Barcelona is known for its beautiful coastline, unique architecture and sensational food. Most people know all that, but few people are aware that the language spoken most commonly in this part of Spain is not Spanish. It’s Catalan.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing this. In this article, we bring you some clarity on the subject, providing you with answers to the most common questions we hear about these two beautiful languages.
First thing’s first, we’d like you to remember the following:
Catalan is a language in Spain, not a dialect of Spanish. What’s more, while both Catalan and Spanish originated from Latin, they are not mutually intelligible. They make look similar on paper, but Catalan and Spanish possess different sets of grammar rules, lexicon, sounds and even alphabet.
By the end of this article, you’ll know all about that. We’ll also take you through:
What both languages sound like (video below).
The main similarities and differences between Catalan and Spanish.
Where Catalan and Spanish are spoken, their origin and key facts about both.
One thing before we get started: If you’re serious about learning to speak Spanish or Catalan then you can chat with a native tutor via italki, a site full of language tutors and students. Every Spanish or Catalan learner that signs up here will receive $10, enough for a 1 hour lesson. Tap this link to find out more.
Where is Catalan spoken?
Spain has 17 different autonomous regions that fall under its umbrella. Of these 17 regions, there are three major autonomies where Catalan is common. These areas are Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands.
Outside of Spain, Catalan is the official language of Andorra. You will also hear Catalan spoken in some French regions, although it is not an official language of France.
In total, approximately 9.5 million people speak Catalan, whilst 11 million understand it. It is considered a Gallo-Romance language, which means it originated more from France’s geographical region.
This makes its origins different from those of the Spanish language, which originated in the Iberian Peninsula.
How Different is Catalan From Spanish?
In order to understand the differences between Catalan and Spanish, it is important to look at the history of both languages.
Meanwhile, Castilian Spanish – known in Spanish as ‘castellano,’ came from what is now Northern and Central Spain.
From around the 8th century, Arabic and Moorish invasions influenced this language more than Catalan. In fact, many Spanish words today are written and pronounced similarly to the Arabic words from which they derive.
An example of this is ‘al‘ which means ‘the’ in Arabic. Today, more than 8,000 Spanish words begin with al! Interestingly, when you listen to Catalan, you’ll notice its resemblance to French (as well as Spanish).
When you take into account the region of Catalonia’s proximity to France, it is unsurprising that both languages are so similar. Indeed, Catalonia is separated from France only by the Pyrenees mountains.
Catalan vs Spanish – Linguistic Differences
Now that we know the historical origins of both languages, we can see how different they sound.
Below are a few key themes that diverge between Catalan and Spanish.
In the context of language, ‘phonetic’ refers to a direct correspondence between symbols and sounds. Put more simply, the pronunciation of the language is as written.
Spanish is more phonetic than Catalan, which (typically) makes it easier than Catalan to learn and pronounce for foreign learners.
In Spanish, the pronunciation of a word does not usually depend on the word before it.
In Catalan, this is different, with more liaisons between words; we see this in the French language too.
For example, Catalan speakers will pronounce a ‘z’ sound between a word that ends with ‘s’ and another that begins with a vowel (i.e.in the phrase els agrada, which means they like it’).
Vowels and Consonants
Spanish has five vowels: A, E, I, O, U. In comparison, Catalan has seven: À, È, É, Í, Ò, Ó, and Ú.
As for constants, Spanish has the letter ñ, while Catalan writes the same noise as “ny”.
This is demonstrated in the spelling of Catalonia in both languages. In Castilian Spanish, the spelling is ‘Cataluña,’ whilst in Catalan, it’s ‘Catalunya‘.
Additionally, the Catalan language contains a ‘z’ sound, whilst Spanish does not.
In fact, a ‘z’ in Spanish is pronounced as an “s” (more typically in Latin America) or as a “th” (more typically in Spain).
The placement of consonants can help to distinguish between Catalan and Spanish, too.
For example, in Spanish, vowels are placed between consonants, whilst this is not always the case in Catalan.
You’re more likely to see a greater variety of consonant combinations in Catalan, such as ‘gts’ and ‘ks.’
Catalan vs Spanish: Language Examples
Plenty of words will help you to recognize the main differences between Catalan and Spanish.
Some of them are similar because they share the same Latin or Arabic-influenced roots.
Other words are entirely different, as we’ll see in translations for strawberry, for example. Here is a list of nouns, verbs, and phrases translated between English, Spanish, and Catalan.
Below, you’ll notice that Catalan uses the letter ‘x’. In Spanish, you can pronounce an X like the English ‘ks’ sound, or ‘h’ as in ‘hot.’ In Catalan, the x will make a ‘sh’ sound instead.
Strawberry: fresa: maduixa.
Car: coche: cotxe.
Cheese: queso: formatge.
You’ll notice that the last Catalan word for cheese ‘formtage’, much resembles the French word for the same meaning – ‘fromage.’
To like: gustar: agradar.
To mix: mezclar: barrejar.
To speak: hablar: parlar.
The Catalan word ‘parlar’ resembles the same French verb ‘parler’ and Italian’s ‘parlare.’
The same verb in Spanish – ‘hablar’ – derives from the Latin word fabulare, which means to chat, converse, or make up a fable.
Medieval Spanish used the ‘f’, but likely pronounced it as an ‘h’, eventually reflecting this in writing. In contrast, the Latin word parlare meant to speak.
This root formed the basis for Catalan’s parlar.
For the following phrases, you’ll notice Spanish uses an inverted question mark at the beginning of each question.
Keep in mind that Catalan also uses the inverted symbol, but not for short phrases. For Catalan, you’ll tend only to use the symbol if it’s in a long sentence.
Hello: Hola: Bon dia.
