Learning Hungarian is an emotional rollercoaster and a love-hate relationship for many. Its peculiarity is a curse and a blessing at the same time and between all the suffixes, the vocal harmony and a vocabulary that sounds and looks extraterrestrial you might find yourself asking: “Why the hell am I doing this?!”. Ask no more. We’re here to get you back on the love-side and show you that learning Hungarian is SO worth it. So whenever you’re fighting your inner temptation to just stop, read through our 35 good reasons to keep going. Enjoy!
1. Learning Hungarian can be Great Fun!
Sure, choking on grammar lessons definitely has nothing funny about it, but Hungarian sayings, proverbs and phrases often elicit smiles and laughter. Even from native speakers, whenever they think about what they actually just said.
Here are a few examples of proverbs that just make too much sense:
“Örülök, hogy lyuk van a fenekemen.” – I’m happy to have a hole in my butt.
Meaning: I really have bigger problems than what you just said.
“Álljon már meg a fáklyás menet!” – Stop the torchlight procession!
Meaning: I’ve really had it with your demands / ideas / doing favours for you.
“Úgy vagyok, mint a mosott szar.” – I feel like laundered excrements.
Meaning: I feel like shit.
“Szarból nem lehet várat építeni.” – You can’t build a castle out of shit.
Meaning: The requirements for something are not met. / The preconditions are not good enough to accomplish a certain thing.
“Kevés, mint a lókolbászban a patkódobogás” – As little, as the gallop-sound in a horse-sausage.
Meaning: The amount of something is clearly not enough.
“Ez mindennek a csimborasszója” – That’s the Chimborazo of everything.
Meaning: That is so over the top (in rudeness, for example). Note that the Chimborazo is a volcano in Ecquador and its summit is the farthest point on Earth away from the Earth’s centre. Makes sense, right?
No idea, who invented these but it must’ve been a witty bunch.
2. … And it’s Easier than You Think
We are big advocates of seeing Hungarian as being “different” instead of “hard”. Sure, you could find a million reasons that will reinforce the belief that Hungarian is impossible to learn, but why on earth should you do that? Instead, find some arguments for why it is easy. Here are a few:
You Have a Myriad of International Words to Start with
There is a widely-spread belief that Hungarian doesn’t borrow any words from any other language in the world and that you have to start completely from scratch to understand a single thing. This couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact, Hungarian has lots and lots of international words, which are far from being random niche-expressions. In fact, we took the time and sat down to gather all international words we could think of in the Hungarian language and came up with ***drumrolls*** 505 of them! Sure, it’s not much when compared to Spanish or German, but it will still give you a great starting point and will lower your doubts about where to start learning. Access them here and be astonished by how much you can already say about so many areas of your life without learning anything, really. Think of relationships, politics, food, dating, or your hobbies And never whine about not knowing anything in Hungarian again.
It’s an entirely Phonetic Language
You’ll actually see really quick results once you’ve mastered the alphabet (which is peanuts, really!) since, unlike in English, you’ll be able to read and pronounce everything afterwards. The Hungarian alphabet is (with very few exceptions) entirely phonetic. Its 44 letters make possible just that. So don’t whine about the strange letter combos cs, sz, zs & co. but regard them rather as a blessing. The language would be a lot harder if you only had the English alphabet.
No Grammatical Genders
Hungary was gender-neutral before it was cool. You can learn every noun just as it is and don’t have to remember any accompanying article. This is an inexpressible relief for everyone who learned German, Spanish or Italian.
The Tenses are a Walk in the Park
There is only one past, one present and one future tense whose formations are child’s play compared to English and German tenses. Just think of “Plusquamperfekt” (German) or the “present perfect continuous” in English – it still gives us the creeps. Well, look forward to not be dealing with any of that in Hungarian.
In fact, you can learn the Hungarian present tense in 30 minutes here!
3. It will not be Expensive
You don’t have to visit expensive courses or teachers to learn the language, since there are so many free and low-cost resources.
Go for the community tutors of italki, a language-exchange platform. An hour of practicing with a local via Skype will cost you less than $10.
Bonus: If you use this link for iTalki, you will receive $10 you can redeem for your fist lesson!
