Prominent Non-native Hungarian Speakers
February 6, 2021
Categories: Learning Hungarian

Special thanks to Naoki for compiling this list!  ~ Liz

People here know I’m a Magyarphile. No matter how many times I mention some nation I love, Hungary always remains #1 and their language remains the one I love most. And history shows that there were MANY foreigners who mastered this language (so much for Hungarian being a “rare” language as many people like to claim). I compiled a list of 50 such individuals.

Prominent non-native Hungarian speakers:

Gül Baba (Turk; 16th Century Ottoman poet entombed in Budapest)

Rudolf Chmel (Slovak; Last Czechoslovak Ambassador to Hungary; Most-Híd official)

Nikola Tesla (Serbian-American; Preeminent scientist of the 20th Century)

Emil Krebs (German; Eminent Polyglot with a confirmed record of mastering 68 languages)

Dušan Stevanović (Serb; Born in Belgrade, moved to Hungary at age 3)

Franz Herzog (German; Learned Hungarian as an adolescent in Temesvár)

İbrahim Peçevi (Bosnian; Ottoman historian born in Pécs most famous for his historical works on the Ottoman Empire and for being one of the first Ottoman historians who made references to European sources, especially Hungarian ones)

Julia Apraxin (Russian; raised in Vienna until parents’ divorce led to mother marrying a Hungarian noble and consequently a new life in Hungary)

Giuseppe Gasparo Mezzofanti (Italian; Cardinal and Vatican official; mastered at least 30 languages)

Adam František Kollár (Slovak; Coined the term “ethnology”; Imperial-Royal Court Councillor for Maria Theresa)

Dositej Obradović (Serb; Writer, dramatist, monk; first minister of education of Serbia)

Matija Čop (Slovene; Linguist and writer; mastered 19 languages and thus seen as the most erudite Slovene of his time)

João Guimarães Rosa (Brazilian; Novelist who taught himself Hungarian)

Jovan Rajić (Serb; Writer and pedagogue who translated several Hungarian works into Serbian)

Georg Sauerwein (German; Publisher and eminent Polyglot who mastered around 75 languages)

Jovan Damjanić (Serb; Fought for the Hungarian side during the Revolution of 1848; executed at Arad where his last words were “Long Live Hungary”)

Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (Romanian; Former Prime Minister of Romania; notably NOT from a Hungarian majority region or even a historically Hungarian area)

Iuliu Maniu (Romanian; Prime Minister of Romania in Interwar period; grew up in Transylvania under Hungarian rule)

Avgustyn Voloshyn (Ukrainian; Leader of the breakaway state of Carpatho-Ukraine; studied in Hungarian religious schools and universities)

Franz Joseph I of Austria (Austrian; Habsburg Monarch; was fluent in at least German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, and Italian)

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Bavarian; Learned Hungarian on her own initiative; influential in turning the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy)

Gerald Murnane (Australian; Taught himself Hungarian after reading Gyula Illyés’ People of the Puszta)

Rudolf Schuster (Slovak; Second President of Slovakia)

Ľudovít Štúr (Slovak; Major figure in Slovak national awakening; member of Hungarian Parliament)

Ernest Niżałowski (Pole; Polish soldier and Polish-Hungarian interpreter; born in Budapest)

Eva Grlić (Croatian Jew; Writer and journalist who was born in Budapest and spoke Ladino natively but learned Hungarian and Bosnian from a young age)

Isidor “Izzy” Einstein (American Jew; Learned Hungarian before emigrating from Austria-Hungary; achieved the most arrests and convictions during the first years of the Alcohol Prohibition era)

John F. Huenergardt (German-American; Seventh-day Adventist Minister; learned Hungarian to become a superintendent of the Hungarian and Balkan States Mission Field)

Simon Ungar (Jew; Spoke Yiddish natively and learned Hungarian in childhood; served as a Rabbi in Osijek)

Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside (British; Senior officer of the British Army, who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff at the start of World War II; learned Hungarian as a junior officer)

Anne Tardos (French; Lived in Hungary until 1956 Revolution; poet and academic)

Michael Weiß (Transylvanian Saxon; Learned Hungarian in school; became mayor of Brassó)

Robert Seton-Watson (British; Historian and politician who advocated the destruction of Austria-Hungary; originally a Magyarophile but turned against Hungary after learning Hungarian and switched his sympathies towards Slavs in the Kingdom of Hungary)

Mykhaylo Koman (Rusyn; Athlete for FC Dynamo Kyiv who learned Hungarian at a young age)

Uku Masing (Estonian; Prominent poet, Righteous Among the Nations, and expert on Semitic languages who spoke around 40 languages)

Orest Klympush (Ukrainian; Former Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary; selected for his Hungarian language skills)

Anneli Aarika-Szrok (Finn; Opera singer and former soloist of the Hungarian State Opera)

Alicja Sakaguchi (Pole; Esperantist who studied Hungarian and Esperanto at ELTE)

Lytkin Illya Vas (Komi; Linguist who published more than 300 studies and scientific articles in 5 languages, including Komi and Hungarian)

Yevgenij Arnoldovich Helimskij (Russian; Linguist specializing in Samoyedic languages; published a book comparing them to Hungarian)

Han Soo-yeon (Korean; Actress who grew up in Budapest and studied singing there)

Steven Dick (British; Diplomat working for the British Embassy in Budapest who studied Hungarian at Pécs)

Saimi Hoyer (Finn; Model who studied Hungarian at the University of Jyväskylä)

Tadashi Iijima (Japanese; Noted film critic and professor at Waseda University who studied Hungarian out of self-interest)

Michael Branch (British; Linguist who specialized in Uralic languages; learned Hungarian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London)

Jörmundur Ingi Hansen (Icelander; Neopagan leader who studied Hungarian at the University of Iceland presumably to explore Hungarian neo-paganism)

David Samoylov (Russian Jew; War poet and translator who translated literature from Hungarian to Russian)

Anton Durcovici (Romanian; Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church and the Bishop of Iaşi until death; mastered Hungarian for religious reasons)

Mihai Tänzer (Danube Swabian; Athlete who played for the Hungarian team Ferencváros)

Köten (Cuman; Khan of the Cumans who sought refuge in Hungary to escape the Mongol Empire)

Naoki visited Kiskunhalas, Hungary and found some traditional Cuman style clothing to try!

Naoki was born in Toda, Saitama, Japan, and moved to America and lived there (Indiana and then Michigan) for 11 years before returning to Japan. He is fluent in Japanese, American English, and Hungarian (B2+) and conversational in Belarusian, Estonian, Manchu, Kalmyk, and Crimean Tatar). He started learning Hungarian at the age of 12, after coming across Hungarian phrases in the book “Vampyre – The Terrifying Lost Journal Of Dr. Cornelius Van Helsing” and has visited Hungary 6 times and lived there twice (once in Pécs, currently in Budapest). He is especially fond of Hungarian history, especially in relation to Rovásírás, Hungary in the wider Uralic world, the Old Hungarian religion, Hungarian minorities in Transylvania and Zakarpattia, Ottoman Hungary, and the Cumans.



A note from Liz: I met Naoki in class when I studied Hungarian in Debrecen in the summer of 2016. It has been fun to watch him be able to invest the time and energy in in person classes in Hungary over the last several years. Recently, Naoki compiled this list and I asked if I could share it as a little motivation for those of us who are working on the language.

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