Learning Hungarian
September 22, 2016
Categories: Learning Hungarian

Here is a little history of my exposure to Hungarian and some practical ideas for incorporating some Hungarian into your life.

The Bolla cousins and our Hungarian teacher, Emory! from l to r: Liz (me), Mark, Vicki, Emory, Thelma, Liana, Ted, Hannah and Elizabeth

Three of my four grandparents were born in Hungary and came to the USA in the early 1900s. My parents were both born in the US but, with Hungarian being the most comfortable language for their parents and grandparents, they grew up speaking Hungarian in their home and were both fluent Hungarian speakers.

Even though both of my parents were fluent in Hungarian and spoke Hungarian at home, I did not grow up speaking Hungarian. I was exposed to it in a number of ways as a youth at a Hungarian summer camp in Ligonier PA, a Hungarian dance group in Youngstown OH, living in Hungary for 4 months (while my mom took some courses on the Kodály music method), four years of Hungarian Language camp through the William Penn Association, a month in Debrecen, Hungary studying Hungarian, as well as in frequent interaction with many Hungarian relatives, friends, customers, and Hungarian refugees.

I feel very fortunate to have had the rhythm of the language in my head for so many years. Now that I am more intentional about learning Hungarian, along with two of our children, here are the things I believe are essential to learning this complex language:

*** The most important thing to do is stop bemoaning what you don’t know and don’t blame others for your situation. Start learning. There are a number of reasons why Hungarian may not have been passed down within your family but if it hasn’t, give your ancestors a break. It is more difficult to learn when you are older but it isn’t impossible. If you are serious about learning Hungarian it can be done.

The most wonderful thing about Hungarian is it is very phonetic. It is very dependable that way. Mastering the Hungarian alphabet is essential to your progress. If you have anyone near you who can work with you on that, do yourself a favor and sit at their feet and work with them. Mastering the Hungarian alphabet is the most basic yet most essential ingredient to mastering the language. With Skype and FaceTime and all the amazing ways to connect with people you can surely find someone who will at least help you get started. Find a relative or friend who also wants to learn Hungarian and challenge one another! Accountability is a good motivator.

Spend some energy growing your knowledge base. There are free internet based resources out there (see below) but there is nothing like having some books in your hand! Buy a Hungarian phrase book and a English-Hungarian / Hungarian-English dictionary. Get a CD with someone singing Hungarian songs. Ask others to buy these for you for Christmas or your birthday.

Practical Ideas

Make vocabulary flashcards. Start with the numbers, colors, animals, and food. Once you start getting Hungarian words in your brain, you will start thinking about those objects in a way that helps you keep the words in your brain.

Label objects in your home with the Hungarian words. This will help you see Hungarian words every day.

Challenge yourself to learn basic phrases or the Common Table Prayer in Hungarian. If you ever go to Hungarian events you know the Hungarian National Anthem is sung every time. CLICK HERE for the Hungarian National Anthem and a few popular Hungarian folk songs with words.

If a Hungarian class is offered near you — sign up for it! Check out our Hungarian language opportunities at the Magyar Marketing website!

A note from one of our instructors, Anna:

The word “dictionary” is “szótár” in Hungarian. You can search for angol-magyar szótár or magyar-angol szótár. I myself don’t use physical dictionaries any more because there are so many online options. There is, of course, google translate (https://translate.google.com/) but there are some excellent Hungarian ones as well.

For Hungarian to English: http://szotar.sztaki.hu/magyar-angol-szotar and for English to Hungarian: http://szotar.sztaki.hu/angol-magyar-szotar

Another excellent option: https://angol-magyar-szotar.hu/ (EN to HU) and https://magyar-angol-szotar.hu/ (HU to EN)

And finally: https://topszotar.hu/angol-magyar-szotar/ and https://topszotar.hu/magyar-angol-szotar/ are also great.
There isn’t a great substitute for face-to-face learning but there are a lot of resources out there and I have gathered some of them here:

Catch Budapest: Juli and Flo have been producing resources to help people learn Hungarian for a number of years now and their goal is for you to understand Hungarian! If you sign up for their Smart Hungarian Audio Course and use the code MAGYAR you will save 40% off the price! You should definitely sign up for their FREE One Hungarian Word a Day but definitely look around their website and see what resources they are producing to help you on your journey!

Check out The Hungarian Project — we have uploaded quite a few of the lessons but there are still more to view!

Here is a resource to learn Hungarian online through games: Digital Dialects

Palacsinta Party at the Hungarian Heritage Experience hosted by William Penn Association.

Let’s Learn Hungarian (good podcast but there are not many episodes)

Transparent Language

Foreign Service Institute


Hungarian Pod 101



Hungarian Phrase Book by Nemo

Pimsleur — we did invest in this program and it is good to have on hand. With 3 of us learning Hungarian it was an affordable resource for us compared to the cost of classes.

If you have an smart phone there are a number of language learning apps and dictionaries available. There are several free ones and you can also pay to upgrade. Explore them and see what works for you! If you have found some useful resources, please let me know!

There were students from 35 countries studying Hungarian in Debrecen with me in 2016!

You can take Hungarian language courses at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN or Columbia University in NY or hire a private tutor if there is a Hungarian speaker in your community.

Additional Ideas

We traveled to Hungary to visit with our many relatives! l to r: Liz, Lidia, Elizabeth, Hannah.

Plan a trip to Hungary –there is nothing quite like having a deadline to motivate you to learn! Whether you do all the planning yourself or you join a tour group, you will find Hungary a beautiful country to visit. You can navigate Budapest fairly well with limited Hungarian skills but, once you leave Budapest, you should know some Hungarian or have a translator with you. If you know any German it might come in handy. Interested in joining one of our tours? Give me a call at 1-800-786-7851. We have three different tours scheduled this year! We specialize in affordable and personal tours that help you get connected with Hungarian culture in a meaningful way.

Join a group that has an interest in Hungarian language or culture. There are many traditional Hungarian clubs within the US but there are also groups that organize themselves under MeetUp (or start your own group).

Volunteer to teach English as a Second Language in Hungary!

Start cooking Hungarian food! If you mess around with recipes, you are sure to pick up some Hungarian “kitchen” words.

No More Excuses! You can do this!

This is not an exhaustive list– If you have some other tips or suggestions, please send them to me so I can add them to this listing!

Elizabeth, Hannah, Gerry, and Landon are all dressed up for the program at Hungarian camp.

Magyar Marketing is a second-generation family business that began in 1988. Our mission is to provide you with resources and encouragement to discover, celebrate, and share your Hungarian heritage with friends and family! To receive our free product catalog or learn about our tours to Hungary and Transylvania, please email [email protected] or call 1-800-786-7851.

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