András Lincoln
András Lincoln Photo:

Beside speaking fluently, he also writes without mistakes and sings in a uniquely beautiful way in Hungarian. As he says – his second home is Dunavarsány (town of Hungary), he loves Kontroll (Hungarian comedy) creamy mushroom soup (Hungarian speciality) and has read Tüskevár (Hungarian novel for children). He tells US diplomats of the Foreign Services Institute, coming to Hungary, stories about his experiences in the country. He is the Hungarian Lincoln who speaks about his language learning on YouTube. Portrait of András Lincoln – Éva Zsuzsanna Trembácz.

In Washington on a Hungarian language lesson, in an intermediate group, Mrs Trembácz noticed a student who was far more ahead in speaking skills during the introduction. She could only recognise some small stylistic mistakes in his speech, but nothing more – this way, he could realise that he was not a native speaker. She was informed later, that András Lincoln learnt Hungarian super-fast (circa 18 months) at the age of 23 as an autodidact with minimal help of the teachers. He learnt mainly from the internet and most of all: he tried to speak with Hungarian natives as much as he could. 

His great-grandfather left Hungary (Palló, Transcarpathia) with his friend from the neighbouring house at the age of 16. Sometime later, his little brother followed, and they tried their luck in the US – Pennsylvania. As many Hungarians at that time, he worked in a coal mine and sent money back home regularly to buy land as soon as possible. But WWI obstructed the plan, and he never saw his home and the rest of his family again. His wife was from the local Hungarian community in the neighbouring village, András’s great-grandmother. 

Lincoln András
András Lincoln
Photo:ás Lincoln

As a Hungarian descendant, András only learnt some Hungarian folk songs from his grandma, and they used some Hungarian expressions in the family, like: “Hol a macska?” “A macska itt van” – “Where is the cat?” “The cat is here”. He has always been interested in his Hungarian roots but became truly important to him at the age of 23.

He started to learn the language alone, first with the help of a disk and the internet. Later he began to speak with Hungarians living in Washington. In 2012, he spent nine months in Hungary where he finished a 5-week Hungarian course and started to use the language in real life.

He made many Hungarian friends, he was active in the Calvinist community of Dunavarsány and watched the classic, popular Hungarian films – e.g. Indul a Bakterház, Tanú, Valami Amerika etc. His favourite actors are Sándor Csányi and Szonja Oroszlán. As he admitted, reading in Hungarian is not his strength – he has read classic books like Vuk and Tüskevár, but gave up on Aranyember from Jókai. 

His friends in Hungary love him because of his openness and curiosity. He has learnt a lot of slang expressions from them. According to Mrs Trembácz, he only makes one mistake in three hours and has only one question about an expression he does not understand. András says, he has already been in embarrassing situations, e.g., when he told a story about an old woman who “barked” at them (scolded them – “leugatott”) because of the loud music – he had only heard the slang version of this word before. He did not want to be offending; he just had not known the primary meaning of the word. 

According to András, the secret of learning a language is very simple:

“I simply wanted it so much that I worked for it as much as I could. At home in front of the computer, I learnt the grammar, I spoke In Hungarian in the car loudly, and at work, I looked up the new words, lyrics, poems, right after I heard them when I had some time.” 

He only felt strong motivation from inside, and it was also important that nobody pressured him. He learnt new grammar rules when he felt ready for that. He learnt Spanish at school for four years, but he can barely communicate in that language. 

In his interview with Mrs Trembácz, he told about how he sees Hungarians. He does not like generalisation and stereotypes, e.g. that Hungarians complain a lot. He found Hungarians hospitable and kind, but he also adds that he romanticised everything that was Hungarian. Later he understood why everyone says we like complaining, but he has always been used to it in a way, thanks to his grandmother. 

“It is not about pessimism, but rather about many people who like talking into others’ business. If more people are sitting in a room and there is a problem, everyone has their own solution, and they keep convincing each other about their own right. At some point, you can hear: Why are you doing it like this? Are you crazy?”

In the beginning, he was often invited to eat some “stuffed cabbage” (Hungarian dish) and drink some “pálinka” (Hungarian shot). Later, as he became more and more “Hungarian”, these invitations gradually ceased. As András sees it, Hungarians respect older people more than Americans, and the communities are better. He grew up in Annapolis (Maryland), in an area, inhabited by people of the middle class, where normally white, well-to-do families go to the local church. According to András, it is uncommon that poor African-American families choose to join that community there – meanwhile he experienced nothing like this in Hungary.  

He firmly states that the cuisine is much better in Hungary than in the US. Back in America, they only eat meat, potato and vegetables all the time in different forms. He loves when a dish includes more components, and this way becomes diverse, e.g., stuffed cabbage, rakottkrumpli (something like potato casserole), different soups etc.

András Lincoln works as an actor in the US and plans to come back to Hungary. But until then he keeps singing songs like this in Hungarian on Youtube.

This song is about loyalty to the homeland, which brought back the great-grandson of a 16-year-old Hungarian boy to his roots. 


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