Romanian is the language of around 24 million people in mostly Romania and Moldova.
There are Romanian speakers all over the world, though, so you’ll get many opportunities to speak the language.
The language is in the Latin language family and is very close to Italian and to some extent other romance languages likes Spanish and French.
However, due to Romania’s geographic location, the language has been influenced quite a bit by Slavic languages too. This makes it a really interesting language to learn.
So how to learn Romanian?
Romanian is not a difficult language to learn. However, it won’t happen in a week or a month. You need to lay out a plan if you want to self-study Romanian. Then you need to follow through, be persistent, diligent and patient. If you follow this advice, I promise that you’ll get there.
So let’s get to it!
- 1 Get a beginner’s Romanian textbook
- 2 Start reading daily in Romanian
- 2.0.1 Use a pop-up dictionary for easy reading in Romanian
- 2.0.2 Don’t go reading philosophy in Romanian just yet.
- 2.0.3 Learn Romanian phrases, vocabulary and grammar through online reading with LingQ
- 2.0.4 How to use “hints” instead of translations with LingQ
- 2.0.5 Reading English and Romanian texts in parallel
- 3 Start speaking and writing Romanian with a tutor
Learn the Romanian alphabet
The first thing you should do, is familiarize yourself with the Romanian alphabet.
This is quite easy, because you already know most of it!
Romanian is written with the Latin alphabet like English. It has a couple of extra letters, but they’re not that difficult to learn to pronounce.
And in Romanian, you’ll have to roll your R’s.
But that’s pretty much it. Have a look at the video below for a quick walk-through of the Romanian alphabet.
The Romanian language is mostly phonetic.
You’ll notice the odd silent h here and there, but that’s about it.
As soon as you learn the pronunciation of basic letters and a few letter combinations, you’ll be able to correctly pronounce Romanian texts that you find.
This is an advantage compared to languages like English and Danish where the spelling often seems a little random.
Tips to learn Romanian
When learning Romanian, you might have an advantage if you already know another language in the Romance family.
Grammar and vocabulary will be much more approachable if you already have the bases down in say, Italian.
Romanian also has a historical relationship with the Slavic languages, however. You might recognize a lot of Slavic loan words if you know Ukrainian, Polish or Russian for example.
If you don’t know another language from the Latin or Slavic language families, remembering words might be a little more difficult.
Generally, if I have trouble with new vocabulary, I always try to do something with the new word.
What do I mean by this?
If I simply look up words in a dictionary or through direct translation and carry on, the word won’t have any specific “value” in my recollection.
It’ll be completely neutral.
If I do something with it, however, I attach information to the word in my brain.
Having tighter knit threads of information in your head strengthens the memory of that word significantly!
An example of this could be to use an image search for the keyword you’re looking for instead of just looking the word up in a dictionary.
Dictionary look-ups exchange words for words, but if you look at an image instead, your brain will need to get out of the “words” category and into the “pictures”.
This might sound strange, but it’s a great way of creating associations to better remember words.
There are many other ways that you can turn neutral word-translations into something less forgettable, and I’ll mention a few later in this article. So keep reading!
Get a beginner’s Romanian textbook
So to get started on learning Romanian, you’ll need a good beginner’s textbook.
One I recommend is Teach Yourself Romanian. (link to amazon)
Teach Yourself Romanian is a course built up by dialogues that gradually become more and more complicated in terms of grammar an vocabulary.
For each lesson you get a Romanian dialogue and an English translation. You’re also going to need the audio for the course, but this should be available online. No no need to pick up the CD.
I recommend that you do one lesson per day in your Teach Yourself Romanian book.
Find a moment during your day when you have the time. In the morning, for example, and make a habit out of studying every morning.
- First read the English translation in order to get an idea what the text is about.
- Then read through the Romanian text while listening to the audio.
- After that, play the Romanian audio again, but pause in between phrases. Repeat after the Romanian speaker as well as you can.
- Make sure to speak as clearly as you can.
- Try mimicking the pronunciation, the tone, rhythm, and speed of the speaker.
- Repeat each sentence a few times in this manner as you work your way through the dialogue.
After this, read the grammar explanations and try to make sense of them.
If it’s difficult or you can’t wrap your mind around it, don’t worry!
You’ll understand the grammar later on, so you can just skim these explanations.
At this point you can do the exercises and drills as well. But again – don’t sweat it. The dialogues is the most important part.
For each study session, I also recommend that you revise the past 5-10 lessons that you’ve previously done.
Just listen to the recording and read through them again. If there are words you’ve forgotten, glance to the English translation.
Do a second beginner’s Romanian course in parallel
Whenever you start out with your first beginner’s course, I always recommend the same thing: Do a second one in the same time!
The reason for this touches on the same advice I mentioned earlier about remembering words.
However, instead of looking up images or creating mental associations to remember the content you study, this is about seeing words in other contexts.
When you do your daily lessons in your Teach Yourself book, you’re learning words and grammar and doing revisions. But all of that doesn’t really expand out of the setting of just “reading Romanian in the morning”.