Receive one Hungarian Word a Day for Free
You can always join us and receive one Hungarian word per day completely free of charge – a great way to commit five minutes of your day and learn something new.
Check out Our Mini Lessons
Duolingo sure has it’s drawbacks (their example-phrases are often beyond curious) but it’s completely free and great for beginners to get a feeling for the language and its words.
Go to Language Meetups
There are numerous meetups in Budapest that revolve around practicing Hungarian together. Budapest Language Exchange hosts Magyar meetups every second Monday in various locations all over the city. A great option to meet some new faces, too!
You can also integrate Hungarian into your everyday-life passively without really doing anything you wouldn’t do otherwise. There are many options to surround yourself with a language in a natural, unforced-way. Here are our eight ideas for that; definitely let us know if you can think of more!
Learn the Grammar Online, and for Free
Hungarian reference is a great page for everything grammar-related. Daniel Clarke, the owner, likes girls, beer and smart people and dislikes redneck morons. And he did an awesome job summarizing and explaining the rules of the Hungarian grammar.
Join Relevant Facebook Groups
There are numerous facebook groups dedicated to learning Hungarian, where you can ask any question you might possibly have regarding the language. The people there are really helpful and you’re sure to get an answer within minutes. Here is a list of our favourite facebook-groups when learning Hungarian.
Meet and Chat in a Cool Café
The guys at Fungarian will give you a quick boost in the basics in one hour. Their group-classes are held at various nice cafés in the inner city for 25 bucks and show you around additionally for a total of 40. A great option if you’re new in town and want to combine a bit of language-learning with meeting new people and getting to know Budapest.
So don’t fret – pick the option that appeals to you most and just start – there’s no reason not to.
Sign Up for Our Free Course
If listening and understanding fast, spoken Hungarian in the crucible of conversation – worry not! We have dedicated an entire (and 100% free!) video- & email course to this topic.
4. … And there are SO Many Great Resources out there!
The times when resources for learning Hungarian were scarce, boring and obsolete are over and there is an abundance of great courses, apps and smart tools you can choose from to kick of you’re learning:
For months, ambitious Hungarian learners have asked us where they can find natural, spoken conversational audio accompanied by all the necessary material, like transcripts, vocabulary lists and translations. This audio course is all of this and more – an intriguing course consisting of 20 everyday Hungarian conversations coming at three different speeds. We have created this course with you in mind in order to skyrocket your Hungarian listening- and conversational skills in less than 90 days.
Glossika is another wonderful resource that focusses on learning Hungarian in a very natural way. With teaching you entire sentences spoken by locals at normal, conversational speed and by using advanced spaced repetition it is bound to give you a steep learning curve. We recommend you use Glossika if you’re a self-learner looking for a steady daily study-routine and like learning entire sentences at once, accompanied by audio.
A complete platform that grants you access to plenty of audio- video- and reading material on multiple levels from complete beginner to advanced. All of this comes along with vocabulary lists, grammar tips, cultural insights and more. Highly recommended for learners of any stage including absolute beginners. The lessons of HungarianPod101 are especially for you if you are looking for a way to ease into the language with short, accessible material, at your own pace.
… and there are so many more! Just check out this exhaustive list of our 39 best Hungarian-learning resources!
5. … Which Will Pay off, since You’ll Save Money
Although the classical rip-off scenarios on Budapest’s streets have fortunately almost completely diminished, knowing at least a little bit of Hungarian can still save you some considerable bucks:
You get way cheaper bus tickets using the Hungarian site of Flixbus and making your transaction in Hungarian Forints, instead of Euros. For a bus-ticket to Vienna for example, you save up to 6€ one way!
When it comes to flat rentals, foreigners often pay more than the locals do. This is, because many flat-owners (mostly in the inner districts) rent to foreigners only and charge a higher price than someone who’s flat is not that exceptionally well-located and, thus, advertised mainly to locals. There is a whole bunch of Hungarian facebook groups dealing with flat-rentals you’ll get access to with a little Hungarian skills. Check here, or here, for example. Furthermore, one of the biggest real-estate portals of the country is solely in Hungarian. You’ll have a much bigger pool to choose from than from the Expat- and Erasmus-centred rental communities.
