Learning Hungarian… attempt #1

My experience with languages has been…interesting, and unfortunately not that fruitful when it comes to actually carrying on a conversation in another country. The first language other than English that I was exposed to was french in 7th grade. I struggled every step of the way, and unfortunately the only phrases I remember are “bonjour” and “Je M’appelle Aaron”. In High School I avoided spoken languages all together with Latin and Ancient Greek. Being able to read Greek script might come in handy in a year, but unless I need to use an ATM at the Vatican I don’t think Latin is going to be of much help to me.

Me in Seoul

In 2009 I visited my roommate in Seoul on my way back to the US from my semester abroad in Australia. I made a decent attempt at learning Korean, including a basic knowledge of the alphabet. I learned and still remember the basics like hello and thank you (안녕하세요 and 감사합니다), and to my surprise I was even able to string together a couple sentences. Unfortunately I didn’t get to use my Korean all that much, as no matter where I went in Korea most everyone spoke English to me.

So with these four languages the only experience I have under my belt, I am not exactly optimistic about my attempt to learn Hungarian. There is less than four months until departure, so I’m not expecting to be proficient by any means. My goal is to be able to carry on a very basic conversation (that will hopefully quickly transition to English), and navigate my way around the city. All my coursework will be in English, but if I’m spending 9 months in a country I definitely feel obligated to try and learn the language.

I can’t afford expensive language learning software like Rosetta Stone, and even if I could Hungarian is not an option with most of those software packages. So I’m turning to a very cool free option that I found while trying to learn Korean in Australia, Live Mocha. It gives you a bunch of free lessons in the language, and puts you in contact with native speakers trying to learn your language. The hope is that you can teach each other things about your languages that you might not learn in the lessons. I like the general outline of the lessons, but I feel there are two big problems with it* (see update below). First, Live Mocha uses the script of the language your learning and doesn’t teach you how to pronounce that script beforehand. Second, and kind of related, I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing any of the words correctly. Only when I talk to a native speaker do I find out if my pronunciation is anything close to correct.

To try and patch up of some of these short comings I’m also using another free service called learnOasis. This lesson has a supplementary beginning section with the full alphabet and the pronunciations for each character.  It also allows you to record your own voice and play it back with the sample pronunciation . So I can try to decide for myself how well I’m improving.

Even though I’m skeptical about my ability to learn languages, I do want to learn another language proficiently. Hungarian will probably not be the language that I put that significant effort in to. I want to learn a language like French, or Spanish, or Chinese that will allow me to communicate all around the world. Which language should I choose for this? Do you have any tips or free resources on learning another language? Leave tips or questions in the comments below.


UPDATE: It looks like LiveMocha as updated their software, and there is now a speaking portion to the lessons! The basic lessons I’ve described are still free, but they have also added premium features for a fee.


I'm a scientist, traveler and geek who loves being on the move. After spending two years in Europe, I'm back home in Boston.

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6 Responses

  1. Blutgerinnsel says:

    I am not certain the place you are getting your info, however great topic. I needs to spend a while learning more or working out more. Thank you for excellent information I was in search of this information for my mission.

    • Aaron says:

      I’m mainly speaking from lots of fruitless Google searching and personal experience. In terms of paid software Rosetta Stone does not offer Hungarian, but I did find another lesser known (to me anyway) company called Byki that offers it. I’m not sure of their reputation though, and, to me at least, it seemed like the free options were just as good.

      In future posts I’ll try to link to some of the reviews and other sites I come across while searching.

  2. Maryna says:

    Hey, Aaron, so now when it is August, can you tell whether there was some success with your Hungarian?)
    As I have been looking at self study book laying on my table for last four months but couldn’t make it:-D
    Hope it wrked out better for you!

    • Aaron says:

      Unfortunately, I didn’t have much success…my biggest problem was that I had no idea whether I was pronouncing things correctly. Not to mention Live Mocha is a good service, but sometimes the audio didn’t match up the with text for Hungarian which was frustrating.

      I’m going to get a Hungarian language tourist book this weekend so I can just concentrate on the important phrases. I’ll leave the more complex stuff for the CEU survival Hungarian course.

  3. Aaron! Congratulations on the fun stuff ahead! I will try to keep up with you 🙂

    Random thought for you on this one, though: I found it immensely helpful to have a speaking companion, someone who is a native speaker in your target language AND knows your native language very well. When I was in Norway, most of the population knew English nearly as well as Norwegian, and all of them wanted to speak to me in English. My friend whom I was staying with encouraged me to try Norwegian with them. My one attempt, I have to admit, failed a bit badly with a cashier, who finally said to me, with a huge smile, “Would it be easier if we spoke English to finish up this transaction?” I sheepishly nodded and kept going in English.

    So, my suggestion would actually be to see if you can find an exchange student who would be willing to Skype with you for a couple hours a week (or meet you for coffee, if they are so inclined and are nearby) to simply speak their native language. Sometimes all they want is to talk to someone in their native tongue for a while, or maybe you could trade skills (computer/website help, etc).

    I also found it helpful when I was in my language courses to label everything – and I mean everything – in my room with stickies written in the language I was aiming for. So, therefore, every time I looked at my desk, my eyes saw “skrivbord”, and my head translated desk to skrivbord. I would even mutter “skrivbord” under my breath. My roommate probably would have thought I was crazy if I didn’t already have a habit of muttering to myself while working on classwork and if she wasn’t doing the same thing with Spanish 🙂

    Just some thoughts! Oh, and let me know if you need to learn some Swedish, Norwegian, or German!

    • Aaron says:

      Hey Laura!!

      Thanks for the advice! I’m definitely going to do the label thing. Since I’m leaving in 6 days I’ll try and find some current students when I arrive to help me. And I might take you up on that offer for German…or Swedish. If living in foreign countries for two years doesn’t motivate me to get proficient in a language I don’t know what will.