Romanian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Romania and Moldova, as well as in some parts of Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. It is very useful to know the language if travelling in Romania and especially Moldova, particularly in rural areas.
Romanian may or may not be difficult for speakers of other languages. It is very similar to Italian, and, to a similiar extent, other Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, etc.), so speakers of these languages are more at an advantage.
Note that in Romanian, there is a formal and informal form when addressing people. The informal is tu (you, singular) or voi (you, plural) and the formal is dumneavoastră (one form for singular and plural). There is also a formal way of speaking about other people, not just when addressing them. When referring to she use dumneaei; for he use dumnealui; and for them use dumnealor. Note that the formal form should be used with the plural form of the verb, at the appropriate person. This is similar to the construction in most other Romance languages, and, to an extent, German, although Germans usually make less use of the informal forms. Use tu when addressing friends or people you know well. When addressing strangers or speaking about strangers, use the formal forms.
Romanian should not be confused with Romani or Romany, which is the language of the European Gypsies, or Roma. The similarity is coincidental; the English word for the European Gypsy stems from an Indian/Sanskrit root. The name Romania or Rumania and its derivatives come from the Latin word 'Romanus', and are etymologically related to Rome, the capital city of the Roman empire and now the capital city of Italy.
In the past, Romania had a sizable German minority population, although nowadays the number of native German speakers is dwindling. However, the German language is still widely studied in Romania as a foreign language, and, due to the residual German cultural influence, it is used as a second (or third) official language in many parts of Transylvania.
Romanian tends to be easy for speakers of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan to learn, since all these languages share a common root and influences and are all written as they are pronounced. Romanian is sometimes challenging because of the influx of loanwords, mostly Slavic words as well as a few Hungarian, German and Turkish ones, even though most of these have fallen out of use for a very long time. Neologisms have been imported en masse from French, Italian, German, and recently English. The language uses the Latin alphabet, and the Latinate roots can help tourists to understand some signs, such as Alimentara (a place where you can buy aliments, food) Farmacie (Pharmacy, Drugstore), and Poliţie (Police). Some signs, however, are false cognates or 'false friends' - for example Librărie means a bookstore rather than a lending library (as it does in French); Teatru means a stage theatre rather than a cinema (as in British English); and so on, although if you have a decent conversation guide you can avoid such funny confusions. Coincidentally, these "false friends" also apply in all its sister languages.
Even though there are few words of Russian origin and contrary to what some might think, Romanian being a Romance language is very far from Russian. A Romanian (without any prior knowledge of Russian) will not be able to understand any Russian sentence. This is not be confused with the people living in the Republic of Moldova that speak (most of them) both Romanian and Russian which is due to historical reasons. The most notable word apparently inherited form Russian is “Da” (yes): but this is in fact a coincidence, with "da" in Romanian having a Latin origin.
Hungarian is used in Eastern Transylvania and in some cities like Miercurea-Ciuc, Targu-Mures, Oradea, Cluj-Napoca, Satu-Mare; if you know it, then you are at an advantage. Hungarian is widely used as a first language in counties such as Mures, Covasna and Harghita.
The Romanian language is generally seen as a language with somewhat complicated grammar, but far simpler for speakers of Germanic languages than any of its Slavic neighbours or even Hungarian. Romanian is a phonetic language so a person can look at a word and know how it is pronounced. Romanian is abundant in vowels, and it can have series of diphthongs and even triphthongs, that gives the language a melodious sound and makes it very musical.
A foreigner trying to learn or speak Romanian can expect mostly positive reactions from native speakers. Most Romanian people will certainly love you for it and will strongly appreciate the fact that you are making an effort to speak their language. Others, however, may sneer at you for not properly being able to speak what they see as a very easy phonetic language. The Romanian alphabet is nearly exactly the same as the English alphabet, except for five additional accented letters, or 'diacriticals': ă (like the 'a' in English word 'musical'), ş (pronounced as 'sh'), ţ (pronounced 'ts'), â, î (have the same reading, like a short ă).
