Below I have listed some steps for learning Basic Hungarian, based on the approach I took, that should help you decide whether or not Hungarian is a language for you. Some steps give practical information and point out 'common sense' rules while others make you aware of what to expect in terms of learning time, materials, costs and what can be achieved. Either way, make no mistake - Hungarian gets quite complex after A1 Level.
Many people fail to reach and get past A1 Level simply because after a few days of learning Hungarian they decide "Hungarian Is Too Complex"; normally because they have no more motivation to learn Hungarian, nobody to learn with, their courses/lessons become too expensive, the people around them speak their native language (i.e. English) and/or they quit too easily.
Those with Hungarian partners usually have better motivation whereas those who study in a classroom usually do better overall because they have more motivation (i.e. because they are learning with others), more structured work (i.e. are given homework and have better explanations of Hungarian in the classroom) and a better environment (i.e. less distractions and less noise around them); which produces better focus.
If you have not tried Hungarian yet, follow the tips and advices below to be better prepared.
Before fully learning Hungarian and spending money on materials, try out a few basic Hungarian words and sentences first via YouTube videos, free language apps and websites that give free audio examples. You need to hear the language first and then ask yourself "Could I actually speak those words and sentences myself with a little practise?".
At the beginning Hungarian might sound funny, weird and unpronounceable, with many audio examples being unclear due to amateur recording equipment and the accents of native speakers, but that should NOT stop you from focusing on around 20 common words and 20 common sentences and seriously trying to repeat them with as much accuracy as possible to give yourself a realistic idea of how easy or difficult learning basic Hungarian will be for you.
Although Hungarian is not a common language, there is enough material out there (i.e. books, cds, apps and audio/video websites) to learn basic Hungarian words and sentences from; as well as a whole Hungarian coursework.
Although there are many ways to learn Hungarian these days (such as with Flash Cards, Language Apps, YouTube Videos and Traditional Language/Phrase Books), not all learning methods and materials will be compatible or suitable with the way you learn. You need to consider:
It is because of the above considerations that it is so important you go through material, preferably with a native Hungarian at your side checking for accuracy and giving guidance, before committing to learning Hungarian.
With books (see my Language Books ReviewedLanguage Book Reviews web page) I always take the time to visit bookshops that sell them and check public libraries, even if I have to travel a few miles to view them. If books are sold online only, I try and find reviews and page samples for them via Amazon and Google Books among other websites. And if there are no page samples or reviews, which is very unlikely these days, I look to see if there are older book versions available. If all that fails, I consider the price, the authors' reputation/brand and the number of pages before buying from wherever.
With a language app (see my Language Apps ReviewedLanguage App Reviews web page) I look for a variety of things such as how well it pronounces words, its price, its number of learning methods (i.e. Flash Card, Listen & Spell, Listen & Repeat and Hangman games) and so on. I find multi-level (multi-method/multi-game) apps make learning (remembering) Hungarian much easier.
With a YouTube video language lesson (see my Language Videos ReviewedLanguage Video Reviews web page) I look for a variety of things such as how well words are pronounced, what I will be learning, whether or not it has a series, if an author supports their lessons via e-mail/comments/live video lessons and so on.
Ideally, after making the decision to fully learn Hungarian, you should NOT buy any material at first. This is for three reasons:
With 6,000 Words, it took me 1-2 hours a day (1 hour around 11am and 1 hour around 11pm) for around 4-6 weeks just to learn colours, time, directions, numbers and so on; as words only, not in sentences. After that, I spent around the same time learning sentences via Duolingo and other apps. This practise gave me a very good reading level. At the same time, I was learning Hungarian grammar rules via blogs, websites and YouTube (Justin Decker for example explains Vowel Harmony very well).
When learning any language I would say do NOT learn too much at once, intensively, because you will forget half of it quite easily. By learning slower, matching words to images and associating their tone to the way people speak them, you will take in more. The key is to be relaxed and clear minded while learning. Try and practise in a quiet, peaceful, undisturbed environment.
Start by learning 30 minutes per day and then progress to 60 minutes per day, for 2 months, before progressing further. After learning the basics, you then want to progress onto purchasing Reading Books, Grammar Books, Exercise Books, CDs and Pay-For Apps for example to give you more motivation to continue and a sense of achievement for practise already achieved.
