Barcelona Tourist and Expat Guide – I'mMovingToBarcelona



Buenos días or bon dia? Adios or adéu? You arrive in Barcelona and find that the people here speak Catalan instead of Spanish. You listen and hear that some words are common, but still there is a difference in the accent. And you wonder how much different this language is from Spanish.

1. Catalan is a Latin language

If you have Catalan friends, you probably already know that Catalan is a language not a dialect. Both Catalan and Spanish, as well as French, Italian and Portuguese are modern languages that evolved from spoken Latin and are called Latin or Romance languages*.

2. Catalan is an official or co-official language in some Spanish territories

Catalan is the only official language in Andorra, co-official language with Spanish in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the Valencian Community (where it varies a bit and is known as Valencian). It is semi-official in the city of Alghero on the Italian island of Sardinia. It is also spoken with no official recognition in parts of the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon (La Franja) and Murcia (Carche), and in the historic French region of Roussillon/Northern Catalonia, roughly equivalent to the department of Pyrénées-Orientales. Wikipedia says also that there is no parallel in Europe of such a large, bilingual, non-state speech community.

3. How many people speak Catalan?

Wherever you check, the numbers vary. BBC says there are 10.5M inhabitants of the Catalan countries and the majority operate with both Catalan and Spanish. It is estimated that about half of them have Catalan as their mother tongue. Some 3M other people speak Catalan as their second or third language, with 2M more understanding but not being able to speak it.

4. The Spaniards understand Catalan but in general don´t speak it

Written Catalan is understandable if one knows Spanish or any other Latin language.On the other hand, understanding spoken Catalan is a totally different story, due to different pronunciation of certain consonants. I know many Spaniards who know Catalan passively, i.e. cannot speak it but got used to its pronunciation and understand the spoken language.

A work colleague told me a story of his his mother who came to Catalonia from a different part of Spain some 30 years ago. She has never learned Catalan. Interestingly though, her best friend is a woman from a small Catalan town, who feels better speaking Catalan than “castellano”. So, when they meet each one speaks in her mother tongue, one in Catalan and the other one in Spanish, and they understand each other perfectly.

5. How is it different from Spanish?

At the beginning I was losing track on whether a given word was Spanish or Catalan. As they tend to be quite similar it is very easy to mix them up. Here are a few examples of  most common words and expressions:

speak catalan

Castellano – Català – English


Hablar – Parlar – Speak

Buenos días – Bon dia – Good morning

Buenas tardes – Bona tarda – Good afternoon

Adios – Adéu – Good bye


Salida – Sortida – Exit

Llegadas – Arribades – Arrivals

Salidas – Sortides – Departures


Entonces – Llavors – So

Ahora mismo – Ara mateix – Right now

Mañana – Demà – Tomorrow

Hoy – Avui – Today

Ayer – Ahir – Yesterday

Actualización – Actualització – Update <- this one is typical, you just drop one letter from Spanish.

6. Will I need it for work, university or social encounters?

Yes for the university. You will definitely need it at school and university as the majority of classes are given in this language.

Not necessarily for work. I don’t need it and I know many people who live here even without the basic knowledge of Spanish. Nevertheless it is always nice to be able to participate in all kinds of conversations and not be the reason for which people need to change the spoken language to Spanish or English. Everybody speaks Spanish, even if they feel better speaking in Catalan, so at the beginning not speaking Catalan shouldn’t be a problem. You will see later on if you care to learn it. Who knows if the Catalan Republic won’t become a reality shortly…

Nice to have for social encounters. It is very well seen to speak Catalan if you are a foreigner. It will surely make the process of your blending in way easier.

7. Where to learn Catalan?

If you think about learning Catalan, check out this page it is fun and with a lot of exercises. Generalitat de Catalunya (the authorities of Catalonia) promote the knowledge of Catalan and sponsor classes and events. Look out for them!

A good place to get informed is your nearest library. Just so you know, the libraries are for free, you just need to register to start lending books, CDs, DVDs and book guides or even manuals to learn languages. They will also instruct you where the nearest center for Catalan Language (Consorci per la Normalització Lingüística) is situated, you can also check it here: and select the classes depending on your level its almost for free you only pay a certain amount for the administration fee.

*source Wikipedia and BBC.

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