How to Learn Hungarian – The Ultimate Guide

To learn a new language is a commendable act and you can already be proud of yourself for making this decision. Reading this might be your first, second (or hundredth) attempt towards reaching your goal to finally learn Hungarian. No matter where you are right now, to learn Hungarian can be frightening and overwhelms at many stages if you don’t know what you’re doing.

 

In this ultimate guide to learning Hungarian, we will give you an anchor – a guideline through the language you can always come back to whenever you’re stuck. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned Hungarian-fighter, we wrote this guide to catch you where you are and provide you with an overview and study guide both applicable (i.e. you can start instantly) and relevant: If you learn the language based on this guide you’ll learn Hungarian in a way people actually speak it in real life. In short: We want to prepare you for having real conversations. If you can relate to this and conversational fluency is your ultimate goal, we invite you to take at least an hour to read this guide and to define your next personal action steps.

 

If you don’t have an hour and are somewhat in a rush, no problem. Just download or print this guide as a handy PDF and come back to it later, whenever it suits you.

 



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– The 500 most frequent Hungarian words in a neat & handy list, you can start learning with instantly as well as

– a thorough list of the 10 most frequent Hungarian words (and how to use them!)




 

Quick navigation through the article:

Why learn Hungarian?

What are the main characteristics of the Hungarian language?

What kind of language is Hungarian? – A linguistic background by non-linguists

The Hungarian Alphabet and Pronunciation

The “nature” of the Hungarian language: Agglutination

How agglutination works: vowel harmony

The Hungarian word order

How to learn Hungarian step by step

1. Establish a steady study routine and know your “why”

2. Learn the alphabet

3. Learn the numbers

4. Prepare and start learning the 500 most frequent Hungarian words

5. Have your references ready

6. Build your first script

7. Immerse, immerse and immerse more

8. Learn vocabulary – the right way

9. Practice speaking – it’s time to get real

 

 

Why Learn Hungarian?

 

You (hopefully) have your very specific personal reason to learn Hungarian. Maybe you fell in love with a Hungarian person, are in search of your Hungarian roots, live in Hungary for a while, or plan to visit the country. You might find people look at you in a weird way when you tell them you picked Hungarian as your next language to learn. That doesn’t matter, as you have plenty of further reason to study this wonderful language, apart from your personal one:

 

  • Hungarian opens doors for life or travel in Central and Eastern Europe. While it’s the only official language in Hungary and one of the official languages of the European Union, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Austria recognize it as a minority language too.

 

  • Hungary is a historically and culturally rich country and the language will help you savor this in an authentic way. Hungary produced some of the finest poets, writers, and composers of the last centuries.

 

  • Hungary’s pop culture is extensive and manifests itself in contemporary music, novels, poetry, film making and so much more. Needless to say the language is the key to all of these.

 

Here are further 35 good reasons for you to learn Hungarian that will always help you reconnect with your “why”.

 

 

 

What are the main characteristics of the Hungarian language?

 

If there’s anything the general public knows Hungarian for it’s its uniqueness. Over the decades and centuries, this led to various myths and accusations.

 

“Hungarian is one of the hardest languages in the world. You will never learn it!”

 

“It has 457 grammatical cases.”

 

“There are absolutely no similar words to any languages whatsoever”.

 

None of these is true. Yes, we like to consider Hungarian to be different and unique, but this leads to both advantages and disadvantages. And why even compare? No matter which language you pick, you’ll always find reasons for why it’s hard. You’ll always find evidence for what you choose to believe. Why not believe you can learn it?🙃

 

From a completely unbiased and objective, scientific point of view, here are the main characteristics of the Hungarian language you should be aware of:

 

 

What kind of language is Hungarian? – A linguistic background by non-linguists

 

Hungarian is a non-Indo-European language

 

This is what makes Hungarian so different from most widely-studied languages. Most European languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc.) belong to the Indo-European language family, the only exceptions are Basque, Finnish, Estonian, and Turkish. But even languages like Hindi, Urdu, and Persian are Indo-European, meaning English has technically more in common with these than with Hungarian.

 

Another example for a (more widely-studied) non-Indo-European language is Mandarin Chinese (Sino-Tibetan language family) and mind you, it also receives its fair share of badges that label it the hardest language in the world.

 

Note to self: Different isn’t the same as difficult. We, humans, are just wired to fear the unknown and often have a more difficult time to tackle it. Here at Catch Budapest Flo and I believe everyone with at least one somewhat functioning ear, regardless of their age, gender, or “language-genes” is capable to learn any language they want to. In the end, it all boils down to the right attitude, motivation, and techniques.

 

Hungarian belongs to the Ugric branch of the Finno-Ugric grouping of the Uralic language family

 

The three most well-known Finno-Ugric (and Uralic, for that matter) languages are Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian. Frankly, we have never heard of any other of the languages of this family, but a quick Wikipedia search will give you the Komi, Udmurt, Moksha, and Erzya languages. Since they’re in different branches, Hungarian in its application also has little to do with Finnish or Estonian. Probably like English has with, say, Albanian. Both are in the same language family but in different branches. Long story short – the Hungarian language is isolated.

 

Does Hungarian have anything in common with other languages?

 

Despite the uniqueness of its language, Hungary is an industrialized nation in the heart of Europe and is anything but isolated. This also manifests itself in the language, meaning Hungarian borrowed plenty of international words it incorporates into its daily use. If you take a look at all international words in the Hungarian language you’ll figure that you already know a lot more than you think.

 

We collected 505 international words in Hungarian here.

 

 

 

The Hungarian Alphabet and Pronunciation

 

Hungarian uses an extended version of the Latin alphabet. Hungarian is officially an entirely phonetic language which means you say and write everything based on the alphabet and the pronunciation of its single letters. This is true for written Hungarian but in reality, spoken everyday-Hungarian often deviates significantly from its official phonetic character.

 

The alphabet has 44 letters, some of which are digraphs and there is even a trigraph plus you’ll see lots of diacritics. Remember each letter – never mind its unfamiliarity and funny strokes – represents one single sound and no more.

