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Hungarian is widely considered to be one the hardest languages in the world for English-speakers to learn. This is true because of difficult grammar, spelling, and pronunciation. Magyar, as it’s known to locals, has either 18 or 35 distinct cases, depending on how you count your cases. Whatever the case, there are also 14 vowels, twice as many as in English. And there are two forms of verbs, definite and indefinite – definitely confusing!

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According to enet, more than half of Hungarians have smartphones, and more than 85% of Hungarian smartphone users use mobile internet, including apps.  In addition to the 10 million residents of Hungary, there are estimated to be another 3 to 5 million Hungarian speakers living abroad, half in Romania. That makes Hungarian the 12th most popular spoken language in Europe. However, linguistically, Magyar is something of an island, related to Finnish and Estonian, but outside the linguistic mainstream of the continent.

2-Way Localization: Hungarians using apps and apps supporting Hungarian

These days the status of a language is not so much determined by the quantity of speakers but also by its use in digital content and in software. While the Hungarian Wikipedia is in the top 20, ahead of far more popular languages like Arabic and Korean. But the difficulties of Magyar, and the relatively small size of the domestic market has induced many software developers to skip it as a language in the localization of their applications.

A survey by Daily News Hungary found the most popular mobile apps to be Jófogás, dubbed the Hungarian eBay, BKK of Budapest’s transit system and its competitor SmartCity, Vonatinfó of the national railway system MÁV, and Bolt, Hungary’s answer to Uber. All these apps are useful, and target the Hungarian marketplace square on.

But the use cases that interest us here involve the interplay of Hungarians and foreigners.

Will a visitor to Hungary who does not speak a lick of Magyar be able to get around and get things done with locally made apps?  And do foreign app makers support the Hungarian market with localized and translated software products? Does the difficulty of the Hungarian deter foreign developers, and does it make life difficult for local developers to internationalize their products?

Localization and Translation: Understanding the Differences

Before getting into the nitty gritty of localization in the Hungarian context, it’s important to distinguish this process from translation. Translation is a subset of localization, though it may be the most important and time-consuming part. In addition to translating all text, there is a need to convert date and numerical formats as well as change measurement and currency units. More subtly, localization also requires ensuring that cultural differences and preferences are taken into account. Colors, language, and imagery that work well in one country may offend in another.

In practical terms, translation and localization are often used interchangeably. Many translation services will be able to perform localization services, and many localization providers can supply translation. That said, localization is a largely technical process involving specialized software for managing the translation and for integrating the language tables with the other code in the website or app.  If a company is already developing websites and applications, they will be able to handle the coding internally. Often the packages will provide a perfunctory language translation program. However, for more complex apps, they will need to outsource the translation component to a language services provider or, potentially, a freelance translator.

Localization Use Case #1: Hungarian App Developers Making Global Apps and Websites

Hungary has established a positive reputation as a source of capable software developers. The relatively low cost of living has also enable Hungarian developers to provide cost-effective development services. But a stumbling block to working with coders from Budapest or Debrecen may be the relatively low percentage of speakers of international languages.

Only 16% of Hungarians speak English, and less than 12% speak German, despite it being an officially recognized minority language.

According to The Manifest, Hungary has become a hotbed for app development, with Hungarian firms partnering with foreign companies to provide outsourced programming services with a sophisticated European sensibility but at rates competitive with shops out of India or Southeast Asia. To survive, Hungarian devs need to have basic competence in English or German. If so, they can tap into tools which let them localize software with relative ease.

Localization Use Case #2: Global App Developers Localizing for Hungary

The global tech firms leading the way in software development are well aware of the difficulties of Magyar. They provide specialized guidelines for overcoming the complexities of Hungarian localization. Microsoft, for example, provides a 10-point style guide for translating software to Hungarian, showing do’s and don’ts. Among its tips:

  •  Translate sense, not words, so translations are not stiff and unnatural
  •  Follow the original’s tone and style, using “you” rather than third-person pronouns
  • Strike the right level of formality: Hungarian is more formal than English
  • Avoid complex compound words, which abound in Hungarian
  • Choose friendly Hungarian terms rather than English when possible

When in doubt, Microsoft recommends Helyesírás as the ultimate bible of Hungarian grammar.

Getting Help from Localization and Translation Agencies

If you have the budget, the smart money turns to professional translation and localization agencies to provide languages services to and from Magyar.  Typically, you can find these companies simply by googling “localization” together with “Hungarian” and one or more foreign languages for which you need to localize. Combined these with the industry in which you operate: software translation, legal translation, medical translation, etc.

Typically translation companies will offer you a free price quotation and timetable within 24 hours, or will ask questions to clarify your assignment. Feel free to reach out and talk or video conference with them to ensure there is “chemistry.”  Ask about their rates, of course. While for documents, such agencies charge by the word, for software and websites the calculus is more complex. You will typically pay more for agencies than freelance translators, but few freelancers can handle localization or the technical aspects of web site translations.

Be wary of using machine translation. While Google Translate and Microsoft Translator support translating to and from Hungarian, the language can is too nuanced to depend on machine translation. To avoid misunderstanding, and losing users in translation, better to relying on the cunning of human linguists rather than robotic software algorithms!

2 comments
  1. It is a shame that, while the article addresses the difficulties of Hungarian language, the English has quite a few mistakes. Usually your posts are written much better. I also disagree with your statement that only 16% of the population speaks English; in my experience (but not statistically measured) it is much higher, especially among the professional population. De köszönöm a tajékoztatást!

  2. As far as I know, Hungarian language has nothing to do with the Finnish or Estonian language. It is about time we all accept and recognize this!

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