Why is Hungarian considered 'hard'?

I've looked it up a few times, just to try to get a better understanding of an agglutinating language, and I really fail to see what's so hard about it. Though I'm kinda desensitized to 'hard'; the first language I ever tried to learn was Japanese. I also did research into Finnish long long ago so the Uralic languages aren't really that exotic to me.

I'd like to know what exactly it is that people find hard about it. To me, it just looks like everyone thinks it's hard because it's alien to someone only used to Indo-European languages.

• Do you have any sources where it was listed as a hard language to learn? I think the ideal answer to your question really depends on your native language (L1). – fi12 Nov 3 '17 at 0:15
• The reason there was no Hungarian tag was because there have been no questions regarding Hungarian up to this point. I have edited your question and added the newly-created hungarian tag. – fi12 Nov 3 '17 at 0:16
• I've been seeing a lot of videos on youtube calling Hungarian 'hard', and one guy who keeps referring to it as 'the devil's language', even though he's Hungarian himself! – user3892 Nov 3 '17 at 1:05
• IMO, the problem with this question is that it says that "someone" for unknown reason claims that Hungarian is difficult to learn, and it invites us to prove or deny that claim. Unless we know who and why makes the original statement, any answer would be a pure guesswork. For one guess, it could be due to the developed noun case system (typical for Uralic languages), and indeed, I saw English speakers who have difficulty grasping even the 4 cases of German or 7 cases of Ukrainian, leave alone the 18 Hungarian ones. – bytebuster Nov 3 '17 at 8:11
• What languages do you currently know? They might affect the "difficulty" of a new language – Anthony Pham Nov 3 '17 at 10:33

A Swedish guy named Frederik (?) talks about the challenges of learnning Hungarian after learning it for roughly a month:

• In Indo-European languages, there is typically only one present tense, but in Hungarian there are two: one for "definite" and one for "indefinite". (What he means is indefinite versus definite conjugation. Note that English has the simple present ("He drives ...") and the present progressive ("He is driving ..."), which also poses problems to non-native speakers.)
• The word order "changes all the time".

Easy things about the language:

• It is easy to pronounce for speakers of Swedish and should not be too difficult for native speakers of English.
• The spelling is very phonetic. It is not entirely phonetic but gets quite close.

This missionary gives a few reasons why Hungarian is difficult:

• The grammar is "very complicated".
• There is no set word order.
• It is very different from English.
• It is an agglutinating language; learners are advised to break down a word by starting at the end.
• When speaking to older people or people of authority, you use different conjugations than when speaking with other people.

Another native speaker of English says he found the difference between ö/ő and ü difficult.

Now for some more detailed information. On Babbel, Steph Koyfman writes the following.

• According to Timea Zsedely, co-owner of the only Hungarian bookstore in the USA and professional language instructor, Hungarian is the second most difficult foreign language for native speakers of English, after Standard Chinese.
• Timea Zsedely adds, "Hungarian is the most creative language in the world, which means you can play with the order and the cases, and moreover, with the suffixes and prefixes, too."

Koyfman then goes on to list the following reasons why Hungarian is difficult to learn (emphasis added):

• The language has 35 distinct cases. (Note: Wikipedia states that Hungarian nouns can be declined in 18 cases.)
• Word order is very flexible. (See also the first missionary above.)
• "You have to have a complete understanding of Hungarian grammar in order to nail the precision and subtle inflection it requires to accurately convey your meaning."

A blog post by a certain Stacey on the blog of One Hour Translation makes the following points:

• Hungarian has 35 distinct cases, though some sources say that there are 18 cases. This disparity is somehow related to the way prepositions are appended to nouns.
• Hungarian relies on idioms more than other languages.
• Hungarian has 14 different vowels, which is nearly twice as many as English. (Note: Hungarian has a straightforward relationship between spelling and phonology, unlike English, which has 6 vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u, y) but a much higher number of vowel sounds. So it is not clear why this would make Hungarian difficult.)
• The words are not related to words in English, unlike many words in Italian or French. (Note: This is obviously a consequence of the fact that Hungarian is part a different language family than English, Italian and French.)
• There are two verb forms, the definite and the indefinite. (See also the comments by the Swedish guy above.)
• English language has only 5 vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u), but 19 vowel sounds. Hungarian has 14 vowel letters corresponding to 14 sounds (7 pairs of long and short sounds). One could argue that English phonology is the more complicated one. – Vitaly Nov 6 '17 at 14:50
• @Vitaly Good point. I have added a note about this to my answer. I think it is more a matter of perception than fact. – Christophe Strobbe Nov 6 '17 at 16:02

Some ten years ago, I (a native German speaker) started learning Hungarian in an evening course and continued for roughly two years. After English, Polish and Spanish, this was my fourth foreign language.

From my personal point of view, there are some misconceptions regarding Hungarian.

The most prominent one is the "35 cases" thing. An example: apámé means [something] of my father. This combines apa (father) plus two possession relations into one word. Is this a "case"? I don't think so. It's just the words my and of affixed to the noun, as if in father-my-of. That's a different way of thinking, but when you get used to it, it's easier than in some indo-european languages.

What's a bit special about the suffixes, is that they take on different forms depending on the phonetics of the noun they're affixed to. The hungarian vowels come in two families: e, i, ö, ü vs. a, o, u, and the suffix typically uses the same vowel family as the noun.

"In Indo-European languages, there is typically only one present tense": I don't think so. Slavonic languages are indo-european, and have a clear distinction between "definite" and "indefinite" forms of verbs, Engish has the "present progressive", German often expresses the difference with prefixes. So that's nothing very special.

Pronunciation of a foreign language is always different from your native one, and at least for a German speaker, it's not too difficult.

"You have to have a complete understanding of Hungarian grammar in order to nail the precision and subtle inflection it requires to accurately convey your meaning": I never had that "complete understanding" and was able to communicate. If you know the meaning of one single suffix, you can already use it to convey that meaning, no matter how much you know about the other existing suffixes.

The Hungarian vocabulary is different from English. But it borrows many loanwords from western languages, e.g. you immediately know what a "múseum" is. But yes, when coming from English (being a romanic-germanic mixture language), you won't find as many similar words as e.g. in Spanish.

So, my overall judgment is, it's a different language, not a difficult one.