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Is Hungarian Hard to Learn?

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This is an article for those who are interested in learning Hungarian, but still have questions they want answered before taking the plunge. Can you guess the first question potential learners tend to ask? Yep: “Is Hungarian hard to learn?”

Many people have the impression that Hungarian is difficult and that learning it is out of their grasp.

Below, we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions from absolute beginners. We wish to encourage them—and you—to overcome the obstacles and learn Hungarian. Here at HungarianPod101, we strive to help every learner achieve success, especially those who have reached a plateau during their language-learning journey. We guarantee that we’ll be there for you every step of the way. 

In this article, we’ll shed some light on what things make Hungarian hard to learn, how to overcome them, and which aspects of the language are actually super-simple! And, if you’re already in the mood to learn Hungarian by the time you reach the end—which you probably will be, because it’s a unique and awesome language—we’ll give you some advice for starting out. Finally, we’ll list all the benefits of HungarianPod101 and our services, and why we’re the best choice for Hungarian language-learning.

Are you ready to embark on a new, exciting, and challenging journey? Read on—you won’t regret it!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Hungarian Table of Contents
  1. Is it Hard to Learn Hungarian?
  2. What are the Hardest and Easiest Parts of Learning Hungarian?
  3. I Want to Learn Hungarian. Where Should I Start?
  4. Advice for a New Hungarian-Learner
  5. Why is HungarianPod101 Great for Learning Hungarian?
  6. Conclusion: HungarianPod101.com Brings Out the Best in You

1. Is it Hard to Learn Hungarian?

Students Paying Attention During a Lecture

Before you start learning Hungarian, you must be aware of the challenges you’re going to face. In this section, we’ll shed light on the question every native Hungarian gets asked by a foreigner at least once in their life: “Is Hungarian a hard language to learn?” Well, there are obviously a few hard parts, just like in any language, but really, Hungarian isn’t that difficult to master once you get the basics down.

That said, every learner is different and everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to language-learning. As such, it takes each and every person a different amount of time to master Hungarian. But one thing is guaranteed: If you’re dedicated enough to learn, and if you’re genuinely interested in the language and culture, the process will be easy as pie. You’ll find that the language is quite logically structured. 

Another factor to take into consideration is the level at which you wish to speak the language. If you’re aiming for a basic speech level to make your way around Hungary and converse with natives, then your journey will be child’s play compared to someone seeking an advanced level.

However, whatever your goal is, you can count on HungarianPod101 to be your constant companion.

To give you an example of the difference between a basic speech level and an advanced one, we’ve listed two sentences below. One is very simple, and the other is more complex. 

  • “The weather is nice.”
    Szép az idő.
  • “The weather is so nice, it makes me want to be outside all day.” 
    Olyan szép idő van, hogy legszívesebben egész nap kint lennék.

As you can see, the latter sentence contains more information than the former, and you can already see changes in conjugation!

A Woman in a Blue Shirt Smiling and Holding a Tablet

2. What are the Hardest and Easiest Parts of Learning Hungarian?

To effectively map out your study strategy, you have to know what the hardest and easiest aspects of the language are. We’ll start by looking at the more difficult aspects.

1- Why is Hungarian Hard to Learn?

1. Cases

Hungarian has thirty-five different cases. Many of these cases apply solely to prepositions, which are then attached to the words themselves.

For example:

  • “I brought you a cake.”
    Hoztam neked egy tortát.

The sentence above is in the accusative case. Here, “I brought” is hoztam, “you” (actually meaning “to you”) is neked, and “a cake” is egy tortát. The -t at the end of tortát indicates the accusative case.

2. Vowels

Hungarian has fourteen vowels. However, the only difference between most of them is their accents: a-á, e-é, o-ó-ö-ő, etc. Nevertheless, these ‘slight’ differences carry great value both in writing and in speech. If you misspell or mispronounce a vowel, the word could be nonsensical or mean something completely different than the word you intended to use. You can easily overcome this hardship by practicing the pronunciation of each vowel.

  • “Eating” (Evés)
  • “Yearly” (Éves)
  • “Five” (Öt)
  • “(I want) him/her” (Őt [akarom])

3. Pronunciation

The hardest part of learning Hungarian for beginners is probably the pronunciation. Words that appear to be identical can mean completely different things. This happens when an accent—which is indicated by one or two little dots or lines above a vowel—causes a slight change in sound.

There are also digraphs to worry about. You’ll need to memorize these and learn which words are written with them. But remember: There’s nothing that can’t be mastered with a little practice.

In addition, there are a few sounds that learners tend to struggle with. Here are some things you’ll have to remember:

  • The letter combination ‘sz’ represents the English [s] sound.
  • ‘S’ alone represents the English [ʃ] sound. 
  • The ‘cs’ sound in Hungarian is [tʃ] in English, just like in “champion.”
  • The Hungarian ‘zs’ sounds like [ʒ], or the ‘s’ in “pleasure.”

