learning Romanian in Romania
January 18, 2007 12:23 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone any experience of learning Romanian *in Romania*?

I speak plenty of languages already, but I am now obsessed with learning Romanian. I speak fairly good Hungarian, and because of this I would like to study in a part of Romania where there is a reasonable Hungarian population. I have heard of the Bridge Language Study place in Cluj-Napoca, but with 318.000 people, I would guess it may be Arad-like (I've never been to Cluj, but passed through Arad on a trip once and found it rather industrial and grim.) On the other hand, lot of Hungarians live in Cluj. But I can't find any personal opinions about that school on the web. I can probably spend 4-6 weeks sometime this summer, so if anyone has any recommendations, I'd appreciate them!
posted by Dee Xtrovert to Education (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I stayed in a little town called Lugoj for a summer in 2000, teaching with an organisation called ScRoLL (Scottish Romananian Language Link). I visited Timisoara (beautiful, quite big, has a university and quite a decent nightlife, also where the revolution started against Ceaucescu, fact fans) which I loved, and also Oradea, which is a really nice, heavily Hungarian-influenced town right on the border. Passed through Cluj-Napoca, didn't really dig it, and you're right, Arad ain't my cup of tea at all.

As for learning Romanian, it's actually quite an easy language to pick up, being fairly intuitive. It has a Romantic structure with some Slavic sounding words (yes is 'Da' for example). Romanians are incredibly friendly and you'll be engaged in conversation fairly constantly. They'll want to practice English and were generally delighted with my stuttering attempts at their language, and were quite willing to help me out and teach me a few words. If you can, I'd recommend trying to organise staying with a local family and perhaps doing some English teaching during the day, as this immersive environment got me understanding about 60% of what was being said around me after two or three weeks. If you already have Hungarian and are in the way of learning languages, it will probably be a lot easier for you than it was for me (I flunked high school German). It's a great language and a great country, and you'll have a blast.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:02 AM on January 18, 2007

I was in Cluj a few months back. It's not at all grim, it's a lively studenty town with many bars, clubs and restaurants. I was only there for a night and a day, so my opinion is not really in depth, but it came across very pleasant. Its just 3 hours to the hungarian border, and its very easy to go across. Also, of the circa 10 people I met, 3 or 4 spoke hungarian fluently.

The people are very nice and friendly, and to my suprise, there are a good number of german speakers - native speakers. Seeing as I am fluent in german, it made me feel very comfortable.

There are not a lot of obvious foreigners, and even though I am conspicuously not eastern european (mixed race black-white), there was only friendly curiousity, and none of the suspicious guardedness one sometimes finds in western europe.

I'd say that if you are planning to go to transylvania, it has to be cluj. If not, then bucharest. Avoid the poorer parts of romania, I'd think.
posted by markesh at 6:16 AM on January 18, 2007

Dee - keep an eye on the thread. A friend of mine knows Cluj and the Bridge School well and I'll post as soon as I get a reply to my email. Are you in a rush?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:29 AM on January 18, 2007

Cluj has about a 20% Hungarian population - more concentrated in the downtown areas - and as a University town a lot of young people there speak excellent English. So you will be asked to help them practice their English a lot - maybe too much. I speak both Hungarian and Romanian - if you Magyar friends find you speak Hungarian, you will not speak Romanian that evening. Biztos ami biztos... suta la suta...

Maybe you would do better learning Romanian in a town where there is less chance to fall back on other languages? Iasi perhaps?

Given that you have limited time, I would take a couple of weeks and go live in a village in Maramures for some deep immersion in Romanian without to many intellectual English speakers to distract you. My "linguistically inhibited" girlfriend picked up basic conversational Romanian that way within a month. Nothing works better than total immersion.

As for learning it in the US... there are a lot of Romanian TV and radio stations available on the internet. Romanian TV usually subtitles foreign films and TV shows. When I was learning Romanian I would watch TV and take language notes in a notebook as I watched, it really helped with idiomatic terms like "la naiba!"(Damn!) Try TVR, Antenna 1, Realitatea,

Also, spoken Romanian - especially in Transylvania - is a lot more forgiving than written Romanian when it comes to things like formal adress - people drop down to "dumnea-ta" or "tu" very fast, much faster than in Hungarian discourse. Simple forms of the future - o sa +verb - are more prevalent in colloquial than in written Romanian. Still, I always use the formal forms when adressing people I don't know and let them drop the level of formality.
posted by zaelic at 6:30 AM on January 18, 2007

Incidentally, if you want to stay in Maramures, you can book a home stay very easily and cheaply. I suggest Ieud, Botiza, or any of the other very traditional southeastern Maramures villages.
posted by zaelic at 6:39 AM on January 18, 2007

I have several friends here in Cleveland from Cluj-Napoca, they all say it's most definitely a great place. I've only been to Iasi, Bucuresti and Chisinau (Basarabia).

