours and has roughly the same number of characters) has used the traditional Latin alphabet that we’re used to (with a few additions/modifications here and there, like ñ in Spanish or the ç in French), whereas the Asian languages don’t even use an alphabet, they have symbols that represent individual words, for the most part.

    Anyway, it’s good to see you’re chugging along nicely and I’m quite interested to know what your next language is going to be and what you think of my suggestion (an Asian one).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Anonymous

      “Speaking of which, when are you going to do an Asian language? That’s the only type you haven’t done yet, isn’t it?” Are you serious? There are some 150 languages families with just as many isolates. Benny has done two families (Indo-European and Uralic) and of those two he has a very good knowledge of only one: Indo-European (despite only covering 4 of the 10 sub-families). Seriously, I don’t know what your post is on about.

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        There’s a huge difference between Germanic languages, Romance languages, and Slavic languages, I consider those three VERY distinct groups, they’re very very different. And I know there are hundreds of languages in the world, but there are a handful of main languages/families that the great majority of people speak, hence my comment about how he could learn some obscure African clicking language but I really don’t think it would be worth his time. He does languages that he’s actually going to use in his travels, and he also aims to learn languages that a good number of his readership would be interested in because he knows he’ll end up writing about it.

        At this point, as far as language families/groups go, he’s covered pretty much all of Europe and North and South America, that leaves Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He could do either Arabic or an Asian language at this point, and since he probably wouldn’t want to do anything too obscure, that kinda narrows it down to maybe a half-dozen or so: Arabic, Hebrew, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Tagalog, and maybe Malay or Indonesian or something. There’s also the possibility of India and Hindi, but India has a TON of different languages AND they primarily use English, so I doubt it.

        He doesn’t have 150 families to choose from, practically speaking, he has a small handful.

        • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Anonymous

          Thank y0u. That explains away my confusion.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

          Agreed Re: Germanic/Romance/Slavic differences. When people group them together as Indo-European as if you can skip merrily from one to the other, it’s pretty damn clear they don’t have a bloody clue what they’re talking about.

          Glad you understand my motivations for learning languages! But keep in mind that I haven’t “pretty much covered” all of Europe. I’ve pretty much covered Romance languages apart from Romanian, but there are plenty of others to discover, even if I’ve learned a particular “family”. I don’t care about language families, I care about languages ;)

          Also “obscure” is relative. Perhaps Irish is obscure, but it obviously has importance to me. I’d happily learn a language with even just 100,000 speakers if I know I’d enjoy my time living with them for a few months.

          But yes, there is a realistic limit on what I’m willing to learn.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YCINJXODIKMDMME47X447A3XC4 S.D.I.

          They do not “primarily use English” in India. It is only really used by certain segments of the population (the upper class, people in call centers, people in tourist areas…). India has a population of 1.2 billion, and with many distinct cultures. It’s not about the *sovereign state* that one visits, but the culture – visiting Quebec and Ontario will be completely different cultural experiences, and Tamil Nadu and Kashmir even more so.

          You think Germanic, Slavic and Romance are extremely different language families. Right on, they are. Do you know that Asia has its own extremely distinct Indo-European subfamilies? Pashto, Persian and Kurdish are all Iranian languages, and Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Nepali are belong to the Indo-Aryan family. This doesn’t take into account the huge Dravidian (Tamil, Telugu), Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese), Tibeto-Burman (Tibetan, Burmese), Austronesian (Malay, Tagalog, Javanese), Semitic (Arabic, Hebrew) and Austro-Asiatic (Khmer, Vietnamese) families either. I appreciate your recognition of European diversity, but Asia is on the whole quite a lot more diverse than that.

          And what about Africa? There are quite a lot more languages there beyond “some obscure clicking languages”. What about Swahili, with tens of millions of speakers in East Africa? Yoruba, Hausa, Kongo, Zulu and Xhosa are some other major languages native to Africa. I wouldn’t rule out native American languages either – Guarani is the most spoken language in Paraguay, and Quechua has nearly 10 million speakers in Peru.

          That said, it’s really up to Benny what languages he learns. I just don’t like it when people tar the non-culturally-European world with the same brush.

    • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Anonymous

      “Speaking of which, when are you going to do an Asian language? That’s the only type you haven’t done yet, isn’t it?” Are you serious? There are some 150 languages families with just as many isolates. Benny has done two families (Indo-European and Uralic) and of those two he has a very good knowledge of only one: Indo-European (despite only covering 4 of the 10 sub-families). Seriously, I don’t know what your post is on about.

    • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Anonymous

      “Speaking of which, when are you going to do an Asian language? That’s the only type you haven’t done yet, isn’t it?” Are you serious? There are some 150 languages families with just as many isolates. Benny has done two families (Indo-European and Uralic) and of those two he has a very good knowledge of only one: Indo-European (despite only covering 4 of the 10 sub-families). Seriously, I don’t know what your post is on about.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I agree with Corgaighist about your “Asian languages” generalisation. Several of them use the Latin alphabet due to colonisation and they are just as different as anything else.
      I’ve answered this “You really need to do an Asian language” question I get a lot in my recent FAQ post. Summary: I don’t “need” to do anything. ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Have a read of the post I wrote about Czech not being hard – a lot of the concepts would work very will with Russian ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Another vote for the not-mixing-up post! I can see a lot of people are interested :)

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine

    AAAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHH!!!Nooooooooooo Bennnyyyyyy!!!!!!!!Don’t let this secret out!!!!!!All my friends and family think I’m a GENIUS for being able to pick up Hungarian ( aka: the “hardest” language on earth ) so quickly! Once they read this post I’ll be outed forever as just an average guy of average intelligence! You can’t let this get out to the rest of the world!! Once people read this they might catch on that Chinese and Japanese really aren’t that difficult either!! No, please, keep this to yourself … you are destroying the legacies of us fellow polyglots!!!LOL ;-)Seriously though….. I was a bit frightened taking on Hungarian because so many people told me how difficult it was. It is incredible how things are only as hard as you make them. I find Hungarian MUCH, MUCH easier than any Slavic language and possibly easier than any Romance language I have studied. No genders! 3 Verb tenses! Few grammatical irregularities! Hungarian is a dream… not to mention a whole lot of fun to speak!!I plan to write a similar post on my mainlymagyar.wordpress.com/ blog …You don’t mind if I paraphrase some of your observations do you?!

