Blog 001 – Learning Hungarian in Budapest


I hope your language learning journey is going well. Today I'd like to bring back the site to basics a bit and present the first instalment of my blog series: Learning Hungarian in Budapest.

When I originally started Actual Fluency in 2014 I did so with an ambition of sharing my personal language learning journey. From depression to fluency was the overall theme. However, while I have posted updates on my life and updated you guys once in a while the updates were never regular.

And that's bad. It basically means that I have not succeeded in creating a paper trail of my story. Where I've been and how I've made it to where I am today.

This is a shame for me, because I can't look back to see what I did differently, as I would've probably forgotten a million details, but it's also a shame for you as the reader because you miss a lot of steps along the way.

Also, when my updates were say, monthly, I couldn't compensate by writing a blog post 4x as long – that's just not ideal for many reasons, and again I would have forgotten a lot of the important information. So the updates that you did read about my life or travels were generally highlights or skewed versions of what really happened.

I haven't gone back to read them, but what I would imagine is that I emphasised the wins, and probably also the losses a little too much, when sometimes the greatest value of a journey is the process in the middle.

So from today I'm going to commit to writing one blog post a week, dedicated exclusively to my language learning story. I'll share what I've been up to that week, even if I managed to do no language learning at all. Hopefully a year from now I'll have a great coherent story of how I mastered the impossible Hungarian language.

I actually tried this before, but was ultimately not motivated enough to keep the weekly series up. Now I'm feeling a lot better equipped to providing this kind of content on a regular basis.

Since this is the first post, sort of, I figured I'd just spend this first paragraph on bringing everyone up to speed with why I'm learning Hungarian and how I ended up in Budapest.

Hungarian mission (re)introduction

This is the short version. For an extended version you can read my previous updates UPDATE 1 and UPDATE 2 and UPDATE 3.

Basically after finding a location independent job back in 2014 I decided that I was time to experience living abroad. Denmark is a nice country in many ways, but it's also very expensive and since I had lived there for 25+ years at the time I felt a change of environment would do me good.

I did a lot of research and eventually shortlisted Prague, Berlin and Budapest as my first foreign experiences. Initially I was drawn to Prague because I saw many people compared Prague and Budapest and I already knew someone in Prague who would be able to help me with any problems I might encounter.

Then I changed my mind. Fearing that I would become isolated by not speaking the local language I decided on the safer option of Berlin. In an ideal world I probably could have planned better but I put most of my stuff in storage and packed two suitcases.

Right around the time I was moving away I was invited to the Polyglot Workshops in Budapest organised by Alex Rawlings and Richard Simcott and I figured, great, I'll go to the workshop and then fly to Berlin from Budapest.

Only, I never made it out of Budapest.

When I came here I was stunned by the beauty of the city, the fantastic weather (it hadn't quite reached 35+ yet) and the value for money one could get in the city. Hungarian people also seemed really nice, and walking around not understanding a single thing was really exciting!

Add to that a buzzing café and nightlife and all the food options you can imagine.

The more I thought about it, the less Berlin made sense. Berlin represented the safe choice. I'm sure I would've enjoyed Berlin, but Budapest represented a true adventure unlike any other. Also the prospects of learning such a unique language were very exciting.

Reflecting on this, I guess if the Polyglot Workshops had been in Prague there is a really good chance I might have been writing this from the Czech Republic instead. That's how life goes sometimes.

Anyway, so I've been living here for 7 months now and I'm really enjoying it. To me it's the perfect city with lots of history and cultural options but still affordable. My lease on this flat expires in July and I suspect I will stay here longer, although that's not entirely decided yet.

My Hungarian Studies

My Hungarian studies have been slow. It took me an unreasonable amount of time to find a flat, get established and finally get into doing some proper studying of the language.

I don’t know why I’m like this, it was the same with Russian where I could hardly say a word after 3 months.

Has to be said though, months are not important. Hours are.

Compare two learners: One puts in 8 hours a day and the other 1 hour a day.

They both study for 3 months, but obviously they’re at very different levels because the first has exposed himself to so much more learning.

This is also dangerous when comparing yourself to others. For instance you might see somebody speaking fluently after a year, but you could be struggling. Remember that their year might not be the same as yours.

Anyway, so I’ve been ramping up my efforts lately by participating in the Italki New Year’s Challenge as well as listening to a lot of HungarianPod101 lessons.

I hope to make up for the slow start.

