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My first weeks in Budapest: Hungarian mission update

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It's been a few weeks since I arrived in Hungary and got my teeth into my latest mission. I had a bumpy start, but got over it and am on schedule towards my end goal! So it's time for a mission update! 🙂

Starting with grammar: great in theory, but not useful for speaking

Since I started this new mission while I was still doing my input experiment, I wanted to wrap it up by seeing if starting to learn a language purely by studying grammar had any benefits to it. I usually start learning with phrasebooks and it has been very helpful for me to speak quicker in the past. I wanted to see if a better understanding of the structure of a language would make a positive impact, especially considering how different Hungarian's grammar is to other languages I know.

Unfortunately, it didn't help at all for communicating in the language, since I was totally missing the words and phrases I need to say things. I should have known this after everything I've said about too much study but it was worth a try for the purposes of experimenting. I'm always up for refining my learning approach, but in this particular case I'll stick with what I know works in future!

This was supposed to just be for the last two weeks while in Berlin, but the disadvantage of starting to study grammar is you see all the bits you don't know and need to keep studying to fill in the extra missing pieces. I actually enjoy learning grammar believe it or not – I find it interesting, especially due to my more technical background as an engineer… even if some grammar points don't actually help me speak immediately, so they are pretty much worthless from a short-term conversational point of view.

This meant that for several weeks, I was stuck just learning how Hungarian grammar worked! I didn't spend this time on it because it was “hard” – I would only actually put a few hours into it when in Berlin (wanted to enjoy the city while I could!), and while at an Esperanto conference in Pécs south of Budapest. So the first three weeks were actually a very inefficient ten or so hours of total work. Not a good start, especially considering my looming deadline!

All the focus on grammar did have one big advantage though, which has been helpful in taking on what I was told was one of the world's hardest languages – I have a very particular way of tackling a language, which involves being a constant positive filter to all information that comes my way and I applied this to Hungarian to see what could be easy in it and found many answers!

This has meant that I have “gotten over” this supposedly worst part of the language already and can very confidently talk anyone down who dares to suggest that Hungarian is hard ;). I have a list of many reasons – they have never met the likes of me 😛

Why German is easy

I did the same with German and found many reasons to consider the language easy. This attitude was one of the main reasons I was successful in making enough progress to pass the majority of the C2 exam, even though I considered German to be very hard the first time round when I learned it in school. I have gathered many of these reasons together and written another guide which I will be releasing on Thursday.

When beginner to intermediate learners who are currently struggling with German will read it, they will see German in a new light. It will be called Why German is easy and include different e-book formats as well as several important extra files. The price will be $29 for the first version, but anyone who has already bought or buys the Language Hacking Guide by Thursday will get e-mailed a discount to get it at $19 (as well as an update to the Language Hacking Guide itself: a 55 minute interview with polyglot Stu Jay Raj).

I think both guides would work excellently together as one is about the entire learning strategy that helps me speak languages quicker and the other will be about getting around grammar and vocabulary issues specifically found in German, so that the language becomes easier. More on that on Thursday though!

Speaking milestones in Hungarian

After the event in Pécs, I have been living in Budapest for a total of two weeks now. I tried to dive straight into vocabulary, but kept going back to the grammar book for some closure to try to finish it; it's interesting, and giving me more reasons to say that Hungarian really isn't that bad… but it wasn't helping me speak!

I went to some Couchsurfing meetings and could successfully talk several people down who would try to fill me with doom and gloom about my chances of this mission being a success, based on facts from the language itself (which I'll elaborate on some time later), however… I was doing it in English! Definitely not part of the core of what has helped me in languages in the past.

Arguing quite well about how easy Hungarian is… but still not being able to talk my way out of a cardboard box in the language itself kind of made most of my arguments moot. Studying too much grammar turned me into a theoretician!

Luckily I've been getting through the words and phrases and one week ago had my first spontaneous five minute conversation with someone entirely in Hungarian. A big struggle to bring all the new vocabulary to the surface and construct the sentences in the completely different way, as well as attempt to figure out what was being said to me, but I made it and was happy for it. But I didn't stop there…

On Friday I went out with some Hungarians and spent two hours conversing in the language (in a noisy bar no less, with my drink of choice as always). Of course, I am extremely limited in my scope of vocabulary so I used all my usual tricks to keep the conversation flowing, and spoke every single word of Hungarian that I had learned up to then. I did need lots of words to be translated to me, but most of the conversation was in Hungarian. They enjoyed talking to me and told me my Hungarian is really good considering the short time I've been here.

What I am really happy about is that I can honestly say that my main problem with Hungarian is just that I need to put the work into learning vocabulary. Even the vocabulary itself is not that bad at all, since it follows very logical rules – I just need to work at it and learn the basics and essentials as quickly as possible. I am already used to the sound of the language and the grammar was not bad at all when you look at it the right way. Most of my non-speaking work will be expanding on my vocabulary using SRS and image association, and using as much of it as possible with people.

So despite the very slow start, I am actually exactly on schedule! My current level is struggling to get by in real conversations, but just about making it – this is way below the level of confident conversation I am hoping to reach by October, but I'm on track!

Life in Budapest

Just before heading down to Pécs, I had one day in Budapest and took the whole day to flat hunt. I've done this many times in new cities and have learned how to find the right place for me quickly. In the end I decided to go for a gorgeous modern apartment between Váci utca (a famous street in Budapest) and the Danube. I can see both from my window! This is pretty much right in the centre of touristy Pest.

Despite the ideal location and huge amount of space I have to myself, with an entire spare bedroom for my Couchsurfers, and two air-conditioners etc. My rent here is less here than what it was for my place in Berlin and in many other cities I've lived in. Travelling to interesting locations for a few months does not require you to inherit a fortune.

I'll make a video of my gorgeous flat later this week and post a link up on the site's Facebook page (like it to see that in your News Feed).

Most people recommend you go out to live in a hidden corner or village for language immersion, but I like to be in the middle of the action. There are more English speakers here than anywhere else in the country, but that just makes the challenge even more fun ;). A short walk or tram ride brings me to cheap vegetarian places to eat and where locals hang out.

Since I was on schedule by last week, it meant I could take the last week to focus on writing the German guide based on the notes I had made over four months in Berlin. When that is released into the wild (and hopefully gives me enough sales to cover my next flight!) I can focus on making swift progress in the language over the next seven weeks. I can also get back to writing more actively on the blog since I have been down to a post a week recently while I settled in. I've got some fun stuff planned for September! 😀

I've been making several friends – the majority of whom are Hungarian, and they have all been very encouraging and extremely helpful, especially when they see how serious I am about learning their language. I really like this city and can already tell I'll be disappointed to leave it in October!

I haven't really gotten to know the city yet as I never try to see everything in my first weeks. From this weekend I'll be investing more time into living and socialising through Hungarian and spending as much time as possible out and about, since I feel I've studied it enough. I will spend most of my time learning vocabulary on the tram on my way to meeting up with people 🙂

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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