As an example, I progressed from using free language apps to paid university books; such as the MagyarOK Books ReviewedMagyarOK 'Grammar & Exercise' Books. As a result: I advanced my knowledge of Hungarian grammar, learnt more adjectives and verbs, and had a better understanding of sentence structure; all within two months of buying the books. This was only possible by learning from the free language apps first though. Without them I would of been doing a lot more Google Translating, to the point of boredom and quitting. Hence why I highly recommend language apps.
If you do not motivate yourself by purchasing new material, you will end up just re-learning (going over and over / re-remembering) the same old basics. Purchasing new material, at the right time in your own learning stage, will boost your confidence and willingness to learn; and to speak, a few sentences, with Hungarians. Why? Because when you pay £40+ for books for example, your 'willingness to learn' will come from the fact you do not want/like to waste money by not learning. With free books and other free materials your 'willingness to learn' will not be as strong.
At the point you know enough words and sentences, do NOT be shy. Be confident enough to go into the street and ask someone the time or where the Post Office is. It does NOT matter if you cannot understand their reply. Simply smile, say "OK, Köszönöm" (OK, Thank You) and then walk away. The point here is that if you ask 5-10 people within 30 minutes for example the same question, you will be building up your confidence. Tomorrow do the same, but with a different question.
I did the above said. I would stop someone in the street and say "Excuse Me" (in English, so they knew I was English), "Angol Vagyok" (I am English) whereby at that point I would get that look "Oh my god, I hope he doesn't ask something in English. I hope I can help him". They would either say "Sorry, No English" or "Tessék" (Yes, How can I help you?") or just be silent whereby either way I would then say "Hol Van A Pékség?" (Where is the bakery?). They would then be very surprised, but at the same time appreciative, that I am speaking Hungarian and tend to be more helpful.
Here it did not matter about the reply, especially as I already knew where the bakery was, because they would either point "Over There" or reply "Ott" (There)....or "Nem Tudom"! (I do not know!). And if I could not fully understand their reply I would either say "Köszönöm" or point and say "Ott?" and they would reply with "Igen" (Yes).
I did the same once inside the bakery. When first learning Hungarian I would point to the bread and say "Barna" (Brown), then advance to "Barna Kenyér" (Brown Bread) and eventually ask (without pointing) "Szeretnék Egy Barna Kenyért" (I Would Like One Brown Bread).
TIP - I would visit various bakeries every other day, especially when cycling home, to make sure my pronunciation was understood in general. When practising, it is important NOT to use the same bakery for example as they get to know you want brown bread all the time and will therefore accept your broken, mispronounced, Hungarian. Or ignore it altogether!
This normally depends on three primary factors. Your ability to learn (your ability to remember and store information), your time to learn (in terms of dedicated hours) and your goals - Do you want to be able to read, write, listen to and/or speak Hungarian at the end of your learning period? Or do you just want to read and write it for example?
An English teacher working and living in Hungary told me: "It took me around four years to learn Hungarian". He spoke it and understood it very well, but he had the advantages of being a teacher and having a Hungarian wife. And this is one of the reasons why "Foreign" people learn Hungarian, because of their Hungarian partner. Nevertheless, this English teacher told me "You have to put the time and energy in and immense yourself in the language and culture".
With the same token, a Chinese woman I met in Hungary said it took her around three years to learn Hungarian. She had a Hungarian husband and children.
Even Tünde, my Hungarian wife, recommends a period of 3 Hours a day; when you are serious about Hungarian. And she says even on that level you would need 2 to 3 years to be fluent, on a basic level. As a percentage, taking into consideration some words are impossible to pronounce, she reckons an English person might learn about 60% of the overall language. She basis those factors on the way she learnt English from scratch.
When attempting to learn Hungarian (or any "Foreign" language) I would say "Listen To Sections Of It First" to see if you think you can pronounce its syllables because at the end of the day your goal should be to speak the language regardless of reading, writing and listening skills (or lack of). Ask yourself "Could I realistically pronounce most of the syllables and basic words of this language?".
Although Hungarian is a phonetic language, meaning each letter/syllable is supposed to sound the same regardless of the words they are in, different dialects and regions of Hungary mean in reality certain words are spoken differently. The same can be said of any country. On top of this, Hungarian has specific syllables whereby no English speaker will ever be able to pronounce them!