    Viszlat!!

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine

    AAAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHH!!!Nooooooooooo Bennnyyyyyy!!!!!!!!Don’t let this secret out!!!!!!All my friends and family think I’m a GENIUS for being able to pick up Hungarian ( aka: the “hardest” language on earth ) so quickly! Once they read this post I’ll be outed forever as just an average guy of average intelligence! You can’t let this get out to the rest of the world!! Once people read this they might catch on that Chinese and Japanese really aren’t that difficult either!! No, please, keep this to yourself … you are destroying the legacies of us fellow polyglots!!!LOL ;-)Seriously though….. I was a bit frightened taking on Hungarian because so many people told me how difficult it was. It is incredible how things are only as hard as you make them. I find Hungarian MUCH, MUCH easier than any Slavic language and possibly easier than any Romance language I have studied. No genders! 3 Verb tenses! Few grammatical irregularities! Hungarian is a dream… not to mention a whole lot of fun to speak!!I plan to write a similar post on my mainlymagyar.wordpress.com/ blog …You don’t mind if I paraphrase some of your observations do you?!

    Viszlat!!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Haha, sorry :P It would indeed be a horrible thing if people were encouraged to see languages aren’t that hard after all :P
      Let me know when you write that post – would be interested to read it! As long as you link, you are welcome to quote me here ;)

      • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine

        Szia Benny,

        Az új üzenet írtam!! és itt van a címe: ( I just wrote my new post – here is the address)

        http://mainlymagyar.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/66/

        Természetesen feltettem egy szó a honlapon ;-) ( Of course I put in a word for your site!!)

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

          Thanks! :D

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Absolutely! I do find that a lot of this “hardest language” really is just a pissing competition. Glad you agree – and yes, I think you’d really enjoy Hungarian! ;)

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses (Spanish-Only.com)

    There are no difficult languages, only different languages. Different from your native tongue, and the languages you already speak, that is.

    I thought it was impossible to learn Russian, so I switched to Spanish. Then I thought Spanish was impossible to learn, but somehow I achieved native-like fluency. Even better, I not only gained fluency, but also a native-like pronunciation and accent. I’m sure when I ever get to learn Mandarin Chinese or Turkish, it’ll be just different, but not impossible to learn the language.

    Still, I have a question. For your Romance languages I can understand that you were able to speak almost right from the start, mainly because you used one Romance language to build on for the other, in terms of grammar and vocabulary. But how is it possible to speak a language like Hungarian from the start? You have to put something in your head in order to produce something, so how long was your preparation before you started to speak, and what did you do to prepare yourself?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Ramses, please read this post http://www.fluentin3months.com/first-week-no-english/

      This is a topic I talk about at length in the Guide – I don’t need to rely on similarities to my other languages as you suggest. I learn some phrases and use all of them all immediately and don’t worry about forming absolutely perfect sentences. If I need to buy something then I’ll look up the word just before I do it. If I’m stuck, I’ll improvise. It’s non-perfectionist, but it forces me to say whatever I know all the time and I will speak constantly because of that.

      This approach worked for me in German, Irish and Hungarian even though they are not related to my Romance languages.

      As well as that you always have SOME words to start off with, as shown in the PDF file in this post.

      I quite dislike this idea of starting from zero as I think it’s so defeatist. I go in with the attitude expressed in this post of optimism and continue like that. Saying I have to put “something” in my head and the idea of starting from zero would only work for an alien language in my opinion. Even in Chinese there are body language and brand names and other social queues that can ease you into speaking.

      Please think outside of this grammar & vocabulary box. That’s NOT how I look at a language and that’s why I can start speaking from day one ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks for the interesting comment! Glad you agree :)

  • http://caprichohungaro.blogspot.com/ Móric

    Hoal como estas?, te cuento q me he puesto a estudiar hungaro, por rayones personales, me esta azudando mucho leer tu blog,y tu libro, me has dado muchas ganas de intentarlo, Gracias un saludos desde España, siguiendo tus consejos he creado un blog para ir documentando ,no se que,pero algo :P

  • http://caprichohungaro.blogspot.com/ Móric

    Hoal como estas?, te cuento q me he puesto a estudiar hungaro, por rayones personales, me esta azudando mucho leer tu blog,y tu libro, me has dado muchas ganas de intentarlo, Gracias un saludos desde España, siguiendo tus consejos he creado un blog para ir documentando ,no se que,pero algo :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      De nada – mucha suerte con tu blog Móric :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Good to know! Thanks for sharing :)

    • http://twitter.com/KOKreate Kathy

      I speak native Hungarian and would like to teach Hungarians English using transliteration/phonetics. Native hungarians know what their alphabet sounds like, so to get a basic vocabulary of say a 100 words I have developed lessons where they substitute their correct Hungarian phonetic pronunciation to that which corresponds exactly to English phonetic pronunciation where possible. I can guarantee that Hungarians will be able to pronounce a hundred English words after a couple of weeks as there are only 11 short lessons they need to read. I have been considering starting an English tutoring website on this premis but I am not very optimistic about whether Hungarians are really that interested in learning English! However I speak basic Hungarian so I am happy to converse with English speaking people who want to improve their Hungarian. I will keep posted with this forum. Thanks folks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PCDLBPVT2UGTWRHIJKTZDDYTRU Marie

    Thanks for writing this! I really appreciated this and was glad that I came across it. I’ve been quite inspired to start learning Japanese and Hungarian now rather than just sitting back and waiting.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PCDLBPVT2UGTWRHIJKTZDDYTRU Marie

    Thanks for writing this! I really appreciated this and was glad that I came across it. I’ve been quite inspired to start learning Japanese and Hungarian now rather than just sitting back and waiting.

