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!!


Nem áll készen az ősszel!!!

nem áll készen az ősszel



Autumn has hit here in the northeast US with a vengeance!  Thus, the title Nem áll készen az ősszel which roughly translated means: I’m not ready for autumn!!


Hungarian, sadly continues to take a backseat to life.  Everything is crazy-busy, plus hosting my family in town last week meant not much time for Magyarul.   Over the past week I have exclusively been working through the Assimil course.  I have managed to get through the first 16 lessons; although they are mostly a review of what I have learned from the other courses.  What is nice about Assimil is each lesson is very short and very manageable.  One is only supposed to do one lesson a day and then move on to the next one.  True, it doesn’t have the degree of drills and intensivity that FSI/DLI have, but I don’t have 90 minutes a day to devote to Hungarian either at this point!  The Assimil dialogues continue to be very entertaining!


De mit csinál a ferjad délután öttól este nyolcig? “

“- Ez maganügy!”

“So what does your husband do every evening from 5 until 8?”

“That’s a private matter!!!”

Ahhh….you gotta love the French!!  🙂


I’m happy to say that I have been listening to several Hungarian podcasts each week and I can actually understand them now!  Again, certainly not every word but definitely more than a few weeks ago.  For the news stories, I can now tell what the story is about  from listening alone without having to read the title.


I also watched an interview in Hungarian from Benny Lewis’ Fluent In 3 Months blog.  I nearly wet myself when I discovered I could understand a good 90% of the interview! ( Ok ,  maybe wet myself is a bit strong… but I was pretty psyched..)


Again,  it is good to have these little confidence rewards when life gets in the way of good, hard studying.


Until next week…  légy boldog


Six Weeks! / Hat hét!

" Lest not the rabbit have a gun"

Roughly translated " Lest not the rabbit have a gun"

Six weeks into attacking a magyar nyelv, the language of Hungary.

Six Units of FSI down.

Six Units of DLI down.

I was starting to get pretty frustrated with my self-assessed lack of progress.  I still can only understand every sixth or seventh word in Hungarian podcasts, I struggle to come up with words and translations with the FSI exercises and I still have trouble understanding what my Hungarian friend at work says to me.  She has to say things three or four times interspersed with my nem értem, nem értem, nem értem!” ( I don’t understand you!).  But, Holy Cow?!?!!!   Six weeks!!

I’ve only been doing this for six weeks and my vocabulary is up to 600 or 700 words.  I can at least get the general gist of Hungarian podcasts.  I can hold a basic conversation  with a Hungarian speaker.

Thinking back to when I took Spanish in school, six weeks in we were still learning  “como està usted?” and “mi nombre es…”. We couldn’t conduct more than a very basic conversation if at all.  Heck, most people I know that took four years of Spanish in school still can’t hold a conversation in Spanish!

So looking back, I’m pretty happy with my progress.  I think my biggest impediment is still vocabulary.  Fluency in a language requires 5000-7000 words.  I clearly have a long way to go.  But hey?!?  I’m nearly 20% there!    Hopefully by next spring I can get up to 2000-3000.

A new trick that I have been trying is to use Google-Translate to translate my e-mails and web pages into Hungarian.  The great thing about it is that I can hover over an unknown word in Hungarian and it will give me the English word immediately.  No hunting for every other word in a dictionary any more!  What a great tool.

Hungarian grammar continues to throw in some intricacies and peculiarities.  For example; I recently learned how most verbs in Hungarian have two different forms; the definite and the indefinite.  Each has its various rules and guidelines as to how and when to use each specific one.   As it seems to me, it comes down to being specific vs. being vague.  If I wanted to say “I see THE book”  I would say Látom a könyvet(definite) but “ I see A book” would be Látok egy könyvet(indefinite).

Possession in Hungarian is indicated by, you guessed it, suffixes!  Rather than saying my book, your book, his book, their book etc., suffixes are added which have a multitude of rules governed by vowel harmony, adding or not adding j’s or a’s and so on… Very similar to Turkish, which I have studied previously.  For anyone who is interested, here is an example table that I took from the Wikipedia page on Hungarian Grammar: .

Singular Plural
1st person -om/(-am)/-em/-öm/-m

az (én) lakásom

my flat /apartment


a (mi) lakásunk

our flat /apartment

2nd person (informal) -od/(-ad)/-ed/-öd/-d

a (te) lakásod

your (singular) flat /apartment


a (ti) lakásotok

your (plural) flat /apartment

3rd person


2nd person (formal or official)


a(z ő) lakása

his/her/its flat /apartment

a(z ön) lakása

your (formal) flat /apartment


a(z ő) lakásuk

their flat/apartment

a lakásuk / az önök lakása (!)

your (fml, pl) flat/apt.

Viszlát jövő héten! (see you next week!)