Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

In Barcelona Learning “Spanish” is Not Enough...

In a previous blog post, we wrote about meeting several natives of Barcelona. Apart from the pleasure of making new friends and practicing our (Castilian) Spanish, we also got an interesting glimpse into the Catalan/Castilian issue. We were aware of it, but certainly hadn’t appreciated it enough.

Spain vs Catalonia

Reenactment Plaza Vila de GraciaThe struggle of Catalonia with “Spain” dates back to the early 1700s and the war for the Spanish succession. (on the left a re-enactment of a 1870 citizen revolt on the Plaza de la Vila de Gracia).

However, Franco's prohibition of the Catalan language during his 40-year dictatorship is still a quite recent memory. (Franco died in 1975.)

Our language-exchange contact, an architect whom we’ll call Fabian, explained to us the nature of “bilingualism” in Catalonia. He told us that basically (Castilian) Spanish is taught together with other languages in the first grade.

He then clarified, “In the educational Catalan system, the weak language (Catalan) is always used as the language of communication, but subject matters also contain a lot of information in Castilian. It means that pupils are constantly switching between languages and thus, in fact, use both languages simultaneously.” So, when they finish high school, students are indeed mostly bilingual.

The (Language) Struggle continues...

A “Spanish” decision last year to give parents in Catalonia the right to have their children in primary and secondary state schools instructed only in (Castilian) Spanish led to huge protests and is now in a stand-by mode.

What amazed us especially were certain statements Fabian made, such as: “When I go to Spain...”, or “The taxes we are paying to Spain...”. Catalan people still don't see themselves as a part of Spain.

The current economic crisis has renewed questions about how taxes generated by Catalonia – still Spain's industrial powerhouse – are allocated by Madrid to poorer regions, when Barcelona's youth unemployment stands at 50%.

Rafael Nadal also speaks Catalan

We also learned that in addition to Catalonia and Andorra (where it is the national and only official language), Catalan is also spoken in the Balearic Islands, including Mallorca, i.e. the home of tennis champion Rafael Nadal. Rafa speaks both Castilian Spanish and Catalan, as well as Mallorquí, a dialect of Catalan.
(See the Wikipedia entry for  more about the Catalan language and other parts of Spain and France where Catalan dialects are still spoken.)

If You Want to Live in Barcelona Permanently...

Barcelona is really an amazing city. The architecture of the city, the cultural and recreational opportunities explain why so many people come to visit – and indeed many are staying. We are truly astonished by the bilingualism of everyone we have met in Barcelona to date.

We also realize that while knowing (Castilian) Spanish is important, it is not enough. If you really want to live in this city permanently, you should also learn Catalan!