Mission: Conversational Hungarian in 3 months

It’s time for a new 3 month language mission!

Since I started the blog about a year ago, I’ve learned pretty good Czech in 2 months, convinced some Brazilians that I was a Carioca, got by in Thai, and just recently passed 4/5 of one the hardest formal examinations in German.

So now it’s time to take on one of the toughest challenges yet: Conversational Hungarian in 3 months!

Hungarian: a non-Indo-European language

Before the Chinese/Japanese etc. learners jump on me for lazily taking on another “European” language, there’s something you should be aware of…

Hungary may be situated in Europe, but its language has almost nothing in common with any of the many European languages surrounding it (apart from a distant relationship to Finnish/Estonian)!

Many even think of Hungarian as being among the hardest languages in the world. One way a speaker of other European languages could perhaps come to that conclusion is that it is not an Indo-European language.

This basically means that English/French etc. have more in common with Romanian, Polish, Swedish, Lithuanian, Sanskrit and Persian than they have in common with Hungarian. Not just the very occasional vocabulary outside of direct family branches, but also the sentence structure can be somewhat familiar in these languages. It doesn’t make your job a huge amount easier, but at least it gives you some sense of familiarity, and I found this when learning Czech.

Apart from rare loan words, Hungarian seems to show nothing in common with its neighbours! Luckily it uses the Latin script (but so do Swahili, Turkish and Vietnamese…), but unluckily it seems to pack enough grammar into its sentences to make your head spin. Forget German’s four grammatical cases, or Russian’s six – Hungarian nouns can have up to eighteen cases!

I’m certainly going to miss prepositions - in, at, to etc. since these seem to get merged into the word as a “postposition” as one of many ways that Hungarian can produce extremely long words such as “megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért“.

It’s a phonetic language, but it still has some things that will take some getting used to! ‘s’ is the ‘sh’ sound and ‘sz’ is the ‘s’ sound (the opposite of Polish), and the ‘g’ in the name of the language itself, magyar, is pronounced like a d!

Sound intimidating enough yet?

3-month mission: conversational Hungarian

I got all of the above information just from the Wikipedia article on Hungarian this afternoon for the sake of providing a summary. I am starting to learn the language from scratch as of today.

The only word in Hungarian I’ve learned so far is “Szia” (“hi”, pronounced see-ya apparently). So yes, this is absolutely from scratch with no similar or even distantly related language to act as my crutch.

My target is to reach conversational level in the language by mid-October. My mission is to take the intimidating message of the above paragraphs and to turn it around completely to find out what’s easy about Hungarian, to the point where I can effectively communicate in social situations with natives in the language, and of course, share my discoveries with you all!

I don’t want to sit any tests, spend hours watching TV shows or listening to the radio or reading, and I definitely don’t want to have my head in books studying grammar and vocabulary the entire time. I want to talk with Hungarians and attempt to have a social life almost exclusively through the Hungarian language.

I have no doubts that my usual tricks will come in very useful and that I will be able to communicate in some way quite quickly. However, I should specify exactly what I’m aiming for so there is no confusion! It won’t be fluency this time, but I do want to be able to converse.

Before I hop my flight out of Budapest on October 14th (just in time to fly south for the winter!) I want to be able to meet Hungarian natives I have never met before and have a casual conversation about a wide range of typical things people talk about at social events, with no preparation. I am allowing myself to make mistakes, as long as what I’m saying is totally understandable, and my focus will be on conversations I am involved in.

I’ll also aim to make a video or two in Hungarian before I leave so you can all hear what I sound like!

Trying out this “preparation” thing you all love so much

This target will be similar to the “pretty good” level I reached in Czech. The reason I’m aiming for about the same level (rather than fluency) is because I will actually have slightly over two months of proper immersion rather than three.

Rather than diving straight in, studying on the flight over, and speaking consistently from day one of the mission (which I know from experience works really well), I am going to give myself just over 2 weeks to prepare (while still in Berlin) and study some material (both from books and online). These two weeks may ultimately hurt my potential progress (especially since it won’t be full time – I’m still in recovery mode from the exam!), but now that I’ve had a chance to improve my study technique, I want to see if there is any benefit at all to this “preparation” thing you all seem to be raving so much about!

Two weeks not speaking the target language is already longer than I would usually go for, but it’s worth a try to see if it does indeed help to focus on absorbing as much as possible first.

This easing in period will be further extended, as I’ll spend my first week in Hungary in a town called Pécs just south of Budapest with some Esperanto speakers (at an event filled with fun young party-goers, called IJS). There will be some cultural adjustments to make in Hungary (etc. figuring out how to eat well in a country that doesn’t show much promise for vegetarians) and I’d rather be with friends and have some chances to communicate fully with the many Hungarians at the event (I’ve been told that Hungarians generally don’t speak much English or other languages), before I start full immersion a week into August.

That first week will also give me a chance to get to know some Hungarians who normally live in Budapest so that I can expand my social circle – of course they’ll all be convinced to speak just Hungarian with me after that first week!

