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The curious case of the Hungarian language

"It sounds beautiful. Honestly it's one of the most beautiful languages I've ever heard.", " I've never heard similar language.", "Hungarian contains lots of words that are not easily related to other European languages so if you're European the vocabulary challenge is much bigger.", " It sounds strange, and I find it difficult to understand.", "Are these people related to the elves of Lord of the Rings? It reminds me of Elvish or something Tolkien would use and I think it did influence some of his work.", "Hungarian sounds like clay blocks.", "When I saw the first Hungarian film, i couldn't stop laughing. I thought, it was something artificial, like klingon or a Mickey mouse language." - There are several threads in Duolingo, where linguist fanatics are trying to find the essence of the Hungarian language. We believe our language is definitely different to the dialects spoken by our neighbours, who usually speak Indo-European languages. In fact, Hungarian comes from the Ularic region of Asia and belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, meaning its closest relatives are actually Finnish and Estonian.

In a 2014  film directed by Anders Malmberg and styled by i-D magazine's Senior Fashion Editor Julia Sarr-Jamois, you can "learn" how to win Hungary's greatest export's Miss Barbara Palvin's heart with a liliom or a tulipán, get gooey over goulash and do a Houdini. Have a seat and listen close, who could be a better teacher helping  you  with the first steps?


So how did you find a little taste of our language? The five vowels of the English language is a pale comparison to the Hungarian’s total of 14. As well as the basic “a, e, i, o, u” vowels, there are a further 9 variations: á, é, í, ó, ö, ő, ú, ü, ű. The pronunciation of each is slightly different and can change the meaning of a word completely. Not only does the Hungarian alphabet feature 44 letters in total, but some of those counted as letters are in fact made up of two or even three. Are you already getting mixed up? Take, for example, ‘dzs’, a letter in the Hungarian alphabet pronounced as ‘j’, or ‘sz’ which equates to ‘s’.While the word order is flexible, it’s not totally free – there are still rules about how words need to be arranged. This depends on the emphasis of the sentence, and the sense conveyed. various grammatical components – such as affixes and stems –can be added to a word to increase its length (and change its meaning).

Benny Lewis is a fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. He believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one. By establishing his blog Fluent in 3 months he is giving you quite useful tips and a positive attitude towards our language as well, FYI Benny speaks 11 languages. Here are some of his tips and tricks to start with and we deeply recommend you to read the whole article::

  • One cool blog for example is Öt év – öt nyelv (5 years, 5 languages) run by my friend Bálint, who also translated the Language Hacking Guideentirely to Hungarian (which is part of the multilingual download) for people to use as reading practice.
  • One of the first things you will hear when someone is describing Hungarian to you is that it has “over twenty cases”, so while in Czech, any case requires you to know (or at least extrapolate) up to fourteen possible combinations per word (which luckily follow patterns) for each case, Hungarian just has two or three, which are almost always totally obvious. Seriously; they are just prepositions! Stop thinking of them as cases, and just think of them as fancy prepositions and you'll do fine. They aren't even that fancy. Think of things like “with John” as “John with” and the challenge suddenly starts to disappear.
  • It takes some getting used to that Sz represents the “s” sound and S alone represents the “sh” sound, the “c” sound is “ts” like in cats (Esperanto and Slavic languages do this too) and “cs” is “ch” (like chair), j is pronounced as “y”, zs is the French j sound like the s in pleasure, the ö and ü (and corresponding longer versions) are different vowel sounds and the famous gy in the language name itself, magyar is also something we don't directly have in English, but can be pretty accurately approximated by “dy” and “ly” is pronounced as if it was just “y”. The r is rolled like in Spanish.
  • The conjugations follow a very European style of 1st, 2nd, 3rd person singular and then 1st, 2nd, 3rd person plural and strangely enough seems very similar to Spanish or Italian in a lot of ways.
  • The absolute easiest part of Hungarian conjugation is the fact that it is basically based around just three verb tenses; past, present, future. Any other European language will have past perfect, pluperfect, etc. but it's more straightforward in Hungarian. All conjugations are very consistent and there are way less irregular verbs than there are in many other languages.
  • Hungarian doesn't have grammatical genders. So there are no extra ways to learn how to say “the”, no adjective or case agreement to worry about and no memory techniques required to make sure you aren't using the wrong one.
  • Hungarian is pretty much as good as English here! English uses ‘s' (dogs), Hungarian uses ‘k' (kutyák). If the noun ends in a vowel then it gets an accent and if it's a possessive, it becomes an i before the ending possessive letter. That's about it.

Are you still up for a challenge? Here are some basic and useful sentences to keep you going in the Budapest night scene!

Hello = Szia (for one person) /sziasztok (for two person and above) !(see-yah/see-yah-stoke)

How are you doing? = Hogy vagy?  (hoj-dj vah-dj )

I’m fine, thank you.  = Köszönöm, jól. (keu-seu-neum yohl)

Good morning/afternoon/evening = Jó reggelt/napot/estét  = (yoh reg-gelt/nah-poht/esh-tet)

Can I have a  pálinka / beer / wine please = Kérek egy pálinkát / sört / bort  (‘Care-ek edge pah-link-cat / shirt / bore-t’)

How much is it?’= Mennyibe kerül? (Men-yee-beh ker-ool)

Cheers! = Egészségedre! (‘Ag-esh-sheg-ad-reh’)

Check, please = A számlát, kérem (‘Aw sam-lat keh-rem’)

Goodbye = Viszontlátásra! Viszlát! (‘Vee-sont-lah-tash-ra! Vee-slat!’)

Good night = Jó éjszakát (yoh ey-sa-kat)

I don’t speak Hungarian Nem beszélek magyarul/angolul. (nem bass-ale-lack ma-ja-rule)

I love you = Szeretlek (Ser-at-lack)

Coverphoto: Pixabay







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