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Arts & culture

They Don’t Speak Spanish in Barcelona?

Written by Emily Elwes

One thing that surprises most tourists when visiting Barcelona is the fact that most locals tend to speak a language other than Spanish. Not only is Spanish not the majority spoken language in Barcelona, but it is one of four languages used in the region and considered official languages of Catalonia.

If you are looking for a short-term rental to enjoy a great holidays in Barcelona consider brushing up on your Catalan and Occitan languages along with your Spanish.

In this ShBarcelona article we will provide the basics of the language and few historical facts.

Cata-what? 

Barcelona is located in Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain. Catalonia is actually a specific region that refers to the northeast portion of Spain as well as parts of the bordering areas of France and Andorran.

This area was once its own “Principality of Catalonia” with its own distinct borders, peoples, customs, Royal Court and language. The development of the area with its own language and customs can be traced back to the seventh century with a definitive development of the Count of Barcelona by the ninth century.

During the Francoist Dictatorship years, Catalan culture, including institutions and language, was repressed and banned from official use. Since the transition to democracy starting in 1975, Catalonia has recovered politically and culturally to become an autonomously governed region of Spain and now has three official spoken languages, including Catalan, Spanish, and an Occitan dialect called Aranese, and one sign language, Catalan sign language. Knowing the difference will help when needing to speak to a local in Barcelona.

Related article: The Use of Catalan Sign Language in Barcelona

Mural_Països_CatalansCatalan Language

Although many believe that Catalan as a language is a subset of Spanish, it is actually a Roman language derived from common Latin around the eastern Pyrenees in the ninth century.

In fact, the language shows more differentiation from Spanish and Portuguese, Ibero-Roman languages, than it does with Gallo-Roman languages of French, Italian, and Occitan. In other words, Catalan is more closely related to the second group of languages than the first.

Although Catalan is spoken by most Catalonians, the majority within Barcelona speak Spanish or a plurality of both languages, whereas in the outlying areas of Catalonia more people speak Catalan.

Learning a few phrases in Catalan will ensure that you can get the basics no matter where you are. Catalan is also spoken in the Balearic Islands to the east of the mainland as well as Valencia.

Catalan Phrases

Learning a few phrases of the local languages will help you find the most important things when on vacation, such as washrooms, restaurants, shopping and alcoholic beverages. Below are a few of the most important phrases in Catalan.

  • Hello                                                              Hola, Bon dia
  • Do you speak English?                         Que parla angles?
  • Excuse me                                                Dispensi! Perdoni!
  • Sorry                                                            Perdo! Em sap greu
  • Where’s the toilet?                                    On es el lavabo?
  • How much is this?                                    Quant costa aixo?
  • Nice to meet you.                                    Molt de gust.

Related article: Can you work in Barcelona if you don’t speak Spanish?

There are many more phrases to learn when visiting this unique part of the world especially since you may run into local Barcelonians that may speak Catalan and not Spanish. Understanding how to get back to your holiday apartment in Barcelona from a Catalan speaker should be required knowledge for your visit.

If there are any other Catalan phrases that are absolutely necessary to get around Barcelona, please comment below.

 

About the author

Emily Elwes

Emily is a freelance content editor & manager living & working in Barcelona. She's passionate about food, drink, language and collaborative consumption.

4 Comments

  • There’s a typo in Balearic. Also, no one credible thinks Catalan is a “subset” of Spanish.

    But overall, nice write up; Thanks!

  • If specifically visiting Catalan nice to learn some of the language. However I’ve never experienced any problems speaking Spanish in Catalan or Basque country for that matter.
    I think when you’re a foreign tourist people appreciate the effort taken to learn Spanish in the first place and give a bit of leeway.
    I’ve heard from Spanish friends though that sometimes people in Catalan refuse to acknowledge understanding them when they try and talk with them in Spanish.
    Which is pretty understandable I think.

  • Castilian Spanish is used more than Catalan in Barcelona. Also, you don’t need to learn Catalan anywhere in Catalonia. Every single person speaks Spanish as well (correction: 99%. Deep Pyrinees excluded). If you’re from another country/region everyone will understand you don’t speak the local language. If you do, you will be greeted as a hero… and spoken to in Spanish 🙂

    I speak Catalan, by the way.

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