 

Consonants come in the form of single characters (b, c, d, f, etc.), digraphs (cs, gy, ty, etc.), or the trigraph dzs.

 

All vowels have short and long forms – what the stroke-diacritics indicate is a longer pronunciation of the respective vowel.

 

It isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks and you can learn and understand the alphabet in less than an hour.

 

Note: There’s no way to get around knowing the alphabet extraordinarily well when you learn Hungarian. Seriously, don’t even consider to learn anything else before you have a firm grasp of the alphabet and the Hungarian pronunciation. Put in this effort at the very beginning and it’ll save you tons of time and sweat later on.

 

Here is our guide to learn the Hungarian alphabet in 4 steps.

 

Additionally, check out our Learn the alphabet-chapter below, where we added useful videos that explain the Hungarian consonants, vowels, and the Hungarian spelling rules, respectively.

 

 

The nature of the Hungarian language: agglutination

 

We can just as well call agglutination the essence of the language – it’s one of those distinguishing elements that make Hungarian so Hungarian. Agglutination is related to glue and is the process to stick all those prefixes and suffixes to the beginnings and endings of the words, and thereby express time, location, relationships, and everything else grammar is for.

 

That’s how the insanely long words come about – instead of in our house (3 words in English) Hungarians say házunkban (house-our-in) and use one word only.

 

Other famous agglutinating languages are Turkish, Korean, and Japanese.

 

In contrast, English is an analytical language. Instead of gluing directly to the words, it uses helper words (e.g. prepositions) to convey relationships.

 

German and Spanish, on the other hand, are fusional languages and are characterized by their systems of declensions (changing the form of the words) and verb conjugations.

 

 

How agglutination works: vowel harmony

 

The term vowel harmony will be one of the first things you hear when you start out with Hungarian and it seems to be the alpha and omega of the language. Vowel harmony is the method we use for agglutination. Hungarian distinguishes between so-called back vowels and front vowels:

 

  • a, á, u, ú, o and ó are back vowels. Hungarians remember these with the word autó (car).

 

  • e, é, i, í, ü, ű, ö and ő are front vowels. Hungarians remember these with the word teniszütő (tennis racket).

 

In short, every suffix has multiple versions and you must pick the one based on the vowels of the root word. If a root word contains only back vowels, you’ll have to use the back-voweled suffix. It’s the same the other way round. If a word contains both back and front vowels, it’s the last vowel counts.

 

If we look at the suffixes -ban and -ben and stick with the previous example házunkban (house-our-in), you can see ház has only the back vowel á. Therefore, to express in the house you use the back-voweled version of the suffix for in (-ban instead of -ben).

 

 

The Hungarian word order

 

Another factor that distinguishes Hungarian from other, more common languages is its topic-prominent sentence structure. In Hungarian, word order isn’t defined by regular sentence constituents (subject, verb, object) but rather by the speaker’s communicative intentions – what the speaker wants to emphasize.

 

You’ll often hear Hungarian has a flexible word order, but it’s not true. It just follows other rules than most languages and word order is about the topic in question, not about the grammatical ingredients of the sentence.

 

In English, we would say I’m going to the doctor. (Subject-Verb-Object). Everything else (Going to the doctor I’m., The doctor going am I to. etc.) is incorrect.

 

The same sentence in Hungarian can be put as

 

“Én megyek az orvoshoz.” (I’m going to the doctor.);

“Az orvoshoz megyek én.” (It’s the doctor I’m going to.);

“Én az orvoshoz megyek.” (I am going to the doctor (… and where are you going?));

“Megyek én az orvoshoz”. (something like “Trust me, I’m really going to the doctor!”); and

“Megyek az orvoshoz én.” (something like “Stop to annoy me, I’m really going to the doctor!”).

 

All of them are correct and all of them mean I’m going to the doctor. Still, they carry different messages and only one of them is correct based on what it is you really want to say.

 

Hungarian learners often state sentence structure is their biggest challenge with the language and they can never seem to get it right. Also, Hungarians mostly cannot explain why they said a sentence in a certain way, as they say it boils down to a matter of feeling.

 

This is not true. The Hungarian sentence structure follows 5 straightforward rules. We explain these with plenty of exercises in the Workbook of our Smart Hungarian Short Stories Course.

 

 

So what’s the Hungarian language and why does it bear the badge of being one of the most difficult in the world?

 

To sum up, the difficulty of Hungarian lies in multiple factors language learners aren’t used to. Hungarian is from another language family and consecutively works differently. The biggest differences are aspects of the pronunciation, its agglutinative nature, and its sentence structure. In the next chapter, we’ll outline a detailed study guide for you that’ll help you tackle Hungarian in a way it makes sense, is smart, and efficient.

 



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No problem! Just enter your email address and we’ll send you the PDF of this guide for FREE. 

 

You’ll ALSO receive:

– The 500 most frequent Hungarian words in a neat & handy list, you can start learning with instantly as well as

– a thorough list of the 10 most frequent Hungarian words (and how to use them!)




 

How to Learn Hungarian Step by Step

 

1. Establish a steady study routine and know your why

 

Instead of bursts of productivity and droughts of no practice for weeks, establish a steady study routine, and stick to it.

It’s important your plan is realistic and aligns well with the rest of your life. 3 hours every day might not be suitable while you have a full-time job, but 45 minutes in the morning might be. I have often made the mistake to set myself unfeasible goals and what made me give up was me disappointing myself because I wasn’t able to keep up with what I assigned myself. Don’t make that mistake.

 

Also, consider your natural peak states. Are you a morning person? In this case, an hour of concentrated Hungarian-learning in the morning can work, especially if you know you can’t even say a proper sentence in your mother tongue in the evenings after work. If you’re a night owl like I though, by all means, go for the evenings or nights when everything else is quiet. Or lunch-break, or whatever you see fit.

What I try to say is it’s better to integrate your language-habits gradually, gently, and as easily as possible than to force yourself. Fun and motivation are key for learning and to study when it works best for you is the foundation.

