School’s Out

I’m officially a quitter. I’ve given up on learning Hungarian. This actually happened ages ago, but when I was back in the U.S. for Thanksgiving, lots of people asked how my Hungarian lessons were going and I realized I’d never blogged about it. And, you know, if it’s not on the internet, it’s not official. So let’s start back at the beginning.

Language lessons were built into Richie’s contract with the firm. We were able to take a few lessons back in the U.S. before we moved (you can read about my great success with those lessons here) as well as here in Hungary once we arrived. We each got a specific amount – I don’t remember exactly, but mine was half the amount of Richie’s – I think it was something like 80 hours for me and 160 hours for Richie. Richie took a handful of lessons here and declared that the last thing on earth he wanted to do after a long day of work was to sit in the office and try to learn another language. So I acquired his lesson hours instead. 🙂

I gave it a go for about a year, taking breaks when we travelled or had visitors or when I didn’t feel like trucking over to the Firm offices in the snow (uphill! both ways!) I learned a pretty decent amount of vocabulary, but my favorite lessons were the ones where I distracted my teachers from vocabulary and grammar and asked them about culture, history, and current events in Hungarians’ lives. One of my instructors in particular has an interest in the history of language, and so one day I got a great lecture on the evolution of Hungarian language. (It turns out that in the early-to-mid 1800s, Hungarian as a language was dying out. Being controlled by the Habsburg Empire, the predominant language was German, and Hungarian was really only spoken by peasants and commoners. Count István Széchenyi, whose family was one of the most influential in Hungary at the time, got together with some buddies and basically revived the language and made it cool again for the upper class. Thanks a lot, István. If it weren’t for you, I could’ve been learning German.)

But with all of the lessons, I still wasn’t able to put together anything beyond the most basic of sentences. My brain just can’t comprehend Hungarian grammar. It’s not like any other language. Words are rearranged in the sentences to stress importance, prepositions come AFTER the object (if you were to put the words in the Hungarian order, “to the market” would be “the marketto”), and there isn’t a direct translation for a lot of the verbs we use regularly (for example, the verb “to have” has several different translations in Hungarian depending if you physically have the item on you or not).

So at the beginning of this summer, I was at my breaking point. I wasn’t getting anywhere with the language.  Because my instructors have day jobs, they can only teach in the evenings, so I was missing out on time with my husband when he got home from work. And frankly, I had zero motivation, knowing that I wasn’t going to be living here permanently (or even longer than just a few years) and knowing that Hungarian isn’t spoken anywhere else. I sent a message to one of my instructors, asking for a break for the summer, thinking perhaps that I would go back to it after we finished with our summer travels and visitors. And I haven’t gone back since.

I do know enough to get by – I can make all of my purchases at the market, I can say nice things to people at the dog park about their cute puppies, and I can give very basic responses to questions on the street. And I have friends with Hungarian husbands who are always teaching me things. My favorite thing that I’ve learned recently is házi papucs – it means a house slipper, but it’s actually slang for a husband who does whatever his wife tells him to do (I guess because he’s been worn down like a comfy shoe?!) Meanwhile, I’ve turned my language-learning abilities over to brushing up on my French. There’s a great app and website called Duolingo which has the basics on French, German, Italian, and Spanish, so I’m testing my French knowledge and trying to learn a few new things. Since we’re staying for a third year, we’re talking about having our fourth anniversary in Provence… sounds pretty amazing, right? If anyone’s been and has hotel or trip recommendations, let me know!


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