The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to the Language of Barcelona

One of the biggest misconceptions about Spain is that Spanish is the primary language. But contrary to popular assumptions, there are several other native tongues spoken in this country depending on what region you come from.

Like many things, we didn’t find this out until after relocating here!

In the northern Basque Country region where the beautiful Bilbao and San Sebastian are, the language is called…Basque. In our home city of Barcelona the first language is Catalan.

Cata-who?! Yes Catalan, which derives from the region of Spain known as Catalunya including Barcelona, Girona and stretching as far south as Tarragona. This dialect is also spoken in Andorra, I’ve just learned!

Who knew?!

And while some words or phrases in Catalan are similar to Spanish, many (and I mean many) are not – which make it even more confusing.

Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! But don’t fret.

The “ever-so-slightly” good news is this. Many Catalan speaking locals also speak Spanish. So if relocating here, you need not worry about becoming fluent in a language that is used in only a small part of the world.

However, it doesn’t hurt to have some knowledge especially if your goal is to truly blend and live amongst the locals. Learning their native tongue will only make daily life and meeting others easier.

So, I hope these basic tips will help!!

Here in Barcelona, you’ll find that restaurant menus, street signs, mass transit announcements, store clerks and pharmacists all use Catalan. The locals are proud of their language and are determined to keep it alive.

So much so that our two older children who go to a private British international school still must learn Catalan. The government makes sure of that!

I get it. I respect it. But it hasn’t been an easy language for any of us to learn, I’ll be honest.

Next year our baby girl, 2.5 years old, will attend a Catalan primary school. The children, teachers and curriculum will all be foreign to her.

This will be a new and somewhat scary experience for us all – but my faith in the warmth and kindness of the Catalan people is reassuring.

And my hope is that as we dive further into this language as a family, our baby will become our very best teacher.


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