Poor Hungary! It’s often the basis for food-based puns and little more, despite having a rich heritage and interesting traditions. The Hungarian language, for example, is one of the 24 official languages of the europian Union, or EU, and is spoken in and outside of Hungary by over 14 million people! A member of the Uralic family of language, it is called Magyar, and counts among its brethren Finnic and Samoyedic languages. The former is spoken by Finns and Estonians, among others, while the latter is spoken in parts of Russia, Finland, and even Turkey.
If you want to travel to Hungary to explore it’s scenic vistas and beautiful architecture, then it is a great idea to start learning the Hungarian language and some useful Hungarian phrases to help you really enjoy your time there. We will go through some of must-know phrases for you to practice in the sections below.
There are a number of special characters and unique letter combinations that you will encounter when you are learning Hungarian phrases, and it can be helpful to understand how these special characters are pronounced, so we will quickly review those characters here before we dive into learning the phrases you will need as you prepare to travel abroad to Hungary.
- Á – This vowel is pronounced as a short “a”, as in apple or the sound a sheep makes; baa.
- Cs – This blend is pronounced as the “ch” in English, such as in church or lurch
- Dz – Imagine that you are combining a “d” and “s” sound when you say this letter combination, like the end of the words sands.
- Dzs – This is closer to a “j” sound, or a “dg” blend, as in jump or bridge
- É -I f you can say “hey” you can pronounce this vowel!
- Gy – For this combination, imagine the British pronunciation of words like dew, which puts an emphasis on the vowel after “d”
- Í – A long “e” sound, as in beet.
- Ly – Pronounce this as you would an ending “y”, as in pay or say.
- Ny – In Spanish, that little squiggle over the “n” is called a tilde. That’s the sound you are going for here. Practice saying “señor” a few times, and this one will come easily to you.
- Ó – A long “o” sound, as in pole or float.
- Ö – When you say this letter, imagine you are squishing an “o” and an “e” together, as in burn, surly, or the french article le
- Sz – A simple “s” sound, as in so or sing.
- Ty – Again, imagine the British pronunciation of words like steward, where the emphasis will be on the vowel.
- Ú – A long “u” as in the sound a cow makes: moo.
- Ü – Pronounce this as you would the “oo” and book.
- Zs – Almost done! This is the same sound we find in pleasure or the French name Jean.
First impressions are important, right? That’s why getting these basic greeting Hungarian phrases down pat is so important. There are lots of ways that you can commit words like this to memory, if you know how to harness the power of the memory center of your brain. We know you’re ready to get started, so let’s jump right in with some of these friendly phrases:
To say “hello”, try the formal “Szervusz.” (SER-voos).
If informality is more your style, or you are around friends, why not try “Szia.” (SEE-å)?
If you want to ask how someone is, the phrase you are looking for is “Hogy vagy?” (hodj vådj).
If someone asks you that same question, it is polite to say, “Köszönöm, jól.” (KØ-sø-nøm, yoal), which means, “Fine, thanks.”
You can introduce yourself by saying: “______ vagyok.” ( _____ VÅ-djok.), which is the Magyar equivalent of “My name is______ .”
Remember your manners! You can say please: “Kérem.” (KEY-rem), thank you: “Köszönöm.” (KØ-sø-nøm), and you’re welcome: “Szívesen.” (SEE-ve-shen)
If you are having trouble understanding, it is perfectly acceptable to ask if anyone speaks English by saying, “Beszél angolul?” (BE-seyl ÅN-go-loul?).
Make sure you explain that you are still learning Hungarian by clarifying that you don’t speak Hungarian well: “Nem tudok jól magyarul.” (nem TOU-dok zhol MÅ-djå-roul)
Or simply let them know that you don’t understand: “Nem értem.” (nem EYR-tem)
After a long day, it’s polite to tell someone “good evening”: “Jó estét!” (yoa ESH-teyt), or if you are turning in for the day, “Good night”: “Jó éjszakát!” (yoa EY-så-kat)
When you are traveling abroad, you will need to know how to get around, and how to ask for directions when you need them. Here are some useful Hungarian phrases that will help you as you try to maneuver around Hungary:
If you are going by bus or train, and need to know how much a ticket is, ask, “Mennyibe kerül egy jegy _____-ba” (MEN-nyi-be KE-růl edj yedj _____ -bå).
If you aren’t sure that you got on the correct train or bus line, double check by asking your fellow passengers, “Hová megy ez a vonat/busz?” (HO-va medj ez å VO-nåt/bous).
If you need directions, ask “How do I get to_____?” by saying “Hogy jutok el _____?’ (hodj YOU-tok el _____?)
If you have a map on hand, you can easily get to where you need by asking someone to show you how on your map by saying, “Megmutatnád a térképen?” (MEG-mou-tåt-nad å TEYR-key-pen).
Still having trouble? You can hail a taxi by shouting, “Taxi!” (Same pronunciation as English).
And telling the cabbie to take you to your destination: “Vigyen oda, kérem.” (VI-djen O-då, KEY-rem).
Uh-Oh! Hungarian Phrases That Are Useful in an Emergency
No one anticipates an emergency, but forewarned is forearmed, right?
Get someone to back off an leave you alone by shouting: “Hagyj békén!” (hådʸ BEY-keyn).
If they are trying to rob you, yell “stop, thief!” by shouting, “Megállj! Tolvaj!” (ME-“guy” Thol-vay).
Let people know that you need their help by saying, “Segítened kell. “(SHE-gee-te-ned kel)
Let someone know that you are experiencing an emergency by saying that outright with the phrase, “Vészhelyzet van!” (VEYS-hey-zet vån).
If you just need to use a private phone to call for help, you would say, “Használhatom a telefonját?” (HÅS-nal-hå-tom å TE-le-fon-yat).
If you lost your wallet, you can let the police know by telling them: “Elveszett a tárcám.” (EL-ve-set å TAR-tsam)
If you aren’t feeling very well, the phrase,”Rosszul vagyok.” (RO-soul VÅ-djok) will let your fellow travelers or hosts know that you are sick.
If you need a doctor say, “Szükségem van egy orvosra.” (SŮK-shey-gem vån edj Or-vosh-rå).
If it’s an-ahem-bathroom emergency, say: “Hol van a mosdó?” (hol vån å MOSH-doa?), which means “Where is the toilet?” (Hey, there are all kinds of emergencies, right?)
These are just a few of the useful and vital Hungarian phrases that you can learn if you are planning on traveling overseas to Hungary in the near–or distant–future. A great way to practice the Hungarian phrases that you learn is to keep a travel journal of all of your trip’s exciting events–in Magyar! Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? So you may just want to learn about how to take great pictures as you explore Hungary-there are some great techniques that you can learn to make travel photography as simple as taking out your iPhone! Remember to practice your Hungarian phrases before you take off, and above all, soz szarencsét! (In case you were wondering: that’s “good luck” in Magyar. Happy travels!)