First, as you may already know, in Barcelona (and in Cataluña) people define themselves as Catalans and their native language is Catalan. In Cataluña, Catalan together with the Spanish are the official languages.
Before they come to Cataluña/Barcelona, many people wonder if they should learn Spanish or Catalan.
Well the answer depends on many factors:
- Where you are planning to work or study?
- Do they require Catalan or/and Spanish from your job/University?
- Do you like learning languages, how much time do you have to learn a language before you come here?
The numbers say that a little bit more than 50 % of the population in Barcelona speak Catalan and more than 90% speak Spanish.
Our advice is if you have to choose between Spanish and Catalan – for a beginning start with the Spanish. Spanish is spoken by almost everyone in Cataluña – and of course from the local Catalan people. It might happen that you have to politely ask a Catalan person to switch from Catalan to Spanish, but they all speak Spanish so its not an issue.
The menus in the restaurants are usually in Spanish and Catalan. In some restaurants or stores you might find only Catalan, but it is not that common.
In case you are planning to study a Bachelor or Master´s degree here, it´s very possible for you to need Catalan. Not all the courses will be in Catalan, but some of them almost definitely will be.
What about the job searching and Catalan?
Of course there are many jobs where you will be required to speak Catalan – imagine you want to work as a sales representative or in a shop – many of yous customers will be Catalans, so you will have to speak their language. Most often though, only Spanish is required.
Speaking Catalan will be always an advantage though. Not only in the job finding process, but also in the daily life communicating with the locals – they will highly appreciate it if you are trying to speak their language.
What about English? Do people in Barcelona usually speak English?
Unfortunately, the answer is more “no” than “yes”. Of course in the touristic areas it is normal to find many people that speak English. But in general the English is not widely spoken by the locals. Do not expect to find people in the public administration that speak English. Our advice is to bring a Spanish-speaking friend with you to translate.
The next logical question is where to learn Spanish or/and Catalan in Barcelona?
There are many private schools and tutors that will help you learn Spanish. There are many people that offer language-exchange, where you converse over coffee or a beer, and you help them learn English, they help you learn Spanish!
Catalan courses are offered by different language schools, as well as by the local municipalities.
The Consorcio para la Normalización Lingüística for example, offer courses across all levels.
In Barcelona they have many locations, and you can easily find the one closest to you by checking http://www.cpnl.cat/