Romanian and Spanish: how similar are these languages really?

Spanish is known as a beautiful and passionate language and Spanish classes are widely available. Spanish is the most spoken Romance language in the world, whereas Romanian is only spoken in Romania and Moldova, and therefore a less chosen language to learn.

The countries where these two languages originated from (Spain and Romania) are on opposite sides of the European continent.

This geographical distance leads to a common misconception is that Spanish and Romanian have nothing in common. This is not the case: Spanish and Romanian are quite similar languages.

Like Spanish, Romanian is a Romance language, although not everyone knows this - which is why Romanian is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten Romance language”. Both languages derived from Latin, and therefore speakers and learners of these languages might find some common ground.

Naturally, these languages are not completely similar. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between the Spanish and the Romanian languages.

What are similarities between Spanish and Romanian?

Between the languages Spanish and Romanian, there are more similarities than differences. The languages have more true friends than false friends, meaning that a lot of words that look and sound the same, actually have the same meaning.

Since Spanish and Romanian were both derived from the Latin language, the lexical similarity between these languages is high. In the following part we will discuss why Spanish and Romanian are two very similar languages.

Spanish and Romanian both come from Latin

Spain and Romania were both part of the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire started to break up, new variants of Latin started to develop into new Romance languages, throughout Europe.

Being Romance languages, means that both Spanish and Romanian have evolved from Latin. As we’ll see, these two languages have a lot of similar vocabulary words.

Interestingly, as Romania is in the vicinity of many slavic countries, Romanian has absorbed some Slavic words into its vocabulary. Although surprisingly, Romanian has preserved some characteristics of Latin which have disappeared from Spanish.


Spanish and Romanian have similar syntaxes

An important similarity between Spanish and Romanian is the sentence structure. Both Spanish and Romanian generally use a subject-verb-object ordering (f.e.: I kick the ball) to form a sentence.

Unlike in the English language, Spanish and Romanian adjectives are generally placed after the noun (The red car: « el coche rojo » (Spanish), « Mașina roșie » (Romanian)). Of course there are some exceptions to these rules.

Spanish and Romanian are both phonetic languages

Spanish and Romanian are both phonetic languages. This means that in both languages, words are spelled as they are pronounced. When you look at a word, or hear a word in Spanish or Romanian, you will be able to pronounce or spell it.

The lexical similarity coefficient between Romanian and Spanish is 0.71

When comparing how similar 2 languages are in terms of vocabulary, linguists use the concept of lexical similarity. It measures to what degree the vocabularies of the 2 languages are alike.

Lexical similarity coefficients range from 0 to 1, with 0 meaning no similarity and 1 meaning complete similarity.

For comparison, the lexical similarity:

The two regions which today are Spain and Romania, were part of the Roman empire. As Latin was the official language of the Roman empire it was spoken there. This is the reason for the high degree of lexical similarity between Spanish and Romanian.

In terms of vocabulary, Romanian is slightly closer to Italian and French then it is to Spanish:

The lexical similarity between Spanish and Romanian is 0.71. This means that there are quite some words in both languages that are similar and have similar meanings.

Similarities in vocabulary between Spanish and Romanian

When the Roman Empire fell apart, languages started to develop and were influenced by surrounding nations. As they both derived from the Latin language, Spanish and Romanian languages can be quite similar in vocabulary.

Here is a list of similar vocabulary words between Romanian and Spanish:

Table: Romanian - Spanish similar words
English Romanian Spanish Latin
green verde verde viridis
moon luna luna lūna
sea mare mar mare
water apă agua aqua
warm cald cálido calidus
happiness fericire felicidad fēlīcitās
dangerous periculos peligroso perīculōsus
hand mână mano manus
house casă casa casa
meat carne carne carnis
shirt cămaşă camisa camisia

What are the differences between Spanish and Romanian?

We have learned that Spain and Romania were both in the Roman Empire; this is why the two languages are so similar.

However, Spain and Romania are on the opposite sides of the European continent. Spain is in the west and is surrounded by countries with Latin and Germanic languages, whereas Romania is in the east and surrounded by Slavic countries.

We can see that the two countries have been greatly influenced by the nations surrounding them, especially in terms of language. Because of Romania’s isolation from the other Roman language speaking countries, its development has been very different from Spain.

Therefore, there are many words in the Romanian vocabulary that are not similar to the Spanish version of these words at all. In this part we will discuss the differences between the Spanish and Romanian language.

Influences of other languages on Spanish and Romanian

As the Spanish invaders started to spread their language in Europe and Latin-America, it is no surprise that it was influenced by languages of the nations that it conquered.

Spanish in Latin-America was widely influenced by the languages Nahuatl and Quechúa, which were spoken by the indigenous people.
(related article: Rioplatense Spanish)

Also, Spanish was influenced by Arabic, English, Italian, French, Catalán and Euskera, the Basque language spoken in Spain.

Because Romania was so far away from other countries with Romance languages, it was influenced by the nations closer to it. Therefore, we can see Macedonian, Bulgarian, Albanian and Serbian influences in the Romanian language.

