How I Learned To Read And Understand Hungarian In 48 Hours

Adrianus Van den End

Background Of My Endeavors In Hungarian

This is a Blog on how I learned to read and understand Hungarian in November 2015, when I got to intermediate level and could read kids books or fairy tales, and had to put the learning project on pause, and then continued in January 2016 and finished it. It comes down to learning to read Hungarian bestsellers in about 50 hours, mainly spent while reading or practicing words in the evening. The key to learning this extraordinarily fast is extensive/intensive reading with immediate meaning available, and spaced repetition practice of words not occurring often enough in the texts that are read extensively/intensively (low frequency words).

I started doing courses in Hungarian in 2011 in a group with a Dutch course called "Maria Ballendux-Bogyay - Taalcursus Hongaars (Language Course Hungarian)". It's a very good and extensive book, with extensive lessons on Hungarian grammar. Although it had a good amount of vocabulary, most didn't stick, and it was mostly the Hungarian grammar and pronounciation rules that I still remembered a few years later. Without that course or a basic understanding of how the Hungarian Grammar works I wouldn't have been able to start reading and listening.

The grammar rules that I remembered:

  • The meaning of the most common prefixes and suffixes (-t, -ban/ben, -ról, -tól, etc)
  • Change of consonant suffixes depending on word tone (Amsterdamban, Utrechtben)
  • Verb conjugations when transitive or intransitive

My initial basic course probably tought me a few hundred words, but I remembered a lot less. The problem with learning words the regular way is that they don't stick. You have to use them reading or memorize them by repeated practice (spaced repetition).

I had a similar experience with other languages, and hence I developed a tool to combine extensive reading with immediate availability of correct, manually added, conjugated and in context meanings (no looking up of words), with spaced repetition practice of words. Bermuda Word tool born:

A course to learn read a foreign language in the fastest way possible.


Summary Of How I Learned To Read Hungarian

During the language learning session this Blog is about, I mastered more than 5000 new Hungarian words, of which maybe 800 roots and 2000 headwords, through which I learned to recognize tens of thousands of other Hungarian words when reading new material. Apart from learning those new words, the "root or headword recognition" skill is very important for reading comprehension and will only kick in after some reading of new material is done, using the acquired vocabulary knowledge. For me, after finishing the Hungarian Fairy Tales from, I downloaded Grimm's tales in Hungarian from the Gutenberg site, and found that I now could read and understand those, and used them to get more practice in reading. Then, during the time that I was doing the Hungarian Short Stories from, I practiced with a dual language English - Hungarian book of short stories, which I now found out I could read without too much trouble. At the end of my learning session I started reading a Hungarian translation of Grisham's "The Pelican Brief" to apply my newly acquired vocabulary.

Where 48 hours of study earlier I could hardly read a word of that book, let alone understand one sentence, I now could go through it relatively easy, although it helped of course that I had the English original at hand as well, because there were still some new words that came up which I had not learned. Even those new words though most often had roots that I did know, so after recognizing the root and seeing the English original of the word, I would have this "Aha-Erlebnis" and almost instantly "memorize" the word. Not actively yet, but passively at least, so that when I encountered it again my root recognition kicked in and I knew the meaning without looking at the English original.

Summary of how to learn Hungarian real easy.


Hungarian Fairytales And Short Stories with Pop-Up translation and Spaced Repetition word practice

So Autumn 2015 I decided to pick up again on Hungarian. I had a vocabulary of a few hundred words, difficult to estimate, but I had the Hungarian Fairytales and Short Stories that are on, and my goal was to use these to become fluent. The difference with these word-for-word pop-up translated stories is that learning goes extremely fast. There's a large amount of input and vocabulary, almost 5000 unique words, of which a few thousand headwords, which when memorized should give access to the understanding of tens of thousands of Hungarian words.

Here's a picture of the tool in action - meaning is immediately available with mouse-over:


Lap 1 - First Chapter of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Dates: October 21st to October 26th

Time spent: 4 hours reading and re-reading 450 words in total, and doing word practice

New words learned: 250 unique words of which 140 easy, 70 average and 40 difficult

I started reading the first Fairy Tale, "Nem Igaz", which describes a princess who only wants to marry someone that can tell her father the King a story that he can't believe. Knights and princes try, and fail. A young peasant boy takes up the challenge...

