While I didn’t have the same language training as Tom had, one-on-one with his remote professor every week day for nine months, I did make some headway with learning Romanian in the past year. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made nine years ago when we moved to Brazil and I lived in a language-less bubble until I finally learned Portuguese.

Tom and I take pride in being borderline polymaths, capable of speaking or at least making ourselves understood in five languages each (Tom: Spanish, French, Romanian, Portuguese, and English. Me: French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, and English). The difficulty with studying another Romance language is that Romanian shares a vocabulary with Italian, Spanish, French, and English. So often, we’ll see a word in Romanian and say yes, I know that, but when it comes time to speak, we can’t remember which of the languages the word came from.

Tom really embraced his study of Romanian. I heard him from day one of classes until the day of his final exam nine months later and I’m here to tell you, the kid knows his language! From his halting first words until he was discussing culture and politics during his exam, he advanced by leaps and bounds.

I love his line about Romanian being the dark and moody cousin of Spanish.

When I arrived in Saõ Paulo, I spoke French pretty fluently, as evidenced when I went to an afternoon cocktail party and amazed my Brazilian neighbors by carrying on a conversation with the hosts in French. Prior to that, they had only heard me speak haltingly, like a three-year-old.

But once I began to study Portuguese, I had to relegate my French to a closet, lest it trip me up while acquiring my new language. Only in the past few months has my French come flooding back, with Portuguese flowing alongside, or at least as much as I learned in our three years in Brazil.

And then it was time to study Romanian. This time though, I am not closeting my French or Portuguese. Don’t want to go through that again.

To begin my study of Romanian, I first used an audio program called Pimsleur, which is designed around the idea that we learn language by hearing and imitating it as children. This is a good program, but does nothing to prepare a learner to read or write a language, since it is all aural.

So then I also used online programs, Romanian Pod 101, and Duolingo, the latter which I find quite helpful because it makes me discover the rules of the language, rather than telling me the rules (if I discover the rules by myself, the knowledge lasts longer).

Duolingo is user friendly and helps me to keep track of what lessons I have completed and which still remain. It also prompts review, which I find very helpful.

The one criticism I might have about Duolingo is how long it takes to learn to speak practical sentences. I mean, I can say “Your donkey wears a beautiful hat and eats carrots” (Măgarul tău poartă o pălărie frumoasă și mănâncă morcovi), but I cannot yet ask someone what time it is.

Still, my vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds, and I am able to read Romanian much better than I am able to speak it. This is particularly handy when reading menus or signs at tourist spots. Tom laughs about the fact that I am better able to speak in a restaurant than he is, though he can hold forth on economics and politics with Romanians at the same table, in Romanian. We each seek our own level, right?

Mănânc mărul și citesc despre istorie și Tom discută despre politică. (I eat the apple and read about history and Tom discusses politics.)

Fortunately for me, but not so fortunately for Tom, most people here in Bucharest seem to have a solid grasp of English, thanks to TV, movies, and music. I can get along just fine with the little I know of Romanian. Tom, however, is concerned that he will lose what he trained so hard to learn. Last night before we slept, I quizzed him with his flashcards. Good for him, good for me. (He hasn’t lost it; solid as a rock.)

Yesterday, I spoke with the guard in the guard shack outside our door. I said hello and asked how he was. We agreed that the weather was hot. I introduced myself and he did himself. His name is Gabriel. Today, I will introduce Sydney and tell Gabriel that he has a fitting name for his profession (guardian angel). And unless he has a donkey by his side, that will be extent of my Romanian conversation for the day.