How To Learn Hungarian (Beginner's Guide)

  • Johann Brennan
    Written byJohann Brennan
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How To Learn Hungarian (Beginner's Guide)

With a total of around 13 million people worldwide speaking Hungarian as their mother tongue, the Hungarian language is helpful to know.

As a Uralic language, Hungarian differs from other European languages making the learning process unique.

However, it should please you to know that there’s a plethora of Hungarian courses and resources available.

Keep reading as we discover everything you need to know about learning Hungarian, including the best resources and channels to follow.

Table Of Contents

  1. The Hungarian language 🇭🇺
    • Why is Hungarian so different from other European languages?
  2. How to learn Hungarian
    • Establish your study routine and motivators
    • Learn the alphabet
    • Learn the numbers
    • Prepare and start learning
    • Immerse yourself in Hungarian
    • Learn vocabulary
    • Practice speaking
  3. Resources for learning Hungarian
    • Online Hungarian classes
    • Online and app-based Hungarian courses
    • YouTube Hungarian lessons
    • Hungarian grammar breakdowns and dictionaries
    • Hungarian word and number games
    • Hungarian text, literature, and film
    • Other resources for learning Hungarian
  4. Learning Hungarian FAQ
    • What’s the easiest way to learn Hungarian?
    • How long does it take to learn Hungarian fluently?
    • Is it hard to learn Hungarian?
    • Is Hungarian a good language to learn?

The Hungarian language 🇭🇺

Most Hungarian speakers live in the motherland - Hungary - but you will also find many Hungarian-speaking communities in neighbouring countries and across the world.

There are significant Hungarian populations in central and eastern Europe, particularly Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia.

Many of these Hungarian-speaking communities never actually left Hungary.

With the nation’s borders redrawn after the second world war, they found themselves living in a different country overnight. However, many others actively fled conflict in the twentieth century.

Many left for other, less severe reasons, such as a desire to travel, marry, or pursue a new career.

Hungarian is a vibrant and rich language. As borders shift and cultures influence each other, Hungarian (as with every other language) has morphed and grown. You might find loan words from German, English, French, Italian, or Turkish.

Yet, you won’t find another language quite like Hungarian.

Why is Hungarian so different from other European languages?

Most European languages stem from Slavic, Germanic, and Latin roots - yet Hungarian doesn’t fit in any of these boxes.

Unlike their neighbours, the Hungarian people speak a Uralic language.

We need to take a little history lesson to understand why the Hungarian language is so unique.

In the ninth century CE, the Magyar tribes from today’s central Russia migrated to and conquered the land we now call Hungary.

And what happened?

The Magyar tribes brought their language and culture with them. To this day, Hungarians refer to their language as Magyar.

How to learn Hungarian

The first step to starting learning any language is the decision to stick to it.

You can’t master anything overnight; learning Hungarian will take time and patience.

Your second challenge is to find a study method that suits you.

Everyone has a different learning style; you might prefer video or game-like lessons to traditional textbook learning.

If you’re a complete beginner, you might want to start learning how to pronounce words.

While it may seem like a dull place to begin, mastering the accent will make the rest of the journey far more manageable.

Once you move on to basic vocabulary and can string together a few words, you’ll have a more diverse range of study resource options. Here are our tips for learning Hungarian.

1. Establish your study routine and motivators

Why do you want to learn Hungarian?

Understanding your motivation will help you stick to your study routine.

It might help to write down your goals to remind yourself when you bump into hurdles. It could be anything from ‘move to Hungary’ to ‘I want to challenge myself’.

Next, you must establish a study routine.

Carve out a set amount of time each week to learn Hungarian. You could commit to an hour every few days or five minutes daily. Study resources might require different levels of commitment.

For instance, you could spend a few minutes daily on mobile apps. On the other hand, online courses might require longer, less frequent study sessions.

You’ll find it easier to stick to your lessons with an established routine. Of course, life may sometimes get in the way but always ensure you catch up where possible. Don’t let more than a few days go by between beginner lessons. Otherwise, you’ll find it too easy to give up.

One of the best ways to stick to your challenge is to find a study method that suits your learning style and lifestyle.

2. Learn the alphabet

A vital step to get out of the way early is to learn the alphabet.