These are not stories about John from the UK going to a Hungarian restaurant, or Janet reserving a room in a Hotel in Budapest, so for someone looking for directly usable conversational vocabulary, this method reading Hungarian stories will seem a detour. HOWEVER, even when you only learn basic conversation through a regular course, that will take you more time in total, than learning to read and listen fluently in Hungarian with the method outlined on That's simply because all 4700 new words taught are repeated enough times framed in the associative context of a story to memorize them, and there is immediate meaning, so no time is spent in looking up words.

I had a lot of other work to do, so I only spent about three quarters of an hour each evening, on average, reading the stories and practicing the words. All in all it came down to reading the story in Hungarian and each time trying to remember what the words said without looking them up. At the end of this first period I had mastered about 210 new words (the easy and average ones) and was still practicing 40 more difficult words. Words that I already knew from the course, or which were inflected or conjugated words that I already knew, I classified as Easy. Average words were those that took a while to memorize but were still not difficult, for example because they contained a familiar root that I already mastered.

How I Learned Hungarian In About 50 Hours


Lap 2 - Second Chapter of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Dates: October 27th to October 30th

Time spent: 3 hours reading and re-reading 607 words in total, and doing word practice

New words learned: 239 new unique words of which 139 easy, 70 average and 30 difficult

The second Fairy Tales "Az Elvarászolt Béka (The Enchanted Frog)" is a more familiar story about a man with three daughters, who's youngest daughter is stalked by a frog who wants to go to bed with her. It looks like the frog princess but it's a little different.

By spending half an hour to an hour every night just reading and doing some word practice (as well for the list of difficult words still left for the first chapter), I managed to master about 210 new words again, and added 30 difficult ones to the spaced repetition word practice "My Words" which I continuously practiced every evening after reading and re-reading the story itself.

You can learn Hungarian too with extensive reading and spaced repetition


Lap 3 - Chapter Three of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Dates:  October 31st to November 4th

Time spent: 4 hours practicing, reading and re-reading 709 words in total

New words learned: 296 new unique words of which 206 easy, 60 average and 30 difficult

This story is called "A Törpe Neve (The Dwarf his Name)" and deals with poverty, abandonment, adoption and hard work leading to marriage with a Prince. Sounds modern doesn't it. Except for the Prince bit.

Again, reading for half an hour, of all Hungarian text, but with every word translated to correct English, and testing each difficult word just once every day helped immensely to give me a reading vocabulary fast.

Let's learn Hungarian - it's now easy with Bermuda Word software...


Lap 4 - Chapter Four of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Dates:  November 5th to November 12th

Time spent: 5 hours practicing, reading and re-reading 708 words in total

New words learned: 324 new unique words of which 244 easy, 50 average and 30 difficult.

This chapter was called "A Láthatatlan Juháslegény (The Invisible Shepherd-Youth)" and is about a boy who gets some nifty items from Saint Peter, one of which is an invisibility cloak, and he uses it to spy on princesses in their bedroom. Ok it's a bit more complicated than that but I though that might make you curious.

I was busy this period but still found the time every evening to do half an hour to a quarter of an hour of reading and word practice. By this time I had spend less than 20 hours and had already learned almost 1500 unique Hungarian words.

It is pretty easy to learn Hungarian if you can read a lot and it is translated immediately.


Lap 5 - Chapter Five of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Dates:  November 13th to November 19th

Time spent: 5 hours practicing, reading and re-reading 708 words in total

New words learned: 472 new unique words of which 302 easy, 100 average and 70 difficult.

This chapter / story was called "A Szeret Szelleme (The Lover's Ghost)" and it's about a girl waiting for her lover to return. In the end she decides to use some magic, and her lover comes back. However, when he takes her to his "home", it turns out to be not what she expected.

