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  5. What makes Hungarian so hard?


What makes Hungarian so hard?


I have just started the Hungarian tree, and have already fallen head over heels for the language. But I must ask, what am I getting myself into? Or rather, what is it that makes the language famous for its difficulty?


August 19, 2016



I'm imagining that the pretty different grammatical structure to that of Indo-European languages makes the learning curve a little steep in the beginning. At least that's the case for Finnish, Hungarians distant relative, which has a similar grammatical setup.

Unfortunately for Finnish speakers, the vocabularies are veeeery far away from each other, so Hungarian is hard for us, too! I had a little taste of the course, and was thoroughly confused...


Thanks! This is helpful!


I think it's more unfamiliarity - the grammar is very alien and the vocabulary is unfamiliar. It's not so much inherent difficulty, it's just much further removed from most European languages.


Sziasztok! I'm a native Hungarian, and I have some thoughts I'd like to share with you. Sorry for the long post in advance :)

I've been learning English since elementary school (and one can't just stop it, I'm an IT guy, so gotta keep it up :D), which means about 13 years by now. I never thought about what makes my first language so "special". When back in the days we had to take the hungarian literature tests is school, those were easy for me, but many of my classmates were struggling. With their own language! A very few hungarian people can speak Hungarian almost perfectly. And I'm talking about wrong words for the context, bad pronunciation, even worse spelling (the last one makes me cry). I wanted to see what learning your own language feels like, so I took the checkpoint tests, surprisingly I failed a few times...

All I wanted to do with this is, if I could recommend only one thing, it will be this: try to get a "feeling" for the language, especially for the inflections. Notice the borderline at the end of the "core" verb.

Example for a regular verb: (learn-tanul) Én tanul|ok - Te tanul|sz - Ő tanul|- - Mi tanul|unk - Ti tanul|tok - Ők tanul|nak

And for an irregular: (go-megy) Én megy|ek - Te mé|sz - Ő megy|- - Mi megy|ünk - Ti men|tek - Ők men|nek

Notice how the ending changes if it's a "low vowel" (a,á,o,ó,u,ú) inside, like in "tanul"-"tanUlOk" (both low). Typical word containig these vowels: autó - car (all low) Notice how the ending changes if it's a "high vowel" (e,é,i,í,ö,ő,ü,ű) inside, like in "megy"-"mEgyEk" (both high). Typical word: teniszütő - tennis racquet (all high)

PS: If you speak hungarian, Hungarians will correct you, so not a problem saying "Ők megynek" instead of "Ők mennek". I love how foreign people speak hungarian. Never give up learing it! And I hope I've got my English sentences right.

Jó tanulást! :)


Wow! Thanks for positing this! This is really helpful! I find it interesting to hear that even Hungarians struggle with Hungarian! Your English was perfect, here are some lingots of appreciation. Köszönöm!


Thank you very much


Thanks for your unique perspective on learning the Hungarian language! And your English is really excellent. If you don't mind a very minor correction, it involves the placement of punctuation when using quotes. In your sentence, "I never thought about what makes my first language so 'special,'" in English, one puts commas and periods inside the quotes, which doesn't seem logical, but that's standard usage. On the other hand, a question mark or exclamation point will go outside quotes (provided it's not part of the original quote). So, your sentence should read: I never thought about what makes my first language so "special." Don't worry, most native English speakers don't know this as well, but seeing as how you're so advanced, and appreciative of learning language correctly, I thought you might appreciate this little "nugget." ;-) Happy learning!


I'm a beginner as well in Hungarian, and I have to say that this first week with the language has left me both excited and discouraged at the same time. There is a huge initial shock, much greater than any Romance language, when you first start learning Hungarian. I feel that starting off in Spanish is like dipping your toe into the foreign language pool; starting off in Hungarian is like getting shoved right in.

There are little to no cognates to help you learn vocabulary, the grammar is especially confusing for an English speaker, and there are plenty of letters and sounds that you either have to learn for the first time or train yourself to pronounce differently (a, á, é, o, ö, ü, c, cs, dzs, gy, j, ly, ny, s, sz, ty, zs). Oh, and let's not even get started on how daunting it is in the beginning to say words like viszontlátásra and gyümölcsleves.


