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Catalan - A little different Spanish or a whole other story?

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Is Catalan really different from Spanish? Do I need to know basics of Catalan when I go to Barcelona? Will people in Barcelona understand if I speak Spanish? Is Barcelona good place to learn Spanish?

Many tourists that are planning to come to Barcelona are asking themselves these questions. That is why we will present here interesting facts about Catalan language as well as useful language tips a tourist will need while traveling to Barcelona. There first thing You need to know is that Catalan is a different, autonomic language mostly not similar to Spanish at all.


Facts about Catalan Language


  • Catalan is a modern Romance language, closely related to Occitan (the language spoken in southern France).
  • The word Catalan derives from the territory of Catalonia. The main theory suggests that Catalunya (Latin Gathia Launia) derives from the name Gothia or Gauthia (which means "Land of the Goths"), since the origins of the Catalan counts, lords and people were found in the March of Gothia and from there it was close to Gothland > Gothlandia > Gothalania > Catalonia. It must be noted that there are many other theories explaining the origin of the word.
  • If you are wondering how many people speak Catalan, You will be actually surprised - almost 38% do. 12% of Spanish people claim to use both Spanish and Catalan in everyday life. As far as Catalunya is considered - it happens in the Barcelona metropolitan area where Spanish language is spoken more than Catalan. In rural parts of Catalunya the proportion is opposite.
  • In total, about 7.3 million (all over the world) people speak Catalan and 9.8 million people understand the language. 
  • Catalan became official "Catalonia's own language" in 1979 with Statute of Autonomy.
  • Catalan language was excluded from official use under Franco dictatorship. For example it was forbidden to use it at school or while publishing texts. After the dictatorship, democratic state institutions changed that restricted language policy and since then the "linguistic normalisation" is a main policy of most of political parties although some nationalist group think about it as discouraging the use of Spanish language. 

  • What is interesting, all business companies are obliged to display all of their information both in Catalan and Spanish under penalty fines. 
  • In Catalunya the primary education has to be held in Catalan.
  • Debates in the Catalan Parliament are held almost only in Catalan and the Catalan public television broadcasts programs only in Catalan.
  • In 2010 the big issue was the policy of screening 50% of movies in the cinemas in Catalan. Lots of cinemas started the general strike. Another time the argument about favoring Catalan started.
  • Although some very early documents in Catalan can be dated to the 9th century, the first literary text was the Homilies of Organyà - sermons from late 12th or 13th century.
  • It is spoken by people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, parts of Aragon region in Spain, some parts of South-East France, the city of Alghero in Sardinia and in Andorra (where it is the the only official tongue). 

  • Mainly, there are two dialects in Catalan: Western and Eastern that can be divided into 6 other ones: Northern Catalan, Central Catalan, Balearic, Northwestern Catalan, Valencian and Algherese. Some sources say that there are even 12 Catalan subdialects.
  • Catalan is written in Latin script. It uses acute and grave accents (as in é and è), dieresis (as in ï), a the dot that separates two l, the "ela geminada" l•l and the "ce trencada" ç.
  • Catalan letters shortcuts on English keyboard:

ï     Alt+0239
ç    Alt+0231
ñ    Alt+0241
ò    Alt+0242
ó    Alt+0243
ü    Alt+0252 
ì     Alt+0236
í     Alt+0237
¡     Alt+0161 (inverted exclamation mark)
¿     Alt+0191
l•l    L + Alt+0183 + L

  • Catalan is the 19th most used language on Twitter. 

  • Catalan is 17th language with most articles on Wikipedia.

Basic sentences in Catalan and Spanish

The first sentence is in Catalan, the second in Spanish

Hello / Hola / Hola
Goodbye / Adeu / Adiós
Please / Si us plau / Por favor
Thank you / Gracies / Gracias
You´re welcome / De res / De nada
Yes / Sí / Sí
No / No / No
How are you? / Com estàs? / ¿Comó estás?
How´s it going? / Com va? / ¿Qué tal?
What time is it? / Quina hora és? / ¿Qué hora es?
How much is it? / Quant és? / ¿Cuánto es?

Another examples:

Is coming to Barcelona to learn Spanish a good idea?

If you are really willing to to it, You will achieve it. It will not be as easy as going to other places in Spain. There You will see/hear the language everywhere – in the TV, radio, titles in the streets, displays of shops. Lots of people in Barcelona speak Spanish if You talk to them in Spanish, but You will not be surrounded with the language as much as somewhere else.

Is knowing Catalan necessary to communicate in Catalunya?

Mostly all Catalan people speak Spanish, so You should not be worried about it. If You need to ask about the way or directions, You will get the answer in Spanish with no problem.

Will I be able to communicate in Catalunya knowing only English?

Lots of Spanish and Catalan people, even young ones do not speak English or do not like doing that. You may have to ask few people on the street about directions, but You will get them.

Catalan language´s history is very rich and interesting, take a closer look onto it while coming to Barcelona!