  • http://sacudissertation.wordpress.com Orlando Sandoval

    It’s true Benny… Hungarian is not that hard, actually I really like the vowel harmony feature and how friendly native speakers are. I MUST look for Hungarians online and in Bogotá, so I can have many talks with them. I lived at home with one for two weeks but we just say some greetings and that’s it. I will do better next ime.

    Szép napot és “good luck” Tagalogval :)

  • Kayereeves

    Sugar glider

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I made a video in Hungarian! Go to http://fi3m.com/speak-badly to hear it ;)

    • Domonkos Kiss

      Brilliant article! Thanks for encouraging people to learn my mother language.
      Loved the part where you mentioned that every Hungarian have tried to tell you our longest made-up word :))) I don’t think anyone of them do actually know what it means, but it’s a good show off.
      But I have to admit, that first I couldn’t work out how much do you actually speak Hungarian to be able to make such a “judgement” that Hungarian is easy, but after I’ve seen this video, I was amazed. You speak very well considering that you’ve been there for just 2 months and I had no problem at all understanding you so I am now stunned :))
      And I can ensure all of you who’s thinking to learn our language that we will do our best to help you on that “mission” and you will find some really nice people out there who will have the patient to listen and if asked, explain how things work.

  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

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     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

  • Anonymous

    Currently, the world’s Designer   Handbags or Cheap Designer Handbags brand lot of other people’s   favorite and most stylish brands: Longchamp   bags, coach bags,Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mulberry Handbags
     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

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     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

  • Anonymous

    Currently, the world’s Designer   Handbags or Cheap Designer Handbags brand lot of other people’s   favorite and most stylish brands: Longchamp   bags, coach bags,Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mulberry Handbags
     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

  • Anonymous

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     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

  • Anonymous

    Currently, the world’s Designer   Handbags or Cheap Designer Handbags brand lot of other people’s   favorite and most stylish brands: Longchamp   bags, coach bags,Marc by Marc Jacobs, Mulberry Handbags
     and   miu miu bags and so on. Because of   their style and   color are just a favorite.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    It sounds to me like you have some serious ego issues! Only taking on something because it’s perceived as “hard” by others, it’s a pretty superficial reason to do it. You won’t get the validation you seek, sorry!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I’m not trying to impress anybody – this is my blog, I’m sharing my journey and advice publicly. The purpose of a post like this is far from impressing people, but to show them how THEY can do it too.

    Your comment screams that you require validation.

    “The downside… is that you fail to impress anybody by achieving it”. Wanting to impress people is a sad way to live your life. Using whatever double talk you like, there’s nothing courageous about it.

  • Taylor Racicot

    This is was a very pleasant surprise! I am leaving on Friday (August 19, 2011) to live in Gyor, Hungary for ten months and the language was very ominous until now :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      You’ll hear lots of discouragement there, but just remember that it’s only a pessimistic view for various reasons (mostly ego). Ignore it, focus on the positive and you’ll be speaking the language in no time ;)

  • Taylor Racicot

    This is was a very pleasant surprise! I am leaving on Friday (August 19, 2011) to live in Gyor, Hungary for ten months and the language was very ominous until now :)

  • Botond Zalai-Ruzsics

    1. If Hungarian is so perfectly phonetic, I wonder why 80% of native speakers commit orthographic horrors. While foreign accent can be heard even after decades of speaking the language.

    2. Would you be able determine, if “Ezt megeszem.” is a correctly formed present or future sentence? And if I say “Ezt holnap eszem meg.” ? Can you tell the difference between “Hazamegyek.” and “Megyek haza.”? Or between “Ettem otthon.” and “Otthon ettem”? 

    3. If asztalos is the one who makes tables (asztal is table, asztalos=carpenter), ágyas should be the one, who makes beds (ágy=bed, ágyas=mistress). If -ász -ész is for professions, what would a lángész do? flames? (láng=flame, lángész=genious)? BTW gyógyász is not a doctor, this word is never used in itself, orvos is the doctor, while orv- is nothing about curing, (just compare vadász with orvvadász  - hunter and poacher)

    4. Plurals: ház-házak, kéz-kezek, ököl-öklök, bárány-bárányok, kút-kutak, tetû-tetvek, ló-lovak, tó-tavak, külföldi-külföldiek. All these simple words exceptions to the rule. 

    5. Coverbs: coverbs have the tendency of changing the meaning of words, while tracing back the common in them is easier, than create them correctly: eljárni [táncot] – dancing, kijárni [iskolát] – finishing school, megjárni [valamivel]- ending in bad result, átjárni – fill it up (eg. as a persistent smell fills a cloth, or the body is filled with cold), visszajárni – returning. And all these words have the rule based logical meanings as well… átjárni [valakihez]- frequently visiting, megjárni [valamit] – returning from a place we have left for, kijárni [valahova] – frequently visiting a distant location, eljárni [valahova] – frequently going somewhere.

    The rules you might learn or make up in 5 months might be enough to gather some “wow, you speak Hungarian”, from polite people. The exceptions are so numerous in the language, in 5 months you don’t even hear them all. 

    And just for the fun: check your Hungarian with this cabaret-song, it’s exactly about exceptions of rules in the language: http://markyhennon.blogter.hu/39856/edes-ekes_apanyelvunk_kabareszoveg

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      1. Please look at the conclusion part and examine it carefully and realise how I specifically said how pointless a comment like yours is. You’ve missed the entire point of the article.
      2. Actually 1 is all I need.

      • Botond Zalai-Ruzsics

        Sí, ya me arrepentí por haberlo escrito. Sabes, tu técnica es tan bueno, yo aprendí escribir en Japonés en solo cuatro horas!! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/imola.unger Imola Unger

    Szóval magyarul is tudsz! Én meg azt hittem, tudok neked újat mondani… Ez a bejegyzés fantasztikus volt, te vagy az első, akitől azt hallottam, hogy a magyar logikus és könnyű! Annyira jó volt a te szemszögedből látni. Válaszolnál magyarul? : ) Köszi!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    What about reading the end part of the article? ;)

  • http://profiles.google.com/roosevelt.annaeleanor Ketutar J

    Of course it is, but shh… let us have the “difficult language” reputation :-D
    If everyone knew how easy Finnougric languages are, more people would study them… er… but, hey, that’s not a bad thing!
    Yes, very easy! Finnish is even easier! Half the sounds and postpositions :-) Now, everyone learn Finnish :-D

    • http://www.facebook.com/fkjuliano Fabio Juliano

      When Finnish became the official language of Finland, many adult Swedish speakers learned it, apparently without any great difficulty. So how hard could it be?