When you do a second course in parallel, you’ll see some of the things you’ve already studied in another context.
This will give you the experience of “recognizing” something. So instead of the word being a neutral piece of information weakly floating around in a soup of foreign sounds in your brain, it’ll suddenly become “that word”.
As soon as you recognize it in another context, you’ll get the feeling of “wait a minute, I already knew that!” And something you only had a slight understanding of will suddenly become much more solid in your recollection.
In other words, you’ve created a positive association to that word in your brain.
This works even better when reading native material.
If you recognize a word in a news article, a radio show or a conversation, it’s much stronger than seeing it in another language course, but you’re not quite at that level yet.
Which second course to pick?
One of my all-time favorite beginner’s courses for Romanian (or any language really) is Assimil.
Assimil is also a dialogue based course, like Teach Yourself. But it’s much more focused on the dialogues and a lot less on grammar and drills.
This is something I really like in a beginner’s course, because I’m a believer in learning grammar through context and not through explanations.
Studying with Assimil is a generally enjoyable experience, so it’s a course I really recommend.
It has one set-back, however: It doesn’t offer Romanian.
At least not to English speakers.
There are, however, versions available for French and German speakers. So if you understand one of these languages, you might want to have a look at Assimil.
Learn Romanian with free PDF’s and MP3’s
I have to assume, however, that you don’t speak neither French nor German. (But if you do, good for you!)
There are, of course, a number of courses available out there, and a ton of them might be worth spending money on.
Others: Not so much.
You don’t have to spend all of your savings on Romanian beginner’s courses, however, because there’s a good course out there that’s free!
The DLI (Defence Language Institute) is the US government institution that provides language instruction to the American military.
They’ve got a Romanian course, and they’ve decided to put it up for free on the internet.
It might seem a little dated – and it is. But the content is solid.
You download the book as a PDF and the audio files as MP3’s and you’re set to studying in pretty much the same way as you’re doing with the Teach Yourself Romanian course.
If you make a routine out of studying with Teach Yourself in the morning, I suggest that you schedule some daily time to study with DLI in the evening.
Start reading daily in Romanian
Keep studying daily with Teach Yourself and DLI for a while.
If you keep it up, you’ll eventually have a basic vocabulary and you’ll be familiar with Romanian grammar.
Now it’s time that you start reading in Romanian.
When most people think of reading as a means to study foreign languages, they think of reading with a dictionary.
I don’t think this is a good idea.
When you’ve finished your two beginner’s courses you’ll be at the lower intermediate stage – at best!
This means that almost all native Romanian content will be rather complicated for you.
If you were to pick up a newspaper article, or short story or something similar and look up all unknown words in a dictionary, it would be an extremely frustrating experience!
You’d have absolutely no way of diving into a plot or understanding a point before being interrupted by an unknown word.
And if that wasn’t enough, you’d have already forgotten both the word as well as what you were reading at the moment you put down the dictionary.
So what are you supposed to do? Are you forced to keep revising your beginner’s courses or reading children’s stories for months or years before being ready for real native content?
No. Luckily, there are different techniques that make relatively difficult texts in Romanian more transparent.
And they don’t rely on a paper dictionary!
Use a pop-up dictionary for easy reading in Romanian
One great tool you can use for reading online is to use a pop-up dictionary like Google Dictionary.
Google Dictionary is a browser extension that you can download and install for free if you use the Chrome browser. (There are alternatives out there for other browsers too).
With this tool, you can click any word, anywhere on the internet and get an instant translation.
This is extremely helpful for the lower intermediate learner, because it lets you read real-life Romanian content online.
So what kind of content should you read?
Well, above is a silly example that I just thought of.
Ask a question like “how to grow your own avocados” on Google, and you’ll get a lot of articles to browse through.
You can simply write your search query into Google Translate and search for the Romanian search term.
Look for whatever you’re interested in whether it be gardening, fishing, sports or whatever.
Don’t go reading philosophy in Romanian just yet.
As a general rule of thumb, however, even if you like reading “heavy” stuff in your native language; Like philosophy, technical things and so on; – you might want to hold off with these kind of things in Romanian.
Even though the pop-up dictionary might be helpful, using it to read something that’s already difficult to understand in English, won’t get you very far.
Generally, you shouldn’t read something in Romanian that would be difficult to read in your native language.
When it’s difficult, not because of vocabulary, but because of the themes and complicated concepts that are dealt with, it’ll create the double strain on your brain to try and understand it.
So leave those texts until you’re really advanced in Romanian.
Learn Romanian phrases, vocabulary and grammar through online reading with LingQ
Since I first discovered LingQ, it has been a staple in my language learning routine.
LingQ does quite a few things, but its strongest feature is its app and the reader.
You either import Romanian language texts into the app, or you can choose to study those that are already in the LingQ archive.
I generally like to import my own content, but it can be nice to rely on some tailored material that’s a little easier to understand in the beginning.