There are other digraphs (and thus, diphthongs) and one trigraph that English does not have. These include gy, ly, ny, ty, dz, and dzs, although many of these have similar sounds that occasionally appear in English. 

Here’s a sentence with digraphs that, in speech, form diphthongs:

In this example, there are three different digraphs.

Other sound differences include:

  • The ‘c’ sound in Hungarian is [ts] in English, just like at the end of “cats.”
  • The letter ‘j’ is pronounced as the ‘y’ in “voyage.”
  • The letter ‘r’ is rolled like in Spanish.

Once you get the hang of Hungarian pronunciation, it will actually become an “easy” part of the language, as Hungarian is rather phonetic. This means that if you familiarize yourself with the diphthongs, digraphs, and other sounds and letters that English doesn’t have, you’ll be able to easily write down a word you hear and vice-versa. In Hungarian, every letter has its own sound (except for ‘j’ and ‘ly’ which have the exact same sound: [j]) and every sound belongs to a letter (except for the above-mentioned [j] sound). This makes the pronunciation and spelling simpler than in languages like French or English.

2- Why is it Easy?

Now, let’s see what exactly makes learning Hungarian super-easy! 

1. Vocabulary

Hungarian might be from a different language family than English, but as it’s located in Europe, it took on many loanwords from its neighbors. So there are some words you’ll definitely recognize when you see or hear them.

Keeping in mind that the spelling has changed to match the rules of Hungarian phonetics, you’ll certainly recognize these words: 

  • Alkohol
  • Analízis
  • Bank
  • Busz
  • Kategória
  • Kombináció
  • Dizájn
  • Dráma
  • Elefánt
  • Magazin
  • Misszió
  • Neutrális
  • Opera
  • Park
  • Probléma
  • Sport
  • Stratégia
  • Stressz
  • Taxi
  • Toalett
  • Turista

There are at least 500 of such “borrowed” words in Hungarian.

2. Verb tenses

Present tense:

  • “I (am) read(ing).”
    Olvasok.

Hungarian does not differentiate between the simple present and the present continuous tenses.

Past tense:

  • “I (was) read(ing).”
    Olvastam.

Neither does it differentiate between the simple past or past continuous.

Future tense:

  • “I will (be) read(ing).”
    Olvasni fogok.

The way Hungarians usually form the future tense is with an infinitive verb and the conjugated form of fog.

This structure is gradually falling out of use as Hungarians tend to express the future tense with the help of the present tense. When doing so, the present tense verb is typically preceded by a time adverb. For instance, “later” or “tomorrow.”

Future tense:

  • “I will read.”
    Majd / Később olvasok.

Majd and később both have a similar meaning to “later.”

  • “I will read tomorrow.”
    Holnap olvasok.

3. Genders

Hungarian does not have grammatical gender. Because of this, you don’t have to worry about which form/gender of “the” to use, as you would in French or German, for example. In Hungarian, you can use your brain cells for more important things.

4. Plurals

Hungarian has a very straightforward way of forming plural nouns. It’s as easy as doing so in English, but the letter used in Hungarian is different. While English uses ‘s’ (e.g. “cats“), Hungarian uses ‘k’ (macskák).

If the stem word ends in a vowel, then the vowel gets an accent:

  • “Cat”
    Macska
  • “Cats”
    Macskák

If it’s a possessive noun, Hungarians use an ‘i’ before the possessive letter at the end (instead of a ‘k’). That’s about it.

  • “My cat”
    Macskám
  • “My cats”
    Macskáim

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3. I Want to Learn Hungarian. Where Should I Start?

If you’ve managed to get over the “How hard is Hungarian to learn?” question, and if you’re eager to start learning it now despite the challenges it might pose, you’re in the right place. Here, we’ll give you some advice on where to start your language-learning journey. 

1 – Create a study schedule and set goals.

Setting goals gives you motivation and something to strive for. It’s even better if you put them down on paper, so if you ever feel unmotivated, you just have to look at them and remind yourself of why you’re learning Hungarian.

2 – Expand your vocabulary.

Use word lists to build up a solid vocabulary. Luckily, we have all the word lists you need, with a range of topics, from Food to Love! Choose whichever topic you want to study and go! Don’t forget that you can get pretty far in a conversation if you know just enough words. Start with nouns and work your way through verbs and adjectives.

3 – Make it fun.

Once you learn how to make your study time fun, you’ll look forward to studying a whole lot more. Great ways of making language-learning enjoyable include listening to Hungarian music and checking the lyrics of songs, or watching Hungarian series. There are many options online on RTL Most.

4 – Find a study partner.

Another way of making studying fun is to do it with a friend. Learning Hungarian with one of your friends does more than give you two bonding time—it also makes you twice as efficient because you push each other toward your goals. That said, your study partner doesn’t have to be someone you know already. You can find someone online who shares your Hungarian-learning interests and ambitions. If possible, though, studying with a native speaker is the best way to really pick up the language! 