Wow, you have guts! I started off with Swedish, just to get myself started, and only now am I swimming in open water! Good luck with your learning!


LOL Popewiny, about the "huge initial shock", which expresses my start as well. And on the other hand, the will to conquer the tree, which was very hard and exciting, like no other language as yet. I think, it is better than any Computer game


It just occurred to me to post this, for anyone who's feeling discouraged - some of the things that are easier about Hungarian than many languages: http://www.fluentin3months.com/hungarian-is-easy/


Wow, this article is quite thorough, gathered a lot of useful information together. Látjátok? Elég könnyű ;)


So far, I reckon having a lot of cases (which I was already used to from Polish) and from being very different from other European languages (which I am still getting used to). Not being of Indo European origin does make it feel extra foreign. The word order also seems both very flexible and then suddenly, I stumble on a word order they aren't keen on. That said, I love it! I just took it because I like to try all the new languages Duolingo gets from English or Spanish and it has been extremely fascinating. I'm even working on Memrise course to help me cope with it being extra foreign. As I do more modules, I add more if anyone is interested:


There was another Duolingo Hungarian course on there, but it was really short and I finished it in about a week, so I started on my own.


Speaking of Hungarian–Polish comparisons, Hungarian preverbs are very similar to Polish verb prefixes (although Hungarian likes to detach them from the verb and move them around, unlike Polish). Some of them are even almost translatable, at least when it comes to movement: be-w-, ki-wy-, le-z-, fel-w(z)-, el-od-, át-prze-, hozzá-do- etc.


That is really good to know! Thanks!


Considering how much you clearly love languages, you would probably like the Pimsleur language recordings. Here on Duolingo, we have access to a rich array of vocabulary and sentences, with some pronunciation. The nice thing about Pimsleur is that it's entirely audio (although I understand that newer version have workbooks, with written language as well, but I haven't used these), so you get to practice the language solely by listening (to native speakers) and speaking. It gives you an entirely different perspective on the language, one that complements Duolingo well, IMO. I've personally used Pimsleur extensively, and it's helped my spoken ability in French, Portuguese, Russian and Irish immensely. I have no interest in trying to sell the product -- I'm just a consumer myself (although I despise that label) -- but I think for someone who's serious about learning languages, even if just a hobby, Pimsleur is a great product.


I don't really understand why some people gives downvotes for personal opinions in a topic like this. May I suggest them to not throwing -1s?

Well. I am native Hungarian, living and working in Hungary, and I kept thinking that my language is extra hard. The link offered by flootzavut (http://www.fluentin3months.com/hungarian-is-easy/) also changed my view. Now I think that Hungarian is difficult a bit, yes, but not so extremely hard.

  • Hungarian has a rather different way of thinking than Indo-European languages. This is tricky, but quite logical. Try to find out the logic, and you will like being switched to "Hungarian is easy" mode. At least in some aspects.

  • Hungarians tend to speak in overly complex sentences. This is a kind of tradition. Use sentences with more than two clauses and you'll be considered educated since some hundreds of years. But don't let it fool you! Use simple sentences, tell your thoughts in separate sentences, and it will be far easier. Even this course has this trap, that's why it has so many long and twisted samples. I agree that it would be better to shorten them and change to something useful. This is the hardest part for professional translators who translate from Hungarian to English—just see some odd-sounding travel teasers ;)

  • Hungarian has different sounds. Indeed, you will find hard to learn "a" and especially "ö" and "ü", "zs" and ... what else? It depends on your mother tongue. But every languages have their "hard to say sounds" like the swa-sound and the different "th"s in English (looking them from Hungary) ;) When I was beginner, I used to put the headphones on, choose a favourite band (it was Simon and Garfunkel actually—sometimes I am accused to speak a slightly New Yorker accent :D ) took the lyrics and sang along. My family ran away like anything :D You can do it, too, as YouTube has many good Hungarian songs, with lyrics. If you like world music, look for Eleven Hold (this is not in English but Hungarian and means "Living Moon" or "Moon Alive") or Sebestyén Márta, Nox or some Balcan Fanatics songs. Deep Forest's Freedom Cry with Sebestyén Márta is sung in a special dialect, I won't suggest it even I though I love that song :D There are many others from Tankcsapda (rock) or Európa Kiadó (alternative underground), hip hop, punk, disco to opera and choral music all over the internet, just choose your favourite! ;)

  • Hungarian does everything reversed. It is not true, but there are many things that will make you feel it. Name sequence, possessive structure, postal addresses, etc. follow the "From the greater to the smaller" approach, unlike English. See its logic (it has!) and you'll find the point that makes them easy.