English has effectively become a requirement for getting a somewhat better job, and it is usually the second most popular non-Romance language spoken (on par with German). Consequently, it is usually good to ask before starting to speak English, but more often than not it will be safe to go ahead. Other Romance languages (especially French, Spanish and Italian) are also learnt by most people in schools and are therefore spoken with a pretty good level of fluency by many people, but make sure you ask before you start speaking to people in foreign tongues. In general, Romanians prefer speaking other Romance languages than the others. Globalization and the fact that Romania joined the Latin Union (Uniunea Latină), a linguistic association created in 1954, has made these closely-related languages more attractive.
Some people feel that Romanian is an extremely easy language to learn if you already speak a Latin-based language such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Catalan or Italian. This is especially so in contrast to Romania's Slavic and Hungarian neighbors. However, speakers of slavic languages will find quite a few familiar words, especially in the more basic vocabulary of Romanian, for example "trebuie" ("need" - cf. Polish "trzeba"); "iubi" (love - cf. Czech lubi) etc.
Romanian pronunciation is very phonetic. The accent and sounds are almost identical to Italian and other Romance languages (with very few, if any, Slavic influences), so remember to sound every letter clearly. Also, sounds very rarely differ between words (i.e. the letter o is always pronounced the same, every time, unlike in English or even French).
Like English, Romanian has secondary stresses in words. We have not attempted to represent those here. Stress usually falls on the second-last syllable if it ends in a vowel, and last if it ends in a consonant. If you know another Romance language, you shouldn't worry as the stress partterns are usually the same in similar-sounding words.
Questions in Romanian that end with a verb often use a rising tone on the last syllable or two.
in between 'e' of "dress" and 'a' of "face". However, it is not a diphthong like the vowel in "face" is in most accents of English. When the word begins with an 'e' and it is a form of "a fi" (to be) or a pronoun it is like 'ye' in "yell" upload/d/df/Ro-pronunciation-e.wav Hear the sound for e Note: when words start with e and are technical (deriving perhaps from Greek)such as electron,electric,era, etc. the e remains as in English - that is, not ye.
like 'ee' in "beep" when in the middle or start of a word. When at the end, it is barely sounded - for example, in the word Bucureşti, it is pronounced Boo-KOO-resht with a very short and slight i - never pronounce it as Boo-KOO-reshtee. The terminal "i" causes a slight "softening" of the preceding consonant. (If this is too hard, don't pronounce the i at all.) Romanian words with a very strong terminal "i" sound are spelled with a double "i" ("ii").When "i" is preceded by another vowel e.g. "ai", "ei" it is usually pronounced softer as well but in this case you cannot omit the "i" in the pronunciation, you have to pronounce it but slightly less prominent then the vowel that precedes it that bears the stress: e.g. "pâine" (bread), "mâine" (tomorrow), "maimuţă" (monkey). Romanians (and not just children) sometimes hesitate in whether fully to sound the single -i at the end of words particulrly in 'new' words and names. One rule that Romanian school children are taught is that if a word is perceived as 'impossible' to sound without a full 'i' then the 'i' is fully pronounced (as 'ee'): examples include litri (litres as in the liquid measure) which is pronounced leetree.Litr is perceived as being impossible to pronounce in Romanian. The actual formal rule is that after the groups 'cl,' 'cr,' 'dr,' 'str' 'tr' the 'i' is fully pronounced (as 'ee'). For those who really want to get advanced, verbs ending in stressed 'i' in the infinitive also have a full 'i'
like 'a' in "digital". This sound is usually mispronounced (people tend to pronounce it like 'u' in 'cup', but in fact, this sound is frequently found in English.) When seeing ă always think of the sound in the rather than in bra. Similar to French 'e' in word 'je'. Hear the sound for ă
