Published: June 08 2023
As we explore different countries and their languages, knowing which languages are spoken widely can be of great interest to travelers, diplomats, linguists, entrepreneurs, or anyone who has a passion for languages and cultures. In this post, we're delving into the linguistic landscape of Hungary and tackling the question: Do many people speak Russian in Hungary?
A Brief Overview of Hungary
Hungary, officially known as the Republic of Hungary, is situated in Central Europe, bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia. The nation's official language is Hungarian – famously known for being one of the more complicated languages to learn for non-native speakers due to its unique grammar and vocabulary.
Historical Ties with Russia
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Russian Empire was one of the allies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the Austrian and Hungarian regimes often touched heavily on nationalistic policies, so their interaction with the Russian language was minimal.
After World War II, Hungary came under the rule of a communist government heavily controlled by the Soviet Union. During this period, Russian was widely taught in Hungarian schools: it was mandatory from the primary level to the secondary level. Many older Hungarians are likely to have learned at least some Russian during this period.
The end of the Soviet era in 1989 also marked the phasing out of Russian from the Hungarian school curriculum. While Russian is still taught in some schools in Hungary today, it is no longer a mandatory language.
Russian-Speaking Population in Hungary
So, do many people speak Russian in Hungary today? The answer to that is both yes and no. While a significant part of the older population might remember some Russian from their schooldays, younger generations have not learned it to the same extent. As Russian is no longer a compulsory language in the Hungarian educational system, and other languages, primarily English, German, and French, are more widely taught and spoken.
As of 2021, the percentage of the Hungarian population who speak Russian is estimated to be around 20%. However, this number continues to decline as many people prefer to learn and use other languages such as English, German, or French.
Is Russian Useful for Travelers Visiting Hungary?
For travelers exploring Hungary, knowing Russian can sometimes be helpful, especially when interacting with elderly Hungarians who may still use Russian in their daily lives. However, for most younger people in Hungary – particularly in urban areas –, English or German will be much more useful than Russian.
While a once-prominent language in Hungary, Russian is no longer the dominant foreign language spoken amongst the Hungarian population. Although many older Hungarians can still understand and speak Russian, younger generations are more likely to learn English, German, or French as their first foreign language. Today, only about 20% of Hungarians speak Russian, and this percentage is expected to decline as other languages grow in status and importance.