(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Learning the language

Can I buy a vowel, please?

The biggest challenge in learning Romanian is that the language uses vowels in very precise ways.  My Southern twang never met a vowel that doesn’t have at least three sounds. So I am forever trying to get the exact pitch on the vowel: a (as in groggy; ah) is different from ă (as in grub; uh), â (halfway between grave and grieve; eeuw), and its close relative u (groove; ooh).

I have my numbers down pretty well, and I can recognize when cashiers tell me how much to pay.  They say it really fast.

I recognize words spoken around me, but I can’t come up with the right word in the right conjugation to be able to make much conversation.  I had a beer and a tsuika with Cornell, the retired gentleman who we rent from, and we talked about his work in the garden that day. I could understand mostly what he was telling me, but all I could reply was “good, good (Bun, Bun).”

Romanian taxi drivers aren’t accustomed to hearing foreigners mispronouncing their language.  They will look at you quizzically and repeat what you said.  Our language teacher says it is because they don’t have frequent contact with foreigners.  I blame the Southern accent.
I don’t ask for lemons in Romania

Every language has the words that sound like scatological terms from another language.  Americans traveling in Germany or Austria snicker when they see “Gute Fahrt” on the highway entrance ramps. And years ago when we travelled in England my mother insisted on calling out the name of the sunflowers that lined the road, “Rape.” And Brits ask for “a rubber, please” to clean the chalkboard, which led to great embarrassment of a Scottish exchange student in my high school.

A Romanian friend of ours let us in on a local joke, that foreigners often mispronounce the word for lemon to say instead a crude term for a sexual act.  It is only one vowel difference, and if you have trouble enunciating vowels exactly, you could end up with a… well, let’s just say, you won’t be squeezing lemons.

...with the refreshing taste of lemon.
not a refreshing taste

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