Language Learning

How a Language App Elevated My Trip to Budapest

How a Language App Elevated My Trip to Budapest 5616 3744 Atomic Scribe

If you’re looking for a city that showcases the best of Europe without breaking the bank, I cannot recommend Budapest, Hungary enough. Located on the Danube, the city is split into Buda and Pest, and both sections offer different yet equally appealing options for sightseeing, food, and shopping. The history and beauty is staggering. Best of all, it’s a very affordable city to visit, especially compared to big European cities that lie to the west.

The only thing I was scared about before heading off to Budapest was the language barrier. Though I had read online that many people in the city could communicate somewhat in English, I was also cautioned that it was nowhere near as easy to get by without some knowledge of the home language than in places like Berlin or Paris.

So, how do you learn a complete language in a few weeks’ time? Well, apologies, but you likely can’t. But don’t despair! Here’s my story of how just 20 minutes a day of using the language-learning app Memrise got me through two weeks of Budapest and heightened my travel experience.

My trip to Budapest was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision, so I only had a few weeks to prepare. I did as much research as I could, which advised me that learning some basic Hungarian phrases would make a huge difference to my trip.

Using the app Memrise was a no-brainer for me because I was already using it to learn German. It’s not perfect, and I think it would be difficult to become fluent in a language using only the app. But it’s a great tool when needing to learn quickly, or by using it in addition to other resources.


To Do in Budapest

  • Visit a famous bath, like the Széchenyi Baths
  • The Castle District
  • A river cruise down the Danube
  • The Christmas markets around the holidays
  • Pub crawl through the Ruins bars
  • Visit the extraordinary parliament building
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica
  • House of Terror Museum
  • Shoes on the Danube Holocaust memorial

Best Things To Do in Budapest:

  • Visit a famous bath, like the Széchenyi Baths
  • The Castle District
  • The Christmas markets around the holidays
  • A river cruise down the Danube
  • Pub crawl through the Ruins bars
  • Visit the extraordinary parliament building
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica
  • House of Terror Museum
  • Shoes on the Danube Holocaust memorial

The app (or web site version) teaches you basic words and phrases through courses. Many language courses were created by Memrise staff, but currently Hungarian is only available through user-submitted courses. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for these. I strongly suggest trying a course with audio so that you can hear the pronunciations, which was a huge help for me.

I tried out a few different courses through Memrise and then settled on two. The first was “Hungarian w/ AUDIO: Level 1”, which taught me “yes”, “no”, the days of the week, “coffee”, “tea”, “thank you” and other useful words. The second was “Basic Hungarian Phrases”, and it is exactly as titled. In total, I spent about 20 minutes a day combined on both, and I took the courses for about three weeks. Was my pronunciation perfect? Absolutely not. But I had at least a small amount of knowledge, and that gave me confidence to test out what I had learned.

Finally, the trip arrived, and I was so excited to try out a new language. Here is the the thing: my Hungarian was far, far from perfect. I knew “thank you”, “please”, “hello”, “how much”, and some other basic phrases that I butchered with my pronunciation, but I in no way could carry on a conversation or, in my case, understand basic questions. Mostly I was pointing and then saying basic words in Hungarian. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

But what I found was that the locals appreciated that I was trying and that I took the time to learn. I feel like I gained an experience I wouldn’t have otherwise if I had just stuck to English the whole time and expected everyone to understand me (spoiler alert: they can’t!).

But thanks to my effort, I had a waitress who taught me a few less formal phrases to use. A women at a shop felt more comfortable trying out English on me since I was trying out my Hungarian on her. Everyone was so nice, and I’m grateful that I learned something new and put myself out there despite being afraid of being wrong. And all that from using an app for 20 minutes a day.

6 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language

6 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

Have you ever tried to learn a language but given up out of frustration? Maybe you felt like you were the problem and that you just weren’t meant to master a foreign language. Well, you’re in the majority—most people find learning a language as an adult extremely difficult. But the good news is you aren’t the problem. It’s that you’re not not using the language learning method that works best for you.

More good news: you have lots of options to choose from. Just as we all learn differently in the classroom, we also need to try out new language learning methods until we find the one that best fits. Here are some examples of different methods you can try.

  1. Apps

  2. In-Person Classes

  3. Podcasts

  4. Online Games

  5. Rosetta Stone

  6. Government Resources

1. Apps

Perhaps the most popular language app available, Duolingo is playable both on your phone and computer to learn a variety of languages. It turns the learning process into a game, letting you earn points and nudging you when you haven’t played in a while. The app teaches vocabulary and grammar, but an interesting aspect is it also has the learner speak into the microphone to practice speaking the language. Oh, we forgot the best part: it’s free!

2. In-Person Classes

If you need structure and a classroom setting to learn, there are a multitude of classes to choose from. There are local college classes available, but it’s advised to search out your city and see what all is available. Don’t forget to also look at reviews of the schools or businesses on sites such as Yelp to see what previous students have to say.

3. Podcasts

Our favorite? Radio Lingua. This company provides free podcasts for learning languages when you have a little free time (say, on your coffee break), and then there is further materials available if you buy a premium membership. It’s a great tool for beginners who are in need of a slower pace and to learn the history behind the language you’re learning.

4. Online Games

Not that we ever slack off at work, but sometimes in the office you might catch one of us on BaBaDum. This site is great to use in conjunction with other learning tools, as it helps with vocabulary and pronunciation. The best part, however, might be the terrific illustrations!

BaBaDum in German.

5. Rosetta Stone

This may be our most controversial inclusion because some people hate Rosetta Stone and some people love it. It’s an expensive option, but it’s useful for many. The software really focuses on repetition to teach a language, which may suit certain learners. Our suggestion is to use the free trial to see if it fits your needs.

6. Government Resources

The U.S. Department of Defense maintains the Defense Language Institute to teach languages to service members, but they’ve also made a large amount of learning materials available online. There’s really a wealth of information on there, so make sure to take a look.

Another great resource is this site which has captured all of the Foreign Service Institute’s public domain language lessons. The BBC and other institutions also have free online resources available.

Learning a language doesn’t have to be scary. If one method isn’t working for you, move on to another until you find you perfect fit. Don’t give up!