Language Learning by Osmosis

Listing “Hungarian” as a language that I speak might not help me much on future job applications, but studying it is like solving a puzzle.  Being kind of nerdy, I love the mental challenge.

When I learn how to conjugate a new verb, chances are I can apply my knowledge at the train station or at the grocery store.  Or, more often, I pick up new words at the grocery store, from colleagues, or from my students, and then I remember them because I learned them in a meaningful context.

Hungarian is spoken by around 14 million people, and it is useful on a day to day basis while I’m in the country, but in the long run it seems like an exercise in futility: Ranked by the number of native speakers, Hungarian is #66 among world languages, sandwiched in between Assamese and Chittagonian, according to one list.  The first four languages are: Mandarin, Spanish, English and Bengali (Wikipedia says that #4 is Hindi/Urdu, another list says it is Arabic, but it is decidedly not Hungarian).

Hungarians are either proud or amused that it is a difficult language to pick up, but it’s not impossible.  Fekete Pákó, a rapper from Nigeria, seems to have learned it and considers himself Hungarian (I was compelled to Google him after my students mentioned him in class).

I feel like my progress is very slow.  I have to remind myself that when I listened to my first Hungarian language CD while in Michigan back in February or March, the sounds were so foreign that it might as well have been an alien language.  I despaired that I would ever be able to say a sentence.

Nine months later, Hungarian is familiar to my ears.  The cadence of conversations, the interjections (Ez az! Hópa!), the intonation of questions, all seem normal.

The phrases I use every day roll off my tongue without hesitation: Debrecenre kérek, Jó napot kívánok, köszönöm, viszlát, szia.

Best (or perhaps worst) of all, I have found myself saying “Helló!” for “Good bye!”  When we first arrived, this both confused me and felt like hearing nails on a chalkboard.

How did this happen?  It’s as if I literally just absorb the sounds around me.

I still cannot hold a conversation, but I can comprehend more and more.  Every word I recognize helps me make a bit more sense of the world around me.

And that’s why I’m here in Hungary.  I’m just a Midwestern girl trying to figure out herself and where she fits in the world.  It’s an every changing puzzle, but I still keep trying to fit the pieces together.


Filed under Language

4 responses to “Language Learning by Osmosis

  1. Amy

    I loved this post as I am studying Hungarian right now (ok I’m taking a short internet break) but my stack looks almost the same as yours, I even have the same füzet! (I’m working on classroom words and prepositional endings, or trying to at least)

  2. uravnrep

    Your post is a good reminder that perseverance pays off!

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