As you learn the alphabet, the pronunciation should become more manageable.

Fortunately, the Hungarian alphabet isn’t too different from English so Hungarian learners should pick it up quickly.

As an extension of the Latin alphabet, Hungarian has few variations.

As well as the standard 26 letters, Hungarian also has:

  • Five letters with an acute accent (Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú)
  • Two letters with an umlaut (Ö, Ü)
  • Two letters with a double acute accent (Ő, Ű)
  • Eight letters are made up of two characters (Cs, Dz, Gy, Ly, Ny, Sz, Ty, Zs)
  • One letter is made up of three characters (Dzs)

Unlike other languages, accented letters are considered letters in their own right. Therefore, the Hungarian alphabet is 44 letters.

3. Learn the numbers

Once you have done the letters, it’s time to get to know the numbers.

Of course, you’ll start with one to ten.

However, progressing higher is very simple as Hungarian numbers are logical. For instance, a four-digit number begins with the first number, followed by the second, third, and fourth.

Hungarian English
Nulla Zero
Egy One
Kettő Two
Három Three
Négy Four
Öt Five
Hat Six
Hét Seven
Nyolc Eight
Kilenc Nine
Tíz Ten

Counting higher is easy. Eleven is ‘tizenegy,’; twelve is ‘tizenkettő,’ and so on.

4. Prepare and start learning

With the basics out of the way, it’s time to start preparing and learning Hungarian. Different courses will have various strategies to begin studying.

One of the simplest ways to get started is to learn the most frequent 500 words.

While most of us use upwards of 7,000 unique words in daily life, you could get by in most countries with just a few hundred of the most common words.

The 500 most frequent Hungarian words are the ones you’ll encounter and use the most - it’s best to master them ASAP.

But, how do you know which words are the most frequent?

Words like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you come to mind. Beyond these obvious terms, you might consider nouns like ‘money,’ ‘food,’ or ‘water’. Moreover, include verbs, such as ‘to come’ and ‘to go.

Basic words should start your vocabulary list.

You don’t need all of them in your long-term memory, but practising them at the start of every study session will help commit them to your mind.

5. Immerse yourself in Hungarian

While it can seem overwhelming, immersing yourself in a foreign language is a great way to pick it up quickly.

While many believe living in the country is the best way to learn, not all of us can afford to jump on a plane and move to Hungary for the foreseeable.

Fortunately, there are other options.

The italki platform has many affordable Hungarian teachers and conversation partners.

Watch Hungarian films and TV shows regularly. You will find that you can follow along easily with English subtitles.

Think about your daily commute; do you usually listen to podcasts? What about when you’re at work? Do you listen to music? Consider switching your favourite podcasts and artists for Hungarian ones. Hungarian music is beautiful.

You’ll soon recognise certain phrases and words through repeated exposure.

As your studying progresses, you should start reading Hungarian books, short stories, poems, and magazines.

Moreover, it’s an excellent way to familiarise yourself with a foreign culture and fall in love with Hungarian.

6. Learn vocabulary

Now that you have the most frequent 500 words under your belt, it’s time to embark on the rest of the language.

It might sound intimidating, but there is a right way to learn. Languages are bulky and convoluted. There are thousands of irrelevant or unnecessary words. Sure, you’ll pick them up with time. However, stick to the most relevant ones at the beginning of your journey - don’t clog up your memory with unnecessary vocabulary.

For instance, it might seem easy to learn the names of all the different farmyard animals. But these won’t help you in a real-life conversation. Consider your personal goals and needs. What sort of conversations do you expect to have in Hungarian? Will you need to know how to speak to a shopkeeper or waiter? Or, perhaps you want to learn to ask for directions?

There are thousands of ways to learn Hungarian vocabulary. You can find my recommendations for resources and study materials below.

7. Practice speaking

Finally, it’s time to put your skills to use and start practising speaking.

It might seem intimidating or embarrassing to let these unfamiliar words and sounds roll off the tongue. Everyone you converse with will be patient and understanding. In fact, Hungarians will want to help you learn and improve when they see you making an effort.

Your speaking skills will vastly improve when conversing with native speakers.

