I wasn’t quite able to post this at the time, but Duolingo finally released a Hungarian course, currently in beta, on July 6th. You may have seen a post or two in the last year describing my excitement about it, and my frustration that the timeline was very… fluid.
Now that I can get a little excited about it, I’ve spent some time over the last few days running through lessons to see how far I can get before I hit a wall. So far, I’m just overjoyed that the course exists (and happy with my level in the language, too). The basic workflow is the same as any other Duolingo course, with repetition, matching, translating both ways, and audio transcription and translation from clips in the target language. Though Duolingo really should only be one part of your language toolbox, it is generally a very useful component, especially for getting started. The Hungarian lessons are similarly useful for the most part, but there are some problems with the course’s flexibility, consistency, and sentences.
One of my strongest complaints is that synonyms for a word are not always accepted. “A repülőgép a szekély tenger fölött repül” translates to “The plane is flying above the shallow sea,” but not to “The plane is flying over the shallow sea,” even though both sentences are correct and earlier in the lesson it correctly accepted both “over” and “above” as possible translations for “fölött.” I’ve seen this issue in other languages occasionally, but usually not terribly often. It wasn’t an issue in early lessons, but the frequency increased as I progressed. I think it finally started to annoy me sometime around the lesson on adjectives.
It’s not just direct word translations, either. The course could benefit from being more flexible on word order. Hungarian uses word order to indicate importance much in the same way that we use tone in English. For example, “I gave the book to Emma” becomes “Emmanak a könyvet adtam,” while “I gave the book to Emma” is “A könyvet adtam Emmanak.” The most important part or the new information in the sentence comes first. The majority of answers in the Duolingo course thus far do not allow for word order variation.
Another issue I’m having is with the sentences themselves. As I’m moving forward some of them seem unfocused, and eventually they get a little weird. Here are some that have given me pause:
***Disclaimer: I don’t have these in front of me right now so they may not be exact, but they’re pretty close.
- Ti gyakran palyaudvarokat lattok? (Do you often see train stations?) – It sounds almost like the people are hallucinating. “Do you often hear voices?”
- Hol van a magas iskolák? (Where are the tall schools?) – I’m not sure why this question would ever be asked.
- A könnyű es piros almák szárazak vagy nedvesek? (Are the light and red apples dry or wet?) – What? I mean, I suppose it’s correct, as far as that goes, but I’m just not sure what’s happening here.
Finally, I’m not entirely certain I particularly like the lesson order. It’s not what I’m used to from Duolingo. For example, why would we need to know so many nationalities so soon? Could that be productively replaced with something else – some other kind of adjective? Oddly, however, this in some ways follows the order my Hungarian language partner used with me years ago. He’s not a linguist or language teacher, but maybe this is how Hungarian is taught and there’s a logic to it. I’ll have to look into it. The workbook I have is organized a little more to my taste, though.
Despite these complaints (and who knows, maybe they’ll be worked out in beta), I’m just incredibly excited to see a Hungarian language course, and I am enjoying working through it. It’s rare to see a major language site tackle Hungarian, especially going beyond simple present-tense sentence construction, and Duolingo has been something that the kids and I can both stick with, talk about, and expand from. In general I’m happy with the Hungarian course, and with other courses they offer, though I hope they continue to improve on some of its issues as they work through beta.