Learning Romanian: Memory Palaces


I’ve mentioned before the love I have for the book “Fluent Forever” – it gave me some great tips on how the process of language learning works in the brain. I’ve taken some advice from this book and some other websites and started applying some of these concepts to my own pursuit of learning Romanian.

The first technique I started using was the process of spaced repetition. For this, I found the app Memrise to be the most helpful. People have created lots of Romanian resources including my personal favorite, “Random Romanian Sentences”. These sentences are truly random (i.e. Tom died in bed), and seemingly make little sense, but you actually end up learning the sentence structure. Later, you can substitute the words and retain the actual structure of the sentence as a Romanian would phrase it.

The second technique I am using is creating schema. I am creating Power Point slides with picture examples of words so I can learn the cultural meaning of the words. Maybe it would be better to describe them as visual constructions of meaning.

I think I mentioned doing this in a previous language learning blog. It’s not enough to know that bunica is grandma. American “grandma” and “bunica” are two entirely different cultural constructs. Bunica gives you supa. Grandma gives you candies in glass bowls (bonus points if they’ve been out in the bowls for days…or weeks). Bunica walks to the piata on Saturday and Grandma plays bridge at the senior center. The same goes for words like “church” – churches in Romania look nothing like they do in the U.S, inside and out (I think the biggest difference is the inside seating – Romanian Orthodox barely have any, and they’re located along the wall).

The last method and the one I’m having the most fun with lately are memory palaces. These were invented by the Ancient Greeks as a way to spatially memorize items. Basically, you build a mental house and every time you learn a new word or phrase, you place it in the house in a meaningful way. Later, you can mentally “walk” through your house and recall the items you’ve placed in each room. Sherlock Holmes also used this technique. If you want more information, there’s also a great TED talk on why this works so well.

I read an article where someone went a step further and created a memory town. I loved this idea and decided to steal it for myself. I thought about the hardest thing for me to learn in Romanian class, and I realized I struggle the most with the gendered nouns. Romanian is not like one of those nice pretty languages where the nouns play nice. Oh, no, my friends – Romanians nouns can be feminine, masculine, or neutral. And sometimes, they change genders based on number.

In order to save some of my sanity (whatever I have left at this point lol), I made a memory town with three parts. The old city (feminine nouns), the new city (where the man nouns live), and the island of misfit toys, I mean, neutral nouns. If you look at the image I’ve chosen, you’ll see it resembles Paris. That’s on purpose – I’ve been there and I’m familiar with walking around the streets. I like the feel of the buildings and I can visualize making houses and putting concepts into buildings.


Left side “Old Town” = feminine / island = neutral / right side “New Town” = masculine

For example, the word for purse, geantă, is feminine. I created a handmade purse shop in the “Old Town” part of the city. The name of the store is Geantă. Creative, I know. Boring names aside, now I can remember what the heck a geantă is – and I get a visual when I try to recall the meaning. A large storefront with big windows full of handmade leather bags – it fits right in with rest of the old city charm.


The town can be as big as I need it to be. It’s not even limited to the three sectors I’ve created so far.

I even have people living on the outskirts of town in the countryside. I have trouble remembering the sound difference between “Look at!” (Uite) and Forget (Uita). It’s basically an “uh” versus an “eh” issue. To solve this problem, I mentally created some WHEAT (uite) farmers who happen to be Canadian (Eh?). Look at them harvest their wheat, eh (uite)?


Now I’ll never forget!

If you’re trying to learn a language and you’re afraid you’ll never remember anything – try some of the things I mentioned above. A lot of it is training your brain to automatically categorize and connect ideas – something that we’ve lost in the age of technology, I think.

Memorizing used to be very difficult for me until I actually started practicing it, and now I think it’s a bit easier. I’m not sure it’ll ever be easy, but at least with some of the tricks I listed above, I have a chance! 🙂

Cursuri de Limba Română


I’ve started my Romanian classes and so far I am really enjoying them. They’re intensive, so some days it can be overwhelming, but I feel like I am learning so much. I also really enjoy my classmates. We’re a very diverse group, and I think it makes the learning experience so much better.

Our textbook is pretty fun, too.



Here is a writing that I did for class:

Sunt o fată și locuiesc in Brasov, România. Îmi place sa călătoresc, și vreau să merg la Roma. Sunt din Atlanta. Atlanta este un oraș foarte cald și umed. Vreau să văd zăpadă iarna.

Am un câine. Este foarte draguț. Mănancă urechi de porc. Urechiele sunt favoritele lui. Mergem la plimbare pe stradă amandoi. Suntem prieteni.

[forgive the weird font, the special character map on WordPress leaves a lot to be desired]

Most days I come home and I am excited to do my homework and study more.

Some days I come home and I think if I hear one more word of Romanian, I’ll have a stroke.

