Language barriers build solidarity

Page 58, 4.1.2—Fleeting vowel stems: In this large class of verb stems the last vowel is omitted when vowel-initial suffixes are added, yielding a stem-final consonant cluster.

Hungarian has a dense, almost impenetrable barrier.

My brain is on the brink of frying, even after the first sentence in only the fourth chapter.

You come to a point where you are in the thick of the woods, the part of the forest where almost no light shines through the trees. Brambles scratch your thin jacket. You realize you came ill-prepared in the department of attire.

The vocabulary and elementary grammar you have been covering in the classroom are a far cry from what you need desperately to convey your thoughts, feelings and needs.

Fallen limbs and twigs crack underfoot. Dead leaves are obliterated with every step you take. But you don’t take many now. You can’t. You are unsure. Branches overhead reach out in the dim light to block your path.

With gusto and confidence, you set out when the sun rose. But now your sense of direction is lost. Extending your hand, you place it against an enormous tree trunk standing beside you. Your palm meets with damp moss. The last step you took landed one foot in an unseen hole.


You know you are in the thick of the woods now, but you don’t turn back.

You thought you knew the way. Even if you took out your map and your pocket dictionary, you wouldn’t be able to read/decode anything in this light.

Resolve mounting, you feel the earth grow firmer beneath you, avoiding possible cavities in the earth.

A beam of light stabs the ground in front of you. You fumble for your guide, flipping through the pages of your Hungarian dictionary in earnest.

You plow ahead, and you’re finally starting to get it.

For a moment I thought I was the only one frustrated, but then I talked with some other students, native Hungarian speakers who also spoke English, Russian and even a little Spanish.

“In Russian, I can say that this language from the first lesson is like a barrier because it’s so hard,” said Olga Feher, a Spanish philology major at the University of Szeged. “And in Spanish it comes with the conjugating, the time of the verbs, past and present. We don’t have that,” she said.

Even Sigita, a student from Lithuania who has been learning Hungarian for over three years, still struggles with pronunciation. This brings no surprises since the Hungarian language has more than eight different vowels.

I asked my new friend Hayeon, an international student from Korea, about the struggles she was having.

“Growing up, we can learn native language naturally,” she said. “But own will is needed for learning new languages. And time, money, interest about languages is needed too. I think it’s an act of courage and challenging.”

I could not have said it better.