Also, many restaurants simply don’t state their way-cheaper daily menus in English on their facebook- and homepages and at the place themselves. This is simply, because they make way more profit if you order á la carte. Learn to ask for the daily menu and understand what it says. Often, this is a super cheap option to gain insight into the Hungarian kitchen without all the fuzz and eating out at a fancy place. Daily menus usually are local delicacies very similar to what people used to cook at home.
The biggest savings you’ll make with some Hungarian-knowledge is definitely with handymen. Hungary is currently in an awful-position when it comes to the supply of blue-collar workers, since many of them left to Western Europe for significantly higher wages. Those who stayed here are few and they often charge prices that are nothing but daylight robbery. Especially, when it comes to foreigners. Next time you have to call a handyman, let your Hungarian skills shine and you’ll probably in for half the price.
6. You Can Get Street-Smart Really Quick
While grasping and truly understanding the language might take you a little while, getting street smart and becoming solid in your everyday life will not. You will sure make mistakes, but who cares as long as you can get your point across. Start with baby steps, like ordering in Hungarian, greeting with “Sziasztok” and saying “Köszi” instead of thanks. Build your vocabulary around what you need daily and expand it gradually. You don’t have to be even close to fluent before actually starting communicating. You’ll never be perfect at the language (even most Hungarians aren’t) so start using what you know and start it today.
7. Don’t Worry, You Can Take it in Small Pieces
You definitely don’t have to study the ins and outs of the language before actually speaking it. Focus on the vocab you’ll need in the next situation you’ll probably encounter, build a script of all questions and phrases you might encounter and just go for it. Do this for multiple situations and you will quickly gain momentum. We’ve heard of so many people who don’t even start because of overwhelm and limiting beliefs about how Hungarian is impossible to learn. Don’t let these get you down. Do it your own pace and you’ll prove ‘em wrong.
8. You’ll Get Access to the Simple Things
We gain our greatest insights into a culture from simple things. Think of conversations with taxi drivers. Those guys invariably know about the best bars and restaurants and they have live updates about where the party is good and where you’ll probably find no one. Or get random recommendations from vendors. We’ve often received “hot tips” from market stall owners, for example about where the meat or the vegetables are particularly good. People are always happy to share their insider tips with you if they feel that you’re on the same page.
9. … And You’ll be Taken Seriously
Allow yourself to be seen as a local instead of a tourist. People will take you more seriously instantly. Instead of simplifying your English in order to be understood (which is ridiculous by the way) go with your rudimentary Hungarian so that people regard you as someone willing to grapple with the country you’re living in, not the other way round.
10. Bargaining will be so much Easier
Although heavy bargaining in Budapest has mostly become a thing of the past, there are still spots and situations where knowing the language can definitely get you a better deal:
Here, think of the classical ones, not the hipstery-ones. There, the vendors are much more likely to offer discounts, especially if you buy multiple pieces.ö Have you been to Bakancsos utcai Bolhapiac already? It’s in the Rákoskeresztúr-area of the XVII district (yes, that’s still Budapest!) and there are plenty more, if you’re willing to dig a bit before finding a treasure
You can definitely bargain with your handyman, especially if he doesn’t provide you with a bill. Make sure to agree on the price beforehand.
If you’re willing to live outside of the very centre of Budapest, you can definitely negotiate on your rental fees, especially if you know some Hungarian.
11. Re-Wire Your Brain!
Hungarian might not be a walk in the park at all times but learning it will definitely train your brain in ways much different from other languages.It’s like being in a gym, lifting weights and running for your sharper mind! And there are hardly any other languages that will give you such a thrill and ego-boost every time you understand the meaning of something, anything.
Also, as weird as this may sound: Hungarian is not entirely nonsensical and can very well teach you something about logic. As you sure know, Hungarian is agglutinative, meaning it “glues” suffixes to the verbs, nouns and adjectives. The word root – the core meaning is always in the centre; everything else is secondary. With my children would thus translate to “gyerekeimmel”, which literally means children-my-with. Sounds plausible, right?
Hungarians generally like to start with roots, when it comes to their language. In Hungarian, you start with your surname when introducing yourself – with your origins. Even if you’ve broken all your family-ties a long time ago.