  • Tawny White

    I’ve been on exchange in Hungary for about three months now, and can barely speak the language. Although I understand a bit of what people say to me, the language still eludes me for the most part. But reading your article puts some new motivation in me, and I shall strive to learn this language with an optimistic viewpoint. :) Thank you! 

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “I have been studying it for more than 30 years and I can’t speak it”
    [FACEPALM]
    They WILL forgive mistakes; I know this for a fact. Your insecurities are only in your head.
    I’m amazed you are waiting so many decades!!! Please speak the language!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/exFltAtt Ervin Horton

    Hi Benny, I love your blog and all the help you offer. I am of Hungarian heritage and one day hope to plan a trip to my maternal ancestors homeland. Do you have a Hungarian language program that you highly recommend for someone starting out? thank you

  • Sam

    Amazing all the languages you are speaking! I am already speaking French (mother tongue) and English. Currently learning Polish and I will soon start Dutch and Hungarian. :) Tu m’encourages vraiment à continuer et rester possitive. C’est officiel tu es ma source d’inspiration. ;p

  • Sam

    Question: I would like to know if university in hungaria are offering summer programs for foreigners to learn their language? I tried to find something, but found nothing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003834407578 John Smith

    Unfortunately, one thing in Hungarian language which often can make confusion are verbs with separable prefixes.

  • Val Laszlo

    Jo napot kivanok Benny. Tudom hogy te aszt hiszed hogy jo beszelsz magyarul. De kiss apam te csak egy kiss papagany vagy, igazan erteni egy nyelvet nem csak a szavakrul van az ertseg. Ha csak nem a Mcdonalds, Hungry Jacks vagy ijenekrul beszelunk. Nagyon szeretlenek beszelni veled. Valika, Australia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Henderson/100000033316114 John Henderson

    I like your enthusiasm for Hungarian, Benny. It’s a cool language with a very weird logic to English speakers, but it IS a logic and it’s not as hard to learn as is often said. However, there are a few errors in your post.

    For instance, you write: “Hungarian is pretty much as good as English here! English uses ‘s’ (dogs), Hungarian uses ‘k’ (kutyák). If the noun ends in a vowel then it gets an accent and if it’s a possessive, it becomes an i before the ending possessive letter. That’s about it.”

    The reality is a bit more complicated. You’ve got to know which linking vowel a word takes before the -k ending, and there are exceptions to the rule. Also, only words ending in “a” and “e” take an accent – the other ten (that’s right, 10) vowels do not. Others have pointed out some additional over-simplifications, although I do think, generally, that none of this is that tough. However, there are a lot of problems with Hungarian (at least for most speakers of Indo-European languages such as English.)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      “The reality” is that English plurals are much more complex than just adding an ‘s’ too. (There are additional vowel sounds, alternations between an ‘s’ and and a ‘z’ sound, many irregulars etc.)

      As I said in the conclusion, the point of this post wasn’t to request retorts but to show people how Hungarian is way easier than they think. I said “that’s ABOUT it”, not that I had explained the entirety of Hungarian plural rules in one sentence.

      I maintain that Hungarian is VERY easy when you have the right attitude. The fact that I can’t summarize all its grammar rules in one small blog post doesn’t dispute this, because I wouldn’t be able to do that for English or Spanish or any Indo European language.

  • Thomas Williams

    Well done! You’re absolutely right about how important it is in terms of motivation to get into the right mindset about a language. And you do a great job demystifying Hungarian language learning. Absolutely on the mark! Csillagos ötös! :-)

  • Minna Välimäki

    Wow, was this article/post fun to read or what! What a great blog you have here!

    I’m a Finn gone bonkers for Hungarian language, trying as fast as I can to master it. At the moment I’m stuck in a phase where I’m struggling with correct conjugation and lack of vocabulary, but like everyone here I was also surprised how easy it was to get started with this language!

    Which leads me to my next statement.. Me and my boyfriend (the Hungarian) were arguing about which is more difficult – Finnish or Hungarian, and I still believe Finnish is a lot harder (didn’t say impossible). ;) Not only because of grammatical issues, but because in a way you have to learn two languages – the spoken and the written (grammatically correct) one, for they are very different.

    Sure, you can get by using the written language but you will sound like a dork and/or a weirdo, and vice versa if you’re writing a job application using spoken Finnish, you might as well kiss that job good bye. Out of all the languages I’ve studied (English, Swedish, German, French, Spanish and Hungarian) Finnish is the only one where you don’t use ‘the correct’ version in every day life. And this doesn’t even account to dialects (which there are plenty of!) or someone’s ‘social status’.

    That was a bit of a rant there. :D What I meant to say is, I highly recommend everyone who’s up for a bit of a challenge to start learning Finnish! Even if just because you’re all now bored for learning Hungarian so quickly. :D

    • Icha

      “and I still believe Finnish is a lot harder (didn’t say impossible). ;) Not only because of grammatical issues, but because in a way you have to learn two languages – the spoken and the written (grammatically correct) one, for they are very different.”

      “Out of all the languages I’ve studied (English, Swedish, German, French, Spanish and Hungarian) Finnish is the only one where you don’t use ‘the correct’ version in every day life. And this doesn’t even account to dialects (which there are plenty of!) or someone’s ‘social status’.”

      That’s also the case in Indonesian. Does that make Indonesian “hard” to learn? Not really! Even a lot of non-native speakers consider Indonesian “the
      easiest” language on earth.

      Of course, Finnish and Indonesian are different. But what I’m trying to say here is that what you wrote (and I quoted), is not (always) an “excuse” for a “hard” language.

  • http://www.facebook.com/petri.peter Peter Petri

    Thanks for the excellent and exciting article!!
    Of course Hungarian is an easy language – child’s play: it only took me 2 years to learn it perfectly and fluently!!