The language itself doesn’t seem so difficult to me. I struggle mostly with remembering the genders of things. A book that I read on language learning, Fluent Forever, recommended to imagine different actions happening to boy nouns and girl nouns. For example, make a mental image of a boy noun exploding into flames or a girl nouns shattering into a million pieces. Imagine a pisică (cat) shattering like mirror. It’s a powerful visual that you hopefully won’t forget.

Unfortunately, I’m still in that stage where I’m looking up every word in the dictionary for the gender or asking ridiculous questions like, “Is bread a boy or a girl?”




Culture Shocking

When I was in grad school, I wrote a short story about an immigrant couple who moved to America. The man left his non-English speaking wife at home every day, and she became scared to venture out without him. Just a trip to the grocery was overwhelming for her. My creative writing teacher told me the story was unrealistic and cliche.

…and yet here I am, overwhelmed at the grocery store. How many kinds of sausage can there be? And yes, creative writing teacher, my eyes do glaze over (he told me this phrase was also very cliche). Granted, I am not some abandoned immigrant wife, but there is some merit to the idea of the culture shock that everyone experiences when they truly immerse in the unknown.


Still smiling in any language 😀

To help myself, I am studying the language. I work a little every day. I find Memrise is truly the most helpful app for learning Romanian. I’m focusing on one section called “Random Romanian Sentences” – seriously. I’ve learned helpful phrases like, “Do you know me?” (Ma cunosti?) and “I am so fat” (Sunt asa de grasa). Not to mention my favorite, “Mor de foamea!” (I’m dying of hunger!) – I like to add an “Doamne” to that sentence for a little drama. Imagine me lying on the couch, clutching my stomach – AYYYY Doamne, mor de foamea! Nu se poata! Sunt asa de grasa!! (translation: OMG, I’m dying of hunger! It cannot be! I am so fat!).

Anyway, the point is – I am adjusting to here and honestly, I still like it. Even though I’ve noticed something disturbing. It just sort of occurred to me the other day. There are no squirrels. Where are the squirrels?! Eaten by the street dogs? It’s not like there aren’t trees here – I just haven’t seen any of the furry tailed rats since I’ve been here. Once you notice this, it’s kind of odd. Or maybe it’s odd that I noticed. Whatever 🙂 (sunt nebuna? poate)

I’ve obviously got a long way to go, Frate. Maybe when I write my own story, I’ll include the part where my eyes glaze over…like a fresh gogosi. Or maybe my stomach will twist in knots…like a covrigi.

and on that note, I will leave you with this incredibly offense, but incredibly hilarious street “art”:


I laughed so hard at this – no idea why

Carla’s Dreams


One of my favorite bands for learning Romanian is Carla’s Dreams. I listen to a lot of pop music because the lyrics are repetitive – and while that helps me learn the language, I also get really bored with the bubble gum superficiality of the songs. Enter Carla’s Dreams. The band was formed in Moldova and the perform “in disguise” with face paint, hoodies, and sunglasses. The lead singer has a very distinct voice; it’s very low and he uses just enough vocal fry.

I’ve posted some of their songs here before (Aripile and Sub Piela Mea) because I love the flow of the melodies and the beat of the words (sorry, that’s as technical as it’s going to get, lol). The best thing about Carla’s Dreams is that many of the songs hover between pop music and spoken word poetry. In this song, you get depth and melancholy in the lyrics along with a catchy beat, the best of both worlds:

I appreciate the homage to traditional music woven subtly in the beats in Suna-ma and Ratusca:

Here is a song in English (which oddly enough, I don’t like nearly as much as the songs in Romanian – he just sounds like the guy from Creed in this one):

In Russian:

and then there’s songs that are just for fun – this song in particular was very popular last summer. I think I’ve heard it a million times, but I only recently looked up the lyrics.:


Speaking of bands and artists that sing in Romanian, I would love any suggestions for music. Who should I be listening to? Bonus points if it’s vaguely easy to understand the words 🙂

…and does anyone know where I can see this band live? I know they just had a concert, but I’m hoping they’ll perform more this summer.

Sunt Scriitoare!




Delta Dunării e localizată în sud-est-ul României.

Este o rezervație naturală protejată de UNESCO.



Delta Dunării are multe animale.

De exemplu, are pelicani și broaște țestoase.


Este un loc popular pentru turiști.

Uite turiștii în barcă.


Multi turiști au camere.

Lor le place să facă poze.


Păsările sunt foarte frumoase.


Vreau să merg la Delta Dunării.



[This is my first ever attempt at writing sentences on a cohesive theme. I will admit that I had someone edit my work 🙂 I can’t believe a year ago I was sitting in my car repeating Pimsleur phrases – Buna Zi–what? Buna Zeewahh?]