Or think of dates. While in English, you start with the day, go on with the month and end a date with the year, Hungarians start with – you guessed it right! – the year. The core of when something happened; the first thing you need to know to establish a temporal reference in your brain.
You’ll have to admit that this makes sense.
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12. You’ll Automatically Learn New Words just by Opening Your Mouth
You’ll figure soon once you dare start talking that by knowing just a few words, you actually know a lot more others, too. Well, more or less. Maybe you want to order two beers (“két sör”), but instead you order two pieces of body hair (“két szőr”). Trust us, once that happens, you’ll never forget neither sör, nor szőr again. Or you want to read out the complicated word on police cars (“rendőrség”) but say police-ass (“rendőrsegg”) instead. And there you go: Another beautiful word just made it to your long-term memory.
13. … And You’ll Learn to Express the Difficult Things in Life with One Word only
You love someone? Just say “Szeretlek”, instead of “I love you”. Missing that person? “Hiányzol!”. You’ve had it and you want to leave someone? “Elhagylak.”. It’s consensual? “Szakitsunk!” Simplify your life and stop searching for words in the most difficult and emotionally demanding situations of your life. Start learning Hungarian today!
14. In so many Cases, You Can Hit Multiple Words with One Stone
If you think about Hungarian words and their meaning, many of them make quite good sense. Let us show you:
- Felhő – Cloud + Up + Heat – “Felhő” is the word for cloud and it consists of “fel”, meaning “up” and “hő”, meaning “heat”. The literal translation would be “upheat”. And we’ve all learned in school that a cloud develops, whenever water becomes hot air and flies up into the sky. Sounds plausible, right?
- Gyógyszertár – Pharmacy + Cure + Medicine + Means + Warehouse – “Gyógyszertár” is the word for pharmacy, but it consists of so many things. “Gyógyszer” is the medicine itself, while you can decompose that further in “gyógy” (cure) and “szer” (means) and thus, a means to cure. And these means to cure get stored in a “tár” (warehouse). So, the Hungarian word for pharmacy actually means a warehouse where you store your means to cure.
15. Simplify Your Everyday-Life!
Sure, you can get by with English, but you can get by even better with Hungarian! Especially if you are shopping and have any questions. Or if you want your food spicy, but just a bit. If you have to ask for directions. Or if you want to read the street signs. Or are looking for a plumber. Or staring at a webpage that hasn’t been translated to English. Ever been to a “hivatal” (administrative office) yet? How about the Posta?
I’m sure you can think of even more areas, where knowing the language of the country you live in has benefitted you. Tell us about them below in the comments!
16. Understand the Food and Menus
You’ll see the same stuff over and over again on the English menus of restaurants, simply because some dishes are not quite translatable to English. So the menu will state just “Goulash” instead of “Pörkölt”, although Pörkölt is rather a stew than a soup. Or know, what Somlói Galuska means, since “Hungarian Trifle” isn’t quite good enough. Or learn the differences between “halászlé” (fish soup) and “halleves” (fish soup). “Kolbász” is no sausage in the classical sense The same applies to “savanyúság”, translated as pickles. And “főzelék” is not the stew you’re probably used to.
Are you allergiás to something? Or a picky eater? Don’t ever shy away again, because you don’t understand the menus. Learn what’s important to you and eat with confidence at not only English-friendly places.
Also note, that many restaurants only post their lunch menus in Hungarian on webpage or facebook (since they don’t want to target foreigners with their cheaper options).
17. Hungarian is a Beautiful and Super-Diverse Language
Of course, every language has its benefits and is beautiful in its own way. In Hungarian, this manifests itself especially in the diversity. Here are some examples:
For some words, there are so many synonyms that even Hungarians lose count. Think of the simple word “megy” (to go) and see for yourself:
- Jár – to walk or to go somewhere regularly
- Sétál – another word for walking
- Botorkál – to walk insecurely, stumbling and groping about
- Lépdel – the opposite of “botorkál” – to walk in a secure, elegant manner
- Kódorog – to walk without a particular goal in mind – similar to straying
- Kóborol – another word for straying
- Csavarog – and another one.
- Bóklászik – you walk while looking for something or looking at things, taking in your surroundings.
- Andalog – mostly used, when couples go for a walk. It’s like walking and forgetting your surroundings. Strolling while dreaming away.
