I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve made a determined effort to learn Hungarian. I’ve gone to classes twice a week. I’ve taken an intensive course and even got an A on my final paper. I’ve had private tuition with various teachers. I’ve tried CDs. I’ve bought books. And still, so many years later, I’m still struggling.
I have great conversations in my head and I think they’re more or less grammatically correct, but when I open my mouth, a combination of timidity and accent marks me as a külföldi (foreigner) and my interlocutor immediately switches to English, or if we’re in Zala, to German. It’s frustrating.
Shortly before Christmas, Catch Budapest caught my eye. I signed up for their word for the day which comes into my inbox each morning. It delivers a new word with three possible meanings. I get to choose. I’m rarely right but I have fun trying. These aren’t your basic, beginner-level words – they’re more complex. Lelkiismeret is one that comes to mind – conscience. I got it right on my second attempt. And then I received a full explanation of how the word is composed [lélek = soul; ismer = to know; literally: the knowing of the soul, to know your soul]. And it didn’t stop there. I could click to hear how it’s pronounced and then read some examples of how to use it in a sentence, complete with a further explanation of the rather convoluted Hungarian word order. And I got more still with a list of related terms like igazságérzet (sense of justice). It’s impressive stuff and very effectively explained.
Curious to know more, I tracked down the brains behind the outfit, Flo and Juli, and asked some questions.
The brains behind Catch Budapest
Flo is Italian, originally from the north of Italy. He spent half of his 38 years in neighbouring Austria before coming to Budapest a couple of years ago, after meeting Juli in Vienna. He fell in love with the girl, the city, and the Hungarian language.
Twenty-seven-year-old Juli was born in Hungary but grew up in Germany. She moved back to Hungary with her parents when she was 10. She did part of her business studies in Vienna and it was there, while working with a multinational corporation, that she met Flo.
The pair decided to quit their jobs and travel the world for a while. They spent time in South East Asia and India and a number of other European countries before choosing Budapest as their home base. Both have a passion for languages. Both have a passion for people. Both have a passion for Budapest. What began with them co-authoring an alternative guidebook to the city and publishing Miklos Molnar’s 33 Hungarian Stories has turned into Catch Budapest. Working closing with a study group of what they describe as ‘ambitions Hungarian learners’, Flo and Juli have developed a Smart Hungarian Audio Course for people who are struggling to master the language.
There are plenty of resources out there for students of Hungarian, but a lot of it is old and dated and in dire need of renovation. Some is impenetrable. Most of it is downright boring. As Flo tried to get his head around the language, the pair saw a need for a different, more versatile approach. The constant reminder to create memory hooks to embed the vocabulary or tips on how to use Hungarian films and radio programmes to improve comprehension – it’s all a far cry from traditional learning and pretty much made for me.
As expats, we’ve all experienced that visitor thing. We live here. We think we know the place. And then we have visitors. We show them around and see the city anew. We find something different, something we hadn’t seen already, something we hadn’t understood before. They ask us questions that if we cannot answer, we research. Living abroad comes wrapped in lifelong learning. Together, Flo and Juli explored the city, did their research, and identified a gap in the market. While there’s plenty of information about the city, it’s all taken on a certain sameness. They’ve focused on offbeat tips like hidden courtyards, art nouveau buildings, non-touristy bars and cafés, and a personal favourite, the oft-overlooked Wekerle Estate.
After they’d published a few articles on Budapest, Flo and Juli realised that interest in Hungary and Hungarian wasn’t confined to those living here. Or even to those visiting Budapest. They soon collected quite the following of people living abroad who had a connection with or experience of Hungary and the language. This is their audience. And their goal is not a modest one – at least not from my perspective.
What Catch Budapest offers
They want to show people the hidden corners of Budapest (okay, that I can see as doable) and to teach them the language in a natural way through their Smart Hungarian Audio Course, daily word emails. and mini language lessons (a far greater challenge). The places they write about often don’t make it to the guidebooks. The words, expressions, and pronunciation they teach don’t always make it to the phrasebooks and dictionaries. But this is their reality. They showcase both the places normal, everyday Budapestians hang out and how they talk, normally and every day.
I asked what their overarching goal is and they agreed that it’s to ‘convey authenticity – to show the authentic side of Budapest and the language to all those people who have or want to establish a deeper connection with either.’
I’ve not spent nearly as much time with Catch Budapest as I’d have liked. It’s already February and my resolution to dedicate an hour each morning to learning more of the language waxes and wanes. But I’m optimistic. I think I may have finally found the practical guide I’ve been looking for, one that not only gives me things to learn but teaches me how to do so.
Check them out at www.catchbudapest.com
First published in the Budapest Times 12 February 2019