    …greetings from Hungary! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Edith.Jokuthy Edith Jókuthy

    Szuper cikk , Benny! Gratulálok! Továbbitom tanitványaimnak Brazíliában.

  • http://www.facebook.com/razolion Mihály Szabó

    I’m in awe. While I still think Hungarian may be hard to learn to the level I prefer, this article showed me that with proper guidance and attitude it’s much easier than I think. In fact I can believe you that with a start like this you can survive here without using any English. That’s awesome. I believed it isn’t possible.
    In return a short Hungarian language related history: Finno-Ugor or Uralic roots, a distant relation with people farther east, probably added through the ages, like Romani, Cumans, Huns (may explain Japanese similarities), ancient Turk roots, then the Slav, Turkish, German heavy influence thanks to mixing caused by repopulation after the Mongols, and occupations and finally French and English influence in the last two centuries.

  • http://twitter.com/rscapin Rafael Scapin, Ph.D.

    Cool! Ananás (pineaple) in Brazil is “abacaxi”, an indigenous word :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/fkjuliano Fabio Juliano

    It’s interesting that like Hungarian, Basque has an agglutinative structure, uses “k” to form the plural, is highly phonetic but “impossible” for foreigners to learn. I wonder how hard it really is…

  • Laura

    I’ve been studying Hungarian for a little while now, after being challenged by a trilingual friend to learn the “hardest language”. I agree with you, Benny: Hungarian is pretty predictable and not really all it’s cracked up to be! But some words, as in any language, look or sound similar.

    A few weeks ago, my Hungarian friend asked if I wanted to go shopping after dinner. I thought I replied. “A boltok zarva vannak” (“The stores are closed”). But when he stopped laughing enough to speak, he explained that what I really said was “A botok szarba vannak” (“The sticks are in [deep] shit.”)

    Learning to survive your goof-ups makes you more confident about trying new words. So I said something funny? No big deal. I had a laugh and learned from the mistake!

  • MirceA

    In this article you state that Hindi is more similar to European languages than Hungarian. Later, you say that Hungarian is so similar vocabularywise to European languages thanks to its context. So which is it then? Is it or isnt’t it similar? By the way, do you speak Hindi? Fluently?

    And what exactky do you mean by easy? Compared to what? Or you merely say this because it as nice ring to it? I would have gladly believed you, had you written this article in Hungarian. Hungarian is easy when all it boils down to is just some basic sentences. Beyond that, it is difficult. I have been through the ordeal.

    Regards,

    Mircea

  • Peter

    hello Benny, my name is Peter(Pedro)(Petrica)and i have a question for you…first of all:BRAVO for the article(got me hooked).Anyways… i was wondering how hard(easy)would it be for me to become fluent in Hungarian knowing that:i was born and raised in Romania up untill my 18th b-day,spent the next 8 years in suthern Spain(live here atm),and my social life revolves mainly around british citizen…also i can get around french with ease and german with a bit of sweat and tears(been there for about 2 weeks). the thing is i need to learn Hungarian (or at least the basics so i can get by)as i have a forecoming oportunity (say 2 months time) to live and work there…now..(i know i only said ´a question´, but…)do you think its a good idea to buy one of those books and audio compilations or should i just wait untill i get there and just mingle?thank you for your time and for sharing you knolwdge with the web.

  • Yulia Bachvarova

    I really like that article, recommended to me by my new Hungarian teacher. My Hungarian boyfriend is telling me since quite a lot of time how hard the HU is, and honestly when seeing different words, long and with all the stresses it looks impossible. But after reading this article, I would say he will have way much more problems starting learning Bulgarian (I am Bulgarian :)) – no cases at all, but full with different tences and prefixes and sufixes etc. I think now I can start normally my classes and with some persistence will manage to say something more than “Szia” to his parents! :)

    Thanks a lot

  • tildy

    Hi it’s ananáSZ , not ananáZS . the zs sounds like the j in the name Juliette, the sz sounds like the english s , like in sweet.

  • Csatlós Ádám

    Nem hinném hogy könnyű lenne megtanulni ezt a nyelvet az angoloknak (legalábbis azoknak akik nem szeretnék annyira) az angol az alap mivel nem nehéz, nincsenek benne nehéz vagy ilyesmi szavak. The most long word in the Hungarian language is: Eltöredezettségmentesítőtleníttethetetlenségtelenítőtlenkedhetnétek. Let’s learn it ;) (A Hungarian)

    • Anna Csöngedi

      de mivel ez egy összetett szó, és feltétlenül több, mint 6 szótag ;) :

      Eltöredezettség-mentesítőtlenítethetetlenségtelenítőtlenkedhetnétek

  • Branka Gajo

    Thanks for this positive attitude. I have been self-studying Hungarian (with a book)
    and from time to time it seemed beyond me. I will work on my attitude!!!

  • LesleyAnya

    Thank you so much for this post. My father was Hungarian, but unfortunately stopped speaking it when he was very young and basically forgot it (or didn’t feel like trying hard enough to remember it). I didn’t live close enough to my grandmother to learn it from her (she and my great-grandmother came to this country in 1921). Since my grandmother and my father didn’t live long enough to return to their home country, My husband and I are planning to go there. I was quite nervous about trying to learn the language, but you have put me much more at ease. Thank you.

    I also wanted to ask you, and I may end up sounding very stupid here, but you were talking about learning Irish. Isn’t Irish just the King’s English with a different accent or are you talking about learning Gaelic? My mother’s side of the family is from Scotland and I know from experience that Scots can be very difficult to understand because the accent is so thick and they tend to talk really, really fast.

    One other question, have you ever tried learning any of the Native American languages, such as Navajo? My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was Lakota Sioux. I would love to learn that language, but I can’t find any place that teaches it (or any other Native language for that matter), Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough.

    Thanks,

    Lesley

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Please read this post: http://www.fluentin3months.com/irish-language/

      Irish is very far from what you suggested. And yes, I’ve learned some Quechua. You can find some of my posts and videos about it by searching around the site.