It depends on what you mean by Worth. The main problem with taking a private course, in a school or via Skype for example, is the overall expense. Even at £5 or £10 per hour, a full language course will still cost you hundreds of pounds. On top of this, many private teachers on Skype for example know they will only be attracting "part-time", "one-off", "a few lessons only" learners at that price; and therefore may not have made a full course available.
Also with Skype, the audio/video may drop-out and/or the audio/video may not be clear enough to understand what is being spoken/pronounced; unlike sitting next to someone in person. In the UK, many Hungarians advertise Skype/private lessons for £25 per hour, obviously thinking of themselves and their need for income as opposed to thinking what someone could learn after 4 hours at £100. A lot of non-teachers are also "teaching" on Skype with no structured lessons. They are just after "Pocket Money".
Taking a full language course in a classroom may work out slightly cheaper, be more professional and have less learners attending than a standard sized school classroom (i.e. the number of learners might have decreased over the years because of learners self-teaching themselves to the point they no longer need a full course from scratch), but this could mean waiting for a set number of learners to apply for a course before you can attend it. This happens in Szeged for example because of lack of non-Hungarians wanting to learn Hungarian. A course normally starts in September only because of this.
I began learning basic Hungarian words (on a hobby level) via YouTube videos, phrase books and tutorial websites both in the UK and when in Hungary. And it is true what "they say". You do pick up more words when in the "Foreign" country whose language you are trying to learn simply because you are more exposed to signs, shopping items, letters and people speaking that "Foreign" language.
After picking up around 100 basic Hungarian words, I thought I would delve into the grammar side of Hungarian whereby I initially thought "OMG! I will never conquer that. It looks way to complicated". Very daunting! Nevertheless, I challenged myself and learnt the very basic (really simple) grammar rules; little-by-little. This by the way was all without my Hungarian wife's help. In fact, she was my girlfriend then.
Anyway. After a while I started taking my Hungarian lessons a little more seriously, but still on a hobby level. I was beginning to enjoy the learning experience and challenges it threw up. I am not an easy quitter. I progressed to practising for one hour a day, in the night time in bed because I found it best to learn when my body and mind was fully relaxed. One major breaking point here was an app called Review Of Hungarian Apps6,000 Words.
With this app's multiple language categories and learning games it made the learning more fun and much easier. Within a month of practising Hungarian with this app, at one hour a day, I initially progressed to around 400 words. This was in addition to the words I had already learnt from other resources. As time followed I was able to comfortably remember between 700 and 800 words with my grammar progressing slowly but surely.
At this point I moved on to basic Hungarian sentence apps (such as Fabulo and Duolingo) while asking my Hungarian girlfriend for grammar help. After building up more grammar knowledge, more basic Hungarian words and sentences (to the point I could read, write, hear and speak quite a bit of Hungarian), I ordered grammar and exercise books from Magyar-OK for example; as well as from Alexandra bookstore.
There comes a point in your learning when you know you have learnt enough basic Hungarian words and sentences that you need to move on to school/university level grammar, words and sentences. This is your real challenge, moving on to adjectives and verbs used in everyday life and understanding how Hungarian words and sentences are formed.
Surprisingly, when the university books arrived and I started learning their exercises, I found I could read and understand their dialogues quite easily. Here I have to say that the language apps I used prior to buying the books had played a very important learning role. So I highly recommend you cram in as much practise time with these apps in order to be able to read and understand between 700 and 800 words. I would delete certain apps and reinstall them so I could learn them from scratch again.
Fortunately, Hungarian has been growing on the Internet recently with more Hungarian language learner YouTube videos and language apps catering for those wanting to learn Hungarian. I have also noticed a few more books available in the shops and more people teaching Hungarian on Skype for example. This could be because more people have Hungarian partners these days, initially via travelling to and/or working in each others country, which makes me believe Hungarian will spread over the decades; especially if job opportunities happen in Hungary.
Although we all have our own learning levels and learning methods, below I have highlighted the main approach to my learning method; which should NOT be taken as the 'Gospel' or 'best way to learn'. However. What I will say is that this method of learning Hungarian has worked for me, which in turn will hopefully benefit you.