When you first start reading a new text in LingQ, you’ll be faced with a page full of blue words. Blue words are words that are unknown to you. (Unless you’ve already learned them outside of LingQ).
When you click a blue word, a little window pops up. Here you can choose between a couple of the most popular translations for that word.
You can also look it up in an online dictionary, mark the word as known or “ignore” the word. I generally use “Ignore” for people’s names, so they don’t show up in my LingQ statistics as words I’m learning.
If you choose that you know the word, the blue marking will disappear and it will turn in to regular text.
If you pick a translation, it will turn yellow and become “a LingQ”. Yellow words, or LingQ’s, are words that you don’t know yet, but that you’re in the process of learning.
For each new text that you study, the system will remember the words that you know and the words that you’re learning. As you gradually start to remember the yellow words, you can change them to known words.
Work your way through the page. As you click each word, you’ll hear the pronunciation. Try repeating after the voice.
How to use “hints” instead of translations with LingQ
When you’ve finished your reading session, go have a look at the LingQ’s you’ve created.
The LingQ app offers a few ways to study these – namely through flashcards and other exercises.
I don’t really use these.
But what I recommend that you do, is go have a look at each individual word and look at the translation you’ve picked.
Can you come up with something better?
If you can write a synonym in Romanian or maybe explain in some way in Romanian or even in English what the word means, write that in the box.
This, again, is about creating memories about words rather than using neutral dictionary look-ups.
You’ll be much more likely to remember a word that you’ve “done something” with, than a word that you’ve just run through an instant translation app.
Choosing you own definition or “hint” to this word makes you create a relationship to the word that you’ll be reminded of the next time you stumble across the word in a text.
Reading English and Romanian texts in parallel
Maybe you’re not really a fan of reading Romanian on a digital screen.
Luckily for you, there are techniques for reading Romanian texts that rely on old-fashioned paper books.
I suggest reading texts in parallel.
Get the English and Romanian version of the same book and read them side-by-side.
First read a sentence, paragraph or chapter in English.
This will help you understand what’s going on. The plot and the finer details won’t be a mystery to you, and you’ll be able to read between the lines.
Then immediately read the same thing in Romanian. I’d even suggest that you read out loud.
You’ll notice that the Romanian text now seems much more approachable. If there are words you don’t understand immediately, you can skip them without missing out on anything, because you already know what the text is supposed to say.
This method obviously doesn’t magically teach you all the words that you need to understand the Romanian version of the book.
It does however allow you to read fluently and without frustration in Romanian, and that’s very helpful.
Another principle that touches on the same idea, is to look up books that you’ve read several times in your native language.
But this time, get them in Romanian.
Start speaking and writing Romanian with a tutor
When you’ve finished your beginner’s courses and you’ve established a daily routine of reading every day, it’s time to begin actually speaking and writing Romanian.
I recommend doing this with the help of a Romanian language tutor.
On Italki (and a lot of other places of course) you can find a list of Romanian language tutors who offer their services for a fee.
Go have a look and pick someone with whom you think you can get along. Make contact and discuss how you want to plan your tutoring sessions.
I recommend that you take charge of your tutoring sessions in order to tailor them to fit your approach and your needs in the best way possible.
Request that the sessions be focused on conversation only. Some tutors have their own study programs, preferred books and styles of teaching.
You’re going to want to make clear that you’re there for the conversations. Corrections should be minimal, and preferably delivered in the end in written form.
If you and your tutor somehow don’t agree on the approach, never hesitate to find another tutor.
You’re paying after all.
I suggest that you schedule 2-3 tutoring sessions per week of around 30-45 minutes.
Agree on a subject of discussion beforehand and get the most out of the conversation. Ideally, you should hear your own voice at least as much as your tutor’s!
After finishing a conversation, sit down and write a short text on the subject you’ve just spoken about. In the beginning you can make it 100-300 words, but as you improve you can write longer texts.
Send them to your tutor for correction, and make sure to read the corrections and try to understand what you did wrong.
Finding a language exchange partner
Tutoring can be a little costly, and many people end up looking for a free alternative.
You can try looking for a language exchange partner. Someone who knows Romanian but who is learning a language you speak. You then act as each other’s tutor.
A language exchange partner can be a good way to get free tutoring in Romanian.
It may even lead to a life-long friendship.
It is, however, significantly more difficult to make language exchange work, than hiring a tutor.
You have to find someone with whom you agree about the approach.
Maybe you don’t have the same amount of time to spend and perhaps your tutor is not available as often or as dedicated and ambitions as you are.
Then there’s the problem of having to spend somewhere near half of your language study time helping someone else with English instead of improving your Romanian.
This can be problematic for someone who’s already having a hard time fitting his or her Romanian studies into a tight schedule.
Whatever method you choose, if you keep it up, you’re well on your way to becoming fluent in the Romanian language.
If you follow my guide, I know that you’re going to get there, but in reality, the single most important thing in learning Romanian is not the method.
It’s being consistent and doing the work!