By Regina Winkle-Bryan
I’ve got friends from all over Europe and the rest of the world here in Barcelona, and learning Catalan is always a hot topic at dinner parties among them. Some people are dead set against it, calling it a ‘useless’ language. “Why should I learn a language that I can’t use anywhere else in the world?” they say. Indeed, Catalan is helpful in Catalonia, and Andorra, Valencia, and on the Spanish Mediterranean islands of Majorca, Minorca, Formentera and Ibiza, but it’s not spoken in the rest of Spain or much anywhere else in the world. Others say that to know a culture you must speak the language, and therefore if you live in Catalonia, you must have some grasp of Catalan.
**We stand corrected. A reader pointed out that Catalan is also spoken in a small region of France -near the border- and Alghero, Sardinia. It looks like it is also spoken by a few souls in Aragon. While this still doesn’t make it very widespread, it is important to have the facts.
Here are common reasons for and against learning Catalan:
No one uses it. Well, only the people in the places already listed above, but no, it’s not as useful as Spanish which is spoken all over the world.
People are bilingual. Many English speaking friends argue that they don’t need Catalan if they speak Spanish, because all Catalans are bilingual and can as easily speak in Spanish as Catalan. Furthermore, many Catalans speak English meaning a conversation could be had in English or Spanish, rendering Catalan unnecessary.
It’s ugly. Yes, some people don’t like the sound of Catalan. This is a motivator, or not, with all languages. If it sounds pretty to the learner’s ear, he is more likely to feel inspired to practice.
It’s hard. If you speak Spanish (or Italian, or French) it’s not that hard. However, there are some big differences in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, and it does take work to learn Catalan, especially if your mother tongue is not Latin based.
It’s the language here. If you live in a country, most people would agree that it is a good idea to have some idea of the language. Many Catalans feel that Catalonia is a country (it’s not, legally anyway), and Catalan therefore is the national language. By the way, Catalan is one of Spain’s national languages along with Basque, Galician and Valencian (like Catalan) and Occitan.
People will like you. If you make an effort, locals will appreciate that you are trying to learn their language and will be warmer towards you.
It helps you learn stuff. A lot of information in Catalonia is written in Catalan which means you’ll get more out of your experience if you can understand it. Also, many presentations and workshops are in Catalan, not to mention music, theater and other entertainment.
It helps you get a job. Many places will not hire someone who doesn’t speak some Catalan.
It gets your closer to the culture. Our languages are deeply connected to our cultures. Expressions are a great example of this or vocabulary words that so perfectly describe something we all feel. Learning another language gets you closer to the culture it comes from, opening little windows into the soul of a place and a people.
I’ve lived here since 2005. My Catalan is not great. I have taken two courses in basic Catalan, which were really eye-opening and have proven useful. In the long run, I plan to live here and need to learn Catalan to work and socialize at dinner parties. I know this, and it’s a goal, but it’s slow coming.
The truth is that I speak Spanish and English and can get by with these languages. My desire to speak and understand Catalan is more personal than anything else. I don’t want to be one of those English speakers living in a bubble (or non-English speakers, plenty of Spanish people also refuse to learn Catalan). That said, I almost never have a conversation in Catalan, though many times a month I need to be able to listen to or read Catalan. My husband is Catalan, but we speak in Spanglish, with Catalan lacing and a sprinkling of English.
If you feel inspired to learn Catalan, sign up for free classes given by the Catalan government at :http://www.cpnl.cat/xarxa/cnlbarcelona/
If you hate Catalan and see learning it pointless, then living in Catalonia long-term is probably not a fabulous idea.