Living In Another Language


Hungarian, I am told, is the hardest language to learn. There are almost no words that match English or any other language I know. The letters look familiar, but that’s where it ends. Typically, if I am visiting another country I try to learn phrases to use on a daily basis so as to not be that person who assumes everyone will speak English.  In six months living in Budapest, all I can say in Hungarian is koszonom, thank you, which is pronounced “kersonam.”  Fortunately, I get to use it every day in lots of ways.

Even Korean was an easier language to learn. There are twenty four letters in the alphabet and once I mastered that I could read.  I was able to learn enough of the language to ask questions and get information. Surprisingly, it made sense.  Hungarian does not make sense to me.  The way the words look has little to do with how they are pronounced.  Some words are so long I often look at them with amazement.  Lucky for me, most people here speak at the least some English, and many are fluent, often speaking better than they are willing to admit.

In late December I decided to enroll in a yoga class. To my surprise there were so many choices in English.  I looked at the times to find a class that matched my schedule, which mostly meant not after 8:00 at night.  I’m usually home and getting ready for bed by then.  I found a class from 4:30-6:00 on Mondays about five blocks from my apartment.  Perfect!  I went to the studio a week before to sign up and the lovely young yoga instructor told me in perfect English that the class was in Hungarian.  I guess I failed to notice.  I must have looked really disappointed because she told me if I wanted to take the class she would do it in both languages.  Since I’ve taken yoga for many years I knew I would be familiar with the poses and could probably follow along by just watching.

I showed up for the first class and she looked almost surprised to see me even though I had paid for four classes in advance. There was no one even near my age.  I took my place on my mat with the other students, all of whom looked about twenty.  The class began and we all got in position on our mats and she began the class in Hungarian. Then I heard her say, “Breath in and breath out.”  That was the last time she said anything in English until we got to the end and we were in the relaxation phase and she said again, “Breath in and breath out.”

It didn’t take long for me to realize the class wasn’t going to be in English.  Surprisingly I began to relax. I wasn’t distracted by the words of the teacher but simply following along watching the poses and drifting off into my own world.   When the class was over the teacher asked me how it was.  It was laughable, this class was not in English, but since I really loved it, I told her it was great.  I’ve now been to eight classes and each week she seems less surprised to see me.  The other students are friendly and seem glad to see me as well. I’m not sure if it’s really happy to see me or amazed to see me. For some of them it might be like taking yoga with your grandmother.  Whatever it is I keep going back.

In spite of the complexity of the language, it seems yoga in Hungarian can be relaxing! Who knew?

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,