 

Also, know your why, as it is your anchor you can come back to when things get rough.

Set your very specific goals with learning Hungarian. It is very important to not be vague about them. Fluency, or understand conversations better aren’t precise enough, as these aims are nothing you can measure yourself up against.

It is a lot more important, what fluency and better understanding mean to you, personally. Whether you want to be able to converse with your Hungarian partner’s family, are in search of your Hungarian roots, want to gain Hungarian citizenship, or master your daily life in Budapest/Hungary – what you personally take away from your Hungarian-learnings should largely depend on what you actually want to achieve.

 

To define your goals, we suggest you take a piece of paper and write down your ideal outcome. First, think about how speaking Hungarian will improve your life and which doors it’ll open for you. Here are some examples of how you could formulate your goal, depending on your situation:

 

  • I’ll have the chance to develop a much closer bond to the family of my wife, husband, or partner and finally take part in family gatherings.
  • I’ll master my everyday-life in Hungary with confidence, and won’t need a translator anymore every time I go to the doctor or need professional assistance with something.
  • My Hungarian roots are important to me and I will connect a lot better with them by learning the language.
  • Learning Hungarian will greatly help me achieve my goal of getting Hungarian citizenship.

 

After that, think of the last situation that frustrated you with the language and imagine how you’d exactly want this situation to turn out instead in the future.

 

Maybe you’ve been trying to communicate with your husband’s family but felt like an outsider because of your lack of understanding. Now try to vividly imagine how you’re able to follow and participate in the next family gathering without feeling completely lost and overwhelmed.

 

After that, formulate a specific goal you’ll start working on today. It’s crucial your first mini-goal is something you feel comfortable with. This means it should be neither too low, nor too high. If you’re a complete beginner, to aim for understanding everything that’s said at your father-in-laws birthday which is in two weeks, and giving a 10-minute-speech in Hungarian would feel unrealistic and demotivating. However, to be able to uphold a 5-minute conversation about a topic you’re comfortable with with your wife’s brother you’ll see in two weeks might is something worth working towards right now.

 

If you haven’t done it yet, it’s now high time for taking that piece of paper and putting your goals and visions on there. This sheet of paper will be your future reference for both the harder moments when you feel like you want to give up, but also the place you celebrate your wins – think about how good it’ll feel to tick your first mini-goal off and formulate your new one!

 

So many people dive straight in and have no idea what they’re doing, where they’re aiming, and what they do all this for and, therefore, quit. To learn Hungarian without a plan and routine is like starting a new business from the ground without thinking about it for a second. It’s possible, but it’ll make your life unnecessarily hard.

 

 

 

2. Learn the alphabet

 

… and learn it properly. We have already touched on this further above but want to stress this again and again. It’s very alluring to skip through it, print out a cheat sheet and move on to the more fun stuff, but you’ll never understand Hungarian if the alphabet doesn’t become your lifeblood. It’s better to understand this in the very beginning, but it’s never too late.

 

So what should you do?

 

There are a few resources we can recommend and we suggest you use each of these, in this particular order.

 

Here is our overview of the Hungarian alphabet, sounds, and a cheat sheet included.

 

After you have a basic overview of each letter and its corresponding sound, you need to understand how these sounds behave in words. Since spoken Hungarian can be anything but phonetic you need a solid foundation of this to be able to follow a conversation later on.

 

Here’s a great video series that explains the Hungarian consonants, vowels, and the Hungarian spelling rules, respectively:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also suggest you download this epic Hungarian pronunciation trainer – it’s well worth your $12. It’ll do two things for you:

1) Help you practice all sounds with flashcards in context (ie. in relevant words they appear in) and

2) train your ear to so-called “minimal pairs” – help it to distinguish between similar words (e.g. doboz-toboz, örülök – őrülök, elvesz – elvèsz – èlvez, and there are a lot more). It’s a useful tool to get a firm grasp of the Hungarian alphabet and sound system and will save you a lot of pain later on.

 

All in all, we recommend you spend around 10 days (1-1,5 hours per day) on just the alphabet, or until you feel like you really got it.

 

 

3. Learn the numbers

 

Numbers are everywhere and the most rational among us will argue you can explain the entire world with them. While I’m not sure about that, dealing with numbers is something you won’t find your way around easily. I’m not gonna lie, it won’t be the most fun activity of your Hungarian-journey but to understand how counting works in Hungarian is overall an easy win.

 

Important: A no-brainer, but I want to emphasize you should learn every number and its (fast!) pronunciation. Hungarian cashiers hold the world record for their speed of pronouncing 5-digit numbers and it’s really frustrating to not understand what someone says, even though technically you know all words.

 

Here’s how to learn the Hungarian numbers:

 

This article explains how to learn the Hungarian numbers in 9 straightforward steps, including their pronunciation, ordinals, and how to talk about time and dates.

 

The app Foreign Numbers is your best friend when you learn to understand the spoken numbers. It’s basically a listening comprehension trainer for numbers where you can define the range of numbers you want to practice. It’s smart, helpful, and free.

 

You don’t have to be able to count from 1 to 1,000,000 before you move on but I suggest you have a firm grasp of everything to  1,000; most things (decimals, hundreds and thousands) to a million and have no problems with date and time.

 

Hungarian numbers build on themselves logically, so this shouldn’t take you more than 3-5 days with 1-2 days of understanding all concepts and 1-3 days of practicing them.

 

 

4. Prepare and start learning the 500 most frequent Hungarian words

 

While you don’t need to know all of them before you move on, the next crucial step after you learned the alphabet and the numbers is to start learning the 500 most frequent words and to make this a part of your pre-established study routine.

 

Why? 

 

Think about it – around 300 words make out 65% of all written material in English and with 2,000 words you have 80% of all conversations and texts covered. When it comes to learning Hungarian (or any language, really!) the Pareto Principle, aka Law of the Vital Few applies. The 500 most frequent Hungarian words are the ones you’ll encounter frequently – in written texts, conversations, movies, songs, books, you name it – they’re everywhere. If you focus on these first it’ll help you stay on track and see what is and isn’t important.

