The Market for Foreign Languages and Foreign Investment in Romania

From an almost non-existent market at the beginning of the ‘90s, foreign language teaching grew along with the businesses which needed trained employees. Also, since 2001 the legislation in force has helped. Still, what’s the best way to learn languages?

By Adriana Coblişan


The market for foreign languages started to develop in post-communist Romania at the same time as foreign investment. For instance, the oldest foreign language centres here (Fides, Lexis) were founded in 1993. The 1990s are the decade when the privatisation of state-owned companies took off, with the option of selling to foreign investors, but, in the absence of a legal framework favourable to foreign investment, it was done hesitantly. Consequently, that period was not very lucrative for foreign language courses. “The market for in-company courses was almost non-existent back then,” explains Ilinca Stroe, Senior Trainer & Content Writer at International House Bucharest.

The situation changed significantly after Law 332/2001 came into force, which stipulated a number of advantages for foreign investors. Thus, between 2003 and 2006 foreign investment grew continuously and, with it, language courses for companies took off. “International House Bucharest was founded then, too, on the positive wave of powerful multinationals like Coca-Cola, DHL or JTI entering the Romanian market,” Ilinca Stroe says.



If at the beginning English was the most demanded because it is of course, the language of international business, in time there has been increasing demand for more exotic languages. Which doesn’t mean English isn’t in the top anymore. English has remained the working language of many companies with foreign capital; moreover, company jargon, whether in banking, retail or IT, is replete with English words. “There’s an automatic assumption that anyone and everyone knows ‘some English’, and employers expect job applicants to know English. On employment, the difference consists not in knowing English, but in how well you know it, and in this respect holding a linguistic competence certificate (IELTS, Cambridge, TOEFL) is a clear advantage for candidates,” Ilinca Stroe adds.

With English “by default”, the second foreign language becomes more important, and the biggest demand is for German and French. Again, we have to see how learning languages parallels foreign investment in Romania. In the latter’s Top 10, Holland has ranked number 1 for quite some time, followed by Germany, Austria and France. Thus, English remains the umbrella-language for companies with foreign capital, but the presence of Austrian-/German-/French-capital companies stimulates the demand for German and French courses.

There is also a demand on the Romanian labour market for northern languages (Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian) or regional ones (Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian), which seem to attract a 10-20% increase in income. Ilinca Stroe maintains that in order to ascertain or foresee the demand for foreign languages we have to keep an eye on the countries ranking 5 to 10 in the foreign investors’ top in Romania.



A foreign language is learned following the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR): to go from basic user (levels A1-A2) to independent user (B1-B2) and then proficient user (C1-C2), you need two or three years. It depends on the frequency of the classes, their length, the quality of the teaching and of the teaching materials, the effort made and, of course, the motivation level. “We at International House think that a CEFR competence level can be done, in a way that results in sound learning, in 120 hours,” Ilinca Stroe explains. As for the recent “fast methods”, as in “learn German in two weekes”, they are considered a hoax.


Do Romanians learn languages easily?

That statement is perhaps the only positive stereotype that foreigners hold about Romanians, so we should by all means perpetuate it. Joking aside, I don’t think that we, Romanians, learn languages more easily than other nations, but I do strongly believe that, compared to others, we have two “background advantages” in learning foreign languages. The first is that we don’t dub films in our cinemas and on TV, which facilitates our accessing foreign languages as spoken by natives. For example, it is obvious that the English in songs and movies has contributed massively to the growing number of Romanian users of English. The second advantage is that, as two prominent historians remark (Lucian Boia and Neagu Djuvara), being Romanian means being implicitly multicultural. We are at the crossroads of three spaces (the Eurasian, the Western and the Near-East ones), in a place of fantastic cultural diversity. The latter is reflected in the Romanian language: 75% of our vocabulary is of Latin origin (50% of it being the same as in Italian), 15% is of Slavic origin, 3% comes from German and smaller percentages – from Greek, Hungarian and Turkish. Well, someone who’s used to so many foreign-origin sounds and meanings will probably be more open and better positioned to learn a language other than his/her own. But whether they take up learning it or how easily/fast they do learn it depends on how much effort they make.


How did Romanian schools go from teaching French to teaching Russian and then English?

We saw how the economy and the judiciary play a role in foreign language teaching. Well, politics do, too. Before communism, French was like English today: a kind of co-mother tongue at least among educated Romanians. Russian followed in the ‘50s through a political decision, and I think it never did “pick up”, because people from the generations which studied Russian at school don’t know the language today. What went wrong? I think they had no intrinsic motivation, which is pivotal to learning any language. A political decision which forces one or another language on people will not result in effective learning, as long as students aren’t convinced that learning that language is useful. Today, given the abundance of information, music and films in English, of course people feel intrinsically motivated to learn English.


Do teachers matter when learning a language?

They matter terribly. Effectively. Not just for children and teenagers, but also for adults, teachers are the learning anchor. To borrow an English phrase, teachers can do or undo someone’s learning. How come? Because teachers inspire motivation; they feed the student’s intrinsic motivation without which learning doesn’t really take place. The teachers’ role is crucial. Without a doubt.



Source: Revista Cariere