- Rohan – to “race”, or “sprint”, but not for competition purposes. You “rohan” if you are really in a hurry or when you are chasing a thief.
- Siet – you are in a hurry, but not as much, as when you “rohan”.
- Lohol – you are in a hurry somewhere between “rohan” and “siet”
- Sprintel – this is the word for running for competition purposes
- Csörtet – when you violently break your way through something, like a crowd, a mess or a thick forest on your way
- Somfordál – you walk sheepishly – you have a bad conscience
… and we could go on, but we don’t want to exhaust you.
A fine distinction between expressions
Hungarian has two words for love. “Szerelem” is the romantic version, while you can “szeret” everyone, not just your partner. But you can still szeret your partner, with szerelem, ideally.
Also, “piros” and “vörös” both mean red. But not everything that’s piros, can be vörös, and the other way round. Children’s items (books, pencils, a cap,…) are always piros. So is the upper colour of the Hungarian flag. And all the fruits (apples, berries…). Vörös on the other hand originates from blood (“vér”) and is usually the word for more combative, darker things. The soviet military was vörös. So are hell, the devil, demons and the red light district. And red wine. Usually. But also Mars is vörös, as well as sunrises and sunsets. Nothing evil about those, right?
18. … and it will Help You Gain way Better Insight into Hungarian Culture
Get Access to all Kinds of Hungarian Arts
only by understanding Hungarian will you have access to all aspects of the culture. Think music, comedy, theatres, literature, poetry, proverbs, slang expressions and so much more (more on these later). Sure, a lot of the stuff is synchronized, but even then it’s never the same; the essence of the thing is too often too well connected with the language and gets lost in translation. Just think of the revelation of Hodor’s name in Game of Thrones and imaging watching that in scene in Hungarian (Tartsd az ajtót!”) It doesn’t work.
Understand the Various Slang Expressions
While Hungarian slang expressions and swear words are both amusing and horrifying at the same time, they also somehow help to understand how Hungarians express their true inner feelings, which are not always shiny.
This is of course not only true to Hungarian – learning the language is always the key to understanding the culture and heritage of a country.
19. Understand Your own Culture Better
Learning Hungarian (or any language) will not only teach you about another culture, but also a lot about your own.
If you’ve been flooded by a proper 60-seconds full-on Hungarian swear-monologue once, because someone didn’t agree with how you were driving, you might start wondering what the hell is going on in this country. If you’re from an Asian country, probably nothing could be further from you and your culture to start yelling at people on the street. And you’ll see that probably your culture is not as hotheaded. That problems are handled differently. Don’t worry though, Hungarians are quick-tempered, but not unforgiving. Once the yelling is over, the case is usually closed. The exact opposite might be true for your culture.
We’re not saying this is either good or bad and every cultural aspect has its pros and cons. But walk with open eyes and an open mind and you’ll notice these differences. And see that while everyone is equal, we’re still not the same.
… and before we receive a proper Hungarian shitstorm: Of course these are stereotypes and of course everyone is different in personality. We’re sure there are lots of even-tempered and unforgiving Hungarians out there, as well as there sure are Thais that lose it sometimes. Still, we think that stereotypes have their right to exist, as long as you see them as what they are, instead of as a right to judge someone.
If you’re with us here, we’d love to hear what learning Hungarian has taught you about your culture so far in the comments!
20. … Or Discover Your Roots
During the 20th century, especially the communist regime, many Hungarians fled to various parts of the world and settled down for a probably better life. Many of our readers state their Hungarian ancestors as a reason to learn some Hungarian and we can only encourage that! So if your grandparents are or were Hungarian, do yourself a favour and discover your roots a bit to understand them better. Also, if they’re still alive they probably still speak the language, which leaves you with an excellent opportunity to learn.
21. Learning Hungarian is Something Different and Unique to Do
Yes, you can most definitely brag about learning and knowing some Hungarian! While learning Spanish, French or German probably evokes nothing else from your mates than a weary smile, be sure that everyone will ask you to “Say something!!!”, once you come up with Hungarian. Be sure to have a cool saying up your sleeves.