 

We all have a limited amount of energy, brain capacity, patience, and willpower. Learning 7 ways to say hello and goodbye for every time of the day is what drains these precious reserves without getting us anywhere.

 

The problem is – how should you know what these most frequent words are in Hungarian?

 

We’ve collected them in a neat and handy list for you. We figured most frequency lists you’ll find via a Google search are useless, as they include so many grammatical words (like on, at, and the), words in their conjugated forms (megyek, mennek instead of just megy), and are often based on written language only which is useless for speaking.

 

So what I did was combine various frequency lists I could find and remove all grammatical words and unhelpful variations. What’s left are 500 words you can learn and apply instantly. All words come in their original/root form (no conjugations or declinations). I also cut out any words you won’t find in regularly spoken Hungarian.

 

The list of the 500 most frequent Hungarian words comes as a bonus with the PDF-version of this study-guide which you can download here:

 



Want To Save This Article For Later?

 

No problem! Just enter your email address and we’ll send you the PDF of this guide for FREE. 

 

You’ll ALSO receive:

– The 500 most frequent Hungarian words in a neat & handy list, you can start learning with instantly as well as

– a thorough list of the 10 most frequent Hungarian words (and how to use them!)




 

Additionally, you’ll receive a list of and guide to the 15 most frequent Hungarian words and how to use them together with the download. The most frequent Hungarian verbs are also the most versatile ones. For these, it isn’t enough to learn the infinitive – you need to understand how to use them which I also explain in the free download.

 

To give you an idea, these the most frequent Hungarian words I talk about and which you need to spend extra time on:

  1. van – to be, to exist
  2. nincs – the verb of non-existence
  3. kell – to have to, to need, to be needed/necessary
  4. megy – to go
  5. jön – to come
  6. csinál – to make
  7. tesz – to put, to do
  8. vesz – to take, to buy
  9. mond – to say
  10. beszél – to talk
  11. jár – to go, to go somewhere regularly
  12. szól – to speak, to sound
  13. tud – to know, to can
  14. tetszik – to be likable
  15. akar – to want

 

One or the other of these sure sounds already familiar to you if you learn Hungarian for a while.

 

As mentioned, you don’t need to have them all in your long-term memory, but make it a part of your daily study routine to learn them. When in doubt about which vocabulary to learn, always go with these frequency list first. I’ll talk about how I suggest you approach to learn vocabulary later on. For now…

 

 

5. Have your references ready

 

Get these now:

 

After you learned the alphabet and numbers, make sure you have the following Hungarian-learning ingredients close and add them to your shopping cart if necessary:

 

  • The alphabet – printed, with everything that helps you pronounce each sound (example words, little drawings, etc.). You can find our downloadable cheat sheet here where you can add your own comments.
  • A good Hungarian Phrasebook such as Lonely Planet’s Hungarian Phrasebookas your dictionary. It cuts through the noise and is way cheaper and a lot more practical than a proper dictionary which you really don’t need right now. Use the dictionary at the end.
  • A good grammar book – one you like and find comprehensible. We’re not gonna lie, there aren’t many of them. Routledge’s Hungarian Grammar is a great choice.

 

Bookmark these in your browser:

 

 

  • ForvoFor pronunciation. All pronunciations are recorded by native speakers (both male and female) so you can get a good feeling for all the fine nuances a single word can sound like, depending on the speaker.

 

  • Wikiszótár – A great monolingual dictionary. It comes with pictures and multiple example sentences to every word. It explains the multiple usages of a word and also sheds light on the suffixes and prefixes. Luckily, it works really well with Google’s page translation. A powerful resource to learn about a word in context.

 

  • A good online Hungarian-English dictionary – We recommend the SZTAKI online dictionary or dict.cc. Both are good for when you need a quick translation fix.

 

  • Google Image SearchThe old version. The best way to learn about what locals understand by certain words is to type the vocabulary you’re unsure of into Google Image Search. The captions additionally provide the words with a natural context. The captions disappeared with the more recent versions of the image search, that’s why we’ve linked the old one.

 

  • Hungarian MultisearchA genius search tool that’ll instantly open a Google Image Search, Forvo, the SZTAKI dictionary, and Wikiszótár once you type in your word and press enter. Enable popups!

 

  • The Cooljugator Conjugates roughly 3,000 Hungarian verbs for you upon one click, in every tense, showing both their definite and indefinite conjunctions.

 

  • A list of the 500 most frequent Hungarian wordswe have prepared one for you and you’ll receive it once you download this guide as a PDF.

 

  • This list of the 15 most important Hungarian verbs – comes along with the download of the PDF of this guide, too. These verbs appear in every text you read and every conversation you have and will confuse you again and again without a proper explanation.

 

 

 

It’s important you don’t start to dig any of these but treat all of them as references. These are your resources where you can quickly look up words, rules, and pronunciation without an endless search. They’ll save you a lot of unnecessary search effort later, so you can spend on time on what matters most, which lies in the following steps…

 

 

6. Build your first script

 

To get a basic feeling for the language and your first boost of confidence it’s important you have a basic conversational script ready. This means nothing more than to learn to talk a tiny bit about yourself and ask some basic questions.

 

After initial greetings, first conversations usually turn towards where you live and what you do. Just think about how you would typically introduce yourself in your mother tongue and translate this into Hungarian.

 

Here’s my personal quick introduction as an example:

 

Juli vagyok, és 29 [huszonkilenc] éves vagyok.

Juli am-I, and 29 year-ish am-I.

I’m Juli and am 29 years old.

 

Magyar vagyok.

Hungaria am-I.

I’m Hungarian.

 

Most Ausztriában élek.

Now Austria-in live-I.

I currently live in Austria.

 

Budapesten születtem.

Budapest-on born-was-I.

I was born in Budapest.

 

Tíz évet éltem Németországban és 15 [tizenöt] évet éltem Budapesten.

10 year(acc.) lived-I Germany-in and 15 year(acc.) lived-I Budapest-on.

