Love and body parts

Colloquial Hungarian
November 28, 2003

What do you look for in a language textbook? It depends on whether you have a teacher or are going it alone, on the degree to which you have been exposed to the language and on which skills you want to acquire and how you will use them. But it also depends on the language itself. If it is one with a relatively simple verb but a difficult noun, for example, the textbook's coverage should reflect this fact. Agood textbook should alert you to intricacies of communication, such as how politeness is encoded, and to the minute culturally specific differences between synonyms.

All this should be presented in an order conducive to easy digestion, and exemplified with dialogues and texts that are idiomatic and commensurate with the lexico-grammar being treated.

This textbook passes these tests with ease. It should work well as an introduction to the study of Hungarian whether used as the primary textbook in a language course or by an autodidact. What is more, the idiosyncrasies of Hungarian grammar are presented, and vocabulary is sensibly sampled, against a rich background of cultural, historical and political detail.

Each chapter includes "cultural notes", covering topics from how to tell the men's from the ladies' room to short selections from poets such as Endre Ady. Realia, such as photographs of landmarks and tram tickets, are not overused, complementing and setting off the grammar and vocabulary.

Back matter includes appendices with tables of verb and noun inflection, answers to 113 exercises, grammatical and topic indexes, and Hungarian-English and English-Hungarian vocabularies. The accompanying cassettes/CDs are invaluable for a clear idea of pronunciation.

This textbook offers an unusual feature: a continuous narrative, with a cast of characters and the threads of a story of fresh romance and the rekindling of past love. Love is the theme that unites this work, from television listings to the love-stricken males "Mike" and "Mr Newman", each of whom suffers a medical crisis - an occasion to introduce, seamlessly, imperatives and terms for body parts. An infectious love for the Hungarian language and culture, coupled with a sense of humour, suffuses the book.

Daniel Abondolo is senior lecturer in Hungarian studies, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.

Colloquial Hungarian: The Complete Course for Beginners. First edition

Author - Carol. H. Rounds and Erika Solyom
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 316
Price - £24.99
ISBN - 0 415 24258 4

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