22. It’s also a Truly Rewarding Experience
We’re really speaking from our own experience here. Hungarians will appreciate every effort you make in learning their language and they’ll be more than willing to help you learn something new. If you’re unsure of where to start practicing in a real-life setting, go to a market apart from the central market hall (where not every vendor speaks English) and start ordering your fruits and vegetables. Or order your dishes in Hungarian in a local restaurant. You don’t need extensive vocabulary for that; it’s nothing you cannot soak up in about thirty minutes. The least you can earn is quite a few smiles. Oh, and don’t worry about your pronunciation, Hungarians will know what you want to say!
23. You can Enhance Budapest’s Reputation as an Ignorant Party-Haven
Budapest gets lots of stag-doers, party-backpackers and tourists that simply don’t know how to behave. We’re not saying these are bad people, but they certainly act bad when urinating on the middle of the streets and on house walls. Be different! Not just by not urinating and vomiting on the streets, but by engaging a bit with the culture and the language. Be a good example and show that Budapest’s foreigners are more than a bunch of drunk idiots.
24. You’ll Discover a Fully New Part of the Internet
The Hungarian internet-scape is alive and kicking and it definitely shows. There are so many great bloggers, Instagrammers and Youtubers out there to follow that we could go on about this forever. Here is a whole article about the best blogs and social media channels to follow when living in Budapest. Take a look and let a whole new world of internet open up in front of you.
25. Understand Hungarian Lyrics and visit Off-the-Path Festivals
Hungary has produced some amazing bands with lyrics ranging from hilarious or politically critical to deep and meaningful.
The bands you could listen to are literally endless and surely everyone has their own taste.
- Kivándorló Blues (“Emigration Blues”) is a great song of Quimby, a rock-band from Dunaújváros which is all about how it can hurt to leave Hungary for other countries, but how the political-, work- or other situations often require it.
- Èlvezd (Enjoy it!) from Punnany Massif on the other hand was the summer hit of 2012 and it’s all about not worrying too much and enjoying life. Super uplifting!
- Legalább én még tükörbe tudok nézni (“At least I can still look in the mirror”) is an older song of the famous punk band Alvin és a Mókusok (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”) and it’s about the corruption going on in the country and how most people don’t have entirely clean hands.
- Wellhello is a contemporary classic. It’s pop music that somehow speaks to everyone in the country and their concerts are regularly filled. Listen to “Apu vedd meg” (Daddy, buy me); a hilarious song about rich kids.
- Or turn on Bëlga`s “Az a baj” (That`s the problem) and get used to being never able to satisfy everyone or even anyone. And never forget the expression “az a baj” again.
Can’t get enough? Here is our ultimate guide to the Hungarian music scene with loads of bands from various centuries waiting for you to listen to.
Don’t forget that there’s more to Hungarian festivals than Sziget and Balaton Sound. The others are much smaller and attract a rather Hungarian crowd, but you will meet exactly these bands there. And they’re a lot cheaper. Next summer, head to Volt Fesztivál or Fishing on Orfű, or visit to some bands at the amazing Művészetek Völgye. By that time, the bands that are playing there will mean something to you which will make these festivals an even greater experience!
26. See and Understand Hungarian Movies and Cartoons
Although Hungary rarely produced any blockbusters, the country still has some amazing (even Oscar-winning!) movies.
- Check out Valami Amerika (“Some kind of America) 1 & 2 for (relatively) recent classics. They’re definitely no artistic masterpieces, but the dialogues end jokes are so essentially Hungarian and it will give you a great crash course in (very) colloquial speech.
- Kontroll is another famous one, although of completely different genre. It’s a funny but dark thriller playing in Budapest’s underground network.
- If you need a crash course in history and are wondering what the 1956-revolution meant to Hungary and why so many places, streets and statues around the city and even a bank holiday are dedicated to its victims, watch Szabadság, Szerelem (Children of Glory). A wonderful depiction of these rather dark days for Hungary.
- Saul Fia (“Son of Saul”) received the Oscar for the best foreign language film in 2016, and deservedly so. It’s nothing uplifting, but depicts life in the Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- Mindenki (“Sing”) got an Oscar in 2017 for being the best live action short film and tells the story of a school choir in the early 90s, based on true events.