I lived in Germany for 10 years and in Budapest for 15 years.

 

Beszélek magyarul, németül és angolul.

Speak-I Hungarian-in, German-in and English-in.

I speak Hungarian, German and English.

 

A barátommal, Floval élek. Együtt van egy online vállalkozásunk, amellyel segítünk másoknak magyarul tanulni.

The boyfriend-my-with, Flo-with live-I. Together exists an online business-ours, which-with help-we others-for Hungarian-in to-learn.

I live with my boyfriend Flo. Together we have an online business with which we help others learn Hungarian.

 

Szeretek utazni és falat mászni. Szeretek kint lenni a természetben és kirándulni.

Like-I to-travel and wall(acc.) to-climb. Like-I outside to-be the nature-in and to-go-on-excursions.

I like traveling and wall climbing. I like being outside in nature and making excursions.

 

You can express basically all your core data with “vagyok” (I am), “szeretek” (I like) and “élek” (I live).

 

Here are a few questions you can ask your conversational counterpart and a few possible answers for where it’s relevant.

 

Hogy hívnak? – What’s your name?

 

Answer: [Name] vagyok.

 

Honnan jössz? – Where are you from?

 

Answers:

 

Amerika / amerikai vagyok. – USA / I’m American.

Kanada / kanadai vagyok. – Canda / I’m Canadian.

Németország / német vagyok. – Germany / I’m German.

Anglia / angol vagyok. – England / I’m English.

Brazília / brazil vagyok. – Brasil / I’m Brazilian.

Magyarország / magyar vagyok. – Hungary / I’m Hungarian.

 

Hány éves vagy? – How old are you?

 

Answer: [Number] vagyok.

 

Mit dolgozol? – What do you work as? / What’s your profession?

 

Answers:

 

orvos – doctor

ügyvéd – lawyer

szabadúszó – freelancer

mérnök – engineer

közgazdász – economist

tanár – teacher

nyugdíjas – retired

 

… vagyok.

 

Mik a hobbijaid? – What are your hobbies?

 

Answers:

 

Szeretek…

 

sportolni – to work out

úszni – to swim

olvasni – to read

filmezni – to watch movies

túrázni – to hike

bulizni – to party

festeni – to paint

 

Does this sound too simple, stiff, and robotic? You bet! However, it’s your first gateway to and anchor for the language. Nothing’s more frustrating than to learn random vocabulary but to not have the basics to talk a bit about yourself.

 

Make scripting your personal basic introduction your first priority after the alphabet.

 

HungarianPod101 is a great program for just that. No other language program does a better job to explain the very basics and to help you get started from scratch.

 

 

7. Immerse, immerse, and immerse more

 

I wrote this guide for those Hungarian-learners whose primary goal is to take part in real-life Hungarian conversations. If you learn the language for purely academic purposes, this approach won’t work for you. If you’re still with us, you have to listen to and read in the language. What do we mean by that?

 

How not to immerse in Hungarian

 

First, we’ll specify what we don’t mean when we encourage you to listen to real-life spoken language and read Hungarian texts.

 

Consider these as the six big don’ts of learning Hungarian.

 

  1. Don’t shield yourself from proper, real-life Hungarian. This means, don’t stick to slow, articulated textbook audio in the hope of getting to the real thing (conversations) one day. We have created a whole (free) course on this debate about what to listen to; the bottom line being: It won’t get you there, ever.
  2. Don’t listen to the radio or a whole movie in the hope you’ll get used to it one day. You won’t. It’s too hard and, since it comes without any proper material it’ll only frustrate you.
  3. Don’t listen to Hungarian music or the radio in the background or while you sleep in the hope it’ll magically bring you closer to understanding more. I mean, it certainly won’t do harm, but don’t get your hopes too high on effortless, passive learning while you cook or sleep.
  4. When it comes to reading, don’t force your way through boring news pieces or articles you think are important. Why try to read something in a foreign language you wouldn’t even glance at if it was in your mother tongue?🤯
  5. Don’t read children’s books in the hope they’re easier. The hard truth is, from a linguistic perspective, Hungarian children’s books are as complicated as adult material. They’re written by writers who have native speakers in mind – they care about making their stories linguistically diverse using varied vocabulary and highly complex sentences if it makes their work literarily more valuable.
  6. Don’t start with actual attempts at conversation straight away. See, the problem with listening and trying to converse with native speakers is that it leaves little room to practice listening. The conversation drags you along, you hang in there as long as you can, but eventually give up because you’re left behind. Yes, you were immersed but there’s still no feeling of accomplishment. In fact, these conversations are what make Hungarian-learners often give up for good.

 

How to immerse in Hungarian instead

 

As said before, useful immersion still is in a combination of listening, reading, and speaking. Here’s why:

 

Research shows when we communicate we spend 45% listening, 30% speaking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.

 

Great, so how are you supposed to immerse then, now we’ve ruled out all the conventional ways of listening, reading, and speaking the language? Immersion is all about being directly exposed to the language, after all. At the same time, actual conversations are intimidating and can be downright discouraging for beginning and lower intermediate learners.

 

How to immerse through listening

 

What you need for a useful listening experience is tons of native, natural material that comes with a transcript. A transcript is kind of the key to the kingdom – the way you’ll get through to everything you cannot grasp by pure listening. Native material paired with a transcript is like taking part in real-life conversations with a remote control which helps you to pause, rewind and repeat what’s been said – at a slower speed if necessary.

 

This cures the usual drawbacks of the disheartening listening practices most Hungarian learners do (like listen to the radio, watch a movie or listen to textbook conversations that don’t help in real life).

 

Note: We created the Smart Hungarian Audio Course to be just the kind of listening material you need. It’s 20 real-life spoken dialogues that come with transcripts, translation, vocabulary lists, and everything else that’ll help you improve your listening skills significantly. We recommend you check it out if you have a few bucks to spare.

 

Moreover, we also offer a free video + email course about the exact steps on how to create and work your way through your own listening material – it’s great if you’re not ready to spend money but have a little time on your hands.

