If you look at a sea of printed Romanian, it can be quite intimidating to try to pronounce. One time I was in the town of Turda with a group of Polish tourists and I asked them to try and pronounce the cities on a destination board at the bus station and it sent me into gales of laughter.
I wasn’t laughing at them (believe me, Polish is a tongue destroying language to learn) but at myself and remembering all my struggles to get a handle on how to pronounce Romanian.
Romanian spelling is mostly phonetic.
LOL – no it’s not. So here are a few shortcuts which will make things about 10 times easier for you. Mind you this isn’t how a Romanian would speak nor is it 100% correct, this is just to get you started and most importantly, understood.
- Vowels are the same (generally) as in Spanish, Latin or Italian. A is “ah” (like “father” if you’re super British), E is “a” (like the letter A or the last word in every sentence if you’re Canadian, eh), I is “ee” (like the letter E or the word bee), O is “oh” (like oh say can you see) and U is “ooh” like “boo, I’m the letter U!”
- The last i in any Romanian word is always silent (ie unpronounced). Some Romanians will give you a song and dance about how it’s kind of aspirated and semi-pronounced and what not and blah, blah. No. If there’s two i’s at the end of the word (ie copii) then the next to last i IS pronounced. And yes there a couple exceptions to this but it’s mostly when otherwise the word would be unpronounceable without it (ex: afli)
- If you ever see the vowels ea together just forget the “e” and pronounced it as just plain “a” (ex: seara doesn’t have 3 syllables se-ah-rah it’s just “sera” seh-rah)
- ă or “a with a little bowl on top”, just say it like a normal “a” sound. Yes they’re different and blah, blah, blah, just say it like a normal “a” sound and you’ll be fine.
- The ului at the end of some nouns can be a murderous tongue-twister, such as the word controlorului – WHEW! Ok here’s the secret – first off, just break it away from the rest of the word in your mind (using the above example it’d be “controlor” and then “ului”) and then ului itself is “ooh-lwee” like “woo weee” but “ooh-lwee” and not three syllables “ooh-loo-ee”. Basically if you can say the word “controlorului” then you’re set for life in terms of pronouncing Romanian (it’s the name of a famous song btw and means “of the controllers”).
- â otherwise known as “a with a hat” is the one sound that doesn’t exist in English. It’s a super guttural “uuuh” sound from way down in your diaphragm. Just have a friend or loved one punch you right in the stomach and the sound that gets expelled from your gut as you bend over in pain is the â sound. So when pronouncing România (the name of the country, duh) just say Ro-m(friend punches you UUUH)-nia. Yay, you did it!
- î otherwise known as “i with a hat” is just the old Communist-era way to write â and is pronounced exactly the same.
- ț otherwise known as “t with a tail” is just the sound of the letters “ts” combined. It’s also known as the sound the Dog Whisperer uses to gain obedience.
- ș otherwise known as “s with a tail” is just the sound of the letters “sh” combined, exactly like the sentence “I should and shall learn to pronounce the letter ș shuccesshfully”
- Because of heavy Slavic influence, the letter “e” is pronounced as “ye” in a few situations: these are “ești” (meaning “you are” – can you pronounce it?? yay!), “este” meaning “he/she/it is”, “ele” and “ei” (both meaning “they”), “ea” (she) but NOT “el” (he). See? Super simple. If you’re in Moldova, pretty much EVERY “e” has the “ye” pronounciation.
- The letter “R” is as rolled or “trilled” as you can get it, unless your first language is Spanish and then you’re probably “over-rolling” the R, your R rolling bandido!
- The letter “J” is is also borrowed from Slavic languages (Ж if you know Russian) and is more like a “zhhhh” sound. It tends to always be the last letter in a word or the name of a town (like Cluj, where I live). Therefore Cluj rhymes with the word luge.
And there you go! The rest is easy and my little guide should get you cracking on about 99% of the language and you’ll be understood in no time.
HAPPY TRAVELS, MY FRIEND!