The Languages of Barcelona

Before leaving for Spain I had studied Spanish for a year and a half. I was okay at speaking it. Writing Spanish was okay also, as long as it was kept simple. Listening and understanding was, and still is, very difficult for me. I was excited to be immersed in the Spanish language in Barcelona so that my speaking, writing and listening would improve. I was told that in Barcelona people speak Catalan but it was very similar to Spanish. I would soon find out.

 Well, now that I’ve been here for four weeks, this is what I’ve discovered. People in Barcelona speak Catalan. Catalan, the original language of the Barcelona area, originated between the 11th and 14th centuries. Cataluña, or the Catalan region, is primarily the east coast and eastern side of Spain. A little history might help. Spain was formed when Prince Ferdinand of Aragon (which was Cataluña, the eastern area of the Iberian Peninsula) and Isabella of Castile (which is the western area of the Iberian Peninsula) fell in love and were married. They joined both of their empires, the west and the east areas of the Iberian Peninsula, and formed Spain in 1492 (does that year sound familiar?). That’s my brief history of the establishment of Spain but it’s a much more detailed struggle. I recommend finding or reading more information of that time.

Today, the western area of Spain including the capital city, Madrid, is known as Castilian Spain, and the eastern area is of Spain, including Barcelona, is known as Cataluña. In 1701 these two sides fought in a civil war. Madrid and the area of Castile won. Their native language was Spanish, or as it was originally named Castilian, and eventually it became the dominant language of Spain. Wow, that’s a lot of history.

The official language of Spain is Castilian and everyone in Spain understands Castilian. However, on the east coast and Barcelona people know and understand Castilian, but prefer to speak Catalan. In the football stadium all signs are in Catalan first, then Castilian, and then English. For most of the city signs are in Catalan and maybe Castilian.

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For me, it has actually been difficult to learn to speak Spanish (Castilian) better here in Barcelona. Most people talk Catalan, which is very similar to Spanish, but very difficult to understand when people are talking to me. For example, the word for woman is Mujer in Castilian but Muller in Catalan; similar but different.

I think my Spanish is getting better here but it’s been a challenge. I try to speak a lot when I go to the grocery store or when I’m at a café ordering a coffee. I asked for directions the other day and didn’t understand much. I just smiled and nodded trying to be polite. I guess I did understand a little because I did eventually find the library. It just takes a little while to think about it after I hear it.

I took pictures for some examples of the signs on the Metro and in the football stadium. I’m having a lot of fun, talk soon!

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