 

How to immerse through reading

 

Hungarian is one of those languages in which you cannot ignore the grammar totally, even at the beginning. Due to its agglutinative nature described above every word you learn is subject to frequent change within a sentence. Reading will help you understand how all those suffixes and prefixes work.

 

What to read, however, now that news pieces and children’s books are out of the way?

 

Our tip: Read something you’re genuinely interested in.

 

Material that engages and excites you is crucial for language-learning. If you don’t like what you read you’ll never stick to your reading habit.

 

Instead of complicated news pieces, read a Hungarian blog you’d also read in your own language. Here’s our comprehensive list.
The next time you want to read up on something, try to Google it in Hungarian and see where it takes you.

 

It’s also essential to always listen to what you read. No new word or grammar rule will be of use if people don’t understand what you say, and vice versa.

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t come across the perfect Hungarian reading material yet – one which consists of the most important words, comes with an audiobook, and a translation…

 

… that’s why we created our own😉.

 

Our Smart Hungarian Short Stories is a course that teaches Hungarian through the magic of story.✨

 

In it, 8 short stories of various genres become the course syllabus. The vocabulary and grammar you learn are based on the gripping content you read.

 

So before you spiral down a vortex of random vocabulary lists and grammar rules, you get to experience these rules in an engaging context and make sense of them as you read the story.

 

All short stories of the course consist of the 2,000 most frequent Hungarian words. This means you’ll learn words that have a proven real-life application. You don’t have to question whether they’re necessary – we did this part for you.

 

You can have a look at the Smart Hungarian Short Stories Course here.

 



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No problem! Just enter your email address and we’ll send you the PDF of this guide for FREE. 

 

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8. Learn vocabulary – the right way

 

Yes, the steps are in the right order; we recommend you start to learn vocabulary (apart from the 500 most frequent words mentioned above) only after and based on your immersion practice. This way, you’ll avoid learning irrelevant vocabulary you’ll never use and learn all vocabulary as applied in real life.

 

We’ve seen many Hungarian-learners start out by learning various word lists (greetings, animals, or even home appliances) and become frustrated, as they couldn’t apply what they have learned in real-life conversations.

 

After you tackled a spoken conversation or an exciting story you’ll be left with plenty of new words and expressions. It’s tempting to start hammering them all into your brain, but there’s a more effective and sophisticated way to do this.

 

Learn vocabulary based on your personal needs and goals

 

No one else but you can make the decision of which words to actually learn. No app, vocabulary book, or even frequency list can tell you exactly what you need to achieve your Hungarian-learning goals.

 

While it’s tempting to be hyper-motivated and squeeze as many words into your brain as possible you’re much better off if you focus on what is important for YOU and your learning.

 

This is easier said than done. Often, we simply do not know which words are important to us and which aren’t – as everything can seem both very important and very unimportant at the same time.

 

Here are a few guidelines for which words to learn from an audio conversation or the reading material of your choice:

 

  • Think back to when you probably last used this word / talked about a topic this word is related to in your mother tongue.
  • What is your personal style of speaking and what kind of age group/type of people are you most likely to converse with? Are you likely to hear or want to use many colloquialisms and urban slang?
  • Is this a filler word / conversational connector? Go for it! Fillers and “conversational connectors” are frequently recurring and also help you a lot with making your own speech more natural. Read more about this here.

 

To show you an example of how to pick the right vocabulary for you, here are the first 20 words of the vocabulary list of the first conversation of our Smart Hungarian Audio Course:

 

 

We have marked all basic words in green: words as “to give”, “to want” and “to speak” are among the most frequent in every language and Hungarian is no exception – learn them!

 

The three words marked with yellow are either fillers or otherwise frequently recurring expressions that are an organic part of almost any spoken conversation and we suggest you learn these too.

 

The words we have marked with red, on the other hand, are subject to your individual preferences. When was the last time you have talked about debt? Are you an entrepreneur or will you converse with people in the corporate environment? Are you likely to use slang (“egy csomó”)? If the answer is no to either of these words marked in red, skip them. If they’re important to you, learn them.

 

How to learn vocabulary

 

There are a gazillion ways to learn vocabulary, starting from making your own classic vocabulary book, various pretty apps, and advanced systems to get words into your brain. We (and the polyglots we admire) swear by the spaced repetition system (and Anki as its tool) to be the most effective and easy way. We won’t go into the scientific background of this system and the usage of Anki here. We go into the latter in our bonus vocabulary trainer that comes in addition to our Smart Hungarian Audio Course or Smart Hungarian Short Stories Course, however.

 

About the Spaced Repetition System (SRS)

 

You’ve probably been told in order to remember something you’ll need to repeat it as often as possible. This rote repetition mindset is what led many of us frenetically to read study material again and again before a test at school or university. While an all-nighter filled with repetition sessions definitely helps to save the day and pass the exam, there seems to be something in the air that made us forget every single thing we’ve learned after handing in the test.

 

The lesson? Rote repetition is good to pass university exams. However, it’s terrible for language learning, as it’s useless for your long-term memory. What you’ll want to go with instead is so-called spaced repetition – a method backed by several scientific studies ranging back to David Ebbinghaus’ 1885 experimental study called “Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology”. You have probably heard the abbreviation SRS or the term Spaced Repetition System multiple times. So what is it exactly and how can it help you learn vocabulary more efficiently?

 

Think back to the example of studying by repeating hundreds of times right before the exam and then not recalling it ever again. Well, spaced repetition is kind of the opposite. Instead of drilling something into your brain by force, you can consider it a way gentler (and a lot more efficient!) approach to learning. With a spaced repetition system you’ll recall your vocabulary right before you’re most likely to forget it. The repetition occurs at pre-determined intervals that get bigger and bigger as time passes. Answering why exactly spaced repetition works would go beyond the scope of this article and tap into the world of neuroscience, but it’s a method polyglots swear by for decades.

 

Pro tip: Gabriel Wyner’s book “Fluent Forever” is an excellent piece of language-learning literature and we warmly recommend it if you want to dive deeper into the theory (and practice!) of spaced repetition.