Living in Budapest

The reason I choose particular destinations for my language missions, is less due to marking my territory among pompous linguists, and way more due to the actual destination and the people where I travel to. I consider myself much more of a nomad than a language learner and the social rewards of spending time almost exclusively with locals is mostly the reason why I am always so keen to make sure I can converse with them.

Budapest has long been on my list of places to visit, and there’s no way I could give a city with its reputation any less than a few months! I can’t wait to get to know it and discover what experiences await me – especially by discovering it through the people from the city itself. My “road less travelled” is not going to undiscovered villages, but simply being a “3-month tourist” without being a typical English-speaking one.

More than discovering Hungarian verb conjugations, I would like to discover Hungarian culture – and speaking to its locals is the best way to do this. That’s what the mission will ultimately be about!

So join me and see if I can reach a pretty-good conversational level of Hungarian in just three months! :D

If you have any advice or thoughts about this mission, feel free to share them in the comments below! :)



I'll send you the first lesson right away.
Click here to see the comments!
  • John Bardos – JetSetCitizen

    Greetings Benny,

    I am studying Hungarian right now too. My wife and I should be in Budapest when you arrive. Maybe we will have a chance to meet.

  • WC

    Good luck!

    I'm interested to see if studying helps you at all. I personally can't imagine -not- studying, but you approach things quite a bit differently than I do. :)

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

    Yeah, I'll give this “study” thing a chance, but I'd rather use my languages with human beings rather than with books and iPods ;)

  • http://hooshotjr-russian.blogspot.com Jen

    Aw Benny! You know I wish you'd picked Russian, but I understand why you went with Hungarian. :D Have fun in Budapest!

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

    Don't worry, if I can afford 3 months in Moscow I'll get to Russian soon too :)

  • http://www.shawnchristenson.com Shawn Christenson

    Good luck Benny! This sounds exciting :)

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Ok, so before with Czech one of the things you listed as one of the biggest impediments to you learning it was, essentially, your lack of a really good reason (i.e. proper motivation) to do so. I may have missed something (pardon my skimming) but I didn't see anything in there about precisely WHY you've chosen Hungarian other than “it's really hard”–if that's your primary motivation I don't see why you didn't just go balls-to-the-wall and tackle the, arguably, hardest language in the world: Icelandic.

    Now, I kind of suspect you've actually got a really good and proper reason to learn Hungarian and you just failed to mention it and, considering what you've recently said about how lack of a really good reason caused you to give up on Czech, I thought I'd point out that you really ought to delve into this (your reason behind choosing this particular language, that is).

    Sorry, just really trying to help (seriously) since it seems like motivation really is a big deal (and I agree, it is–if I'm not interested in a particular country and their culture I absolutely cannot bring myself to learn the language, it just won't happen).


    • László Szalai

      Na ez a baj haver hogy a világon senki nem beszéli a mi nyelvünket de viszont a magyarnak muszáj angolul beszélni és még sorolhatnám mennyiféle nyelven ha be jön az országunkba egy idegen csoport. Meg az a másik hogy nem olyan nehéz mint ahogy azt gondolod haver.

      • Judy Smith

        A mi nyelvünk a legnehezebb és a legjobb :)

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

    Thanks Shawn – you'll notice I've changed the right image on the banner. Only took a second thanks to your help :)

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

    My decision to learn Czech was very last minute and not thought out. I've considered Budapest itself as a destination for a very long time and I'm genuinely curious to get to know about its culture, especially through many Hungarians I've met in my travels.

    As I said at the end, cultural discovery is the point of the mission and that will motivate me to learn the language. I didn't know anyone in Prague when I moved there, nor did I have any particular interest in Czech culture.

    Icelandic is a Germanic language and another crazy-language-mission guy (Daniel Tammet) learned it in just a week. I find the “hardest language in the world” title to be quite a pointless one. I only mentioned it here to show what people's general opinion is, although I don't think Hungarian will pose more or less of a challenge than Icelandic, Turkish, Mandarin etc. would.

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    “I would like to discover Hungarian culture – and speaking to its locals is the best way to do this.”

    Totally agree. That's how I feel as well. The point of learning the language(s) isn't for notches in the belt, but for the opportunity to communicate with people and learn about them, their culture, their world.

  • Quokka

    cool! *reach into the popcorn bin*

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Ok, that's cool, and the best reason to learn a language, in my opinion, is because you want to learn about the people and the culture, so you've got the right intentions, certainly.

    Also, a minor point, but I feel as though I should point it out for anyone reading your comment about Daniel Tammet: he's an autistic savant. Normal people, even very intelligent people who aren't savants, aren't going to pull off the kind of language learning and memorization stunts that he can do. Here's his wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_tammet

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Absolutely agreed, that's the best reason to learn a language. I also like it because it pushes people away from stodgy academic study that places too much emphasis on reading and writing formally and towards actually speaking the language like natives do with modern colloquial speech.

  • http://www.shawnchristenson.com Shawn Christenson

    I did notice that and I love the photo for it! Very creative (as always with your photos).