no precise English equivalent and regarded quite proudly by Romanians as a sound speakers of other languages can never quite manage - it's best to hear it being spoken. â and î are the same sound in Romanian. î is used at the beginning and at the end of words, â in all other cases. The closest American English sound is the ""oo"" in "book", but it's a bit shifted toward a "soft 'i'", as in "it". Similar to French 'u' in word 'rue'. Another approximate equivalent is the i in the English word plinth (which in English is certainly not pronounced pleenth but neither does it have quite the same i sound as in the English word bit). Finally those from Birminghm (United Kingdom's second city) should have no problem with this sound. In Birmingham it occurs in words such as read/reed - which is pronounced râ - eed. In fact the combination of vowels in reed is almost exactly the same as the combination in Romanian words such as câine, pâine etc. (see below) Hear the sound for â, î
like 'ch' in "cheese" (like Italian 'c') when followed by 'e' or 'i', otherwise like 'k'
like 'd' in "dog"
like 'f' in "federation"
like 'g' in "gym" when followed by 'e' or 'i', otherwise like 'g' in "gear"
like 'h' in "help" (never silent in Romanian). Note: Romanian is the only Romance(Latin) language to preserve the h sound. In fact it so strongly pronounced by some speakers, and by all in certain words, as to be a gutteral sound (like in Scottish loch' ')
diphthong beginning with a short Romanian "e" sound and ending with the Romanian "a" sound. These two sounds are pronounced smoothly and quickly together as one syllable. However, this letter pair is not always a diphthong.
diphthong beginning with a short Romanian "o" sound and ending with the Romanian "a sound. These two sounds are pronounced smoothly and quickly together as one syllable.
You can 'get away' with pronouncing words such as câine and pâine as Queeny or pweeny. Better however to try the â sound (above) smoothly joined to the following 'i.'
Note that Romanian has many, many other vowel combinations (indeed more than any other Latin based language) including the alarming combination found in the word creioane (crayons) which hs no less than four vowels in a row. (It is in fact pronounced cre'ee -wan - e(h)"). The best way to approach a combination not noted above is to treat each vowel separately, then to smooth the two vowels together. For example: Leu (the currency and the word for lion) is Lay-oo (almost, but not quite, in some speakers becoming 'Lew,' the English name)
Some other Romanian vowel combinations which look startling to an English speaker include copiii (=the children), which has three i 's in a row! (It's either coppee or coppee-ee depending on the speaker.)
NOTE: The pronunciation guides in brackets beside each word only act as guides, due to the fact that they will make the Romanian word have a strong English accent. To get a better pronunciation, it is generally better to look at the Pronunciation Guide above and learn the right pronunciation for each letter (this is easier than it sounds). Throughout the following, "ooh" is pronounced roughly as in "oo" in "book"; "oo" without the "h" is as in "boot".
"Pot să utilizez telefonul tău?" (poht suh ohh-tee-LEE-zehz teh-leh-FOHN-ool TUH-oo) Alternative: "Pot utiliza telefonul tău" (in both formal and informal phrases are correct and do not create misunderstandings, albeit the first one is more common. The same applies to the formal one)
_____ luni (LOON; the last syllable almost vanishes)
un an (oon AHN)
_____ ani (AHN; the last syllable almost vanishes)
Note: For all of the above, the correct, literary way to express duration is by saying una oră, una ziuă, una săptămână... instead of o oră, o ziuă, o săptămână, but this is never really used in speech, even if the context is very formal. Therefore, it is much easier to learn that o is used to express one or a in the case of minute, hour, month, etc, not una. This is because all of these nouns are feminine. With year, which is masculine, un is used (as in, un an - one year)
UNA does not exist in Romanian speech, the "o" is used for the feminine, and "un" for masculine. As written on the banknotes - "UNA SUTA LEI" (instead of "O SUTA DE LEI"), is formal and technical, but it is not incorrect. UNA can be used in accountancy, science and mathematics when counting or describing - but never in speech.