Is it hard to learn the Romanian language? (for an English speaker)

avatarMille Larsen
6 mins read

Romanian is a language of around 25 million speakers in the world. It's the unlikely cousin of French, Spanish and Italian being of the Latin language family. It's geographic location and its long history has meant, however, that the language is strongly influenced by the Slavic languages such as Bulgarian. Romanian has more than 10% Slavic loan words, but more strikingly is the pronunciation of the language, which has a distinct Slavic sound to it.

Is it difficult to learn Romanian for an average English speaker?

Whether a language like Romanian is hard or easy is obviously quite subjective. It depends on the learner's language background, motivation, study method, the time dedicated and so many other things. I'm going to look at the question, however, as a rough estimate for an average English speaker.

You already know a lot of Romanian vocabulary

I've written another article in which I spoke about Romanian's place in the Latin language family. Many people mistakenly think that it's a Slavic language, but if you put Romanian side by side with a language like Italian, you'll notice that the majority of the words look alike. This is because they both come from Latin.

English isn't a Latin language, but because of its history, it's got a huge amount of Latin-root loan words. This means that you're already ahead when it comes to learning Romanian. You obviously still have to work on pronunciation, grammar and so on, but the similarity of vocabulary makes it much easier to learn Romanian than, say, a Slavic language.

Have a look at the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Romanian:

Toate ființele umane se nasc libere și egale în demnitate și în drepturi. Ele sunt înzestrate cu rațiune și conștiință și trebuie să se comporte unele față de altele în spiritul fraternității.

Try looking at the words one by one. How many of them can you figure out?

And just so you can compare them word-for word, here's the English equivalent:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

I count at least 7.

Romanian grammar only a little harder than other Latin languages

Some argue that Romanian is one of the closest Romance languages to Latin. There are indeed some factors that set Romanian apart from the others, especially when it comes to grammar.

Most Romance languages have two genders. Masculine and Feminine. Romanian, however, has three genders. Like Latin, Romanian has a "neutral" gender, neuter. While we can assume that this existed in most Latin languages originally, they've simplified them now. But not Romanian.

Learning the genders isn't much harder than languages like Italian and Spanish, though. Sure, you need to know the gender in order to use the word correctly, but it's simply a question of memorizing it while learning each noun.

Romanian has also kept another feature from Latin, although not completely. The Romanian language has 3 cases. Latin has 6.

These cases change the ending of a noun depending on the sentence. I can be saying something "about" the shoe, like "the shoe is black" or something "with" the shoe, like "I am walking with my shoes" or I can describe ownership. "John's shoe". In Romanian the word "shoe" will change its ending slightly depending of how you're using it.

It might sound a little strange if you're not used to cases, but you'll quickly get used to it. It's just how Romanian works.

Romanian pronunciation is not difficult

In my article on how to learn Romanian, I included a video that goes through the alphabet letter by letter and exemplifies how to pronounce each one.

Learning Romanian pronunciation is not that difficult, but there are a few sounds that might prove a little challenging in the beginning.

Here's a list of the letters in the Romanian alphabet as well as a description of how they're pronounced. Most of them are comparable to English, but you do need to roll your R's and there are a few vowels like the U, that sounds a little like the French U or the  or Î that sounds like the German Ö or Danish Ø.

All in all, Romanian pronunciation isn't that bad, and you'll quickly get used to the foreign sounds.

The scarcity of learning materials for Romanian can make it complicated

This point is not directly related to the difficulty of the Romanian language. It's more about the learning process in itself.

When you learn French, German or even Japanese, you have a lot of options when it comes to language learning textbooks, courses, apps and YouTube channels. Romanian is much less studied. So even though it might not be a difficult language, it can be hard to come by the good learning material.

There are always options, however. If you keep searching, you'll find exactly what you need for your learning style. But everything might not be available off the shelves in your local bookstore.

What linguists say about the difficulty of Romanian

The Foreign Service Institute, which is the American government institution in charge of teaching foreign languages to US diplomats categorizes Romanian as a category 1 language. This means that, accordion to FSI, Romanian is among the easier languages for an English speaker to acquire. The other languages in the group are languages such as Danish, Dutch, Spanish and French. In other words: Languages that English have a lot in common with.

While I don't think that Romanian is an extremely difficult language to learn, I would, however consider it one of the more complicated languages in category one. It does have a significant amount of Slavic words, and the grammar is a slight bit different from the other languages in the Romance language family.

Still, if FSI's estimates are more or less true, you should be able to learn Romanian to "professional working proficiency" with about 600 hours of classroom hours. While FSI's method doesn't translate directly to the self-study methods, you can safely assume that you can get relatively far with Romanian in 600 hours of study time. That's an hour a day for under two years.

So is Romanian a difficult language to learn?

Finally, is Romanian a hard language? I wouldn't say so.

But all languages demand work. A lot of work. You can learn Romanian without having any language talent, experience or an academic background. But you'll need to put in the time and you have to be consistent and study every day. And then you need to be patient! Keep at it, even when you feel you're getting nowhere.

Your efforts will pay off!