  • Anna Csöngedi

    I totally agree :) To study the basic is not more difficult than study any other languages’. But I cannot imagine how people can deal with the word-order (The same sentence means total different stuff if you change the order of the words) and the pushes in read (if you push another word it means different. In the reading you can figure it out because of the other sentences) .

    Correct example from wikipedia (bold is pushed)

    János látja az almát. – ‘John sees the apple.’ Neutral sentence.
    János látja az almát. – ‘John does indeed see the apple.’ – But Peter may not. (Putting John to the topic indicates that the proposition may not be true if we replace the topic, in this case John, by something else)
    János látja az almát. – ‘It is John who sees the apple.’ – The listener may have thought it was Peter.
    János az almát látja. – ‘What John sees is the apple.’ – It is specifically the apple that John sees and not the pear. By contrast Peter may see the pear.
    Az almát látja János. – ‘The apple is indeed seen by John.’ or more exactly ‘Considering the apple, it is seeing what happens to it by John) – But the pear may not be seen by him (but for example smelled).
    Az almát János látja. – ‘It is by John that the apple is seen.’ – It is not by Peter. But the pear may be seen by Peter.

    And yes, Hungarian has only 3 tenses, but that’s why it’s difficult for foreigners, same verb but not the same sentence.

    You have a ball. (Van egy labdád.)
    You’re having a ball. (Van nálad egy labda.)
    You had a ball. (Volt egy labdád.)
    You have had a ball. (Volt labdád.)
    You were having a ball. (Volt nálad egy labda.)

    And all…

    But I still say, it is fun to study this language, it’s not impossible, the only thing is that you must change the way of thinking of grammar. (Actually the English for a Hungarian is hard as well, in the first years!)

    So you can see my English is not perfect :) I really amaze people who study this AMAZING language (I love it so much). And as the writer of the article said you can easily find anybody to have a conversation with. If you’d like to improve, you can write me as well, I’m glad if I can help :))

    email: anna.csongedi@gmail.com

    Anna

  • Anna Csöngedi

    *ananász ;)

  • constance fekete

    Having your filter set to pessimist is very Hungarian. If you do not think Hungarian is difficult than what language would you assess is thee most difficult? There are words that I have been working on most of my life that I still cannot eloquently pronounce without sounding like (as my relatives say) hillbilly Hungarian. Scientifically if your palate and language area of your brain is not developed with a language (I believe the age set are pre-ten years old) one will not be as fluent/accurate sounding, and the language will not be as easily learned. Perfect and simple example say the word “ring/gyűrű” three times in a row in Hungarian. To be pronounced precisely and as a native without tripping over your tongue is a laugh to most Hungarians and separates the natives from the wannabees. Learning any language and making any attempts is rewarding, brain sharpening, certainly worth the challenge and your efforts are perceived usually as respectful.

  • gory

    “trying to prove any particular language as the hardest serves no purpose whatsoever beyond mental masturbation for linguists”Most
    linguists will tell you that some languages will be easier to learn
    because they are related to your native language and so will have more
    similarities than an unrelated language. They will also usually say
    that all languages unrelated to your own will be about equally difficult
    to learn, meaning that a native English speaker should have as much
    trouble learning Hungarian as she would learning Chinese or Japanese. The people to whom learning the “hardest language” would be “mental masturbation” are not linguists but polyglots.

  • zsiroshaju .

    I lived in Hungary for 2 years and had studied it 2 years before that via a Hungarian girl friend. The main difficulty is getting the correct word order for what you want to say since even though Hungarian has a less restrictive word order than English or German (I know these 2 languages as well), you can end up saying something grammatically correct but not very Hungarian for that particular statement. This is often the case for “free word order” languages such as Russian. When I was learning Russian, my professor would sometimes say “ochen’ ne po-russki’ (not very Russian) concerning some of my written reports. I would say that among the Finno-Ugric languages, Hungarian was easier than Finnish and Estonian (and I taught those two!). French though was easier than Hungarian of course as a native English speaker. I am fluent and use it daily in my job, but it still is an exciting journey of learning since French, as any language, always has a door you haven’t opened yet

  • Erzsi

    I was truly delighted to read your article. Most of the people believe that Hungarian is
    so unique that almost impossible to learn and makes me feel somewhat like an
    alien from another planet (not to mention that Hungarians English accent declared
    as “hard”). When I try to teach Hungarian words, the
    hardest part seems to be that the emphasis should be put on the first
    syllable. Since that is always the case,
    isn’t that another proof that the language is “EASY”?

  • Tasha Renae Peters

    I had a missionary from Hungary and I decided to learn to the language to impress him in letters now that he is gone. I took on look at the language, and I was scared. This article definitely helped and I feel so motivated to start learning!

  • Din Tatueringsstudio

    My teori is that aggluating languages is born in Europe and was talking in Europe before the indoeuropean invade Europa. The finnish and Sames are natives people who always lived there. Propably some go for east and later been Mari language.
    Etruscians speak agglugating language too and have many words common with hungarians. In Hungary they found proto sumerian artefacts wich is 7000 years old. i think many of the population moved middle east through minor asia and later been known as Sumerians. These people moved again when they been invaded by Semite people. Hungarians has still today common words with sumerians. The hungarians speak modern form of hun language. They have found hun codex…isfahan codex…and the today living hungarians could understand hun language that The Great Atilla speak. I have seen it…its is the same. The first hungarians could speak with the Avars too. Avars and Hun language is at turkish branch of Ogur. So hungarian is Ogur turkish language. In Turkey they speak Oguz turkish…not same…that is more than 7000 years that hungarians live europe..and finish is not closer to hungarians than to turkish. They all came from Europe from beginning…it is one of the oldest neolitic language wich was spoken in europe before indoeuropeans arrived.

  • Sarah Warren

    Damnit, you make me want to learn Hungarian. I always loved the sound of the language <3

  • Kathryn Aliz

    Thank you for this! I’m a young girl, 12 years of age, and I’m origanily from Hungarian! I truthfully thought that NO ONE wanted to learn HUNGARIAN anymore; I’m very happy to learn I am wrong!!