 

Thanks to the advance of modern technology we don’t have to resort to handmade flashcards and set ourselves a timer for when to repeat each and every word. Which gets us to…

 

Anki as the language-learners’ best tool for using the Spaced Repetition System:

 

The terms Spaced Repetition System and Anki go hand in hand.

 

In short: Making vocabulary more memorable by involving your senses and via using spaced repetition (i.e. repeating vocabulary just when it’s most efficient for your brain) is your best bet for learning vocabulary. To apply this method we suggest using Anki, as it offers the most room and opportunities for customization and the maximization of your learning efficiency.

 

Anki and all its opportunities are science in their own right and to explain its usage would go way beyond the scope of this article. However, thanks to the wonderful world wide web you have all opportunities to get started quickly and create your own flashcards.

 

Here are two excellent starting points that have helped us tremendously:

 

The Anki Online Manual including some video tutorials about the basics such as:

 

The Anki subreddit – a place to ask all your questions, learn, and communicate with other Anki-users and get additional tips. It’s a great community of 65k learners.

 

Emotions and your senses as the beating heart of vocab-learning

 

Our most memorable memories are the ones that involve and combine a multitude of our senses. Before we tell you about three actionable steps to personalize your flashcards, here’s a quick example to demonstrate this, so you understand the importance of these steps:

 

Just think of the Hungarian word Egészségedre! (Cheers!). We don’t know about you, but every time I’m abroad and tell a foreigner I’m Hungarian the same thing happens. If that specific person has or had any connection whatsoever before with Hungary or a Hungarian person, the conversation usually goes like this:

 

FOREIGNER: So where are you from?

JULI: Hungary.

FOREIGNER: Oh amazing, I’ve been there! // Oh great, I have a Hungarian friend! He has this weird name, it was [insert Hungarian name spoken with a foreign accent here]. Anyways, I know one word in Hungarian! Egészségedre? Is that right?

JULI: Yeah, it means cheers!

FOREIGNER: Haha great, I know, that’s all I remember, although I knew quite a few words more…

 

How’s that possible? Why can someone years after they visited Hungary last or talked to a Hungarian person remember such a random word as Egészségedre!? It doesn’t resemble any English word (or, for that matter, probably any other word of any language), includes a sound English doesn’t even use, and has five syllables and twelve letters (i.e. it’s LONG!). Still, it seems to make its way easily into people’s long-term memories. In the meantime, here you are, sitting above your vocabulary list, staring at a basic word like akar for the 500th time, and still have no idea what it could possibly mean.

 

To understand this, let’s for a second think about how our foreign friend most probably acquired Egészségedre!. That’s right – he or she was either out on an (in-)famous Budapest pub-crawl or just casually had a drink with his or her Hungarian friend. In either case, pálinka and its exorbitantly strong taste and smell certainly played a role. After they clinked glasses and cheered with Egészségedre! our foreign friend drowned the strong liqueur that burned its way straight to their stomach. They asked him- or herself when they last had a drink this strong and remembered this fun evening, the smell, and the taste for a long time. Egészségedre! stuck naturally for years to come. It became a part of the experience; of the memory.

 

You, on the other hand, put in so much effort! Instead of downing shots, you sat diligently at your desk, stared at your vocabulary list, and wrote down akar again and again and tried to get it into your brain. Still, the next time you need the Hungarian word for to want you cannot recall it. Frustration slowly arises and you ask yourself how on earth you should ever be able to build up a decent pool of vocabulary.

 

Do you see where I’m getting?

 

While our foreign friend had a lot of fun and sensual stimulation (taste, smell, feelings, etc.) while he learned his word you’re stuck with a chore – an exercise neither you nor your brain like.

 

And while you, unfortunately, cannot connect the experience of a great night out, drinking, strong tastes, smell, and making new friends to every single word you learn, we can still draw a conclusion from this simple example:

 

Vocabulary connected to memories with all your senses involved is a lot more memorable.

 

Here are three actionable steps you can take instantly to make your flashcards more memorable:

 

1. Add your own images

Seems trivial, but bear with us. Google Image Search is a powerful language-learning tool if you use it the right way. What you have to do when you find the right images is is type your search term in Hungarian; into the older version of Google Image Search which you can find here (the latest version comes without captions, so we use this older one).

 

This will do lots of things for you:

 

  • It’ll show you what this term means in Hungary, for Hungarians;
  • You’ll get a plethora of further example sentences for the word or term, used in real-life context;
  • You can pick an image for the word that appeals to you most and will help you to remember it best;
  • If you go through this quick process for every word you create a visual memory for it which brings you one big step forward when it comes to committing it to your long-term memory.

 

2. Add sound (the pronunciation) to every word

To add a further sense to connect with (and to know how to say what you want to say!) always learn words together with their pronunciation. No exceptions. False learning is the meanest thing you can do to yourself – and to unlearn wrong pronunciation is so much worse than to learn the right one. Forvo is your go-to place for this particular feature. You’ll have to set up a free account to unlock the download feature that lets you add the pronunciations to your flashcards.

 

3. Create and add your own memory hooks to every new Hungarian word

When you learn vocabulary and put it into Anki, try to add your personal connection to the word. For example, when you try to remember the word gondol (to think), think of the last time you racked your head around something. Any major decisions you had to take recently? The more personal and memorable this is, the better. Add a few words to the word you strongly associate with it. Apart from hearing and seeing, this stimulates your emotions and connects your brain deeper with the word.

 

Note: To explain how to install and use Anki and add all these features to your flashcards goes beyond the scope of this article. We mentioned our favorite Anki resources above. Besides, our Smart Hungarian Audio Course and Smart Hungarian Short Stories Course come with a vocabulary trainer that walks you through the installation and Anki-interface step by step.

