What Languages Do They Speak In Romania? (Other Than.. Romanian)

avatarMille Larsen
8 mins read

Romania is a country of around 25 million people. Most of these people speak Romanian, a language which despite being a member of the Romance language family, is strongly influenced by both Hungarian and the Slavic languages close to Romania's borders.

Romanian is spoken by 91% of the country's population. The fact that the remaining 9% of the Romanian population don't speak Romanian as their primary language says something about the country. It is, in many ways, a melting pot of the different cultures and tongues present in the region.

This is one of the reasons for the many foreign influences on the Romanian language on one hand, but it also explains why so many minority languages are present in modern day Romania.

The foreign languages spoken in Romania are the languages of ethnic minorities, Like Hungarian and Romani, foreign languages taught in schools, like English, French and German and immigrant languages of expats and refugees from far and wide such as Arabic, Italian, Chinese and Greek.

91% Of Romanians Speak Romanian As Their First Language

As mentioned above, the Romanian language (or Moldovan, as it is sometimes called in Moldova) is a language of the Romance language family. It is related to Italian, Spanish and French, and like these languages it is a descendant of the "Vulgar Latin" language spoken in the Roman Empire that once covered modern day Romania.

Romanian is different from the other languages in the category, though, in that it has remained geographically isolated from the other Latin languages. This has meant that Romanian has developed a little differently than the other languages, which makes it quite unique. For instance, Romanian has kept 3 of the Latin language's grammatical cases. No other Latin language uses cases today.

Unlike the other Romance languages, Romanian has been influenced by languages such as Hungarian and to an even greater extent the Slavic languages Bulgarian and Ukrainian, meaning that modern Romanian has a great deal of vocabulary in common with these countries.

Many people even wrongfully assume that Romanian is itself a Slavic language, which is something I've discussed in a little more detail in my article "Is Romanian A Slavic Language?"

Hungarian, A Minority Language In Romania

Hungarian is the biggest minority language in Romania. There are roughly 1,2 million Hungarian speakers in the country which makes for a little over 6% of the total population.

The reason for this, is at one hand, that Hungary is a close neighbor to Romania. But more important is the History between the two countries. Before 1920, Hungary encompassed the region of Transylvania, which has since become Romanian territory. Today, close to 20% of the population of Transylvania speak Hungarian, whereas in some towns this number rises to over 80%

According to Romanian law, education and academic instruction must be offered in any minority language spoken by at least 20%. This is the case for many towns in the Transylvanian region, and this fact in itself helps preserve the Hungarian language in the region.

Interestingly, Hungarian is a language completely unrelated to Romanian and to all other languages close to Romania. It has, however, greatly influenced the Romanian language over time. Romanian has borrowed quite a few loan words from Hungarian.

If you're interested in learning more about the Hungarian language and its origin, go read my article "Is Hungarian An Indo-European Language?"

Romani, A Romanian Minority Language With Foreign Ancestry

The Romani language is the language spoken by the Romas or the people who has historically been referred to as Gypsies. It is an Indo-Aryan language, meaning that it is quite unrelated to almost all European languages. Despite its name, Romani hasn't got anything to do with the Romanian language.

The Romani language is spoken by the Roma minority of Romania, making up a little over 3% of the Romanian population, or over 600.000 people. Some communes and towns have high enough numbers of Romani speakers for signage, official documents and education to be offered in Romani. Despite this fact, there seems to be multiple vastly different dialects of Romani present in Romania, and these aren't always mutually intelligible.

The Ukrainian Language In Romania

Romania has close to 60.000 Ukrainian speakers, which makes up some 0.3% of the country's population. Ukrainian speakers in Romania are found mostly in the northern part of Romania, close to Ukrainian borders.

The Ukrainian minority in Romania is said to being descendants of Cossacks who fled to Romania from Russian dominance in the first half of the 19th century.

Germans And German Speakers In Romania

Over the last century, there has been multiple waves of immigration from Germany towards Romania. In the 1930's almost 800.000 Germans were living in Romania, but today the number is down to under 40.000 people, which makes up around 0.15% of the Romanian population.

