Most common comment: "Doesn't your Spanish really help with learning Romanian?"
Best response: "Weeeelll - sort of. Yes, sometimes it does. Sometimes, but not always."
First, a bit of background: Romanian is one of the five Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian). However, it is the closest to Latin of them all and has grown up isolated from other Latin-based languages due to geography and being surrounded by Slavic-language neighbors. Due to this isolation, it has not been simplified as the other Romance languages have. (Drat!) Mix in strong Turkish influences due to the Ottoman Empire's presence over the years, toss in some Greek and then add a strong Russian flavoring and you have Romanian.
I tried to find a really good picture to illustrate this, but sometimes a thousand words are worth a thousand words, so here we go:
Here are some Romanian words I bet any English speaker could figure out:
And here are some more Romanian words that anyone with some general familiarity with another Romance language, either through high school, travel or foreign movies could figure out:
Prefera (to prefer)
Vizavi de (across from)
Adding to the difficulty only slightly, here are some words that are a bit of a stretch to the native English speaker, but sound like a word that is in the same ballpark, at least:
Merge (he/she goes, like "merging into traffic")
Crede (he/she believes, like in "credibility")
Întelege (he/she understands, which kind of looks like "intelligence," no?)
Citi (to read, sort of like "to cite")
Scrie (to write, as in "scribe")
Sta (to stay - heck, that one's only missing a letter)
Visa (to dream - like "envisage")
We have some false cognates, too. These are words that sound or look just the same as another language, but are actually quite different. Take for example in Spanish if you "castiga" someone it means that you punish them. But the same "castiga" in Romania means that you gain or win something. I dunno', maybe it's a cultural difference from the bad ole' days and the idea of punishing someone meant that you won?
Now we'll go way off into the "just memorize them" category. Perhaps these are Turkish, or Russian, or Greek - I don't know because I don't speak any of these languages!
Mulțumesc (thank you)
Stânga (left, as in the opposite of right)
Bătrân (old, as in old person)
Înghețată (ice cream)
But I don't worry, because those are such odd words - I just can't picture having to use them, right? (I guess I won't be having any ice cream for a few years...)
Now, to add to the fun, the nouns and adjectives are "declined." No, that doesn't mean that we just say no to them, it means that they change depending on what role they are playing in the sentence. That's right - even proper nouns that in English are sacred except in the plural or possessive when we simply tack on an s or apostrophe + s. An example would be something like this:
English: My house, the house, a house, the house's roof, the houses
Romanian: My housele, housa, house, houselor roof, the housi
(These are just examples, not at all the real words - I hope that's understood?)
But wait, there's more! The adjectives and *some* (but not all!) of the numbers and colors also have to "agree" with the noun:
English: The two red houses, The two little boys are happy
Romanian: The twoa housi reda, The twoi boysi littli are happi
See how many of the words had to be changed to agree with each other? And it's not just that the letters at the end of the words have to be the same as each other, like in Spanish (i.e. Las Casas Blancas), but if you make the noun plural (houses), then you have to make all the adjectives plural, too (the smalls houses reds), flip the noun and adjective in the sentence and remember that each of the endings is different! There are even different words for "the house" versus "a house," or "her house"!
Even without a day of Latin class or one Catholic Mass pre-1962, you are probably already familiar with some of this. You know "alumni" are a bunch of folks who wore the cap and gown together, while you are an "alumnus" from somewhere and now they want a donation, right?
That's what it's like, and that's not like English or Spanish or French.
But at least the alphabet is (mostly) the same!
(That's the most common consolation prize folks offer, especially those learning Arabic, Albanian, Amharic...)