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

    Precisely! It's one reason I seem to get into so many arguments with some language learners. All they seem to be interested in is the language in itself. For me it's a means to an end. :)

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

    Haha, yeah, we'll see how entertaining my stumbles can be ;)

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    Yeah, those must be the same people who end up complaining about how slang is “destroying the purity of the language” or whatever else. It reminds me of stamp collectors, afraid to send a letter because the stamp may be worth something one day, or coin collectors who hoard all their pocket change. They can go ahead and fill their houses with books of coins or stamps or language materials or plates, figurines, dolls, magnets, whatever it is you collect…. but when people get together, we'll be the ones with the interesting stories about the places we've been and the things we've seen there. Hmmm…. I feel a blog post coming on!

  • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

    As someone who is learning a Finno-Ugric language myself, I wish you the best of luck! Plus, Hungary sounds like a great place to spend some time. Just one thing I don't understand, sentences like this:

    “The reason I choose particular destinations for my language missions, is less due to marking my territory among pompous linguists, and way more due to the actual destination and the people where I travel to. “

  • Jennifer Kumar

    All the very best! My parents came to US from Hungary and I never learned Hungarian. I know only a few words like magyar and NEM and ANYU. Ok.. very very bad of me! I am completely American. You're so right the language is a very different one than all others that surround it. I wish you the best and will look forward to hearing your experiences along the way.

    • Magdalena Mae

      I’m in the same boat, Jennifer! You listed most of the Hungarian words I managed to learn in my lifetime to this point, too — too funny. :)

      I’m just finishing up my first trip abroad (in India), and learning Hindi has inspired me to finally take the plunge and learn Hungarian. As Benny has said before, the first foreign language is the most difficult. My grandfather (he and my grandmother immigrated from Hungary during the revolution) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years back and has more recently had a stroke that caused his condition to progress; he speaks more and more in Hungarian and I really want to be able to understand what he says to me.

      Benny, you’re a great motivator and inspiration! Thanks!!

      • Katherine


        The same thing happened to my grandmother – She escaped from Hungary in the 50’s I believe. She also had Alzheimer’s in the last few years of her life & she actually FORGOT how to speak English! the memory that she did have reverted her to her mother tongue! It was horrible not being able to communicate the way I wanted to. I hope to learn more hungairan in the comming year.

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

    Sure, let me know and we'll go see what Budapest has to offer in terms of Mocktails :D

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

    Thanks for the well wishes!

    I get lots of aggravation from people who see languages as nothing more than theoretical subjects in school or for their personal collection (see Randy's comment above about stamp/coin collection) and are insulted by the mere idea of someone wanting to actually speak these languages as soon as possible as I keep promoting on the blog.

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

    Thanks Jenn! I hope you learn something from my discoveries! Maybe it will inspire you to try something similar yourself ;)

  • Manuchan

    Good luck for your next mission! I'm sure you'll enjoy Budapest… I think it's really cool city, and so are the people I knew there. About the language…jes, it sounds difficult, but it is still only a language! ;-) It took me just one week to learn how to say “Cheers!”…
    Ĝuu ankaŭ IJS-n… bedaŭrinde mi ne partoprenos, mi plezure ekkonus vin persone! :-)

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

    Dankon Manuela! Ni certe renkontiĝos en iu ajn loko poste!

  • Nyakasd

    GOOD LUCK MAN from budapest!

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

    Thanks :)

  • Jen

    Ag, the “reply” feature isn’t working. Anyway…re: Moscow: You want to go to KAZAN, not Moscow! ;) It’s cheaper anyway. I’ve been to Russia 3 times and still haven’t seen Red Square. Someday…but in the meantime, I’m not feeling deprived! Kazan’s got a lot of great culture to offer (it’s kind of an “East meets West” town) and TWO languages. Plus, the people pride themselves on their hospitality and open-mindedness (you’ve got two major world religions living side-by-side–for the most part, peacefully).

  • Feketeribizli

    pimsleur hungarian. I always use pimsleur when i start to learn a language. 30 times 30 minutes audio lessons.
    And forget that “hungarian is the most difficult language in the world” bullshit. No such thing like “the most difficult language” exist. See u here!

  • Memma

    Man, you'r tasks for yourself are very brave! I'm a native Finnish (a language as difficult to learn as Hungarian) speaker and I've been watching my foreign friends learning it. Some of them become fluent within a year and they even adopt the Lappish dialect, when others struggle and give up in the very beginning when they understand that they are ment to understand words like “määränpäättömyydessäänkinhän” (postpositions!). I really hope that you're one of the fighters and you'll succeed in your task with Hungarian. :–) Sok szerencsét!

  • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

    Good luck! It sounds like being in Budapest will be loads of fun. Are you renting an apartment there? How do you find places to live when you travel to all of your European countries? (Forgive me if you already addressed that question in a previous blog entry.)

    If you get to Russia soon and live in Moscow to learn Russian, I am going to be SO jealous! I'm learning Russian and I'm thinking of jetting off to Moscow (or even Kiev) in a couple of years.

  • Matt

    Thank you for choosing Hungarian!!! I am part Hungarian and this makes me very happy to see! :)

  • Will

    Do you have any other languages on your radar for the future? Anything you're considering at all? Just wondering.