Are there any language-learning strategies that have helped you in the past? Let us know in the comments!

Four Girls Talking and Laughing in a Circle

4. Advice for a New Hungarian-Learner

Learning a new language can be a lot of fun, especially if that language is as awesome as Hungarian. Of course, knowing the language is a must if you plan to live in Hungary, but even if you just learn Hungarian as a hobby, you’ll have a cool “fun fact” to tell about yourself when meeting new people.

If you really want to learn Hungarian, the first thing you must do is never become discouraged or afraid. You should understand that Hungarian might take quite some time to master—depending on your goals, as we told you above—but it will be so rewarding once you’ve gotten there! 

1 – Listen to words and lines over and over again.

If you listen to Hungarian content often and really pay attention, you’ll easily start to notice the tones people use (i.e. when they raise or lower their voices) and the rhythm of their speech. Paying attention to these aspects and repeating the things you hear will help you sound more like a local.

2 – Perfect your pronunciation.

As we said above, Hungarian pronunciation is considered a difficult aspect of learning the language, but it’s not Mission Impossible. Just record your voice when trying to pronounce words and then listen to that word said out loud by a native speaker. Compare their pronunciation to yours, and if you’re not quite there yet, keep repeating the process. Your accent will soon vanish.

3 – Use applications.

We strongly suggest that you download applications onto your phone so you can study on the go, even if your notes and books aren’t with you. Fortunately, HungarianPod101 has an application that has everything in one place. That said, your phone can be of great use even if you only use its camera. Just take pictures of your notes, and you’ll never have to carry notebooks or heavy study books with you again! 

4 – Be open.

You’ll soon notice that Hungarian is like no other language. You must be open to the Hungarian language, as well as the culture, if you want to succeed. Try to speak to natives frequently (we recommend the online application Tandem). If you’re exposed to the language you’re learning on a daily basis, it will be much easier for words and expressions to stick in your mind. In addition, if you’re speaking with somebody interesting and having a fascinating conversation, you’re studying almost effortlessly.

Here are a few icebreakers for these conversations:

  • “Do you play any sports?”
    Sportolsz valamit?
  • “Yes, I play volleyball.”
    Igen, röplabdázom.
  • “And what do you think of basketball?”
    És mit gondolsz a kosárlabdáról?
  • “I love it. I always watch the NBL. And you?”
    Imádom. Mindig nézem az NBL-t. És te?

A Guy in a Gray Shirt Smiling with a Basketball

5. Why is HungarianPod101 Great for Learning Hungarian?

With HungarianPod101, you’ll learn Hungarian with fun, interesting, and relevant lessons. We have over 900 audio and video lessons designed for easy listening, and numerous dialogues on a wide range of topics. Just repeat what you hear and you’ll learn Hungarian quickly and in an interesting way that doesn’t feel like studying at all. Each lesson comes with transcripts of the dialogues and lesson notes explaining what you heard during the lesson. There’s also a vocabulary list with each audio lesson that covers the most important words and phrases.

Our tutors are just as knowledgeable and energetic as our lessons are. If you have any questions after listening to a lesson, you can ask our tutors in the comment section and they’ll get back to you as soon as possible with helpful information.

Many of our services are free and don’t require an account: 

  • Vocabulary lists
  • A Hungarian dictionary
  • A list of the 100 most common words
  • Some Hungarian key phrases
  • A Word of the Day feature

However, if you want to get the full HungarianPod101 experience and maximize your language-learning success, we suggest that you sign up for an account. One of the many useful features that comes with an account is spaced-repetition flashcards—you can easily test your memory, and you don’t have to bother writing the words down yourself. These flashcards also contain example sentences and audio files of the word’s pronunciation!  

Once you sign up, you can use all the features of our website for seven days.  

If you would like to learn with your own personal teacher, all you have to do is subscribe to Premium PLUS, which comes with several other benefits as well:

  • Assessment tests
  • Custom word lists
  • Interactive quizzes
  • Pronunciation reviews
  • HD videos

Join the hundreds of thousands of people already learning Hungarian through the power of our mobile apps, desktop software, and website (which has free Hungarian lessons released every week, by the way)!

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6. Conclusion: HungarianPod101.com Brings Out the Best in You

We hope that we’ve encouraged you to embark on the new and exciting journey of learning Hungarian. Now you know that Hungarian is not a hard language to learn, and you also know how to overcome the more difficult aspects and where to begin learning.

We also listed the advantages of studying Hungarian with us specifically. Remember, if you sign up, not only do you get everything mentioned above, but also the perks of having a supportive group to help you along the way. We guarantee that if you decide to be part of our family, you’ll never have unanswered questions or lack support.

If you would like to get full access to all the good stuff we have to offer, join the HungarianPod101 family today.

By the way, is Hungarian the first new language you’re learning, or do you know more? What strategies have helped you learn languages, and what do you normally learn first? Let us know in the comments!

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