If you don’t know any Hungarians, there are plenty of teachers and tutors on italki.

Resources for learning Hungarian

You no longer need to check books out of the library or sit through neverending grammar lessons.

There’s plenty of Hungarian content and bite-sized lessons for beginners and lower intermediate learners to be found online.

Online Hungarian classes

However you choose to study is up to you.

Some people prefer structured classes to self-taught options. The good news is that you don’t need to leave your home’s comfort to sign up for Hungarian classes.

The bad news is that there are so many ways to learn Hungarian online that you might struggle to find the perfect approach.

Don’t worry; I’ve narrowed down some options.

  • Catch Budapest - Includes mini-lessons, a word of the day, and a wealth of information about the Hungarian language and culture.
  • Mango Languages - Voice recording tools allow you to practise pronunciation by recording yourself playing over a native speaker.
  • The Magyar-Tanulás Repository - Offers a free 24-hour grammar course with bite-sized lessons.
  • A Hungarian Language Course - Professor Aaron Rubin runs an introductory course for beginners (albeit on an outdated-looking website).
  • Hungarotips - Ideal for beginner lessons and advanced learners, it offers weekly quizzes and a variety of courses.

Online and app-based Hungarian courses

Not everyone has time to sit down to complete a Hungarian language course.

Fortunately, there are plenty of apps and short courses you can achieve on the go. Whether you learn one Hungarian word daily or listen to a short audio clip each morning, app-based learning is an excellent way to learn Hungarian.

Here are our app-based Hungarian language course recommendations:

  • Mondly - With one free online lesson per day and unlimited paid-for classes, Mondly helps you learn Hungarian while playing games. It has a user-friendly interface and will help you track your progress. Read our Mondly review.
  • Ling - Packed with games, quizzes, and vocabulary and grammar courses, Ling is an interactive and dynamic platform for learning a new language.
  • Duolingo - Everyone has heard of Duolingo. With its persistent reminders to keep you on track and daily five-minute courses, Duolingo aims to teach you as much Hungarian as possible.
  • Drops - Beautifully designed, Drops teaches you five minutes of Hungarian daily. It’s an excellent and accessible option for beginner lessons.
  • Memrise - Do you want to practice speaking with native speakers? Memrise offers a chance to have native conversations, flashcards, quizzes, everyday phrases, and more.

YouTube Hungarian lessons

We all spend so much time online these days.

Did you know worldwide users stream 694,000 hours of YouTube videos every minute?

What if you spent your time online watching Hungarian videos?

Subscribing to Hungarian vloggers, influencers, and YouTubers will help immerse yourself in the language. You’ll begin to understand Hungarian as natives speak it. What content do you usually stream?

Find a Hungarian channel to follow and turn on the subtitles to begin learning Hungarian.

Moreover, many Hungarians or language teachers offer free lessons on YouTube:

HungarianPod101

This channel provides classes, podcasts, and hours of free content to begin your Hungarian journey.

Easy Languages

This channel not only teaches you the Hungarian language but gives an insight into the culture and how people speak Hungarian in their daily lives.

Hungarian Lesson with Zsuzsi

This channel has quick, snappy lessons to learn Hungarian in a spare five minutes.

Hungarian grammar breakdowns and dictionaries

Apps and online courses might speed up our language learning, but sometimes no technology can replace a good old-fashioned dictionary.

To make things easier, Hungarian spelling is largely phonetic.

For the most part, you spell words how they sound. However, if you ever need help (particularly as you adapt to the new alphabet), here are our dictionaries and grammar tool recommendations.

  • Forvo - This pronunciation dictionary has more than 100,000 Hungarian words to look up.
  • Freedict - A bilingual English-Hungarian dictionary, Freedict will have almost every word you could possibly need.
  • Cooljugator - Struggling to conjugate verbs and get the hang of grammar? Cooljugator will conjugate Hungarian verbs for you.

Hungarian word and number games

Sometimes work is play. The best way to learn Hungarian is often with word games. Either use them to accompany your other learning or to brush up on your vocabulary.

You could try switching the language on your favourite apps to Hungarian (although this might leave beginners feeling at sea) or download one of our recommended Hungarian language word games.