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

    LOTS of interesting languages on the way after Hungarian :)
    I won't reveal them until just before the missions begin though – I like holding the suspense ;)

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

    Glad to hear it! I hope you enjoy reading my story :D

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

    The answer to your question is here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/finding-accommod;)

    I am definitely planning to go to Moscow to learn Russian, but that depends on my budget. I've already lived on a tight budget in miserable accommodation for a long time as a backpacker, so I'd like to maintain a certain level of comfort in my 3-month stays, and that will be harder in an expensive city like Moscow. Hopefully

    next year I'll be in the position to afford it! :)

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

    I don't want to go to Kazan – I have a thing for major international cities. Read this post for more info. I would really prefer what Moscow has to offer, even though there are obviously cheaper destinations. Perhaps after living in the capitals I will go to discover other destinations ;)

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

    I'm a fighter! I've fought many battles before Hungarian ;) Thanks!

  • djc463

    1. Si tu vas en Russie, je te suggère Saint-Petersburg plutôt que Moscou
    2. Pourquoi est-ce que tu n’essaies pas une mission pour 6 mois? Je sais que le titre de ton blog est “fluent in 3 months” mais ton but n’est pas toujours de parler couramment, donc pourquoi est-ce que c’est tellement important d’avoir les “3 mois”. à chaque fois. Les temps supplémentaire ne te tente jamais?
    3. Alguna vez toma tiempo para mejorar tu nivel en los idiomas que ya hablas? Cuanto tiempo tomas y que haces? Yo todo el tiempo tengo que practicar mis idiomas que digo que hablo “con fluidez” porque siempre puedo hablar mejor (mismo en inglés)
    4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: you said Hungarians often only speak 1 language in your article. LIES!!!! You should be more responsible than spreading sweeping generalizations, given your large number of avid readers. I’ve met many Hungarians (due to a friend of mine who is hungarian) and it seems to be a national requirement to speak at least 3 languages, and moreover to speak English flawlessly. Now I know this is an exaggeration as well. But I feel like they realistically are probably similar to Germany as far as being “good with languages”. If you want to pick on someone, pick on Americans!! We’re easy targets :p

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

    Pimsleur is good indeed – I'll write a post later about my favourite learning materials!
    Yeah, I just mentioned the hard thing for wow-factor. Hungarian doesn't scare me one bit. If other humans have learned it, there is nothing stopping me from doing it too ;)

  • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

    Спасибо :) I'm hoping to go back to Moscow sometime within the next year or so. Maybe we could meet and speak Russian if we end up being there at the same time.

  • http://parmvoo.blogspot.com/ Juho

    Great to see that you chose Hungarian. I am more curious of your learning because I am Finnish and Finnish considered as a hard language to learn. As a Erasmus tutor I have seen many exchange students starting to learn Finnish and everyone said that it was very hard. Even There was like 200 exchange students I did not know anyone who learned to speak Finnish. Mostly for them was enough to practice English because came from countries like France and Spain where they don't speak very well English. Even there was one guy very eager to learn Finnish he did not speak Finnish much with me after spending one year in Finland. I hope that you will do better with Hungarian.

  • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

    If you want to learn Russian but can't afford to go to Moscow then let me suggest Narva (Estonia) to you.

    Benefits of Narva:
    1) Russian-speaking, as is the whole county of Ida-Virumaa.
    2) Cheap.
    3) Friendlier people that you'll find over the border in Russia proper.
    4) Visa free travel.

    Just an idea to consider.

  • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

    Suomi ei ole kovin vaikea kieli oppia, mutta uskon, että kielioppi on helpompi virossa. On varma, että viron sanat ovat lyhyemmät! :D (Iirlane kes elab Eestis ja õpib eesti keelt oma eesti naise perekonnast.)

  • steve

    Sounds like another interesting mission. I think you might have problems with motivation though after a while but maybe you've allowed for that by making your target easier. Conversational Hungarian sounds quite easy to attain in 3 months to be honest because it's quite vague. Do you expect to be able to express yourself comfortably in all social situations or just get by?
    I think it is your easiest challenge so far but I appreciate that you must need a much more relaxed challenge after your previous one. Sounds like a very fun idea mission anyway.

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

    I think you've misunderstood the goal in the mission. I “got by” in Thai in one weekend. Joining in spontaneous conversations is way more complex than that and this will certainly NOT be an easy challenge!

    If you have personally learned conversational Hungarian in 3 months already and believe it's quite easy, please share your secrets with me :)

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

    I don't know if I will succeed in a good level of conversation (I can only try my best!) but I'll definitely do better than most people in short-stays do, simply because I've made my immersion mistakes already and know what is involved and how to not lose motivation so quickly. :)

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

    1. On m'a dit que Moscou est plus intéressant. Je veux des fêtes, des jeunes de tous les pays, et j'aime bien les capitales. En plus, Saint-Petersburg est cher aussi – donc je ne vois pas les avantages de cette ville. Je vais essayer de la visiter, mais je veux vivre à Moscou.