This list could basically go on forever, since there are so many great Hungarian movies to which some language learning can provide access, so we’ve gathered a few more lists for you to find your favourites. Here is another great collection of of top Hungarian movies to watch, and here is one with Hungarian films depicting social realism. Or watch these movies with subtitles.
That said, you’ll find most of these movies either entirely in English or at least with English subtitles, so don’t fear if you feel that your language skills aren’t there yet.
If you have kids (or you happen to be one), knowing Hungarian will give you access to a whole new world of cartoons.
Ever heard of TV-Maci, the little bear that brought every kid to bed in the from the 60s till the early 2000s on? Or the chaotic practice of Doktor Bubó? Ever watched the freaky Mézga Family? Well, if not, do it today. These and many more cartoons were shaping whole Hungarian generations. So much, that my dad still uses the cover song of “The Mézga Family” as his ringtone, although he turned 53 this year.
See a list of the best Hungarian cartoons here and enjoy being a Hungarian child for a few hours.
27. … Or Escape into a whole New World of Literature
Indulge in the Books of Hungarian Writers
Hungary may be on the low-end of international bestsellers, but Hungarians think extraordinarily highly of their writers and poets. In fact, all Hungarian kids have a subject called “Hungarian literature” in school, which is dedicated to almost nothing else than the works and lives of these people. I have to admit that many of them bored the hell out of me during my school years (this doesn’t mean that they aren’t great literary pieces, though!) but there are so many Hungarian books I find brilliant.
The books of Magda Szabó (Abigél (“Abigail”), and Az Ajtó (“The Door”) in particular) and Sándor Márai (e.g. A gyertyák csonkig égnek (“The Candles Burn Down to the Stump”)) are among my favourites, but we don’t want to bias you.
Here is a great list of recent and contemporary Hungarian authors to start with. And a further eight and another ten rather classical pieces that will introduce you to the country’s literature.
Admittedly, reading a whole book in Hungarian can be a rough undertaking, especially if you’re a beginner but don’t fret – all of these pieces are available in English, too. If you’re already advanced in Hungarian, try reading your favourite parts of the books simultaneously and you’ll find that some idioms and expressions are simply untranslatable to English.
Fall Down a Rabbit-Hole of Poetry
If you’re a fan of poetry, Hungarian poems can transfer you into a whole different world. Sándor Petőfi is the country’s most famous poet and his “End of September (Szeptember végén)” is a beautiful piece about getting older and dealing with death.
“The Gull (A Sirály)” from Zoltán Zelk is a heartbreaking poem about complete forlornness and gut-wrenching grief. Admittedly, it’s a dark world in which you’ll get transferred, since Hungarian poets often tended to be depressive and forlorn themselves. But that’s what makes their pieces so heartbreaking and beautiful.
And here are 30 more of the most beautiful pieces of Hungarian poetry for you.
Note that unlike books, most Hungarian poems have not and simply cannot be translated into English, so learning some Hungarian is essential for grabbing their essence.
If literature, books and poetry are your thing, here are 12 more interesting facts about Hungarian literature that you probably didn’t know.
28. Get Access to the whole Variety of Theatres and Musicals
Although some theatres have English surtitles, your options are quadrupled if you understand the language, since most theatre’s simply don’t cater to foreigners.
First of all, you can see any play at the National Theatre or the more conveniently located Belvárosi Színház (“City Centre Theatre”). If you prefer smaller ones with a more familiar atmosphere, definitely check out Szkéné Színház, the little theatre of the technical university. They often have amateur plays, too. We’re sure you’ve passed Örkény Színház on Madách Square many times. Knowing some Hungarian, you might as well pop in next time! Or dress up into your favourite evening gown and visit Vígszínház (“Happy Theatre”), the probably most ostentatious one of Budapest.
29. Go to Pub Quizzes
We love pub quizzes! Unfortunately, we haven’t found a single one in English in Budapest (if you did, definitely let us know!). Quizzone hosts regular pub quizzes in Hungarian in multiple cool bars of Budapest. Often there are even more than one per night at different locations. Knowing some Hungarian is the key to them. Of course you can always go with Hungarian friends if you feel that your language skills aren’t good enough yet. These events are, after all, about having fun, a few drinks and bringing in your general knowledge and the mostly short pub quiz questions are quickly translated to English.
