Tower of Babelfish
The Blog

In search of more efficient ways to learn languages.

  • Recent Posts

  • Subscribe to Site Updates

  • November 2013
    M T W T F S S
    « Jul    
  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Tags

  • Hungarian: Pronunciation and what’s next (Concrete Vocabulary)

    Posted on by

    Using the deck I made on Dec 21, it took me 9 days at <20 minutes/day to basically learn the sounds of Hungarian and the Hungarian alphabet. Total time spent: 4 hrs of deck creation, 2.5 hours of reviews over a 10 day period. This is working very well so far (and it’s a lot of fun!), and I’m ready to move to the next stage: concrete vocabulary.

    Goal of this stage: For the book, I’ve expanded the basic ~400 list to 625 words, and so my goal now is to create 625 facts (1250 cards) for the basic, concrete words of Hungarian. I’ll add recordings from for as many words as I can. My *main* goal here is to solidify my pronunciation. Picking up a bunch of vocabulary is mostly a bonus; it won’t be extremely useful until I get some grammar, which will come in Stage 3.

    Summary of the card types of Stage 1:

    Minimal Pair cards (Plays one of two sounds, asks me which sound it played. Once I press the space bar, it plays both sounds back to back. Every time I hear a recording, I repeat after it out loud):

    Alphabet Cards (2 types of cards): For every letter, I have one card that tells me the letter and asks me about the sound, and another card that plays a recording of the sound (and gives me the IPA), and asks me what letter corresponds to that sound. Hungarian is particularly easy in the alphabet department, because the alphabet is completely phonetic, and there’s almost no situation in which one sound can be made in two different ways. (Unlike French, with its six ways to spell open E: e, è, ê, ai, ei, ais).

    Card type 1: “What sound does this letter/combination of letters make?”

    Card type 2: “What letter makes this sound?” (Note: I wouldn’t be able to make this type of card in a language with as many spellings for single sounds as French)

    Mnemonic cards (2 types of cards): I’ve chosen a concrete example for every letter of the Hungarian alphabet. I’m memorizing the images for each letter, and then I’m memorizing the spelling of each of these words to cement that memory. Once those are in place, I’ll be able to use those images to help give me clues about the spelling of words.

    Card type 1: “What’s the mnemonic for this letter?”

    Card type 2: Given the mnemonic image and a recording of it, how do you spell the word?

    Edit 1/1/2013: Happy New Year! I fixed the images of the 5 card types, and now that I’ve started adding vocabulary, I’ve gotten a chance to time it out. It’s taking me 2-3 minutes per word to assemble everything I need at this point, and I’m making 3 cards per word for the first 100 or so words:

    Card type 1: What’s the picture for this word?

    Card Type 2: What’s the word for this picture?

    Card Type 3: Given the picture and sound recording of this word, how do you spell this word?

    Once I’ve done enough of these, I’ll have internalized the spelling and pronunciation rules of Hungarian well enough to skip the card type #3s, and I’ll have an easier time memorizing the rest of my vocab (for now, Hungarian is too foreign sounding to memorize words easily with only 2 cards per words).

    Why’s it taking me so long to make my cards? If I was only looking for pictures, I’d have a fairly easy/quick time, but I’m looking for 3 more things:

    • A recording of each word from (I’ll be able to skip this once I’m 100% confident about my pronunciation)

    • A good example sentence for later, when I actually know some Hungarian. This is an experiment; we’ll see if it helps to have example sentences so early in the process. I’m storing the translations of these sentences in a hidden field on the card.

    • A personal reference, in English for now, also stored in a hidden field on the card (My kutya’s name is Belle). This forces me to perform an added layer of processing, which will make the word stick in my memory about 50% easier to recall in the future. It’s a new hack that’s emerged while researching for the book and I’m trying to systematize it in this way.


    12 thoughts on “Hungarian: Pronunciation and what’s next (Concrete Vocabulary)

    1. Craig

      Wow, this post is wonderful! I have been building and studying a Anki deck for German Pronunciation that is very similar to your post but I have not been including picture examples. I think this will help me a lot in retaining the information and I want to upgrade my deck.

      I was wondering how you go about choosing the words for your mnemonic? At this point I do not know any German vocabulary so its hard to come up with good examples. I am guessing you want to pick very simple clear words and I was wondering if you had a strategy for finding these examples?