  • Hungarians tend to over-complicate things. Yes, it is true, but meanwhile we try to ease the things which makes a complete mess. This is most prominent in legal level, but it appears in the language, too. (See overly complex sentences ;) ) Take it easy, try to keep simple and dare to say wrong. If you make a mistake, Kis Pista Jóska and Gipsz Jakab (your Joe Average brothers in Hungarian) will give you a smile, perhaps politely correct your sentence, and they both will be very happy that you tried to speak their language. No Hungarian will take it as an offence, but contrary! It is a courtesy for us! Especially if we can work out what do you want. And we will help you to make things clear. ;)

  • Hungarian sounds so strange! Well, we have to many "e"s :) but the fact that the stress of the word is not depending on vowel length makes a unique (okay, almost unique! :D ) melody to the language. Try to listen poems in Hungarian, even if you don't understand them. (English translations are usually horrible...) (Oops as the e sounds popped up: did you know that almost everything can be said in Hungarian with only E vowels? This is a popular language game, called "Eszperente" [as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Esperanto] and it is a good way to NOT take our language serious. But it needs a good knowledge, so it is mainly for advanced learners ;) )

  • Hungarian has too many words! Compared to English, it is true. Oscar Wilde said something about the French that it is crazy that French has separate words for everything. It is true to Hungarian, too (along with Italian, most of Slavic languages and many other languages as well). An English speaker may find it that we chaotically use different words for the same thing in different situations. Actually this is a problem with the English, just consider the many things that "line" or "get" could mean... ;) For us a fire engine, a railway engine and a jet engine are way too far from each other to use the same word for them (they are "tűzoltó[autó]", "mozdony" and "[sugár]hajtómű"). (Parts in square brackets may be omitted.)

  • Hungarian has too many accents! Well, the bad part is the vital role of them. As "morning" and "mourning" or "effect" and "affect" are different things in English (not to mention the "son of the ❤❤❤❤❤" vs. "sun of the beach"), minor differences that are hard to find for beginners of English language. In Hungarian the accents show sound differences and these differences are change the meaning of the word. If you say them wrong they can mean very different things and render your sentence meaningless. "Csikós kulacs" and "csíkos kulacs" may be side by side in the souvenir shop, and may look differently: first is wooden with horse skin cover, the latter is perhaps porcellain with stripped pattern hand-painted on it. Find the differences, and they will help you learn the accents.

Nevertheless I loved staplesnout's conspiration theory about our language monopoly. :D But I think the real reasons are in the points about the different language structure and the tendency to over-complicate things ;)


Two more things: I think that these were the obstructions on your way. If you overcome them, you'll find Hungarian quite fine and easy. (A kind of.)

I could continue with some more but it is too long even now. Sorry for being verbose. I am Hungarian, after all :D ("I'm just a human, after all, I am just a human—don't put a blame on me.")


Only the tree structure and weird sentences on Duolingo make Hungarian look hard, as well as the rumors. Sometimes I think it is a conspiracy of Hungarians wanting to keep their monopoly on their language. The language itself has some peculiarities, but is not harder that Russian for example, in many respects even easier.


Yeah, I thin that's what scared me the mots. I saw things like "Choices 7" and was like "why does a skill about choices need to be divided into 7 sections??" But I agree, so far it seems like a fairly logical language. Russian was way harder at level 4 (in my opinion).

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English is generally considered an easy language because it is so ubiquitous.

Nevertheless, when I was a student of English as a second language in the U.S of A. I saw many Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Middle eastern students (and others) really struggling with the language because of the sharp differences in grammar and vocabulary respective to their own languages.

