Handwriting Models


János Hunor Vári



Within Hungary’s state-controlled textbook provision system, a traditional upright cursive style with roots dating back to the 1930s remains popular.

Among other responsibilities, the Magyarország emberierőforrás-minisztere, or Ministry of Human Capacities of Hungary, oversees the development of the school education system from nursery to university. The system in Hungary is predominantly public, and compulsory from kindergarten, which starts at 3 years old, and goes up to 16 years old. Primary school follows an 8-grade structure that begins at 6 years old, provided the child turns that age before August 31 in the calendar year.

The most recent version of the National Core Curriculum, published in 2020, describes exercises aimed at preparing students for writing, and emphasises the acquisition of reading skills and comprehension. It does not mention any models for handwriting instruction. However, an official teacher’s manual called Tanítói Kézikönyv prescribes the use of workbooks published by the Minisztere through its Oktatási Hivatal, or Educational Authority.

The Oktatási Hivatal plays a pivotal role in the approval, purchase, and distribution of textbooks: a process that became entirely state-controlled in 2014. At that time, the option for private publishers to license new general knowledge textbooks and extend the licenses of their existing textbooks was eliminated. By 2020, the textbook catalogue comprised 2,907 titles from 52 different publishers, with 54% of them being published by the Oktatási Hivatal. Many of these textbooks are distributed to students free of charge.

There are several handwriting instruction books in the catalogue, and among them the most popular series are Írás Munkafüzet and Betubarangolo, both edited by the staff of the Oktatási Hivatal and with visual and typographic design by László Kajtár. These publications follow the most common approach used in handwriting education in Hungary: both print and cursive letters are introduced from first grade, and the cursive letters are upright, wide, round, and have looped extenders.

From vertical string writing to italic script, and back

Hungarian children learn a style of upright cursive, locally known as vertical string writing, which has its roots in the 1930s. It was influenced by the work of Alois Legrün in Austria and Ludwig Sütterlin in Germany. In 1939, the Hungarian teaching model was simplified by Ignác Luttor, a drawing and writing teacher who developed his own method of teaching cursive writing in 1932, and Anna Ondal, a primary school teacher who later trained generations of teachers herself.

In 1940, the Magyarország emberierőforrás-minisztere (it operated under a different name at the time) prescribed Luttor and Ondal’s model as the national standard by decree. The shapes of the letters favored fully joined writing and avoided, where possible, lifting the pen. As a result, many letters feature knots and extender loops, which aid writing continuity. The handwriting model currently taught in Hungary is a clear derivative of Luttor and Ondal’s work.

In 1973, typographer and graphic artist Péter Virágvölgyi proposed the reform of writing education, which was founded on his own doctoral thesis at the Moholy-Nagy Művészeti Egyetem, or the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (formerly the Hungarian University of Arts and Design). Virágvölgyi criticised the round and geometric construction of letter shapes in vertical string writing, which he believed to be unnatural, and resembling drawing rather than writing.

As an alternative, Virágvölgyi proposed a model described as italic writing. It was much more calligraphic in nature, with short looped ascenders and descenders and a marked right slope. With the support of the Országos Pedagógiai Intézet (OPI), or National Pedagogical Institute, the method was tested in a few elementary schools between 1985 and 1990, and was finally accepted officially as an alternative for teaching handwriting in 1992. Nevertheless, italic writing failed to gain widespread acceptance among teachers, and vertical string writing remains the most common style taught in Hungarian schools.


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