 

 

9. Practice speaking – it’s time to get real

 

You’re now well-prepared. If you followed the instructions in this guide you have a firm grasp of the alphabet and the numbers. You can talk a bit about yourself, ask basic questions, and your main efforts lie in practicing real-life spoken Hungarian conversations in a deliberate, comprehensible way. You progress every day, learning useful vocabulary so you can apply. If you did all of this in a structured, established study-routine, assuming you have one hour every day with weekends off, around 4-6 weeks have now passed from the beginning to this point.

 

It’s time to have the talk!

 

First, we want to dispel the myth that you have to be or live in Hungary to practice speaking the language, as this is plain BS. Since you read this guide, chances are you have internet access and this is all you need to speak any language you want, anytime, from anywhere.

 

Online video calls such as Skype enable us to do this. The only questions are where to look for conversation partners, what kind of conversation partner to look for, and how to practice with a conversation partner in the most efficient way.

 

The right Hungarian conversation partner for you

 

You have three options: To practice with a tandem language partner, a tutor, or a proper Hungarian teacher. Both of these options have their pros and cons.

 

Tandem partners are usually free but the exchange relies on its mutuality. This means your language partner wants to practice your mother tongue with you as well. Since your partner doesn’t have all the skills that require teaching a language, designing your progress here is mostly up to you if you want to make the most of your practice. Also, prepare your language tandem mostly won’t be able to answer all your questions regarding specific grammar rules or even vocabulary. This means you’ll probably have to do a lot of extra work after the exchanges.

 

If you don’t want to spend money and don’t mind giving back by helping with your mother tongue and are a structured person who doesn’t need much hand-holding, a tandem partner is a great solution.

 

Conversing with a tutor usually has a fee lower than learning with a teacher. Tutors have experience teaching the language and are able to answer most of your questions. They don’t hold a teaching degree, however, so a large part of structuring and topic design will still be up to you and your efforts.

 

If you’re ready to spend a little money, are ready to look some things up for yourself but prefer a little structure and guidance, and don’t want to teach your own language yourself, a language tutor is what you want.

 

Practicing with a teacher costs money (but has become very affordable!) and the focus will be solely on you and your learning progress. A teacher will most likely have a certain kind of syllabus, will design the lessons according to your level and will be able to answer all the questions you have regarding the language.

 

If you want structure, guidance immediate answers and are ready to spend money, a language teacher will work best for you.

 

Finding your conversation partner

 

There is an abundance of options online for finding someone to speak in Hungarian with from which we want to highlight two, as these will cover all your needs.

 

If you look for a free tandem partner, look in Facebook groups for language exchange. Either, you look in Hungarian-specific groups (the best one being the Learn Hungarian – Tanuljunk Magyarul-group) or you go for the more general ones and look for a tandem partner there.

 

Language Exchange has 16,000+ members and Vivalanga has 15,000 members, but there are a lot more.

 

If you’re looking for a tutor, I Juli, offer weekly, monthly, or quarterly sessions (update: weekly currently full). You can book them on the Steady (~Patreon) page of Catch Budapest. We start with where you are, define your goals together, and work towards them in a structured, but flexible way, according to your needs.

 

If you look for a teacher, try iTalki. It’s a wonderful platform that connects language learners with teachers via Skype lessons. You’ll both find teachers and community tutors for fair prices.

 

How to make the most out of your conversations

 

This is the dealbreaker. Finding the right conversation partner is important but the way you approach your lessons is crucial. Your goal is not to learn a specific curriculum but to put what you have learned into conversational practice. That’s why I rather talk about your conversation partner instead of your teacher. Conversations should be all that this is about. For this to happen, you have to take every hour you converse into your own hands. While a teacher will have a certain plan on how to proceed, you will still make the most of your lessons if you approach them with a specific idea in mind, based on what’s important for you. That’s why you go one-on-one after all – to give yourself the freedom of this kind of customization and fit it all to your personal needs.

 

So how exactly do you make the most of every lesson?

 

If this is your first Skype-conversation, you’ll no doubt be nervous. The good thing is, you already have a lot of momentum, as you listened to natural, conversational Hungarian for weeks already, read at your level to have the first grasp of grammar, and have your script about yourself as an anchor.

 

Before every lesson, it’s important you know what you want to get out of it. Maybe you want to perfect talking about yourself or maybe there’s something in the natural conversational audio that you want to dive deeper into. Perhaps you want to learn to talk business, talk about skiing, hiking, or the last book you read. Whatever it is – make it relevant to you. Don’t talk about things you won’t encounter in real life.

 

Make sure you have all your necessary references open during the conversation: an online dictionary, a relevant word list for your topic, Google Translate or whatever you find helpful.

 

Your main goal should be to not switch to English; to simply eliminate that option. Your conversations with your language partners should come as close to real-life, full-on Hungarian conversations as humanely possible.

 

What about real-life conversations?

 

Have them, whenever you can. Following this guide isn’t about shielding yourself from practicing Hungarian IRL. It’s rather a more structured approach to reach your goal. We saw learners solely rely on textbooks and others solely rely on becoming streetsmart and just picking it up on the side via daily conversations with friends and family – none of them worked. That’s the reason I wrote this guide – to provide you with more structure and show you what works instead.

 

It’s time!

 

Learning Hungarian (or any language) is a rewarding, enriching and fun adventure and it’s important you perceive it that way. It’s a big project and requires work but so do all good things in life.

 

Are you ready for the challenge? If so, here’s what you can do right now:

 

Formulate your next step. Take stock of where you are and define a clear next action you can start to work on as of today.

 

Even better, drop your next step below as a comment, so that others can learn from you too. Once you’re done, don’t forget to share this guide with all your fellow Hungarian-learners who could use a little help, nudge and structure.

 

Happy learning – jó tanulást!

 



Want To Save This Article For Later?

 

No problem! Just enter your email address and we’ll send you the PDF of this guide for FREE. 

 

You’ll ALSO receive:

– The 500 most frequent Hungarian words in a neat & handy list, you can start learning with instantly as well as

– a thorough list of the 10 most frequent Hungarian words (and how to use them!)




Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost for you, we will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase. Nevertheless, we only recommend these products because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions we make if you choose to buy something. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your Hungarian-learning goals.

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