This was the first Hungarian word I learned. “Thank you” is my lifeline and the best place to start when I start learning a new language. When the barista in Lipóti Bakery slides my cappuccino across the counter, when our guide Elizabeth helps us order a bus to the airport, or when Maria Santa finishes her lecture on Hungarian culture, “Köszönöm” constantly flies out of my mouth.

And inevitably, the native’s eye sparkle and the corner of their mouth turns up in a smile. Their face seems to say, “This blonde American is speaking my language.”

And then they say, “Szívesen.” You’re welcome.

Some people may be physical touch (“physi-touch” as I like to call it) or words of affirmation, but a human’s ultimate love language is their native one.

This summer, the Bundle staff has been exposed to over five languages: Czech, Hungarian, German, Spanish and Romanian. Language is like the air – it’s everywhere.

My dim high school Spanish background came to my rescue with mission trips to Honduras and Mexico, and with the custodian Maria in my dorm at Baylor and most recently, a group of tourists in the Magnolia Silos. I eavesdropped on their conversation and figured out they needed someone to take their picture. I slipped out, “Tomar foto?” and they responded with a hearty “Si!”

So I counted down with an “uno, dos, tres” and they grinned from ear to ear and whispered in disbelief at a white girl speaking Spanish.

Over spring break, I picked up a little bit of Haitian Creole on a CRU (one of Baylor’s campus ministries) mission trip. My 8-year-old professor Ujelina wore pink bows in her beautiful kinky hair and dusty pink flip flops.

Through a series of me pointing and asking “How do you say,” she taught me words for everything you could see – hat, shirt, shoes. Every day when we returned to the village to share water filters and the Gospel, she quizzed me on the words I learned the day before.

Budapest is no different. When we stepped off the bus outside our apartment, I said “Köszönöm” to our native guide and now-friend Elizabeth. She lit up and said, “You know Hungarian?” And I responded bluntly, “No.” But I wanted to.

At our welcome dinner the next night, we sat next to each other. Over goulash and traditional Hungarian foods I don’t know the names of, she gave me a crash course in Hungarian.

Sure enough, she quizzed me after we toured the Hungarian Parliament Building. I’m not sure if I passed or not, but the smile on Elizabeth’s face was worth more than any “A.”  

Our lessons continued on our  train ride from Szentendre – an artist’s village and tourist destination 40 minutes outside of Budapest. This time, she taught me how to order food and count to 10 in Hungarian. “You pick it up so quickly,” she said with a widening smile. Flattery or not, her encouragement is another coal on the fire, fueling my desire for language.

I don’t know why God gave me a passion for language. Maybe he wants me to take “Hujambo” to Kenya or “你好” to East Asia. Maybe I’ll use “Jó Napot” again in Hungary someday.  

Whichever way He sends me, travel taught me the best place to start is with a happy heart, willingness to try, and a humble spirit knowing failure comes before fluency.

Speak. Write. Mess up. Try again. Ask lots of questions. Hang out with locals.

Fluency is not required (even though I hope to get there one day). Until I say “Viszlát” to Hungary, I look forward to two more weeks in Hungary and many more lessons with Elizabeth.

Whether you start with “Thank you,” or “Where is the toilet?,” even the smallest arsenal of someone else’s language can shoot you into their world.

So grab Rosetta Stone or WorldCue Translator and let the loving begin.