- The languages of different language groups than ours are always harder to learn for people who learnt languages only from their language groups. So for a European or (South or North) American person, who may learnt English, German and Latin languages, maybe Slavic languages, it’s really difficult to get used to the different logic of Hungarian (or Finnish or Turkish or Arabic or Chinese) language, different pronounciation, etc.
- Indo-European languages are easier (especially English and the Latin languages) than languages from other language groups in an absolute meaning as well. So learning Hungarian is much harder than German, Latin or even Slavic languages for a Chinese or Arabic person too of whom languages neither are Indo-European nor Uralic. What more even for a Finnish person to learn Hungarian or a Hungarian person to learn Finnish is much harder than to learn Swedish or Dutch as these languages have a lot of things in common with English (which is learnt by everyone), lot of common words, similar logic, grammar, etc. When Finnish and Hungarian people try to learn each other’s language, the only familiar thing might be the grammatic, as the words themselves and the pronounciations are different. So its easier to learn a language which shares a lot of English and international words than a language that has some similarities in grammatic because of common roots. So the factual reasons for the hardness of Hungarian language:
- Pronounciation: Primary stress is usually put on the first syllable of a word (which is strange for the speakers of other languages). Interesting that Slovakian language – because of strong Hungarian influence – stresses the first syllable as well. The amount of sounds can also be difficulty for the learner of Hungarian language as it has 34 different sounds. This is true especially for Spanish people, but everyone’s native language lacks at least one sound which is present in Hungarian. The pronounciation might be the easiest for Slavic and Turkish people as we have a lot of sounds in common.
- The international vocabulary is less likely present in Hungarian language even for the words of the 20th and 21st centuries. For example the words computer, passport, engineer, data, finance, economy, university, president, etc. are almost the same (at least similar) in most of the European languages, while there are absolutely different words for these in Hungarian.
- Hungarian is an Agglutinative language (just like Finnish, Turkish, Japanese, Sumerian, Swahili, Georgian, Mayan, Quechua), which means that we more likely tend to put mulpiple suffixes after the words in order to gain grammatical cases, plurars, verb tenses, etc. (instead of changing the etymons or using prepositions) One example for multiple suffixes in Hungarian: házaimban, which means in my houses, and is put together from ház+a+i+m+ban, where ház = house, ~a is the suffix for genitive, ~i is the suffix for plurar in genitive, ~m means my and ~ban means in. Indoeuropean (like English, Spanish, Russian, Hindi) and Afroasian (like Hebrew, Arabic) languages are originally Fusional languages which means that these languages more likely tend to change the etymon (the word root itself) to gain grammatical cases, plurars, verb tenses, etc , use prepositions, however use very few suffixes. For example the past tense of give in English is gave (by changing the etymon). In English one word usually can get one suffix. (the third type of languages are the Isolating languages like Chinese) Of course most languages show agglutinative, fusional and isolating features as well.
- The most important thing in Hungarian language: There are front vowels (e, é, i, í, ö, ő, ü, ű) and back vowels (a, á, o, ó, u, ú) and thus there are front vowel- , back vowel- and mixed words, which categories are important in case of inflections (declension, conjugation, etc.). There are usually two (or sometimes three) suffixes, one (or two) front vowel suffix(es) and one back vowel suffix. When we inflect a word, we have to know (or feel) wheter the word is a front vowel-, back vowel-, or mixed word. In case of front vowel words, we add the front vowel suffix after the word, while in case of back vowel- or mixed words we add the back vowel suffix. For example the suffixes ~ban and ~ben mean: in. So the words ház (=house), kert (= garden) and Athén (=Athens) are inflected in the following: házban, kertben, Athénban (meaning: in house, in garden, in Athens). It takes time for language learners until they begin to feel which suffix to use after which word. Some linguists say that in ancient times mixed words didn’t existed at all, what more front- and back vowel words meant grammatical genders (which – as they say – had died out from the Hungarian language by the time Hungarians arrived to the Carpathian basin in the 10th century).