      1. gwyner Post author

        I just looked at the back of my grammar book’s glossary and picked the most concrete words I could find. In general, most words (especially in an introductory book) are pretty concrete, so it wasn’t that hard. There were a few tricky spots, for which I used Wiktionary. If you go here, you can search for specific letter combinations and it’ll give you a big list of words that start with the letters you need. You can dump those into Google translate and find a good concrete word to use.

        You’ll only have trouble with letter combinations/sounds that *only* exist in the middle of words, but you can usually just browse through your grammar book’s glossary until you find them. Most sound combos are common enough to be repeated fairly often.

        I ran into a single example (dz) that I just couldn’t find. In my Hungarian recording request on, the person recording was nice enough to make some suggestions. You can try to do the same (or try Lang-8)

        1. Craig

          Gabe, thanks for the quick answer, i will look into your strategy.

          I have been working on the Anki deck update for the past hour and got a pretty good system going. I dropped your whole 400 word frequency list into google translate and have been pulling from that. This has been working out really well because all of the words are easy to represent in picture and so far all of the German words have been pronounced on Forvo.

          1. Ryan

            Craig, just a thought: if you have thrown the 400 word list into Google Translate, I suppose you are not entering the German gender into you Anki deck? It might be a good idea to learn the gender from the get-go?

    2. Josh

      This is an incredible article, thank you so much for the time spent typing it out. I had a question for languages, such as French which you point out in the article, would you make a new mnemonic for each way of making the same sound, or one mnemonic per sound?

        1. gwyner Post author

          I don’t know, honestly! I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and I’m not sure what would be best.

          I’m only starting to actually use the mnemonics for Hungarian, and they’re *wonderful*. I attach the mnemonic for the first letter to each new word, and it makes the memorization process *so* much easier.

          Here’s my suspicion: with French, you might get overwhelmed with mnemonics, because there are probably 100 possible letter combinations to be aware of. I’d still choose pictures, but I would replace “Card type 1: “What’s the mnemonic for this letter?” with “What’s *any* example for this combination of letters?” (and I’d provide one example with a picture, just like in the hungarian examples)

          Then, if I really wanted to try out mnemonics, I’d pick 40-or-so mnemonics for the sounds of French and memorize them.

          If you try it, please let me know what you end up doing, and how it works for you. I’m not going to get a chance to learn French again, so I can’t really test it out myself!

    3. Heni

      Hi Gabriel,
      I’m so glad your next language is Hungarian! I’m Hungarian and always a bit sad when my language is said to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more and more as you’re making progress. As for pronunciation, songs and poems will definitely help you a lot. If you need some recommendations, I’ll happily help.

    4. Gabriel Wyner

      Update: I’ve cut out the step of finding good example sentences this early. They don’t seem to be helping to reinforce any concepts because I don’t have enough vocab and I have zero grammar whatsoever.
      As such, I now only use an example sentence if it involves at least one *other* word I’ve learned already. Now, adding words takes around 2 minutes per word on average (30 words per hour), which includes a step of finding an appropriate picture, making sure the word means what I think it means, finding and copying over a recording of each word from, and coming up with a personal connection for each word and using it in a sentence(which is hidden by default). At this point, that means I’m spending 1 hour to create enough cards to last me 3 days at 30 minutes/day, so my time ratio for creating cards:reviewing cards is 2:3. Once I cut out the Forvo step (after a few hundred more words), then I’ll shave off another 30 seconds per word, but I’ll also stop adding spelling cards, so it wont affect my ratio much.

      1. Craig

        Hi Gabriel,
        Thanks for the update! Do you ever look at the personal connection sentence that you create while you are studying? Or do you use this just to better internalize the word while you are making the cards and never look at it again?

        Thanks for your generous help.

      2. gwyner Post author

        Update 2: After knocking out the example sentence step, I just managed to do 56 words (168 cards) in 60 minutes, which should give me almost a week’s worth of material in an hour, so I’d say 1-2 minutes per word is reasonable.

    5. Pingback: How to learn a language’s sound system with Anki | Tower of Babelfish

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Note: For anti-spam reasons, if you put a link in your post, it will be moderated. Post *another* comment (without any links) referring to your other comment and I will look through the moderation queue and save it from certain doom