I thought I was good at learning languages until I moved to Hungary. Being a native Portuguese speaker and fluent in English and French, in Budapest I encountered a wild beast that has been challenging everything I ever thought I knew about language learning.
Hungarian is one of the hardest languages in the world for an English speaker to learn. As this study points out, it takes about 1100 hours to reach fluency, so if you study for 1h every day, you have to suffer through almost 3 years to reach your goal.
It has been a year since I moved here and, while I am very far from being fluent, I finally start to see some progression.
So, here are some tips I found useful in this journey that might help you too with whatever language you are trying to learn.
1.Adjust your learning practices to the level you’re at — when I moved to Hungary, I was naively hoping that, by being exposed to the language every day, I would learn it faster. Not true! I definitely picked up some common words and expressions but, for the most part, it was gibberish to me. When you don’t know anything in a new language, how would you even distinguish the words being said? At level zero, it just doesn’t work like that. So, adjust your learning — if you don’t know anything, get those basics in first. Otherwise, you will probably just get demotivated.
2. Get a community — this one is definitely easier if you live in the country whose language you are trying to learn (although it is possible anywhere!). Surround yourself with people who will motivate you and help you in this journey. Most of my co-workers are Hungarian and I lost count of the times I asked them questions about the language. You will find that most people are happy to help when you decide to make the effort and learn their language. My colleagues teach me a word a day and have some small conversations in Hungarian with me every now and then. It’s great for practice and motivation — and I am very grateful for that.
3. Get exposed to the culture — besides teaching me words, one of my colleagues sends me a Hungarian song every day. Then, I listen to it on repeat and try to understand the meaning (with Google Translator). Since we started this habit, it has happened several times that I wanted to say something in Hungarian and managed to do it because I remembered that word from one of the songs.
4. Watch Netflix and feel productive — this feels particularly good to the procrastinator within you. Don’t want to study and prefer to watch Netflix? Great, do it! Just change the subtitles or the audio to your target language and you will be learning while having fun — it’s probably the easiest and one of the most effective ways to learn.
5. Talk to yourself — even if you don’t have anybody to talk to in your target language, talk to yourself. While you are cooking dinner, tell yourself what you are doing using your target language. If you are thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, try to make a list in that language, for example. Try to incorporate the language in your day to day, even if in small amounts. You will find that you don’t know many of the words you need but, in that case, just use Google Translator. You might be making sentences all wrong and nobody corrects you, but you are still learning a lot of vocabulary and practicing being exposed to the language.
6. Have a goal — you want to learn a new language, right. But what exactly do you want to do with it? Create a measurable goal that you can work towards. For example, decide that in two months you want to go to the bakery and only speak in the local language. Or that in one year you want to be able to speak with your in-laws in their language. This will keep you motivated during the periods when life gets in the way and you relegate your language learning to second plan. Just keep going… you will get there!
If you have any tips that you use in your language learning, please share in the comments. Thank you or… köszönöm szépen!