Tips and resources for learning Hungarian
Hungarian is often regarded as one of the world’s toughest languages to learn. As a Brit, it can be all too easy to rely on English wherever we are in the world, especially for the basics.
I’m also not a “natural” language learner; I studied French and German at school, but was never really inspired by it. Later, I attempted to teach myself Spanish after spending a lot of time in Spanish-speaking countries for work. I would say I got as far as “restaurant” level, in that I can talk to a waiter or a taxi driver, but not much else.
So, learning Hungarian seems like a doomed project before I’ve even begun! But, I think it’s extremely important to make a decent effort to adapt and integrate if you decide to call a new country home.
As I write this, my day-to-day vocabulary is improving, and I have some phrasebook sentences memorised, but the grammar is a totally different story and I find it very hard to understand spoken Hungarian. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’m sure there are others in a similar position so I hope it will be helpful to share my tips and resources for learning Hungarian.
Duolingo is an obvious choice for anyone getting started with learning a new language, and is one of the few mainstream programmes which cater to more obscure languages such as Hungarian. I personally enjoy the gaming aspect and the motivation of maintaining a daily streak.
Of course, it doesn’t exactly teach you the language, and a lot of the example sentences are focused more on teaching a specific use of grammar than making sense or being useful. The Hungarian course in particular seems particularly obsessed with the adventures of a kindergarten teacher! (Óvónő, by the way).
What I have found helpful is to follow the Hungarian to English course, as well as the English to Hungarian. I’ve noticed that the style of Hungarian is a lot different (more natural, apparently) in the former, compared to the “basic” Hungarian that I’ve been learning so far.
There are a couple of ways to use Netflix for learning Hungarian. Firstly, I set up a separate profile and switched the language to Hungarian. You can then browse to netflix.com/browse/subtitles or netflix.com/browse/audio to sort the shows by the available subtitles (feliratok) and audio (hang). There are a few native Hungarian shows, but in general you’ll find dubbed audio.
To unlock a big advantage with Netflix, I’ve been using an extension for Google Chrome called Netflix Multi Subtitles. This allows you to add a second set of subs to any show, so you can have English and Hungarian side by side. Bear in mind that, unless the show is native Hungarian, the audio and a text won’t necessarily be identical, but I find it helps to listen to Hungarian while still having an idea of what’s happening!
Most language teachers will recommend the use of flashcards, particularly for memorising vocabulary. The spaced-repetition really helps to force the words into your long term memory, something I’ve found to be a particular problem and is perfectly summarised below.
I didn’t spend a huge amount of time testing all the available flashcard apps, but I settled on the paid version of Brainscape. It has some nice features for editing decks, such as importing and exporting CSV files. You can also make use of hundreds of user-generated decks, and the repetition algorithm seems to work well.
You can see the decks I’ve created here.
The Magyar-OK series are classic language coursebooks, but it will help to have a Hungarian to explain the tasks to you! The website has audio files available for all the lessons which is helpful if, like me, you struggle with training your ear to the sounds of Hungarian.
It’s the toughest way to learn, but that’s because you’re forced to process at a much faster rate. Listening to real conversations trains your ears and exposes you to what Hungarians actually say, rather than to what is written in language books. Eventually you’ll start to figure out what is happening through context, facial expressions and gestures. From this you can start to match up with what you’re hearing and, if you have some phrases and vocab stored up, you can start to contribute to a discussion.
It’s a slow process, especially as there are none of the shortcuts that you get from the similarities between many other European languages. It’s also exhausting, but if you can keep track of your progress and realise the improvements, it can be very rewarding!