  • Foreign Numbers App - Good with numbers? The Foreign Numbers App has plenty of maths games to ease you into learning Hungarian.
  • Clozemaster - Unlike other learning apps, Clozemaster keeps things simple. Fill in the blanks and “close” the sentence. Its competitive leaderboard will have you addicted to the game.
  • Hungarian! Word Search - Daily word searches in Hungarian will familiarise you with the language and speed up your learning.

Hungarian text, literature, and film

Hungarian literature and art are often quite heavy for beginners. It has primarily been a form of protest throughout the twentieth century. However, try these options if you’re eager to get your hands on something lighter to practice reading. Yes, you can learn Hungarian like a child.

But, what about film? There are plenty of rich and entertaining Hungarian cinematic productions to enjoy.

  • Szomorú Vasárnap - A famous, much-loved classic about relationships set against WWII.
  • Isteni Műszak - A black comedy about a young refugee from the Balkans War.

Other resources for learning Hungarian

You might also consider listening to Hungarian music.

It’s often folk-influenced, but you’ll also find rock, pop, and hip-hop-style bands.

Try listening to Ghymes, NOX, Punnany Massif, or Péterfy Bori & Love Band. Alternatively, find a new Hungarian artist in your preferred music style.

Check out news sites, magazines, and Hungarian media outlets to learn Hungarian.

You can practice reading in manageable chunks while learning about Hungarian politics and culture.

The Hungarian language can be a more difficult language to learn.

As mentioned, it’s vastly different from English and other European languages. Therefore, you might find your learning journey confusing at the beginning - especially if you use the wrong online course.

While there are few wrong ways to learn Hungarian, I recommend ensuring the course, YouTuber, or app suits your learning style. For instance, if you prefer to learn grammar before vocabulary, pick a course that takes this approach.

The worst thing you can do is waste your time with an ineffective Hungarian resource, become frustrated, and give up. If your chosen study method doesn’t work, find a new one.

Learning Hungarian FAQ

Learning Hungarian is a challenge.

As with any adventure, deciding to begin and actually starting learning Hungarian is the hardest part. Once you have your chosen study method and a structured learning time, you’ll make progress quickly.

The Hungarian language is beautiful and enjoyable so get started now.

What’s the easiest way to learn Hungarian?

There’s no one correct way to learn Hungarian. Everyone has different methods.

What works for you might not work for anyone else.

However, to make the learning journey easier, ensure you remain consistent and regular.

How long does it take to learn Hungarian fluently?

The amount of time it takes to learn Hungarian fluently depends on several factors (e.g. your native language, motivation and study time).

According to the Foreign Service Institute, Hungarian is a Category IV language (second most difficult level), requiring on average 1,100 hours (44 weeks) for English speakers.

This estimate will vary greatly depending on the individual learner.

Is it hard to learn Hungarian?

The challenge of language learning differs from person to person.

English speakers may find it more difficult than those fluent in Russian or East Asian language.

The structure of the Hungarian language is vastly different from English because:

  • Hungarian uses a complex case system; English has altogether abandoned cases.
  • Hungarian largely relies on idioms, making it seem like a secret code to a complete beginner.

While it may not be the hardest language in the world, it is undoubtedly a complex language for non-native speakers. However, this shouldn’t put you off.

Like every struggle in life, the reward is well worth the effort.

Is Hungarian a good language to learn?

You might consider Hungarian a minority language, but there are plenty of good reasons to learn Hungarian online.

  • Szép (it’s a beautiful language): Hungarian words and phrases are not just melodic but full of puns, twists and turns that will make you fall in love with the language.
  • Logikus (it’s logical): When you learn a new language, you learn more about your own language. While Hungarian grammar is entirely different from English, it’s very logical.
  • Hasznos (helpful, friendly Hungarians): Hungarians are wonderfully helpful when they hear you’re trying to learn their official language. Practising Hungarian words with a native speaker is a pleasure.
  • Kultúra (Hungarian is culturally rich and diverse): Immersing yourself in the Hungarian language and culture is an enriching and rewarding experience you won’t regret.

Whenever you travel to a new country, you should make an effort to learn the basics of their official languages.

Locals love it when foreigners speak Hungarian and will be delighted to help you practice vocabulary and grammar.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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