  • Felagund

    I know I am slowpoke, but I only found this really nice article just now :)

    Really nice mindset, Benny, I am sure you were at least partly successful with your “mission” because of that :)

    A slight addition: in linguistic terms, Hungarian doesn’t even have three, but two, tenses, past, and the so-called “nonpast”, which is present, and future is done with the auxilliary verb “fog” + infinitive (as you already know, I guess :))

    Another easement is that the language is virtually lacking in dialects, at least in the English way, where a scotsman and a City banker would find it difficult to understand each other, virtually all Hungarian dialects are mutually intelligible, and differ mostly in some word usage than in pronounciation (even the notable palóc ä-s and ë-s can be understood really easy). It goes to the extent that I have a friend from Marosvásárhely (now Târgu Mureș, Romania), and with minor differences (for example he uses ‘kap’ (‘get’) for ‘find’, rather than ‘talál’ – this caused some misunderstanding in the beginning :D) we can converse without any problem :)

  • Lourdes Marcano

    Ya mo me siento tan desesperada. Ya no parece tan imposible aprender húngaro. Gracias por tu blog. Lourdes

  • Bela Varga

    I’ve gotta be honest with you Mr. Publicist. Great job you did on the Hungarian language. Very important and may I say crucial details you missed though, or never thought of why Hungarian is a very hard language to learn and why it’s intimidating for candidates.
    Intonation.
    Dynamics.
    Without these factors, you can’t judge a language, regardless of its grammar, vocabulary, structure.
    Every language has a natural flow to them.
    I am a Hungarian native, musically inclined and do you know how I learned English way ahead of my university class? By listening to the Beatles, English broadcasts, without comprehending a word. Didn’t understand jack.
    Languages are audio means. Regardless of the vocabulary, you will understand the musicality, dynamics and meaning to be had and wanted conveyed.
    Hungarian is a logical language (as opposed to English). It is also musically-oriented.

  • IvanHo

    I would prefer that the title of the topic was , “I learned Hungarian for three months “.

    I am learning the Hungarian language for almost a year, and I think that what you wrote sounds nice, but is not like that in practice, and that the language can not be learned in three months. Maybe something fundamental to understand, but you will not understand either the radio or the TV, or to make out a (complicated) sentence.

    In short I can say everything you have to do for three months and how much work you would need for all of this:
    You need to learn at least 2000-3000 words, how much is needed for normal communication, and all the words are mostly unknown to anyone learning Hungarian.
    Believe me, when you know 2000-3000 words, you do not understand anything, because every word in the sentence have own ending, or more on one word , and it’s a different story how long it takes for a man to enter into it .

    When you realize all of this, you’ll be able to make out some simple sentences .
    After that, a lot of work for more complicated with multiple endings in one word.

    And finally after this you will be able to somehow communicate via skype or to talk with someone somehow, not on real Hungarian :-)

    I am writing what I went through, and I began to learn without knowing a word.

    What you wrote sounds to me like: “playing tennis, yeah, it’s take a racket and a ball, you have a tennis field, hit the ball, it goes where you want it, and I won, for three months I will be world champion”.
    1. To be a world champion you will have from an early age to practice a lot, and to love that, and the same for the language if you want to master it.
    2. To be a good player , you have a few years to work out intensely, like someone who knows the language and live a couple of years and working in that country .
    3. To be a player, you have to be trying hard, but success will depend on how much time per day do you spend in it, but again not less than one year!!!
    4. To give up learning a Hungarian language takes you these three months of trying to learn and to realize that you do not understand what people are talking in Hungarian.
    5. To be a dreamer You do not need to do anything and you can learn the Hungarian language and for one month.

    I think that all of us who learning Hungarian language, are on number three.
    Of course I am talking about communication, not about getting around in the language with the hands and legs.

    One more thing . It is easy to native speaker, who from an early age speaking Hungarian, that says that the Hungarian language is easy, because he does not even think about word endings, that exist in sentences and how to draw up a sentence, because he is so learned to talk.
    Again what I went through, when I asked a lot of people who are Hungarians to clarify some word endings, deep should had to think about it, to explain, because to them is normally that the sentence is so constructed, for example endings: -nak, -nek, -valo, -stul, -va,…

    I wrote this, not to scare you, and I would say that is not difficult, but different, but because of its difference is difficult.

    My native language is Slavic language classification, and Russian maybe I could learn for about several months, because half the words I understand, although I have never studied Russian language at all and grammar is probably similar, but not Hungarian, just because it is different in words and grammar.

    Sorry for my bad English. I hope you understand what I meant to say.

    Good luck with learning the Hungarian language.

  • Thomas Benko

    Really liked the article! I’m not even gonna lie, most Hungarians take pride in the fact that it is a hard language. But you’re absolutely right that instead of focusing on things about it that are difficult, you might as well start with things that are easy. (Like genders for nouns, or the lack thereof.)

    But I do love this sequence because it seems so confusing:

    szert
    szeret
    szert tett
    szeretet
    szeretett
    szerettet
    szeretetet
    szert tetetett
    szeretettet
    szerettetett
    szerettetettet
    szeretetet tettet
    szeretetet tettetett

  • Scott Moore

    Although I agree you with that “there is no such thing as a hardest language”, I disagree with some of your other conclusions. Referring to a language being ‘hard’ make little sense, as there is nothing absolute about a language that makes it easy or difficult to learn. The key word is ‘learn’ as that is something done by a learner. Learning a language depends on many factors specific to the learner, including the age of the person, their native language and the other languages they know. Motivation is also important, except for younger children who are naturally inclined to learn. However, to state that it only matters what the learner thinks and to suggest that it is their attitude that can make a language “hard” (or, by implication “easy”) is just as false as saying that “Hungarian is a hard language”. Have you any evidence for your assertions, other than your personal experience? You wrote that you managed to be able to speak Hungarian in just two months, but that is evidence of no more than your personal ability to learn languages. After all, Daniel Tammet learned a foreign language in just one week. And, naturally, he offers his own language courses, using his own methods. Have they helped millions, or even just thousands, of others to learn languages within a week? I’ll let you guess the answer to that.

