Learning Romanian

Why Romanian?

I'd like to visit Romania. (note: and later did, three times in 2003,2004,2005)  It is a large, mostly industrialized country with friendly people, a depressed economy, and very few tourists.  The fact that it's not on the usual tourist routes makes it interesting.  The economy should mean that it's affordable, i.e. much cheaper to visit than Western Europe.

The language is a Romance Language, meaning it's descended from Latin, like Spanish and Italian.  That means it should be far easier for me to learn than, say, Vietnamese.  In fact, Romanian is about the closest thing to Latin that still spoken today by millions of people.

Americans, as a whole, are really, really ignorant of Eastern Europe.  That's reason enough for me to want to learn a language from the region, and Romanian looks much, much easier that those of the surrounding countries (Czech, Hungarian, Bulgarian...)

Pronouncing Romanian

Fortunately it's easy to pronounce.  All but one sound (a vowel much like a long "u") are already found in English.  Most of the consonants are pronounced about the same, and the language as a whole is written phonetically, which already makes it much better than English!

Writing Romanian

There are few characters (with diacritics) not found on a normal American keyboard, so i looked around for a way to type them.

The good news is that the characters are well-supported by HTML and common web browsers.

The bad news is that there is apparently no OS-supported way to type them in Windows.  â and î can be typed using the Alt key trick in Windows, but that's not an option for ş, ţ, and ă.  The situation looks grim.  There are even some people proposing the use of non-standard fonts in which the diacritic characters replace commonly used punctuation - ce idee rea!

Finally i found a small utility, UniKey, shareware ($20) which works reasonably well in Windows 2000.  I presume there are similar utilities for other OSes.  It's sad that this isn't a standard feature of Windows.  UniKey lets me type all the Romanian characters into most of the applications i use:

On the Macintosh, i discovered that ş and ţ are displayed very wrong, with Internet Explorer under both OS9 and OSX!  How sad.

Reading Romanian

Some websites use the diacritics, most don't and are much harder to read because of it.  Even among native speakers who can read fairly well without them, there is apparently some sentiment against dropping them, since aside from ruining the phonetic ease of the language, it robs it of its special Romanian feeling.

Learning Romanian

Colloquial Romanian:


It seems there is only one decent book available, Colloquial Romanian: A Complete Language Course.  I've managed to get a long way into the book and it's been fun and not too hard.  On the related audio cassette, they sometimes speak too quickly to understand.  I'm enjoying it anyway.

It's much better than the book  Teach Yourself Romanian which i bought first and found really difficult and full of typos.

Dictionaries - There are some English-Romanian dictionaries in print, but they seem to be missing many of the words i look up... and they don't always agree with the dictionary in my textbook either.  There is an online dictionary which is actually quite good.  It is a service of Industrial Soft, and i can recommend all of their products.  Their dictionary is available as a $15 downloadable utility for Windows (very fast and useful).

There is also a bidirectional dictionary page at babylon.com which serves as a front-end for the other online dictionaries.

The biggest problem at first was finding a native speaker of the language so i can practice actually speaking and listening to it!  I found one in the Bay Area, and after moving to New York, it was actually quite easy.

It would be ideal to actually go to Romania for a language course, like the Romanian Cultural Foundation annual Summer Course.