The main reason I say learn the words (Nouns) first is because if you do not, you will find yourself always checking a dictionary and/or using Google Translate. If you learn a couple of basic sentences first for example and then try and change a word within it, you will find you cannot because you have not learnt the replacement word.
As an example: You have learnt the weather sentence "Tomorrow will be sunny" ("holnap napos lesz az idő") but then do not know the word for foggy, so can not change the sentence to "Tomorrow will be foggy" ("holnap ködös lesz az idő"). One reason for this is because most people learn the common words such as sunny, cloudy and rainy but do not learn the lesser used words such as foggy, stormy and thundery; even though those lesser words are still commonly used in society.
The above was a very simple example. However. It was making the point that if you do not learn basic/common words (Nouns) first, including some basic/common adjectives (and verbs), even the lesser used but common words (Nouns, Adjectives and Verbs), you will not be able to change sentences that quickly from memory.
A good source for learning basic words initially is YouTube. Many native Hungarians have made YouTube videos relating to Hungarian Colours, Fruit, Veg, Animals and Transport for example. Unfortunately, not many go beyond the basics as they are normally making free videos in order to promote their langauge products/services or just do not make any more videos due to lack of interest from the general public. You get what you pay for as "They" say. Hence why you need to invest in good, paid-for, language material in the long term.
Only when you comfortably know between 200 and 600 basic/common words (mainly Nouns, with some Adjectives and Verbs) should you then attempt to learn a few, more, Adjectives and Verbs.
By comfortable I mean: You can, off the top of your head, remember how to read, write, spell and say basic/common words (mainly Nouns, with a few Adjectives and Verbs) relating to Colours, Fruits, Vegetables, Animals and Transport. Ideally I would recommend learning (reading/memorising) up to 500 Nouns first before moving onto Adjectives and Verbs (i.e. 50 Adjectives and 50 Verbs).
As an example: Just knowing the opposite adjectives Sad (Szomorú), Bored (Unott) and Happy (Boldog) and True (Igaz) and False (Hamis) and the verbs Laugh (Nevet) and Cry (Sír) can go a long way to understanding what is being spoken about in a conversation; even if you do not fully understand that whole conversation yet.
In the age of free media and digital technology there are plenty of sources where you can pick up Hungarian for free. Free Hungarian language apps, Hungarian TV Shows, Hungarian Radio and YouTube Videos are examples.
When searching for Hungarian music videos on YouTube for example I always try and find those with Hungarian lyrics attached to them. That way I can learn and memorise the words quicker and more correctly while listening to them; now knowing how new words are pronounced. The sound (rythme) of each word will eventually stick in your brain, indirectly/subconsciously, so that when you come to speak those Hungarian words you will know how to pronounce them correctly.
When I began watching Hungarian TV I would identify (listen out for) known words and look up new words; such as New Series, 10th Year, Next Week and Advertisement. I purposely watched tv dramas and series simply because they would use the same words each week, like in a police series: Állj Meg (Stop), Rendőrség (Police) and Francba (hmmm!!!!). When I first heard Nyugi (Calm Down) I thought it was someone's name! Nyugi...Nyugi (Sheila...Sheila...Don't do it!).
Although I found Hungarian music videos with lyrics the most useful, it did not stop me from listening to Hungarian radio and buying Hungarian songs from Apple's iTunes Store.
The problem with language apps in general is that they are designed to make you 'memorise words only', without thinking about the words in terms of spelling. That memorising method just makes you go into auto-pilot when supposedly learning simply because they follow a 'repition method'. That is why I learnt from language apps that made me think, such as 6,000 Words and Slice Words.
With 6,000 Words for example the last spelling game gives you no clues to the letters in a word, so you really must know how that word is spelt. It also switches from English to Hungarian and vice versa, which means you really need to know a word in both langauges.
Regardless of language apps, etc: One way I learnt to keep up with spelling was to write down my English shopping list in Hungarian. I would also, every so often (i.e. once a month), go around the house looking at objects (i.e. furniture and kitchen items) in order to think of their Hungarian name (word) and spell them in Hungarian. When I first started learning Hungarian I used to put stickers in Hungarian on kitchen items. These are simple ideas, but ideas that have worked for many langugae learners like myself.