The title may sound a bit strange, but I know how easy it is to go on a holiday and NOT use the language you have been learning. It had happened to me before: I went to Germany to attend a professional development course and because my German is a bit rusty, I opened my mouth and English words came out. So in the end I decided I would take it easy and just speak English. Then I came back to London and was extremely frustrated and annoyed with myself: I had an opportunity to practise my German and didn’t take it.
So if you are planning a trip to Hungary and have been taking lessons please read on to find out what challenges you will face, how you can overcome these and find more opportunities to practise your Hungarian.
Around three weeks ago, two of our learners (an amazing couple) went to Hungary. I put together some unusual homework for the trip to inspire them to learn as much Hungarian as they can whilst in Budapest. Then I posted this in our FB group ‘Hungry for Hungarian’ and a few lovely people also added their two cents. Here is our advice:
1. It will be tempting to use your English: many people in Hungary speak great English and as soon as they hear you have an English accent (or any accent for that matter) they will try to talk to you in English. But make sure you stick to your gun – think of it as a free lesson, you are there to practise your Hungarian so do SPEAK HUNGARIAN. You could do what one of our learners, Brian did and just tell people: ’Nem beszélek angolul. Beszél japánul?’ (Or whatever rare language you may speak as a native or a second language.) Chances are the person won’t turn around and start talking to you in Japanese, Vietnamese or Urdu.
Brian says: ‘I lived through this and spoke at length. a) If it is a young Hungarian (aged between 20-40) they usually speak very well in English but not in German or Russian. b) If they are late 50s or 60s+, they don’t usually speak English but do speak some German or Russian. (I actually loved this part as I speak German and Russian and it made for a very nice conversation.) I learned so much from the lovely elderly at the Rudas Gyógyfürdő , after classes three times a week. One day a few months ago during my studies, a very nice elderly gentlemen who only spoke German wanted to know how to get to the Buda side from Pest, the 20s something lady at the pékség could not understand and so I stepped in and said to the elderly man in German, let me help you. I directed him to the Buda side via the villamos and the sweet girl in the bakery started speaking English and I said sorry but can we only communicate in Hungarian. She agreed and thanked me with Csöröge like my nagymama used to make. So just ask nicely and state you don’t speak English (in magyarul) of course.
2. Go into a bookshop and buy a book, magazine or DVD entirely in Hungarian. Write down five words the shop assistant used and you recognised and understood them. (If you want to you could record the conversation on your mobile phone and listen and take notes later.)
3. In a restaurant, study the menu. Write down the name of three dishes that you like, find intriguing or would like to look up in Google pictures or perhaps try next time.
Also write down and learn the name of the dish you chose to eat and underline the words here that could go with this dish: finom, szörnyű, fantasztikus, olcsó, drága, hús, vegetáriánus, zsíros, leves, zöldség, tészta, krumpli
Of course, don’t forget to order in Hungarian!
4. Go the a market hall (called Nagycsarnok, or Fővám téri központi vásárcsarnok: https://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6zponti_V%C3%A1s%C3%A1rcsarnok) or any shop (which is not a self-service supermarket) and buy some fruit, vegetables or anything you need in Hungarian.
Ask and take a note of how much these things cost:
egy fej saláta: ……. forint
egy kiló krumpli: ……. forint
egy kiló alma: …… forint
egy kiló kenyér: …….. forint
egy liter tej: …….. forint
egy tejföl: ……. forint
If the person behind the counter has the time and is willing to chat with you, try to strike up a conversation, you could tell them you are learning Hungarian and ask what food they recommend you should try or which place to go.
5. Go to a movie and watch a Hungarian film. Or watch an English language film you’ve seen a few times so you will understand the Hungarian spoken. Write down the title of the film and a few words you want to look up in a dictionary.
6. Go to one of the spas (eg. http://www.szechenyifurdo.hu/, http://en.rudasfurdo.hu/ or http://www.gellertbath.com/) and try to talk to the locals like Brian did. 7. Spend the afternoon learning how to cook a Hungarian dish (if you google ’főzőiskola’ you will find a few). If you are around A2 level you could go to a Hungarian cooking class and improve your Hungarian as well as your culinary skills.
8. Angel says: ‘As I walked in my small village and Budapest, I wrote everything I didn’t understand. Business signs were good–doctor’s offices, pharmacies, gyms, signs on buses and metro, then I challenged myself to remember next time I walked. Museums usually have info for exhibits in magyarul and angolul – if I really loved something, I copied the magyarul, then the memory of that visit became sweeter. Oh, and I practiced my pronunciation with the announcements on the metro. It was important to be able to read ingredients on labels. Speaking of cost–try catching the total of anything you buy, without looking at the receipt they hand you or the register–quite a challenge for me.’
9. My colleague Julia has also added her two cents: Sit in a coffeehouse or outside one and listen to Hungarians speaking. How much do you understand? What familiar phrases do you hear? What do you notice about the intonation and pace of speaking? In a coffeehouse you can easily make notes without being conspicuous. A very special Hungarian coffeehouse is the New York Kávéház. (http://www.newyorkcafe.hu/new-york-kavehaz.html)
Over the past 120 years since its opening it has been a renowned centre for literature and history in the making, and has become known as the World’s Most Beautiful Coffeehouse!
10. Most importantly, enjoy Hungary! Please share any tips and comments with us below. Many thanks!
Thank you so much to Angel, Brian and my amazing colleague Julia for their valuable tips.