A reference guide to Hungarian grammar, designed with English-speakers in mind

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How to learn/study Hungarian

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Firstly, congratulations on deciding to learn Hungarian. It's a very difficult, different and at first intimidating language, but it's actually very logical and incredibly rewarding. I am going to share with you what I think you will need as pre-requisites, methods of study and common pitfalls.

This page is split into the following sections:

  1. Pre-requisites for learning Hungarian
  2. Syllabus for study - what you ought to learn
  3. Tips for study
  4. Using LearnHungarianNow to find a teacher
  5. Hints for getting a native teacher

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Pre-requisites for learning Hungarian

To get the most out of the language you will need the following before you start

  • Time. You will need to be dedicated and frequent with your study. Several hours per week will be needed if you want to progress quickly. Preferably an hour every day.
  • Money. Books and teachers are not free. They are, however, excellent investments.
  • Dedication. Just like learning anything you will have to push yourself to knuckle-down, to practise, to make the effort to meet people, to label your house with Post-It notes, etc

Essential syllabus for studying Hungarian

These are the steps I recommend that you take for an effective study. Of course, every student has a different style of learning, but the below are the actual concepts I think you should teach yourself.

  1. The alphabet. Learn the letters' sounds, their sequence in the alphabet, and the rules of pronunciation. The vowels can be a little scary, but they are crucial. You need to be able to distinguish between long and short pairs (e.g. u and ú), and between front and back versions (e.g. u and ü).
  2. How to say hello in Hungarian etc. While at this stage the grammar will be alien, it will make you feel good to have some full sentences under your belt.
  3. Teach yourself English grammatical terms such as transitive, object, subject, dative, etc. You will be confused if you try to learn the Hungarian noun cases if you do not actually know what they mean.
  4. Start with a single serving of each concept. Learn the indefinite conjugation from the verbs section, and the accusative case for nouns. This will give you a good introduction to verb conjugation and noun cases, and will also allow you to construct your own simple sentences.
  5. When confident with the previous step, progress to the dative case for nouns and the definite conjugation of verbs.
  6. Only then should you tackle all the other noun cases and verb conjugations.

Tips for teaching yourself Hungarian

Everyone is different. Here is what works for me.

Focus on one topic at a time. If there is another new area that you don't understand while concentrating on a topic, ignore that new part for a while and consider it simply an exception. Then later come back and understand that topic as its own rule. One step at a time.

Get an excercise book. I had one that contained no English (or indeed anything but Hungarian) whatsoever, the concepts were explained with diagrams. I don't know the name, but all the drawings were of mice.

Buy yourself a notebook and summarise your day's learnings into a topic with a single heading. The topics in this site are how I divided my learning.

Read lots of texts. Hungarian has quite different sentence structure to English, and it is a mistake to think you can write by translating word by word. If you read lots of essays you will learn how to write your own.

If you cannot dedicate 4-8 hours a week, try to combine learning with your daily routine. For example, listen to the tapes in the car on the way to work. I combined my love of going to the pool at the weekend with my study, and would read and write while sunbathing, killing two birds with one stone.

Make online friends using Skype or sites like MyLanguageExchange.com. This is really the best way to practise, as reading and writing through Skype and email allow you to go at your own pace. You can then progress to speaking and listening. Remember that there are no free lunches, and you will be expected to help your friend with their English just as much as they help you with Hungarian. Not only should you practise English but you should be prepared to explain concepts, idioms, pronouncation, etc. If you're not prepared to do this, please don't try to make friends this way.

Join a club or group where you can practise. I joined Meetup.com where I was able to chat - a little.

Hungarian teachers

Get a teacher, a native speaker. They're invaluable in the early stages as they can teach you the alphabet and correct small problems with your word order and sentence construction.

See our article on finding a Hungarian teacher using LearnHungarianNow.com.

You can probably find a teacher by placing an advert on a group's website, such as on Meetup.com or similar.

A casual teacher who's just looking for some extra beer tokens, rather than a professional, will probably negotiate rates with you. When bargaining, remeber to account for their travel (if they're coming to you), any photocopying they do and for any homework they'll mark between lessons. Be fair.

If you live in or near Atlanta, GA, I can give you the names and numbers of some teachers there. Contact me for details.

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