    2. J'aime bien passer 3 mois dans les villes. J'ai passé plus de temps dans quelques villes comme Valence en Espagne et Paris, mais 3 mois est parfait pour moi. C'est la zone « Boucles d'or » – pas trop de temps et pas trop peu de temps.

    3. Sí. Escribiré más sobre eso más tarde y entenderás.

    4. I'm going on what many people have told me and continue to tell me. If they have all been misleading me and the level of English is broadly quite good across Hungary I'll say that. However, I trust those who have written to me so far and am happy to see there will be few temptations to speak English (not that that made much of a difference in Berlin though).

    Have you met these Hungarians in Hungary or abroad? Meeting Hungarians abroad is NOT a good representation. I met lots of Americans in Buenos Aires who speak fantastic Spanish and this tells me nothing of the actual pathetic situation of Spanish spoken by white Americans living in the states. (Happy? I picked on Americans :) )

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

    Watch this space (and e-mail list etc.) to see when I make it! :) Of course if you share my blog with lots of people this will increase my site traffic and ultimately sales of my book and that will improve my budget to go there quicker :P
    Hope to meet up there!

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

    Thanks! For the moment my goal will be to continue to work hard on this website in the hopes that greater traffic and more sales of my LHG will increase my budget. If that is not successful then I'll go to plan B for learning Russian without getting back into debt ;)

  • Hribecek48

    I mean easy when you consider that you learned Czech to that standard in 2 months.

  • Norbert

    As a Hungarian, I warmly welcome your interest in our culture and language! Once you got a handle on pronouncing the letters, you'll immediately be able to read things out loud – unlike English for example. Sok sikert! (Good luck!)

    p.s. Although I'm not a linguist, I think “szia” got shortened from “szervusz,” the Hungarian transliteration of the Latin word “servus” (servant, slave).

    • http://twitter.com/KOKreate Kathy

      Hi Norbert
      I notice you speak English well.

      I speak basic native Hungarian which was my first language before learning English. I would like to teach Hungarians
      English using a transliteration/phonetics methodology. Native hungarians know what their
      alphabet sounds like and so do I, 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 based on this premis, but I am not sure whether
      Hungarians are really that interested in learning English! Could you enlighten me on this as I am presuming that you live in Hungary? I live in Adelaide South Australia. By the way “szia” is a substitute from the more old fashioned “szerbus” but my understanding is that it means “hogy vagy?” rather than a greeting like “hello” or “goodbye”. Thanks. I will keep posted.

  • Tuiro

    Sok sikert!

  • http://www.mavericktraveler.com mavtraveler

    This mission should be less stressful since you won't be locked up studying for C2 but instead _talking_ to people.

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

    You can't forget the non-Indo-European aspect! I used a LOT of shortcuts with Czech – it's similar structure to other European languages, *some* familiar vocabulary and other aspects made it a little less of a headache. I won't have these advantages with Hungarian…
    If I make it to the same level I made it in Czech in 2 months over the 2.5 months of immersion and this slight preparation, then I'll be quite pleased! It will be lots of work though..

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

    Interesting, thanks for sharing :D

    Can't wait to get truly started on speaking :)

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

    Talking is always fun :) Even for a big challenge like this!

  • Matthias

    Hungarian is not that hard. Even though it is not an Indo-European language, it has been in the region long enough to adopt some of structures of surrounding languages. Even more so when it comes to vocabulary. Examples: Friday is péntek in Hungarian, which is clearly borrowed from Slavic languages. Strawberry is eper which comes from German Erdbeere (with some fantasy). But also some grammatical structures are similar. You will recognise a system of verb + preposition in Hungarin, similar to German, e.g. leír = to write down, le=down, ír = write. Similar to German (even though for other reasons) the preposition is sometimes placed after the verb: Nem írja le (He did not write it down).
    I have never really “learned” Hungarian, just some phrases and basic vocabulary and grammar to get by in Hungary, but I have learned Finnish for several years and my impression is that Finnish is more difficult, especially when it comes to vocabulary. I think you will learn a lot of Hungarian during your mission. In contrast to some other languages I find it rather easy to catch individual words from conversations (no liason between words). There are hardly any dialects and many of the Hungarians I have met were eager to help with the language. So, good luck with your studies. It will be challenging but very satisfying in the end, I think.

  • brianfromMaine

    Cheers Benny!!

    I am so jealous! My mother is Hungarian and I have always wanted to learn Hungarian. It is a really cool language and I don't believe it will be as hard as you think. Most of the so called “cases” are really just prepositional suffixes.

    I have dabbled in Hungarian a little bit and found the Pimsleur course really useful to get the sounds of the language down. The FSI course is fantastic and free ( if not a little dry) but it would probably take you until October to complete.

    Hungarian food is GREAT. I too, as a vegetarian, find options a bit challenging with hungarian cuisine. You can always nosh on potatoes, dumplings, vegetables and some of the best desserts in the world.

    Jó szerencsét!!!