By this time I learned around 2000 Hungarian words with not much more than just reading and looking at and testing each difficult word every evening. The difficult word list had gotten a bit of a bulge but I managed to thin it out a bit this period.

I had done quite some reading, which was easy because of the immediate availability of the translation behind every word, so the rising amount of words per story was no problem at all.

Hungarian For Everyone

Lap 6 - Chapter Six of Hungarian Fairy Tales

Dates:  November 20th to November 26th

Time spent: 6 hours practicing, reading and re-reading 2903 words in total

New words learned: 910 new unique words of which 700 easy, 140 average and 70 difficult.

The last chapter is called "Jó Tett Helyébe Jót Várj (Good Deed Good Awaits)" and is about a guy getting beat up by his brothers (what's new) and then when he's back in shape, getting framed by them and set up with three impossible tasks to complete, or in case of failure, to hang. It's a pretty long story with some good repetition and a lot of new stuff.

I spent a good time cleaning up my spaced repetition word list and in the end I mastered almost all of the about 2900 unique Hungarian words this course offered. What's more is that the inflections, conjugations and whatever other forms these words had, I could recognize them, making me knowledgeable of tens of thousands of Hungarian words and allowing me to read fairy tales and kids stories fairly easy by that time.

The second part of the course wasn't documented as extensively but came down to much of the same thing. Reading more advanced stories and learning more and more Hungarian words, up to where reading a Hungarian best seller was not that difficult anymore.


Numbers Explaining What Happened In About 25 Hours

Learning Milestones: 26Oct-30Oct-04Nov-12Nov-19Nov-26Nov
Hours   spent...............4........3....... .4........4........5... ... ...6
Total Words   Read........450......607......709.... ..708......1233....2903
Unique   Words*..........250......239......29 6......324.......472..... 910
Easy (Root-deduced)**...140.....139......206......244.......302.. ...700
Average (Learned Fast)***.70......70.......60.......50.......100.....140
Difficult****.................40......30.......30.......30.. ..... .70......70

Reason for learning fast:

  • - long coherent fun stories (i.e. extensive reading) 
  • - immediate correct pop-up translation (enabling immersion while reading) 
  • - spaced repetition practice, e-book integrated word lists show me which words to repeat 
  • - check on true permanent retention (making sure of almost 100% retention) 
  • - association supported word learning (they're always part of a story) 
  • - root recognition learning (by reading and seeing meanings and recognizing similar roots your brain is trained to do this faster and better and easier each time). 
  • - hours are spent reading and repeating in as far necessary, so 100% efficient, not in slow class format or trying to absorb a lesson (unnatural for brain imho) 

Words read: text totalling 6642 words, on average 15 times; time spent about 20 hours
Words learned: 2518 unique words, 1500-200 headwords, 700-1000 roots, probably can
recognize ten thousands of words by learning in context only a fraction of that.
Recognizing on average about 80% to 90% of the words in the Short Stories because I
know headwords/roots.
Repetition test time: 2 seconds per word, every Easy word (1731) repeated 3 times,
Average (490) 6 times, Difficult (270) x 12 = 5+ hrs
Total time spent about 25 hours, with some spaced repetition of difficult words in
word list to follow.

 Learning words made easy. YES!

Going From Intermediate To Advanced

The second half of my Hungarian learning session went about the same way. There was a bit of a gap before I started again as I was working hard on getting all Bermuda Word e-books up in another format, interlinear as you might have seen in a recent Blog, and I spent some late nights working to get them up on Amazon.

The same happened halfway in January when I started serious development on my App. However the App itself, the prototype, did show my it's value, as it is showing content much more dynamic and fast than the Windows software already is, plus I can just read the story on my Android smarthpone or iPhone now which makes it a lot more available. See example (don't mind the unicode errors in the prototype, they're already fixed in the latest version:)

Dont mind the unicode errors...

The current version of the App has a library to store all your e-books and it also shows any new e-books available in the store (grayed out still):

I Love The Ontario App!

As you can see my mind is not on learning to read Hungarian as much anymore as it is on making learning to read any foreign language fast and easy possible for everyone.