In comparison I had it easy ( Native Spanish speaker).

So now I know what these old classmates of mine went thru. Now I understand how they felt.

My recommendation (in case it helps) is:

think of Hungarian (and/or other languages) not as "difficult" but "unique".

Very "unique"

By the way I also fell "head over heels" with the mighty Hungarian language when i first encountered it written and spoken.


Thank you! I am about to learn the singular verbs skill, and though it seemed daunting, it actually seems quite logical! I think I will take your advice, and think of it as unique!


I'll give a different point of view. I was born in Hungary so I am a native speaker and my second language was German in Austria where I started school and then I learned English and French in Montreal.

After I finished college in the U.S. I couldn't get a good job because I majored in English and there isn't much you can do with that if you don't go on to graduate school and get into academics or become a writer. I didn't have a background in education but the local high school was desperate for a teacher for French I, German I and II, and remedial reading! Well, I took the job and luckily for me, at that time, schools were not going crazy about test scores. So the langage classes were constucted in a way that the students did no reading or writing in the first year at all. Just as a baby learns its native language by listening and repeating that is what we did. I didn't speak a word of English to my first year students and they learned to hear the sounds and to repeat them, endlessly, but it worked well.

So, I would like to suggest that since all children manage to learn their native languages within the scope of their basic intelligence and ability to hear and speak, no language is really harder than another.

The reason some people have difficulty with the grammar of their native languages is probably because they are not brought up in homes where parents are readers and they don't develop a love of reading. The more one reads the better the vocabulary becomes and the spelling etc. In families where education is not considered important children may speak a poor version of their language, imitating the culture of their parents and social miliieu (don't want to say class). A good school with good teachers can help but the student needs to want to learn and like to read.

So here I am with a graduate degree in English and French as well as counseling. I am highly competent in English with a formidable vocabulary and I am an excellent speller. I am just now learning to write in Hungarian because I plan to move to Hungary for a few years at least and to travel around Europe. I don't think any of the languages I have learned are hard but they take focus. Today I am on the 78th day since I started duolingo and although it is very frustrating to have to memorize incorrect answers in order to pass a lesson and move on I am now able to write with correct accent marks almost as fast in Hungarian as I can in English. I am spending about two hours a day on this except during the holidays when I was traveling I had to cut back.

So, take heart. If you want to learn you can. Listen to radio. To the news, to music, to talk shows. Hungarian is quite musical. You will get the words eventually. I remember being in the schoolyard several times not understanding anything the other kids were saying, not that they were talking to me anyway since I was the "weird" immigrant, but one day it started to make sense and eventually I was completely fluent. You can do it! Sorry if I made typos. It is almost 2 am!


It is not really hard. Not really. Vowel harmony makes things a lot more easier. Without vowels harmony Hungarian would be very hard to learn. Cases aren't very difficult to master (thanks to vowel harmony). Also, when you are learning a language that doesn't have cases you usually need to learn a lot more prepositions.


the only reason I started learning hungarian is because my parents came from there, so I heard it (but did not speak it) all of my childhood. I recognized hundreds of words. but when it came to the grammar, it's a virtual nightmare, compared to English. However, the more you keep practicing, the more you will get used to the location of the words - behind, in front of, inside, outside, between, etc. it's a matter of understanding the LOGIC of the language. Also, have a notebook, and write down the sentences and words that you have difficulty remembering. IT HELPS A LOT!! also, don't leave many days in between lessons, or you will forget what you learned and it gets harder. good luck!


Well, the thing is, Hungarian language doesn't fall under the umbrella of neither Germanic, Romance nor Balto-Slavic. But if you are referring to Hungarian as tough, I agree. It is tough. I live in a place with about 50% Hungarian municipality since birth, and I am still struggling with it.


I'll weigh in on this one as well. While I'm still a novice myself, a lot of the difficulty gets reduced if you know a thing or two about how Italian verbs work as well. For a languages with no common history, they have some convenient similarities. If you understand the verb basics of one you've got a good leg up on the basics in another.

Obviously that's not an absolute statement, but it sure helps on day 1.

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