    • Timea Benak

      hi=) im Hungarian. its really nice what you wrote about Hungarian language, and it made my day=) you are right, Hungarian is unique as all the other languages in the world as well!
      just please let me “correct” you, the way we use the phrase “good Luck” is more like this: Sok szerencsét!
      Oh, and hope you know its never too late to catch up with the language, so: Sok szerencsét! =)

  • Mand

    Sok szerencsét!
    sok=lots of

    Szerencse is always “good” in hungarian, always positive; we never say “bad luck”, we say having no luck!
    Well, there's a special case, miners use to say 'Jó szerencsét' before entering the mine, but it's not the beginner's level ;)
    I'm sorry about my English and wish you good luck! :D

    • kemeng

      I would say: Kez es labtorest!:D

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine

    Aha so it's sok szerencsét!
    not jó szerencsét!

    There – I just learned some Hungarian today!! :-)

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine

    Benny! Russia is a HUUUUUGE country. Why limit yourself to Moscow which is one of the most expensive cities in the world? I had friends spend several months in Yaroslavl which is a delightful city 200km or so north of Moscow. I could be wrong but I think prices there were a fraction of what they were in Moscow.

    I am learning Czech so here is my attempt to say this in Czech!

    Rusko je velká země. Proč si limitete do Moskvy, která je jedním z nejdražších měst na světě?

    Měl jsem přátele strávit několik měsíců v Jaroslavli, která je nádherné město 200 km nebo tak, na sever od Moskvy. Možná se mýlím, ale myslím, že ceny zde byly zlomkem toho, co oni byli v Moskvě.

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

    Maybe I'll see you there! Have fun with your own mission ;)

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

    Oh, like in German then! It would sound weird in German to literally translate “Good luck”. Good to know – thanks for the lesson :D

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

    Thanks a lot for the tips! That helps a lot :)
    Good to know they'll all be ready to help me, I'm going to try (as always) to speak Hungarian most of my time there!

  • Ágnes

    Hi Benny,
    your mission is really interesting!! and Budapest ( i was born there) Pécs are very beautiful!!
    Have fun with Hungarian language und culture!;-)

  • Emma

    Good choice of language! I have on and off this past year tried to get a grip on the magyar language. Not as difficult as one might first assume, save for the vocabulary. I find that it is a lot easier than people claim, mostly thanks to friendly Hungarians and the fact that the grammar is relatively logical once you get the hang of it.

    What DOES bug me is the lack of online material. The few good sources I've found are something you have to pay for or they haven't updated it in years. If you do find any cool pages for the limited number of Hungarian learners, feel free to write about them :)

    I'm looking forward to regular progress reports ;)

  • Hh

    Szívesen :)
    You're welcome :)

  • http://blog.sweetsweden.com Israel

    I am another language learning fan … I moved to Hungary for 9 months last year just to learn the language by myself & with help of a nice grammar book.

    A magyar nyelv nem könnyû de lehet kicsit meg fogsz tanúlni. // Hungarian language is not easy but probably you'll learn a bit.

  • http://www.agnesszucs.blogspot.com/ szucs

    Hey, Benny, I'm willing to meet you here in Budapest! I'm really curious about the progress of your mission! Good luck with it! (Jó szerencsét is actually correct, but obsolete, used to be the greeting used by miners.)
    As for Hungarian people not speaking foreign languages… I felt a bit insulted, but actually this is part true part wrong… I think that many people of the younger generations speak very good English, mostly because they're motivated. :P Older people usually don't speak English unless the work in business. Older people had to study Russian at school (just as I had to), but they don't speak Russian either (neither do I).
    As for the language… what I think will be not easy to get used to is postpositions… the long word you put down (megszentség… etc.) has the small root of “szent”, meaning and pronounced saint (how easy!), and all the rest are suffixes and postpositions. As for the origin, as far as I know, Hungarian has the same origin as Finnish but I don't think this means anything, really. We have a whole lot of words coming from Turkish and German tho, which might help a little with your learning.
    So good luuuck!!!! I'm sure you'll complete the mission!
    I guess you're thru with the study period by now… what's your impression?
    agnes szucs from Budapest

    p.s. My name, Szűcs, is the epitome of our language, it consists of three letters as “sz” and “cs” (pronounced tsh or ch, like in ouch) are considered as one conosnant each, and u with double accent, tho not exclusive to Hungarian, is present only in one other language in the world (and it is pronounced as ü in German, only longer).

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine


    Én is magyar tanulást!!!!

    Segíteni kell nekem!

    If you have any hints specific to Hungarian PLEEEEASE let me know!

    Specifically if you find any good Hungarian speaker online links.



  • Foolzizz

    Hi everyone.
    First of all I would like to say thanks for everyone who has decided to learn our not-so-easy language, the Hungarian. Anyway, if I can help anyone to learn more about it or the hungarian culture please let me know. :)

    Answering to brianfrommaine: I could not find any hungarian-speaking-online things. But in this site you can download audiobooks in hungarian for free. (plus you can find the e-books too here.)
    I hope it is helpful for you all:)

    Szóval: akinek segíteni kell, szóljon:)
    Sok sikert mindenkinek

  • Judit Krisztina Seres

    Hey there! I have stumbled upon your blog actually through one of my students, whom I teach German to. I am very glad you chose my mother tongue, I am very proud of my language, it is really a wonderful, very expressive language! I study English and German linguistics at the university of Debrecen (If you come to this city, hit me up: judit.seres@yahoo.com) and I am against Hungarian having too much in common with Finno-Ugric languages, especially since i started learning Turkish…I do believe HUngarians come from a lot more East then scientists say so, this is why our language is so unique!