- In case of a word ending with a consonant and adding to it a suffix beginning with a consonant, usually one additional vowel has to be put between the word and the suffix as Hungarian language doesn’t tolerate collision as much as Slavic languages where 4 or 5 consonants can stand together (for example Serbians call themselves Srpski). For example: fal = wall. The suffix ~k is the plurar, so falak = walls. In this case a letter a was put between the word and the suffix. But in case of kéz = hand, the plurar is kezek (= hands). In this case a letter e was put between. Hard to define absolute rules for this. Lot of cases this additional vowel follows the last vowel of the word, other cases it only follows whether the word was front-, or back vowel word. Like őz = deer and őzek = deers.
- Unlike in English (and most of the Indo-European languages), the order of the words in the sentences are flexible. Small differences can be expressed by changing the order of the words in the sentence. In English, the position of the words in the sentences determine which words are the object, the predicate and the subject, etc. In Hungarian language this is known from the suffixes, so for this reason the order of the words can almost freely be changed. This fact doesn’t mean that every variation are correct, nor that every variation sound well, but means that there are different possible variations which can express small differences. In English the sentence Peter loves Sarah changed to Sarah loves Peter has an absolutely different meaning. In Hungarian the subject is put to Accusative case of which suffix is ~t. So the translation of the first sentence is Péter szereti Sárát. However if we say that Sárát szereti Péter., Péter Sárát szereti., Sárát Péter szereti. or Szereti Péter Sárát., etc., these sentences are both correct and roughly mean the same as the first sentence, although all these sentences emphasize one of the words so changes the meanins a little bit. So when we say Sárát szereti Péter. or Péter Sárát szereti. then it means something like Peter loves Sarah (…and not someone else), or when we say that Szereti Péter Sárát., it means something like Peter does love Sarah (…you don’t believe me?). This flexibility could’ve also been listed to the easiness of Hungarian languages, but my opinion is that when someone first learns this language it might be very strange for them to understand the meaning of sentences which have totally different word order than in English, German or Spanish. And it’s an advanced level to recognize the “hidden meanings” in the different word orders.
- It’s also a difference (maybe hardness) compared to the strict word orders, that in Hungarian language there are no needed subjects nor predicates. So while in English we need at least one subject and at least one predicate in one sentence, in Hungarian language if we take an adjective and write it with capital letter and put a dot after it, it can be a sentence. For example let’s take the word szép (=pretty, nice, beautiful), if I write that Szép., then this means that He/She is pretty. If we miss the predicate (verb) out of the sentence then it means he is/she is/they are. For this reason there is no proper 3rd person conjugation of the verb to be in present tense in Hungarian. For example the translation of the English sentence Anita is beautiful -> Anita szép., or The girls are beautiful. -> A lányok szépek. (a = the, lány = girl, ~k = plurar) It might be difficult to understand sentences without verb for the learners of the language.
- Some linguist home pages also mention as a hardness that Hungarian language has 18 noun cases, which sounds so much, but if you begin to learn Hungarian you’ll realize that not that part is hard in Hungarian as the noun cases are very logical. The plurar form of the noun cases are the sum of the suffix of the plurar (-k) and the suffix of the singular of that noun case, every noun cases have different suffixes so they can’t be confused and the suffixes of the same noun case of different words differ only in one vowel (which can be either front- or back vowel). So these are easinesses compared to Latin, Polish or Russian noun cases, where the suffix of a noun case in plurar isn’t put together by the suffix of plurar and the suffix of the noun case in singular. Also in these languages, sometimes different noun cases have the same suffix so they can easily be confused. My opinion is, that Conjugation is much harder in Hungarian than everything else as one verb can have more than 70 different forms thanks to the suffixes, and some of the forms can be equal to each other, or differ only in one accent, so verb conjugations can easily be confused. What more, there is an Indetermined and a Determined conjugation in Hungarian language (which exists only in Basque and Hungarian), and it’s very hard for non-natives to decide in which situations which one to use. So my point number 10 about hardnesses in Hungarian language is definitely conjugation instead of noun cases.
Is there something easy in Hungarian language?
Of course, at least some things:
- There are no grammatical genders at all. (not even in case of pronouns, so for example there is no different word for he and she)
- There are only 3 tenses: past tense, present tense, future tense.
- Hungarian is pronounced as it’s written.