Hungary is home to arguably the most beautiful and striking city in the world -- Budapest. From Roman ruins and medieval townhouses to baroque churches, neoclassical public buildings and art nouveau bathhouses and schools, this city is a must-see on any European backpacking adventure. Hungary is also a country full of beautiful lesser-known places, not to mention the lush rolling hills of the north and a folk culture (paintings, embroidery, music) that is unsurpassed in its richness and singularity.
Magyar, or Hungarian, may be known as one of the most difficult languages to pick up, which is why using a textbook or a podcast wont get you very far. By far the best way to learn Hungarian is by traveling to Hungary itself, but other countries in the region have small communities of Hungarian speakers, including Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Croatia. Sounds like the perfect excuse to wander to the heart of Central Europe to learn a new language!
Is it really worth the time and effort to study Hungarian? Many will insist in the futility of such a mission; some will say only study it if you actually are going to need it; still others argue that tackling this peculiar language is worth it for the challenge alone. Hungarian is challenging, but if you are considering it -- you probably enjoy language learning opportunities like this!
Whatever your motive, it is useful to consider that there are various modes of language acquisition that vary from free casual bars to intensive multi-purpose courses. If you do decide to take the leap and learn, here are different landing points.
- University Courses -- There are several universities in Budapest and in the other cities such as Debrecen, the second largest city, which offer summer school programs and also courses through out the year at reasonable rates. These courses are in demand with university students who can earn graduation credits once they have passed the final language exam.
- Cultural Immersion -- There are programs specifically tailored to those with familial ties to Hungary who wish to reconnect with their heritage though acquiring the language and travelling to Hungary for the first time.
- Survival Courses -- Contacting a language teacher or taking a 1-3 hour language tour through the language learning service Fungarian allows you to get the basics of how to pronounce strange letters and complete everyday tasks like ordering at a restaurant. If you are only planning on staying in Hungary for a short time or you don't have much time to invest in studying, this might be an interesting alternative.
Why Learn Hungarian Abroad?
Going abroad to learn a language is one of the things that make travel as opposed to simply sightseeing so amazingly special. Going to the source of the language where you can see Hungarian culture up close and personal is sure to enhance your experience and make the learning process that much easier and more rewarding than staying at home and going online. While it is certainly possible to learn Hungarian behind a computer screen, why not seize the opportunity and do so while exploring Budapest or another Hungarian speaking city?
You don't need any special qualifications to learn Hungarian; the vast majority of foreigners who begin studying in Hungary are complete beginners. Since learners often complain of frustration at not being understood and progressing slower than with other languages, commitment and willingness to learn and a positive attitude will go a long way. Benny Lewis, the founder of Fluent in Three Months, learned Hungarian in just two months by disregarding when people told him it was so hard and focusing on all the ways it was "ridiculously easy.” This kind of attitude can carry you a long way as you master grammar, pronunciation, and syntax.
Planning Your Trip
It is best to make a plan for how you are going to study Hungarian before you leave. You might want to start exploring the language as soon as you can, then register at a language school or university for a free placement test. If you want to study for the summer or a gap year, you will probably need to register in advance so that you ensure you get into the level and time slot that is best for you. It doesn’t hurt to start looking into all the options well before your trip so that you don’t end up just going for the last (and maybe least appealing) thing available.
Popular Locations to Learn Hungarian
The most popular place to study the language is clearly in the Pearl of the Danube, where 33% of Hungary’s population is centered and you can immerse yourself in the culture and intricacies of everyday interactions in a thrilling metropolitan city.
However, Budapest's pervasive fame may have left Hungary's other towns undeservedly cast aside. Debrecen, the second largest city in the country, established a summer school for learning Hungarian as a foreign language and culture at its university in 1926 and welcomes around 1000 students each year. Next comes Szeged, located in the south and considered the sunshine capital. It offers as much culture as its big sister in the north but with a friendlier climate.
Choosing a Hungarian Learning Program
You will first need to consider how much time and money you're willing to invest in a program and this depends on your initial objective. Are you wanting to learn in order to live in Hungary or for a short visit, or simply for your own self-improvement and/or curiosity? An intensive total immersion program might not make sense if you only need basic survival Hungarian for a temporary stay. Also, because many of the programs offer two or more sessions per day you should choose a school in a location which you don't mind spending time. Finally, all schools have a website where you can read about their history and also get detailed course information with contact details.
Costs & Funding
Living and language learning in Central Europe costs tend to be lower than in Northern or Western parts of the continent. However, learning a language is also considered a luxury reserved for those with higher incomes. You can find language courses to fit every budget and sometimes special discounted rates on program websites. Be realistic and calculate all the costs of living to ensure you can study without financial concern for as long as you intend to.
Average Language School Tuition
Private one-on-one classes through a language school generally cost between $15 and $20 (HUD 3850-5100) for a 45-minute up to one hour session through a language school in central Budapest. However, if you don't mind studying with others in a small group and paying for several weeks at a time then the cost can go down to around $5 per class. If you are worried about paying the whole tuition upfront, ask to see if you could attend a sample class for free so you can be sure before committing.
Scholarship Options for Learning Hungarian
Each year around 350 foreigners receive scholarships to attend classes in Budapest. Stipendium-hungaricum, or scholarships for going overseas to study in Hungary, are offered by the government's Tempus Public Foundation. The Scholarship Board for Minority Hungarians also provides financial aid to those with Hungarian ancestry wishing to study there. You can contact the Ministry of Education in your own country to find out about the scholarship and grants available to you.