  • monika

    Good luck with Hungarian! I'm an Aussie who has visited 3 times, and has finally decided to take up the language. Adelaide has the very first adult Hungarian course in Australia ever, I can't believe my luck. I'm self taught apart from the course which I started in January. It is difficult, but I am intrigued by your website and enthusiasm. I've surprised myself, too, but I want to spend the next ten weeks crash coursing the language before I fly to Budapest fro three weeks. I'm using your site for motivation.
    I know you can do it. Just be prepared for some confusing grammar twists and turns. All the best, Monikanak hivjak

  • Diablogun

    Benny, Good luck to you; Hungarian is indeed difficult, and it will frankly make you brilliant to become adept in it so quickly :-)

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine


    I too am trying to learn Hungarian…but I'm giving myself longer than 3 months! As per your advice I started a blog which is documenting my quest to conquer this challenging language.

    Anyone, feel free to visit it at:


    any words of encouragement or advice will be gladly appreciated!!

  • Lucas

    Szia, hogy vagy? / Ola, tudo bem? / Hi, how are you?

    Sou Brasileiro e vivo na Hungria ja tem 1 ano.
    I'm Brazilian and I live in Hungary for one year already.

    Eu comecei a trabalhar em Budapeste ha alguns meses atras usando o Espanol e eu gostaria de te encontrar e compartilhar minhas experiencias sobre o aprendizado do hungaro e saber mais sobre as suas experiencias sobre o aprendizado de idiomas(principalmente portugues, quero ver se voce eh mesmo um Carioca! heheheheh)

    I started working in Budapest some months ago using Spanish language and I would like to meet you and share my experiences about learning Hungarian and know more about your experiencies in learning languages(mainly portuguese, i wanna see if you are really “Carioca”, heheheheeh)


    E-mai/MSN: mlt-sp [at] h o t m a i l . c o m


  • http://UncorneredMarket.com Audrey

    I don't speak Hungarian, but I do speak Estonian since I was a Peace Corps volunteer there many years ago. The accent and words in Hungarian are very different form Estonian (Finnish is much more similar), but the grammar is supposed to be very similar. I actually think that the lack of prepositions makes it a lot of fun – you only have to learn cases, no prepositions. You can be really creative with sentence structure.

    After Estonian, I thought that learning other languages would be easy. Then I moved to the Czech Republic and got very annoyed by the fact that I had to learn both cases and prepositions.

    Good luck. Should be a lot of fun. Budapest is a great city.

    • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Anonymous

      Tere Audrey! Kas sulle meeldis su elu Eestis?

      Just to be clear though, Estonian does have adpositions (both pre- and post-) as well as having cases. Sometimes you even use an adposition and a case where in English you’d only use a preposition.

  • Will

    I hate that! So much! That’s probably one of the things that annoys me most about Czech. I mean, I know people do it every day without even thinking about it, but it can be so hard to wrap your head around sometimes. I think, like you said you did, I would prefer the Estonian/Finnish/Hungarian style… despite the increased number of cases.

  • Rossana

    Good luck! After improving English I will learn Hungarian. “to have” in Hungarian is similar to the latin possession dativ. àllat=animal orvos=doctor. én àllatorvos leszek: mi estos bestkuracisto!

  • http://brewdocinhaiti.blogspot.com brianfrommaine

    Benny, I updated my own Hungarian learning log if you are interested!


    Szeretem a magyar nyelvet eddig!

  • Anonymous

    Sok sikert és jó tanulást!

  • Kata

    Isten hozott nálunk! Sok szerencsét a magyarhoz! ;)

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

      Köszi! :)

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

    English speaking culture doesn’t encourage and motivate people to learn languages enough. There is no inherent intelligence at play, but thanks :)

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

    You can also make extremely uncommon long words in Hungarian. These serve no purpose other than to intimidate since they are NOT part of natural spoken language.

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

    szia, hogy vagy? tetszik a kihivas I’d love to talk to you on skype just for the sake of fun. I’m from Budapest but lived in Pecs for 4 years not I live in Baltimore

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

      I visited Pécs :)

  • Kartik Tripathi

    Benny, no offence, but I couldn’t help feeling that you’re somewhat exaggerating the discount one gets on learning a language from the same family. Indo-European languages from separate parts of Eurasia have been diverging for over 3000 years. 
    As a native Hindi speaker, I found Japanese much more ‘familiar’ than Russian; other than the same sentence structure, a sophisticated system of honorifics, and usage of post-positions rather then prepositions; I actually occasionally encountered idiomatic statements that had literal equivalents in my native language. By contrast, Russian had very few cognates or grammatical similarities with any other language I knew. 
    I’m not disputing, of course, that Hungarian is a particularly tough nut to crack. All the best! Darn, I just noticed the article’s over a year old. Well, then I hope it worked out well! :-)

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

    Your comment reminds me that I need to sit down and edit some old posts to link to the end of the mission for those curious. For the moment, this is how I ended up: http://fi3m.com/speak-badly

  • Felice

    Hello! I just got an internship in Debrecen, Hungary. Apparently I didn’t know what I got into – a country w/ a really hard language to learn. I would loveeee to join in conversation w/ the locals tho. So how was the mission? Did u manage to achieve “pretty good” level of Hungarian?