The ethnic German population of Romania seems to be on a continuous decline, but German as a second language, however, is common. (I'll get into that later).

Russians And Russian Speakers In Romania

In the 18th century, a large number of Russians of the Lipovan community settled in Romania because of religious differences with the dominant Russian Orthodox Church. Today, more than 35.000 Lipovans still live in Romania, mostly in the eastern region of Dobruja. Lipovans make up around 0.1% of the Romanian population and they generally still speak Russian to this day.

Turks And Turkish Speakers In Romania

There's been a Turkish presence in Romania for centuries, mostly because of the domination of the Ottoman Empire several hundred years ago. A significant number of Turks still remain in Romania to this day, however. Today, a little less than 30.000 Turks live in Romania, mostly in the Eastern part. That makes for around 0.1% of the total Romanian population.

Lesser Spoken Minority Languages In Romania

Other than the above mentioned minority groups, Romania equally has around 27.000 Serbo-Croats, 22.000 Tartars, 16.000 Slovaks, 7.000 Bulgarians and 4.000 Greeks who all speak their minority languages.

Foreign Languages Spoken In Romania

In the above, I've gone through the main "primary" languages of Romania. But what about second languages, or learned languages?

Romania has recently been mentioned in the news as being one of the European countries where most secondary school students study more than one foreign language. The numbers from 2017 tell us that 99,5% of secondary school students learn English, whereas French is studied by an impressive 83,6%.

Romanian school children equally study languages such as Italian and German, but in smaller numbers.

But how do these school statistics reflect in the general population?

The European Commision's "Eurobarometer" has asked citizens of all of the 27 EU countries about their language competencies. For Romania, 17.01% of Romanians said that they were Fluent in English, 9.73% were fluent in French, 4.76% Spoke Italian, 3.13% spoke German, 2.54% Spanish and 1.53% Russian.

Immigration Languages In Romania

The final category that I want to touch on in this article is the immigrant languages of Romania. Throughout history, we've always seen different movements of people around the world, and this obviously affects the linguistic landscape of a region.

2,1% of the Romanian population is foreign born. Almost all of these people have migrated or fled to Romania from somewhere where another language is spoken.

These people come from countries that speak the following languages:

  • 51,000 Italians (add them to the roughly 1,2 million Romanians who speak Italian as a second language)
  • 39,000 Spaniards (and there are already roughly 650,000 Romanians who speak Spanish)
  • 16,000 Ukrainians, speaking Ukrainian
  • 14,000 Bulgarians, who speak Bulgarian
  • 12,000 Brits, Irish, and Americans who speak English
  • 11,200 Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Tunisians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Moroccans, and Jordanians who speak (a form of) Arabic
  • 10,000 French and Belgians, who speak French
  • 10,000 Germans and Austrians who speak German
  • 8,000 Hungarians who speak Hungarian
  • 8,000 Serbs who speak Serbo-Croatian
  • 8,000 Turks who speak Turkish
  • 7,000 Russians who speak Russian
  • 6,000 Greeks who speak Greek
  • 5,000 Chinese who speak Chinese
  • 2,000 Iranians who speak Farsi
  • 2,000 Vietnamese who speak Vietnamese
  • 1,200 Indians and Pakistanis who speak Hindustani
  • 1,000 Albanians who speak Albanian
  • 1,000 Portuguese who speak Portuguese
  • 800 Filipinos who speak Tagalog
  • 500 Afghans who speak Dari
  • 500 Nigerians who speak Hausa
  • 500 South Koreans who speak Korean

Quite A Few Languages

A lot of languages are Spoken in Romania, and despite my best attempts, it's difficult to make a complete list. Many of the existing statistics are incomplete and some of them don't agree. Then there's the fact that the numbers are changing constantly.

I hope you've found this article useful. If you have something to add or a comment to make, don't hesitate to write it below.

If you're interested in learning Romanian, the primary Romanian language, I encourage you to go read my article "How To Learn Romanian By Yourself".