    I agree with you that, generally, the more you practise listening to and speaking a language the more you will improve your ability to communicate verbally in that language. However, I disagree that a focus on quantity over quality is necessarily the best way to learn. Most people find it hard to change habits, and beginning to speak a language poorly (with poor grammar, pronunciation, intonation etc.) may result in “bad habits” that can be hard to resolve at a later stage. This is especially true of pronunciation and intonation. I watched the video of you speaking Hungarian after two months of learning, and your pronunciation was very mixed (sometimes good, sometimes poor). Maybe you managed to improve your pronunciation of the language at a later stage, but most people struggle to do so – an early focus as a learner on good pronunciation and intonation can reap dividends in the future.

    I understand why you gave a list of “easy” aspects of Hungarian – it clearly helps to balance the portrayal of Hungarian as “difficult”. However, by doing this you are falling into the same trap as those who call Hungarian a difficult language. You may have found those aspects of Hungarian “easy”, but others may not – it really depends on where you are coming from ie. what is your native language, what other languages you know, how old you are. To take the example of phonetics – yes, it is true that Hungarian is written more phonetically than, say, English or French. But the phonemes themselves (individual sound units) can be easy or hard, depending on how much the learner has used similar phonemes in other languages. Sometimes inaccurate pronunciation is not much of a barrier to making yourself understood, but other times it can make it very difficult for you to be understood (or you can be misunderstood, perhaps without realising). Of course, a learner will find some Hungarian sounds easy to replicate sufficiently accurately, but he or she may find others very difficult.

    I am tempted to discuss here my own experiences of learning Hungarian and other languages. But they are not relevant to my arguments as they are personal to me as a learner. I will only point out that I found one language (it happens to be Hungarian) several times more difficult to learn than all of the others. My age and motivation may have been factors in this relative difficulty, but the biggest factor seems to have been my relation to the language itself – more specifically, that it is so different to the other languages that I already knew. So, for me, Hungarian has been the most difficult language to learn. On the other hand, a Korean woman I knew said that English was more difficult for her to learn than Hungarian. So much depends on the person learning the language.

  • stephen shepherd

    I have just read your blog – very good. Thank you.
    I have nearly finished pimsluer and I am looking for for further learning.
    I am from Sheffield, England and I have been to hungary twice this year and I’m planning further trips.
    I have committed to learning this language as I have many friends in Hungary.
    Thanks once again – I’ll keep checking in
    Stephen

  • Krisztián Norman Kiss

    It may not be the hardest language, but I would like to see any of you bring it to perfection. I only speak English(as a second language), but I am often mistaken to be American…(living in the UK) I have never met anyone who learned it in school or by his/her own will and spoke it like a native speaker.
    So Hungarian is easy? How shall we adress the rest of the languages spoken?
    Got it: Gyerekjáték. :)

  • Thiago Charão

    Great article!

    I’ve spent about a month thinking on how hard to learn hugarian would be. Once I’m Brazillian (so portuguese speaker) and there is almost nothing about hungarian in portuguese to help me out (no courses at all), I have to learn hugarian because I’m starting the process to get my citizenship, so now my option is to start learning hungarian with english as my base language, another challenge, because I also don’t master English.

    BUT I loved a particular phrase of yours that encouraged me: “On top of that, trying to prove any particular language as the hardest serves no purpose whatsoever beyond mental masturbation for linguists, or pride for native speakers.”

    Thanks for wrinting this article. You helped me a lot.

  • Rod Fraser

    Wow. I’m pretty staggered by this if i’m honest. I’ve just run this past my Hungarian girlfriend (not because I don’t believe you and the reason I want to learn) and she has confirmed it all. I feel much more positive about the challenge of becoming more fluent in talking to her mother now! Cheers Benny!!!

  • Gee337

    “One of the first things you will hear when someone is describing Hungarian to you is that it has “over twenty cases” (exact number depends on the source). This is pure hogwash.”

    I’m Hungarian, but I always thought Hungarian had no grammar cases… then when speaking to a foreigner, I was told that apparently Hungarian has like 20 cases… I was just looking confused, trying to search through my memories from school for these “cases” :D

  • Anita Biró-Szatmári

    Hi Benny,

    thanks for increasing the reputation of our language :). And congratulations for learning it. Certainly it is not a mission impossible to learn it, so did my American cousin as well. It all depends on the attitude and some work put into it – just like other languages.

    After learning 3 foreign languages (English, German and Hebrew) I think there are definitely differences between the complexity of the different languages, but they are on different level of the knowledge. For instance, at the beginning I found English much easier then German, but just until we reached the tenses: there I felt I would never ever understand the logic, not even thinking of using it in the right way. Certainly I managed to get the idea as soon as I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks among native speakers in England – which is the best way of learning a language, of course. Hebrew I found very difficult until reaching a certain level where I found out that it was extremely logical – after understanding the logic the rest came much easier. German needed some sitting on my bum memorizing tables, but same here – after getting the logic it got much more fun.

    So completely agree – come over to Hungary folks, and we will be happy to talk to you :) as certainly we really appreciate everyone who takes the effort and tries to learn our language.

    See you :)

    Anita from Budapest

  • Michael Pinkard

    Just saw your article linked from Facebook, I totally agree with you. Older Hungarians will claim when you say, “tanulok magyarul”, that “aw, a magyar nyelv nehéz” and look down sadly at you. It’s not true though. Wigner, the great Hungarian physicist, commented when asked why there were such a disproportionate number of Hungarian Nobel prize winners in the first half of the 20th century, that Hungarian is such an easy language to learn that it leaves the child lots of time to study mathematics!

  • Gergő Csibra

    OK. You forgot to mentoin the most important and most universal hungarian word: baszni, which means “to fuck”, or the baszdmeg thich means fuck it or fuck off. You can pick any hungarian sentence, in any length from 1 to 30 words, and you can put the baszdmeg word between any two words anywhere (also more than 1 times, or between every word pairs), and this sentence will have more and most storngest meanings.

  • Lindsay

    Thanks for this! Very encouraging as I’m about to move to Budapest! I’d like to try to learn at least some basics so I have an idea of the language before I get there. I love your can-do attitude!