  • http://www.facebook.com/andor.pall.5 Andor Páll

    Úgy hiszem, hogy a magyar tartogathat még igen sok kellemetlenséget, amit tán még soha nem tapasztaltál.
    És igen…borzasztóan nehéz. Aki nekem megtanul 3 hónap alatt folyékonyan magyarul…s még valamelyest helyes is lessz….az elött le a kalappal.
    Sok szerencsét!
    Kérdéssel fordulhatsz hozzám.

  • leroma leroma

    estou indo pra hungria em 4 semanas, e até preciso falar fluentemente magyar. Parece que terei um desafio similar ao que você teve :) and my english is not very well toned :D

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

    No, don’t worry. I learned it over 2 months, not 3 ;)

  • ééé

    Magyar vagyok, szóval örülök ,hogy tanultál magyarul, meg hogy ellátogattál ide.Szerintem a magyar nehéz nyelv(néha még nekem is.:DD) Szóval, sok szerencsét:)!

    I’m from Hungary, so i glad you learnt hungarian and you came here.I think the hungarian language is dificult(sometimes for me too:DD) So, good luck;)

    • http://twitter.com/KOKreate Kathy

      Szerbus vagy Szia ééé

      Én beszélekek alap Magyar nyelvet és Angol nyelvet szeretnék
      tanítani Magyaroknak átírási/fonetika módszerint és később,
      ha az embereket érdekli, Angol nyelvtan anyagokat tanitani személyesen Skype-on
      keresztul. Őshonos Magyarok
      tudják kifejezni és kiejteni a saját Magyar
      abécé betűket, persze, es en gondolom hogy sikerulhet Magyaroknak egy alapvető Angol
      szókincset 100 szóbul meg tanulni két hét alatt. Csak 11 ingyenes leckét kel
      meg tekinteni a diakoknak (a web honlaponom ami nem kész még) ami elöad a
      megfelelő Angol fonetikus kiejtéseket (forditasok mellékelt) ami azonos a Magyar fonetikus
      kiejtésekhez. Csak Nem vagyok biztos hogy fog ilyen Angol tanitás erdekelni
      Magyarokat Magyarországon? Ha fizetést kérek nem lesz sok! Kedvelem az Ön
      erteklésit ebben a helyzetben. Ausztrá felsőfokú tanulmányokat el vegeztem és élek
      dél-Ausztráliaban. Kati

      • kemeng

        Could you write this in English please? I am Hungarian and I cannot understand exacty what you would like to say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002458125096 Momo Levi

    nice !

  • Bea kettoharom

    What does hungarian sound like to a native finnish speaker? What were your first impressions on the language? Did you think it sounded funny? When you heared it for the first time where did it sound like it came from?

    I’m really sorry for asking so many questions. I’m just really curious because I’m a hungarian who is trying to learn finnish. It sounds extremely funny to me. I remember the first time I heared finnish I had no idea where this language could possibly come from XD. It didn’t sound european but I couldn’t immagine any other place in the world where it would be possibly come from. To me it sounded like someone took a bunch of hungarian words, jumbled them around and added a couple of random vowels. God, it was funny (still is).

  • Jonathan Main

    Benny, I’ve just read your post. I’ve no idea whether you managed to pull this off, but I do hope so. My partner is Hungarian, and we are getting married in November. I have been very lazy so far and don’t speak any Hungarian. We live in the UK, so day to day it doesn’t matter. I would like to change that and at least reach the level you aspired to. If you have any tips on the study aids you used etc I would be interested to hear them.

  • Varun

    Hey..I am going to hungary and want to learn basic hungarian before i land in budapest..pls help..my email is jasvarun@gmail.com

  • Kyle

    “but its language has almost nothing in common with any of the many European languages surrounding it”

    Um… well… you know… there’s the whole thing about how Hungarian uses the Latin alphabet.

  • Melissa Kunsabo

    My husband and his family were from hungary and they wanted me to learn as much as I could before I go over to Europe to meet the in-laws who no zero English… Szia was like instantly the easiest word to remember… But my inlaws all speak Hungarian around me amongst themselves and when i hear a lot of words repeated that I don’t know I ask what it means and I find that has been helping me retain the language pretty good. But I think I’m going to try this Rosetta stone. But I know I certainly have the upper hand at learning this since I have English Hungarian family to practice with.

  • Claire

    Hiya, myself and my boyfriend need to learn Hungarian pretty quickly and I was wondering what kind of books and online resources you used? For us going to Hungary is completely unfeasible and as we live in Uruguay getting a teacher seems to be near impossible. Any recommendations?!

  • rachel

    i would realy like to learn hungarian. is this is a good website to learn off?