Romanian: 2 weeks in

Bună ziua! Here I am, two weeks in to my 5-Week Romanian Mission. And things are going pretty well. I’ve learned about 400-500 words actively, read 8 chapters of Teach Yourself: Romanian, been reading / skimming the news, and singing Romanian music. I’d say that I’m approaching an A1 level. Check out this video of me speaking in Romanian:

What’s been working for me?

Romanian is an interesting language to learn when you already speak one or more other Romance language. At times it’s clear that you’re learning a Latin language. Yet at times it seems so Balkan, and it’s hard to understand how it came from Latin at all. (I wonder if that’s how German + Dutch speakers feel about English)

The good news is, that Romanian shares about 75% of its vocabulary with Italian. This means that my passive comprehension is very high (when reading), and I can already start pulling the gist out of news and Wikipedia articles, something I still have a hard time doing in Turkish or even Mandarin (which was my major in school). This also means that it’s easier to learn vocabulary. I usually remember the basic form of the word, and it’s the inflections (singular/plural, case endings, verb conjugations) that give me a hard time.

What’s been difficult?

In one word, grammar.

Now I’m not going to be one of the many people who say that Romanian is a difficult language, or that it has a really complicated grammar. In fact, the Foreign Service Institute still only labels it a Category I Language! The grammar is actually rather straight forward. It’s just different from the other romance languages. So I have to spend a little more effort memorizing grammar patterns than I did going from French to Spanish, Italian or Portuguese.

But language difficulties aren’t problems, just interesting challenges to be overcome. And there are two tactics I have been using to tackle this:

  1. Putting whole sentences into Anki (my flashcard system), collected from my TY: Romanian book, wiktionary, wordreference, and even my Lonely Planet: Eastern Europe guide
  2. Memorizing songs, a technique I’ve mentioned before

And anytime I find myself struggling with a particular pattern, I look for a sample sentence to use. Not only does this give me practice using the grammar pattern correctly, but it also gives me a better idea of how natural clauses and sentences get strung together.

The wall

This is when it gets harder for me.

I’m in a familiar place. I, like probably many of you, have had many short term language indulgences that haven’t lasted longer than 2 weeks. I usually find that I can study any language intensely for about 1-2 weeks, regardless of how compelled I am to actually reach a high level in the language. That’s when I hit a wall. It usually corresponds with how long it takes me to reach an A1 level in a language, or thereabouts. Then what? Well, that depends on how I feel about the language, and how I am approaching the project.

Over the course of these past two weeks I’ve discovered that I think Romanian is a very cool language, and I’m enjoying it. I don’t know very much about the culture yet, or the people, but I’d like to learn. This is good. It means I have the intrinsic curiosity I’ll need to get past the wall.

On the other hand, I’ve spent the last 2 weeks really cramming material, and that’s just not sustainable – at least not in the vocabulary driven way I have been doing it up until now. As much as we polyglots might try to forget it, slow and steady wins the race, and there are no shortcuts to language learning. I still think it’s possible that I may even achieve a solid A2 level in Romanian before this mission is out, but I’m not going to do it by learning massive lists of vocabulary

Address your week points

At this point, it would be best for me to slow down on my vocabulary and my TY: Romanian. I have crammed vocabulary for the past 2 weeks, and I’ve learned that I can do it pretty easily. I’ve also learned from reading that there is a whole host of vocabulary that is familiar to me, even though I don’t know it actively. I’ll get the most benefit from turning that passive vocab into active vocab. How is that different from what I’ve been doing? Mainly it means I will only add words / phrases to Anki when they are clearly important words or grammar patterns but are unfamiliar to me. This will amount to certain key conversational connectors, and probably commonly used Balkan vocabulary.

This also means it’s time to change my inputs and outputs. Instead of reading my TY: Romanian book (I’ll come back to that later), I need to spend more of my time conversing. And when I can’t converse with people, I should be actively listening to radio (preferably with reading transcripts) and then trying to summarize, paraphrase, or generally describe what it is I just heard. This will change my focus towards production as well as force me to try and use those latinate cognates that I see everywhere. And if I’m unsure of myself and how I’m using the language when I do reiterate, I can always make a submission in iTalki.

What about formal grammar and lessons?

I’m not throwing my TY: Romanian book away. I’ll come back to it in a week or two. But it will be more for the purpose of tidying up the things I have learned. For now, it’s more important to try and get my active Romanian closer to my passive Romanian. The goal is to speak, is it not?

What’s more, language learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. What’s more, the same techniques won’t work for the same person throughout their learning process! It’s beneficial to change things up, to alter your methods.

What about you?

How’s your language learning mission going? Are there any techniques you found are helping you less than they used to? How have you solved this problem? Let me know in the comments!

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