30. Get along in the Countryside and even beyond the Borders
It’s often hard to believe that Hungary is actually made up of more than just the inner districts of Budapest. We’re just too often in our daily bubbles. But once you’re out of them, English won’t get you far anymore (unless, of course, you stay in areas of the countryside that are frequented by tourists). But why not learn the basics and staying in much cheaper homestays on the countryside?
Zebegény at the Danube Bend is an amazing option for a weekend getaway with lots of family-run little places (read our 4-day itinerary here).
Or make your way to Pécs or Debrecen and soak up these little student towns.
Visit Lake Balaton (even in winter! We Love Balaton has you covered.) and don’t stick to Balatonfüred and Siófok, but check out the other little villages scattered around the “Hungarian sea” which are just as beautiful and way cheaper.
You can also enjoy the land of szilva (plum) in Szabolcs Szatmár Bereg County on the Romanian-Ukrainian border and stuff yourself with plum-jam and get drunk on plum-pálinka. That area around the Tisza (the other big river of Hungary after the Danube) was frequented by famous Hungarian poets and it’s a beautiful part of the country perfect for biking, almost untouched by tourism.
Beyond the Borders
You don’t have to stick to Hungary by the way to be able to converse in Hungarian. Hop across the border to Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Northern Croatia or Serbia and figure that Hungarian is the mother tongue of many people living in these regions. These people are part of the so-called Hungarian diaspora that mainly exists because of peace-negotiations after World War I.
Many homestays in these regions do not provide any information on the web in English and do not speak the language either, so knowing a bit of Hungarian will enhance your options and stay significantly.
31. Know Your Ingredients!
If you’re health-conscious, it’s quite handy to know what’s inside the stuff you’re buying. While some important products do have an English list of ingredients on them, many only say what’s inside only in Hungarian. This is especially important if you’re allergic to something and it’s essential for you that you know all ingredients.
32. … and your Celebrities!
If you’re a fan of trashy magazines, the fabulous world of Hungarian celebrities will take this passion of yours to a whole new level. Learn how the magyar starlets burn fat, fight their menopause and why they were bullied at school (but still managed to become famous). Story Magazin is a brilliant starting point; their articles are short and the messages always come through loud and clear. And they cover the international world, too. We just learned that Pamela Anderson uses royal jelly to stay young and beautiful. And we just googled royal jelly. You live and learn!
33. Hungarian Makes a Perfect Code Language
Hungarian is a surefire code language which won’t be understood anywhere else than in Hungary and approx. 100km from its borders (if you want to be on the extra safe side). If you need privacy but aren’t by yourselves, Hungarian can get in really handy. Trust us, we’ve tried and tested this all across the globe.
34. Because You are not at Home anymore
Don’t take this the wrong way but we argue that moving to a foreign country and not even trying to learn the language is just plain rude. You don’t have to be business professional by any means but give it a try to speak Hungarian whenever you can, since the locals are definitely not under any obligation to speak English. Sure, you’ll probably have no problems whatsoever in districts I, V, VII, VIII and IX but at all the others, as well as in rural Hungary, saying “Egészségedre” might not suffice anymore. Make an effort and you’ll see results quicker than you think!
35. Because Hungarian Women are the most Beautiful
Is this cheesy? It sure is! But for some reason, there is this myth circulating (especially among Hungarians themselves), that Hungarian women are the most beautiful creatures in the whole entire world. If you’re doubtful, check out this facebook-page (with a stunning 300.000 advocates) as proof and see for yourself. If you agree, knowing some Hungarian can definitely be an asset. Or agree with us, that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.
36. Because You’re a Rock Star!
Most tourists and even lots of expats really don’t bother to learn any of the language while they’re here. Be different, surprise the locals and enhance your stay in Budapest significantly! Living abroad and engaging with a new culture is the privilege of few and even if it’s hard sometimes, always know that you’ve won the lottery! Make the best out of it and never pass on an opportunity to learn a new language.
It’s your turn now! Let us know your reasons for learning Hungarian. How did it help you enhance your stay in Budapest? Which reason did appeal to you most? Is there anything that you’d be happy to hear about in greater detail? Let us know all of that in the comments. And if you liked what you just read, don’t forget to tell your friends!
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