Reviews - What do customers think about Hungarian With Ease (Assimil With Ease)?
just awesome Feb 12, 2005
The approach to language learning used in this book is so perfectly geared to self-study (and for many people, language acquisition in general) that it's really difficult to understand why there aren't more books like this out there. Instead of offering yet another textbook piled up with randomly thrown-together dialogues followed by a vocabulary list and some grammar practice here and there, Hungarian with Ease presents a surprisingly effective system where the basics of the language essentially fall into place for the student through the use of extremely well-designed conversations and examples.
That might sound gimmicky but in practice it's pretty cool, almost like an FSI course minus the whole brutal mind-numbing jackhammer thing. Here's how it works: there are- count them- 85 lessons, most of which begin with a short dialogue of usually not much more than 10 lines. English translations are conveniently placed on the right-hand page directly opposite the conversations where they can be easily referenced or covered up as necessary (One of the few downsides is that the book is pretty adamant about keeping this format up, so sometimes the organization of the following material suffers and parts of the rest of the lesson might be hard to find or show up where you're not expecting them). New or confusing points from the dialogues are highlighted and explained in a short notes section, where the sometimes technical terminology is balanced by some pretty wacky "humor."
Coming up next are the `Exercises,' made up of 6 or so sentences (with translations) that let you watch the new grammar and vocabulary in action, and the `Corrections,' which are another 6 English sentences that you have to translate into Hungarian in a fill-in-the-blank kind of drill. These two sections are great because outside of the occasional geographic name early on when you're still supposed to be picking up pronunciation, absolutely everything used here is from material covered earlier in the text. No disembodied `supplementary/useful words,' just good practice and review. Instead of focusing on examples of this or that grammatical construction then moving on to the next one, these exercises are put together in a way that if you're paying attention (and you really have to pay attention with all the stuff that's going on here) you'll start to get a feel for how everything fits in together in actual Hungarian- as opposed to just learning grammatical bits in isolation as they come.
Every 7 lessons there are reviews of varying meatiness, and this is where you would go for verb conjugations, pronoun charts, and to fill the occasional gap not covered in the dialogues. A good deal of `cultural information' also ends up here. These review chapters tend to get pretty technical, but the authors are certainly not opposed to lightening up a particularly grueling grammatical structure with a little ditty or two illustrating its usage.
Another interesting feature is the complete lack of vocabulary lists. This way you have to learn new words in context and get a feel for how they interact in actual use, as opposed to the simple rote memorization of words as if they were a mechanical code for their English equivalents. The approach might take some getting used to, especially with an agglutinative language like Hungarian, but this has the added bonus of forcing you right off the bat to really pay attention to the form and usage of each new suffix and to the rules of vowel harmony. It's par for this course to wind up learning 'vizet' before the root 'víz,' but you're also probably more likely to come across these words with prefixes and suffixes attached in actual usage than to be faced with a steady progression of clean roots and stems. If there's ever any doubt, the book has a pretty hefty Hungarian to English glossary in the back (but no English-Hungarian).
It needs to be said that this is by no means an easy course. Although it doesn't take long to get into the swing of the system, the book is quite demanding on the student and the sheer amount of information available here would be downright intimidating if the lessons weren't designed so well. You start right off with a pretty decent conversation, and just keep building on what you know. Also, readers more interested in learning practical survival phrases may be horrified by sentences like "Why are we ordering chicken?" but the point here is that while you may never actually have the opportunity to say that in the real world, by the time you get there in the text, you know exactly how to do it.
There is no separate introduction to the Hungarian alphabet outside of a pretty dull two page list of letters and their approximate equivalents (which doesn't even show up on the tapes) so it might help if you have a little background in the sounds of the language before going into this. Luckily the alphabet isn't too much of a hassle and there's more than enough reading practice here to learn as you go along even if you're coming to the book as an absolute beginner. There's a strange little phonetic transcription for the dialogues that fortunately gets dropped after the 13th lesson and is probably best ignored. Depending on how you study, it might be useful to note that there is absolutely no English on the 4 tapes, and that the first thirteen lessons are recorded twice, first slowly, then at a more natural speed.
Apologies for gushing here. I absolutely love this book and only wish more authors would take the time and effort to design programs like this where you're made to look at and understand the structure of the language instead of just left to memorize key words and phrases and hope they come in handy at some point. Also, the fact that this is a translation/adaptation from a French original just makes the book more impressive, even if you'll end up learning more about Paris than you might have thought you would.
It's fairly common to refer to the uniqueness and isolation of the Hungarian language and to lament the fact that it so often ends up being ignored, so it really is encouraging to discover that a textbook as well-made as Hungarian with Ease does in fact exist. Unfortunately, it's going at a tough asking price and appears to be out of print already, but if you're serious about getting at the how and why of Hungarian and can track down a reasonably priced copy, there really isn't much out there better than this. Highly recommended.
The best alternative to going to Budapest! Mar 5, 1999
Let's face it....Hungarian isn't easy! We can't really relate it to other languages (unless you speak Finnish...yeah right!!) But if you are ready to learn, Assimil does a great job of unravelling this puzzle which is Hungarian. The tapes do an impeccable job of helping you grasp the phonetics and intonations (VERY important). The translations are done in correct english so you understand and many times as word for word translations as well so you develop a sense of word order (also VERY important). Every unclear detail is explained in notes at the bottom of the page so you're never lost. Grammar is introduced gradually so as to not overwhelm the student. Text is practical, realistic and USEFUL! Being objective, the lessons can be a bit much towards the middle. There's a lot to learn! English and Hungarian have almost NOTHING in common. You can't get around that! Take it slowly! It will come. it's the next best thing to having a private tutor!