Spanish and Romanian do not use the same Alphabet

Although Spanish and Romanian are similar languages, they do not use the same Alphabet.

The Spanish call their alphabet the “alfabeto”. It consists of 27 letters; the standard Roman alphabet plus the letter ñ (pronounced as the 'ny' in canyon).

The Romanian Alphabet is actually a derivative of the Latin alphabet, but consists of 31 letters. Before the1860’s, Romania used the Cyrillic script, but later replaced it with the Latin script.

Five letters had to be added to the standard Roman alphabet, in order to satisfy the phonetic requirements of the Romanian language. These letters are:

Differences in vocabulary between Spanish and Romanian

Because of the Slavic influences on Romania, we can see that part of the vocabulary is not similar to Spanish. Let's look at some differences in vocabulary between Romanian and Spanish:

Table: Romanian - Spanish different words
English Romanian Spanish
love dragoste amor
friend prieten amigo
guilt vinovăţie culpa
newspaper ziar periódico
snow zăpadă nieve
tree copac árbol
language limbă idioma
expensive scump caro

For geographical and historical reasons, Romanian and Spanish have absorbed vocabulary words from different languages.

While Spanish has incorporated some vocabulary terms which come from Arabic, the Romanian language has loanwords from Slavic languages instead.

Some examples of Spanish words which come from Arabic:

Some examples of Slavic loanwords in Romanian:

Romanian - Spanish vocabulary "false friends":

Some features of Latin which have been preserved in Romanian while disappearing from Spanish

The vocative case:

Spanish Romanian
tengo dos hermanos
(I have two brothers)
eu am doi frați
(I have two brothers)
hermanos, ¿pueden oírme?
(brothers, can you hear me?)
fraților, mă auziți
(brothers, can you hear me?)

Is Spanish or Romanian easier to learn?

The US State Department has ranked both Spanish and Romanian as a Level I languages, meaning that they are both are among the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.

But there are reasons which can make Romanian slightly harder to learn than Spanish.

For example, the Romanian alphabet has five additional letters which do not exist in the English language, whereas the Spanish alphabet only has one extra letter.

Although Romanian is not a Slavic language, it has absorbed some slavic vocabulary words. The pronunciation of these can be more difficult for English speakers.

However, the lexical similarity of Spanish and Romanian 0.71. Because of this high lexical similarity, there are many vocabulary similarities between Spanish and Romanian. It is therefore easier to learn one of these languages, if you already speak the other.

Are Spanish and Romanian mutually intelligible?

The Romanian language is closer to Italian than it is to Spanish, but Romanian is not mutually intelligible whith any Romance language.

In fact, the comparison between Spanish and Romanian has the lowest mutual intelligibility score than the comparison between any other two Romance languages.

Because the Romanian language has had many influences from Slavic languages, its has evolved differently from the Spanish language. Also, dialects and differences in pronunciation are big reasons that these two languages are not mutually intelligible.

Which language should you pursue?

There are many reasons to learn a new language. Maybe you would like to develop yourself and learn a new language for fun, you’re looking to have deeper conversations with your foreign friends or maybe you want to learn a new language for your daily job? Either way, learning a new language is fun and interesting.

Learning a new language is not easy and needs lots of time and attention; one hour per week is simply not going to cut it. Instead, make the effort and spend lots of time on it. Speaking multiple languages looks great on your resume, and will be a big help with creating new international friendships.

As for which language you should pursue, this mostly relies on your goal. If you are trying to learn a new language for fun, it is advisable to start with Spanish. There are lots of materials available and Spanish classes can be found everywhere.

This is due to the fact that Spanish is spoken widely around the world. Spanish will also come in handy when you’re planning to travel Latin-America, as most people do not speak English here.

Romanian, however, might be slightly more difficult to learn than Spanish. And if you already speak Spanish, learning Romanian will be much easier. You can’t really go wrong by learning either language.

Summary

Spanish and Romanian both are Romance languages, which means that they derive from Latin.

Spain and Romania were once part of the Roman Empire, but when the empire split up into seperate countries, Romania was isolated and therefore greatly influenced by the Slavic nations around it. This resulted in the fact that there are many similarities, but also differences between the languages.

Both Spanish and Romanian are phonetic languages and use similar syntaxes (sentence structures). Their lexical similarity ranks a 0.71 on a scale from 0 to 1, which means that there are quite some words that seem similar and have the same meaning as well.

On the other hand, Spanish and Romania do not use the same alphabet. The Spanish alphabet consists of 27 letters (the standard Roman alphabet plus the letter ñ,) while the Romanian language added 5 new letters to the standard Roman alphabet, in order to satisfy the phonetic needs.

The bottom line

Whichever language you choose to study, either of these languages are easy to learn, especially when you already speak one of them.

Learning a new language is always a great experience and will open many doors, whether you are trying to have a deeper conversation with a friend, or need to learn a new language for your job.

Learning a new language is a slow and steady process, but do not give up. Eventually, you will be able to speak and understand a new language and enjoy all the perks that come with it.

Editor's note: You can use our free language tool to make your own vocabulary lists, and record your own phrases.