What if you don’t have the time, determination or possibility to become fluent in Hungarian? I have good news: speaking broken Hungarian is way better than speaking no Hungarian at all. It can make all the difference even if you only know a couple of words. After all it all comes down to being brave enough to communicate with limited vocabulary.
I speak a little bit of Hungarian
There is a great difference between saying these two sentences:
I only speak a little Hungarian – in Hungarian Csak kicsit beszélek magyarul. I only speak a little Hungarian.
I speak a little Hungarian Beszélek egy kicsit magyarul. I speak a little Hungarian.
The key difference lies in your attitude. In saying the first sentence you emphasize the fact that your Hungarian knowledge is weak. It’s almost as if you apologized because you didn’t study enough (and you should have).
In the second sentence you emphasize the fact that you do know some Hungarian. You are proud of yourself, because you made an effort and learned some Hungarian expressions (even though you shouldn’t have).
So if you want to practice your Hungarian, and don’t want the Hungarian speaker to switch to English, I recommend using the second sentence. By the way, if you get out of your comfort zone and leave the bubble that the multinational company environment represents, you will discover that the real Hungary starts where the English-speaker world ends. You will make good use of this sentence, I promise.
Conversation starters in Hungarian
There are some more sentences you use by starting a Hungarian conversation with just about anybody:
I learn Hungarian – in Hungarian Magyarul tanulok. I learn Hungarian.
Do you speak English? – in Hungarian Beszélsz angolul? Do you speak English? (informal)
Do you speak English? – in Hungarian Beszél angolul? Do you speak English? (formal)
Introduction in Hungarian Az én nevem Lili. Amerikai vagyok. Téged hogy hívnak? My name is Lily. I’m American. What’s your name? (informal)
Introduction in Hungarian – formal Az én nevem Lili. Amerikai vagyok. Önt hogy hívják? My name is Lily. I’m American. What’s your name? (formal)
I don’t understand this. Help me, please! – in Hungarian Nem értem ezt. Segíts, légy szíves! I don’t understand this. Help me, please. (informal)
I don’t understand this – In Hungarian, formal Nem értem ezt. Segítsen, legyen szíves! I don’t understand this. Help me, please. (formal)
If you are in a situation that you must speak with somebody, but that person only speaks Hungarian you will notice that meta-communication works just fine. By meta-communication I mean activity-style showing. You can use your hands, your smile, and those few words of Hungarian you already know. Once I saw a foreigner buy a variety of fruits at the market. He could only say “kiló” in Hungarian, the short form of kilogramme. He’d show a number with his finger, say “kiló”, show at the pile of fruits he wanted to buy, and smile. At the end both customer and salesman were smiling. A friendly face and a few words can make a miracle, indeed.
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