How to Learn Romanian In Your Spare Time

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Why learn Romanian, when you can learn French or Spanish, or even German? For the fun of it, mostly.

Language learning is widely regarded as a thought to near-impossible challenge, but truth be told, it can also be an incredibly entertaining and rewarding pass time. Not convinced enough, yet?

Well, let’s not forget Romanian is the language of a rather large country, plus, it is also related to other tongues, and knowing it can help you master other tongues (Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish come to mind).

On top of that, the language is simply interesting — from a linguistic (and geeky) point of view. If you decide to learn Romanian in your spare time there is no pressure to get things perfect, no set deadline, just the plain enjoyment of learning new things (plus the benefit of speaking the local language, if and when you decide to visit this beautiful country).

Some History

Romanian belongs to the Romance language group, that evolved from vulgar Latin. More specifically, it is an Eastern Romance language. Let’s go back in time to the Roman Empire.

There was (and still is) Classical Latin — the language used by natives of Rome, as well as in all written documents. Classical Latin has a complex case system, and if you have ever had to come face to face with cases and declensions, you know how difficult they are to grasp for a non-native speaker.

Thus, it’s not too surprising that for non-natives (read people from conquered lands) did not exactly use them correctly. Eventually, Vulgar Latin lost all cases and replaced them with prepositions. This is a handy change, and although at the time it was seen as not speaking the language properly, today linguists actually regard it as a positive development. In general, languages that use prepositions instead of cases are regarded as more evolved.

And this was a short story about how people with bad grammar helped Latin evolve.

From then on, it was Vulgar on the streets and Classical in all other cases. Well-educated people would use Classical Latin; magnificent literature was still created in that language, as well as works of philosophy, law, and medicine, among others. Then the Roman empire started to decline and different tribes settled in different parts of its’ lands. In the Balkans, these were the Slavs and the Huns, which isolated people in what is now Romania from other Latin-speaking populations.

As a result, while there is a substantial similarity between Romanian and Spanish, it is not that large, since the populations were separated centuries ago. Observe this:

You meet an exceptionally cute girl in France. She is belle. In Spain — bella. In Portugal — bela. And what about in Romania? Frumoasă. Yeah, fun stuff.

On top of that, Romanian evolved alongside Slavic and Greek languages (it’s the Balkans), as well as Turkish (there was the Ottoman Empire) and even Hungarian. There are hundreds of loanwords from these languages. Plus, as we already mentioned, Vulgar Latin speaking guys got separated from the rest pretty early. It all makes for a very whimsical take on the Latin language.

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Other Fun Stuff

So to sum it up—the language has some pretty complicated, weird, and cool history. But is it a reason to learn Romanian? Probably yes, and any language nerd will see why, but even if you are not a keen linguist, there is another fun reason to take up learning Romanian. And that reason is the expressions.

You know how people post Instagram pics of beautiful expressions in French in a nice cursive font. Yeah, well, Romanian is not like that. It’s more like a language full of phrases that kind of feel like somebody was very stoned when he came up with them. Or, you know, just had very weird imagination. In any case, there are plenty of funny phrases in Romanian that people use daily. Here are a few:

  • You are not nervous before a job interview. You ai un morcov în fund, you have a carrot stuffed up your ass.
  • You don’t lie to yourself about how well your Romanian studies are going. You te îmbeți cu apă rece, you get drunk on plain water.
  • You don’t make the most of your miserable circumstances. You face din rahat bici, you manage to make a whip out of shit.

And finally, and I don’t know what that says about your favorite donuts place, but in Romanian, if you a vinde gogosi, a.k.a. if you are selling donuts it means you are lying. I mean, what does the yummy sugary pastry have to do with dishonesty is beyond me.

Romanian Today

Do I already have you curious and entertained by Romanian? Let’s say you do learn Romanian to a level of native perfection. Or, more realistically, that you need a language buddy or two to practice the language.

Where and how is Romanian used today?

Starting off with the basics, there are around 24 million people that speak it as a native language, plus an additional 4 million that have it as a second language. Obviously, you can find most of these people in Romania, but then you have The Republic of Moldova, as well as some rather large communities in neighboring Balkan countries. When it comes to dialects, there are some, but they are perfectly mutually intelligible. Meaning that if you learn Romanian, you will be fluent in all of these.

Generally, there is a southern and a northern style of speaking, so to say. In the south, you only have the Wallachian dialect. It is not only phonologically different, but there are also some grammar and vocabulary differences between Wallachian and northern dialects. A typical example would be the demonstrative article (in English that, this one) is cel, cea, cei, cele in standard Romanian. Wallachian speakers would use ăl, a, ăi, ăle.

They don’t even sound alike! When it comes to grammar, there are differences in the use of the subjunctive, different verb tense uses, even changes in conjugation.

In the north, there are several different dialects. The Banat dialect is quite interesting, especially because it’s used in a historical region that includes parts of Serbia, too. There are some lexical particularities, but the difference is mostly noticeable when it comes to pronunciation.

The most representative of the northern group is the Moldavian dialect. Moldavian, not Moldovan, mind you. Moldavia is a historical region that includes parts of Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

While we are at it, the term Moldovan language is mostly a historical construct. During the socialist regime in the Republic of Moldova the language people spoke was referred to as Moldovan (although it is clearly Romanian). Nowadays Moldovan have it in their constitution that the official language is Romanian. Bottom line?

It was a matter of name. But back to the Moldavian dialect. It is very common to hear rather archaic words used on a day-to-day basis from people who come from this region. There are some words that are simply not even used in other parts of the country. Finally, you also have differences with demonstrative pronouns, significant phonetic changes from standard Romanian and grammar differences, too.

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But…If You Learn Romanian, Are You Wasting Time?

Learn Romanian

No, if you are looking for a hobby that entertains the mind, and could also turn out to be more useful than basket weaving (although I mean no offense to avid basket weavers). It has been calculated that Romanian has over 70% lexical similarity to with Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan. The similarity is the biggest with Italian — 77% of words in Romanian and Italian overlap.

At the same time, since there are so many loan words, you will find yourself understanding a word or two of Slavic languages, too.

And it will not be as hard as learning other languages of the Balkan peninsula (Bulgarian and Greek, I am looking at you) because Romanians use the Latin alphabet. Yup, you get to learn Romanian without the stress of also learning a new alphabet.

True, there have been attempts to introduce a Romanian Cyrillic Alphabet in the past, but it has never stuck around. The last such attempt was in Moldova, back when it was a Soviet Republic. For whatever reason (although it is not that hard to think of one), the Soviets insisted that the Moldovan write in the Cyrillic alphabet. I guess it was supposed to make them feel closer to their Russian comrades?

Yeah, weird times. Anyways, nowadays the Latin alphabet is used practically everywhere.

One exception to this rule is the tiny region of Transnistria. Not only do they use the Cyrillic, but they are also a self-proclaimed independent state. It is at the border with Ukraine and nobody even recognizes it as a separate state, except for Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. None of these are in the United Nations, so for the UN, Transnistria is a part of the Republic of Moldova. De facto, Transnistria is independent, it even has a different currency. Weirdly enough, this is also the only country (or sort of country) in the world that still has the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol on it’s flag.

Anyways, I got way too excited about fun facts. This is where a smooth conclusion paragraph should go, but I’ll just leave it at saying — learn Romanian, it will be fun!

PS: There are almost no resources out there to learn Romanian, but this program by Strokes International is a good one.