Hvg.hu asked language teachers about the difficulties that for example English, German or French students have with the Hungarian language. What are the greatest challenges? In what terms is Hungarian different?
Is it the most difficult?
Hungarian has been officially listed among the most difficult languages on earth. Nevertheless, Norbert Bencze applied linguist and teacher of Hungarian as a foreign language says:
“I do not like it when they brand Hungarian as one of the most difficult languages. It is always the unknown that is the most difficult for us.”
On the other hand, he admitted that it is extremely rare that Hungarian is familiar to someone the same way Swedish is familiar to a native German speaker for example, or Russian for a Slovakian student. So in that sense, being unknown to most, it is rather difficult.
Do not try to compare
Speaking from the other side of the coin, Gyula Szekeres teaches English and works as a language coach.
He warns that we set traps for ourselves if we try to draw a parallel between English and Hungarian.
“Even on an advanced level, the structure of English is fairly simple, while Hungarian can be a lot more varied,” he says. According to him, most Hungarian students struggle with the word order. That is why he thinks it best to separate the two languages in our minds; he actually pays a lot of attention to this “Hunglish” problem as a language coach.
Who learns Hungarian?
But, returning to Hungarian as a foreign language, we might wonder: who would like to learn it?
“There are many foreign employees, more and more students at universities abroad, and public education also has a growing number of foreign pupils”
Norbert Bencze explains who himself teaches international students. Many people come for exchange programs, field trips, and several of them fall in love with the country, the language, or, perhaps, with a special someone in the country. He also added that
there are many people living across the borders who “return” to the mother tongue of their grandparents.
So what is the most difficult?
Norbert Bencze’s answer to this question was “getting used to the agglutinating nature of Hungarian, to the fact that we express most meanings with suffixes attached to the end of the stem. Also, looking for vowel harmony is too troublesome for most students.
So basically, Hungarian language requires a different mentality.”
But it is not impossible to learn the language, and it can be worth it to utilise the materials online.
Online dictionaries and tests
Especially with his more advanced groups, Norbert Bencze prefers to use audios and videos online, and his students are allowed to use their smartphones. According to him, it is good not only for checking the dictionary but also to look up images of specific Hungarian foods, buildings. Therefore smartphones are part of his lessons and not enemies of it.
For practising at home, he often gives online tests to his students. According to Bencze it helps “practising the grammatical structures, and they get immediate feedback”. Moreover, they can be redone, so the less advanced students can use it for drilling and for catching up with the group.
And all this allows for the time in class to be spent with activities that could not be done individually.
If you would like to accept the challenge, then make sure to check out our mini language lessons below and read these fascinating facts about the Hungarian language to get more acquainted with it.