Last week I continued to do regular tutoring sessions with my Italki tutor, I also read in Colloquial (not too much) and did a handful of HungarianPod101 lessons. I also started using the HungarianPod101 Flashcards to boost my vocabulary, which is in dire need of a boost.

FEAR of speaking even the most basic Hungarian

Something I DIDN’T do this week was speaking a lot of Hungarian outside the lessons. I’m not entirely sure what this fear is grounded in, but I suppose the better you get at a language the more aware you become of your mistakes, or the fact that what you’re saying might not be correct.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before I’m probably more introverted than not, so it’s very challenging for me to put myself out there.

And we’re not talking trying to take on massive philosophical debates. We’re talking ordering a coffee in Starbucks or a sandwich in Subway. This is not exactly rocket science, but I think what happens is that the fear of making mistakes gets to me, and also the fact that I’m not really well-equipped to handle any followup questions they might ask me.

Because I’ve done those things before and it was always exciting when I completed a transaction entirely in a new language.

It could also be a form of laziness or comfort where, you know they understand English so why should you bother them with your broken Hungarian?

Obviously that’s a massive fallacy, as they enjoy it immensely when foreigners make the effort to learn their language. Also it’s a personal triumph as I mentioned before. So I also get extra motivation just by doing that.

I’ll keep working on it and try to push myself to speak more often, even if it’s just two words in a broken fashion.

What do you do to push yourself to speak a very new language? Do you ever get this fear I’m talking about?

Plans for this week

I plan to continue this pattern, but I’m in talks with another tutor to possibly being adding real-life tutoring to my efforts. Since I work from home and have all my hobbies on the computer as well, l sometimes get locked up a bit in my flat. By getting a new in-person tutor I hope to get another excuse to get out a bit more often.

Random thought of the week: Food in Budapest

One of my favourite aspects of living in the center of Budapest is the VAST amount of eating options within a 5 minute walk from my apartment. Lately I've realised that if I pick the right places I can actually eat out all meals and not spend more than if I had to shop and cook them myself.

It might be ever so slightly more expensive, but considering I don't have to shop or clean up after myself it's worth it. Also it forces me out of the house at least once or twice a day, which is always helpful for freelancers like me.

I recently discovered what is probably the best Hummus and Falafel in town. It's a tiny place on my street, but the food is amazing and a great value. Check out this plate I got for 1800 HUF ($6.50/€5.75)


During the week I also visited a local Hungarian restaurant (3 course lunch with a drink around $5/€4.50) and a Japanese bistro down the road. Here you can get a nice big bowl of ramen for around 1800 HUF ($6.50/€5.75.)

I love the fact that the cuisines are so varied. Anything is available here.

That's it for this week's update, see you for more next week! 🙂

  • dandiprat

    If you can somehow do tutoring in a public place like a cafe that might be even better. Good luck with your overcoming your fear to speak. Maybe you’d do better in a pub.

    I really like hearing about your language journey. I find that just as rewarding if not more than hearing about language tips or whatever. If I had heard more from the experiences of others prior to my own language journey abroad I might have had different expectations and done things somewhat differently.

    I’m on a bit of a different path now. I have people from abroad living in my home now. My in-laws have arrived from Vietnam to live with my wife and I. It’s definitely been fun from a language learning point of view getting to speak Cantonese every day to them.

  • Dorothée

    I don’t know how tutoring or online classes go (never took lessons like this), but maybe you can find a language partner, someone also learning a language you know. This way, you don’t have a teacher-student relationship, but you still know this person won’t judge your language skills, he/she will just help you improving.
    Easier said than done I know as I am like you not enclined to speak much. Fear of sounding foolish? Or just having too many words in my head and they don’t get out in the right order so I stammer a lot?

    Some Hungarian food I discovered last year was the “kürtőskalács”: a kind of brioche on a stick with cinnamon flavour (there are other flavours but I don’t remember them). If you like sweat food and you didn’t try it already, I definitely recommend it!

  • Hey, Kris!

    It does not necessarily feel very inviting to talk to a total stranger in a language you’re just getting into. I’d say go drill convos with people from CouchSurfing or ConversationExchange. This way you make friends, and practice in the real world around a drink. It’s also easier to talk to friends, and it offers you the chance to rehearse with a friend right before you order, or to see how he/she does it — you just ease into it.

    Now if you want some motivation to talk to complete strangers, think of the light in their eyes and the surprised/happy look on their face when they’re realize you’re a foreigner AND talking to them in their language. It’s the reaction of like 7 out 10 people, and it’s priceless 🙂