I learned Romanian in Chisinau, where Russian was the fall-back language. I recommend reading the newspaper everyday, my favorite Romanian dailies are Evenimentul Zilei and Cotidianul. Daca vreti sa vorbiti romana inainte de drumul, trimiti-mi un E-mail!
posted by vkxmai at 7:07 AM on January 18, 2007

I lived in Cluj-Napoca for a year in 94-95 and learned to speak Romanian there. I took private classes from a woman named Toki Keleti (sp?). I went to her house every day for a few hours and we'd sit and chat, in Romanian. There was another woman in our class who spoke only French. Toki spoke French, Hungarian, Romanian and English so it was a great way to pick up a whole bunch of languages. We found her by talking to the folks at the Soros Foundation. I don't know what your background is, but I find they are good "go to" people in a lot of Eastern Europe, or were. I don't know anything about the Bridge School.

I don't know what the current scene in Cluj is now, it was a little on the bleak side Romania-wise when I was there compared to Brasov, Timisoara and Bucharest. This was the good news and the bad news since there was still a really vibrant culture there, both Hugarian and Romanian and it wasn't yet overrun by what the locals called "Coca-Colonialization" It was also fairly central to a lot of other points in Eastern Europe so great for travelling. The architecture was amazing and it was a very walkable city. There are one or two pictures here.

I am not much of a language learner but I found Romanian to be fairly easy to learn. It's very Romance-y, like Italian or French, so if you have a grounding in thos elanguages you should find it not difficult at all. The pronunciation is awesome -- each letter makes basically one sound -- and it felt to me like there were lots and lots of regular verbs (which makes Romanian rap sometimes sound funny because most verbs rhyme with each other). I still remember a good chunk of the language ten years later, though I haven't had anyone to speak it to in quite some time.

If you go, please consider sending me a postcard. I'd love to know what the place looks like now.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on January 18, 2007

No formal training, but I've traveled there extensively over the past year, staying with my wife's friends and family. In about two weeks of total immersion, I had enough to make minor requests and declarations (beyond "Sunt eu" and "Sunt aici") and understand the gist of a conversation. It was enough to please my mother-in-law, but I was (am) by no means fluent.

Happy Dave is pretty much bang on with his linguistic assessment of the locals, at least the sub-30 crowd. Most of them speak phenomenal English, are very accommodating when I declared I wanted to learn, and absolutely love it when I stammer out a poorly constructed sentence in Romanian.

I'm still being taught by my wife (now in the States) and have PRO-TV, TVRI, et al at work, but I find it incredibly difficult to learn when it's so easy to revert to English.
posted by quite unimportant at 10:20 AM on January 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers - those who promised to provide more info, please do! I'm not in a rush.

I don't mind "falling back" on other languages (such as Hungarian) as I welcome the opportunity to practice those as well, and I'm pretty well-disciplined . . . I've learned lots of languages.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:37 PM on January 18, 2007

If that is the case, the Cluj is fine. I consider it my second home in Europe. Lively culture scene, now it is developing into a decent place since nutcase Mayor Funar was voted out. Easy to make friends with local villagers and sepnd a couple of weekends totally immersed in Romanian village culture, or practice your Hungarian if you wish in the villages just west of Cluj (Kolozsvar in Hungarian.) I learned Romani living in Mera...
posted by zaelic at 10:54 AM on January 19, 2007

I spent three weeks in Romania and got pretty adept at making conversation after reading the Romanian subtitles on the soap Sunset Beach and other U.S. tv shows that they showed.

If you do pursue a formal education, I would watch subtitled TV as much as you can in your off time.
posted by chickaboo at 12:16 PM on January 19, 2007

Hi D X, I got a reply from my friend. S/he used to work as a teacher for the Bridge School in Cluj, but has now moved on.

I think the Bridge still do Romanian courses, and they have got more communicative and useful since I had some lessons there. The teacher I used to have was a charmning lady but a bit too focused on having us not make minor mistakes of grammatical gender, rather than actually teaching us new vocabulary so we could say something in the first place. Since then she has left and Gyöngyi (school director) has trained the Romanian department to be a bit more progressive. So I think I'd recommend the Bridge for Romanian lessons - but I'd recommend doing a bit of haggling in advance, like anything in Romania, as the habit of treating foreigners as a cash cow to be milked harder than locals dies hard.

Cluj isn't industrial and grim really - only some bits, and if they went with the Bridge they would no doubt get some trips out to the countryside thrown in too. Cluj would be a better place to learn Hungarian than a really Hungarian town in Romania, like Csikszereda or somewhere - at least the Hungarians in Cluj speak Romanian properly(ish.)

Hope that's useful!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:55 AM on January 24, 2007

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