Hungarian is the Hardest Language in the World for English Speakers to Learn!!


It has been a record delay since my last post!    I know….I know…. excuses are like @@#(*!&-holes,  everyone has one and it stinks….   EEK!!   I think I just suddenly morphed into one of my coaches from high-school!!

Seriously though,  I have not neglected my Hungarian studies,  I just have had no time whatsoever to keep the log updated.

I have made it through negyvenedik lecke ( lesson 40) of the Assimil course.  Assimil is great for picking up vocabulary,  but not so good for syntax, grammar and free-conversation.   We shall see what happens…

Supposedly one is supposed to listen passively to the Assimil lessons through the first 50 lessons.  Just listen and chat along with the dialogues.  Then, for the next 50 lessons,  one progresses to the “active” phase where the learner becomes more involved.  I’m not convinced it is working yet.  It is nice to spend 20 minutes a day on a lesson,  then the next day progress to the next one.  The material doesn’t seem to be sinking in though.

I have re-visited the Defense Language course picking it up with Unit 22.  It has graduated from strictly military vocabulary into actual conversations!  (….hmmmmm….  this sounds familiar….)  The units are short enough that I can still get through one every 2 days or so. However, the exercises are much more comprehensive (and better) and the grammatical explanations are still superb.  I’m going to try,  as time allows, do both of these concurrently.

What happened to FSI you might ask??  I just couldn’t pick it up again.  The recordings are from 1963 and of poor sound quality which makes them quite hard to listen to….and I just can’t STAND the speakers’ voices !!!

I had high hopes to find people to chat with on Skype.  I actually found four people that would be willing to Skype with me but I just haven’t had the time.  I have been working really long hours and by the time I get home I collapse exhausted!!

I have been having fun with my Google translate toolbar.  It has a function where you can hover the mouse over a word and it will give the Hungarian translation.

I got an e-mail for Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 Months website touting his most recent post entitled “Hungarian is Easy”.  What?!??!  You have got to be kidding me?!?!!  Hungarian is widely considered to be among the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn!  What, with the 14 different vowels, the 18 cases, the 2 completely different ( definite and indefinite) verb forms, the completely foreign vocabulary and the mercilessly long agglutinative words!!

I read his post which is excellent and I encourage you to read it yourself here:

Is it possible?  Could Hungarian actually be…. gulp ….  easy??

It is a bit funny.  A few days before  I read Benny’s post I was thinking to myself several of the exact same points that he pointed out in his article.

The first point of of Hungarian grammar for which I am thankful is NO GENDER!  There is no memorizing masculine, feminine or neuter forms.  There isn’t even a different word for he and she!  It is just ő  .  After years of learning Romance and Slavic languages I STILL mess this up.  Thanks Hungarian!

Plural forms?  Just add -ok or -k.  That is it.  Better than German or Arabic where the only way to definitively know the correct plural form is to memorize it!

The 18 cases of Hungarian is a myth, which I believe was probably invented by some Hungarian Language Graduate students somewhere to scare people away from learning Hungarian.  The cases are mostly prepositions which are merely attached to the word rather than separated like in English.  Sure, there is an “accusative” case, which is simply the letter “t” attached to a word to mark it as a direct object.  In Slavic languages there can be up to 6 different endings for a given word to mark its case depending on gender and number.  Hungarian has one if you don’t count the rules for vowel harmony ( which is pretty easy and intuitive in its own right so I’m not going to count changes for vowel harmony as different case endings!)

The odd appearing words native to Hungarian appear incredibly daunting to the novice Hungarian learner.  Once a learner accumulates a modest amount of vocabulary ( I’d say 1200 words like myself) , it is amazing how logical it is to figure out the meanings of words.  Take szabadsag for example.  The word looks pretty intimidating until you realize, a-ha!!.  Szabad means free and sag means something like “the state of”.  Free-state so it means freedom or liberty!  You might recall the Hungarian word for computer számítógép.  When one breaks it down szám is number so számító is calculating and gep is machine. Számítógép is a calculating machine or computer!  It is very logical once one knows the roots and endings.

Verbs? Piece of cake.  There are few, if any, irregular verbs and the endings are predictable.  There are only 2 tenses past and present…. period!   OK, OK… 3 if you include the one verb that can be conjugated in the future tense.  Ah, but what about the definite and indefinite verb forms?  Compared to the 14 different tenses of the Romance languages,  I’ll take definite and indefinite forms any day.  It really isn’t difficult.  If you are talking about something specific, use the definite and you are being vague, use the indefinite.

Hungarian is simply so much fun to speak.  The umlauted permutations of Hungarian are just pure joy to say.  What other language can you bust out with something like..

Először egy gulyáslevest és egy hideg gyümölcslevest kérünk, utana pedig egy paprikás csirkét, es két uborksalátát is.

First we would like the goulash and a cold, fruit soup.  Then paprika chicken and two cucumber salads. ( From Teach Yourself Hungarian c1994)

I am thoroughly enjoying the experience of learning this somewhat obscure, but absolutely fascinating language!  I highly recommend it!!