Thank you: Gracias: Merci.
Can I see the menu?: ¿Puedo ver el menú?: Puc veure el menú?.
How much does this cost?: ¿Cuánto cuesta?: Quant costa això?.
Catalan vs Spanish: Which one should you learn?
Overall, both Catalan and Spanish are great languages to have in your repertoire, but Spanish is obviously more useful in the vast majority of cases.
Remember, you will never lose from learning more than one language.
What’s more, although both Catalan and Spanish are different languages, the ability to speak one will help you to learn and understand the other.
If you are planning to visit Latin America or any part of Spain then Castilian Spanish will, undoubtedly, be of greater use to you; about 470 million people speak Spanish as a native language, which makes it the second most spoken language in the world.
However, if you’re planning to visit Catalonia, particularly more rural areas, then possessing the ability to speak Catalan could prove to be a great advantage.
Whilst both Catalan and Castilian Spanish are the official languages of the region, native Catalonians will appreciate the gesture and are proud of their first language.
For many professions, you will also need to be able to speak Catalan if you plan to live and work in Catalonia.
Finally, remember that when you’re learning any language, you need to be able to dedicate a good amount of time to studying. Often, this comes to us in the most unexpected ways, such as the commute to work with language apps or online with a tutor.
We hope this Catalan vs Spanish comparison article has been useful to you.
Be sure to check out our list of Spanish Language Resources, many of which enable you to learn Catalan as well as Spanish. Good luck on your language-learning journey!
Catalan uses consonant clusters whereas Spanish requires a vowel sound between consonant sounds (most of the time). Catalan uses voiced and unvoiced vowels. Catalan shares the Portuguese L, Spanish does not.What is the similarity between Catalan and Spanish? ›
Catalan and Spanish vocabulary are somewhat similar. Many words in Catalan are familiar to native Spanish-speakers. Both are languages derived from Latin, so knowing one or the other gives you an advantage when it comes to learning vocabulary.What is Catalan most similar to? ›
Catalan is most closely related to the Occitan language of southern France and to Spanish, but it is clearly distinct from both.Is Catalan language the same as Spanish? ›
No. Catalan is a language in its own right. It does not derive from Spanish, or even from French, even though many people say that Catalan sounds like a mixture of both. Catalan evolved directly from common Latin.How hard is Catalan if you know Spanish? ›
The answer is that Catalan can be very easy to learn if you already speak some French or Spanish. But if you're looking for a quick language win, the similarities Catalan has with other languages can make it hard to not mix up when you speak.Is Catalan more spoken than Spanish? ›
Catalan. According to the official government of Catalonia, Catalan is the second most spoken language of the region, after Spanish (over 35% of Catalans use exclusively Catalan as their first language, while 11% of Catalans use equally both Catalan and Spanish).What are the differences between Catalonia and Spain? ›
Spain is a sovereign state while Catalonia is its autonomous community. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, while Madrid is the capital of Spain. The main difference between the two cities is in their styles and architecture: traditional Style (Barcelona) and modern style (Madrid).What is the mutual intelligibility between Spanish and Catalan? ›
Spanish and Catalan have a lexical similarity of 85%. Spanish is also partially mutually intelligible with Italian, Sardinian and French, with respective lexical similarities of 82%, 76% and 75%.How different are Catalan and Spanish reddit? ›
It is geographically and linguistically in-between Spanish and French, though much closer to Occitan than French. Some have described Catalan as a "mix" of Spanish and French words, but in reality simply shares a number of features with Spanish, French, Occitan, and even Italian.Is Catalan closer to Latin than Spanish? ›
Catalan has its own grammar, dictionary, and is mostly mutually unintelligible to the uninformed Spanish speaker — especially those who learned Spanish as a second language (like us). Catalan is a Latin language, similar to Spanish, French, and Italian. In terms of pronunciation, it's most similar to Spanish.
The answer is no. Catalan is mutually unintelligible with Spanish. For instance, I know many Spanish speakers, who have lived in Catalonia for a long time, such as ten years, who can neither speak nor understand Catalan.What is special about Catalan? ›
Catalan people and culture
Their bustling economy, resilience, and once wide-spread power across the Mediterranean still prevail today. Although most Catalans can also speak Castilian Spanish fluently, the unique Catalan language, literature, and lyrics are all central to their identity.
Differences between Catalan and Spanish
Many listeners find that Catalan sounds closer to Portuguese or Italian than it does to Spanish, while others liken it to a blend of French and Spanish. Not all Spanish speakers can understand Catalan – and vice versa.
Catalan is a Romance language that originated from Vulgar Latin in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain — specifically the kind that was spoken by the Romans who had colonized the Tarragona region in Catalonia.Is Catalan closer to Italian or Spanish? ›
Is Catalan closer to Spanish or Italian? In lexical similarity, closer to Italian. No, it isn't French. Of all of the languages listed, Catalan and Italian have the highest similarity.Is there a lisp in Catalan? ›
As has been pointed out by many people, the lisp story is a myth. It is not lisp. It is just the way the z, and the c when followed by an i or an e, are pronounced in the Spanish of Northern and Central Spain. As to the pronunciation of Barcelona, in Catalan it is pronounced almost the same as in English.What country speaks Catalan the most? ›
Catalan speaking countries
The Catalan language (native name: català, valencià) has its roots in the Indo-European language family. With 8.06 million native speakers, Catalan has the highest prevalence in Spain. As a percentage of the total population, the largest share of around 32 percent is in Andorra.
It depends, usually betwen 6-10 months. However, you can also ask for lessons in spanish, as it is your right to apply for it and they must accept it (and it doesn't matter if the school is private or public). Since she already speaks Spanish, it is probably a good idea to go for Catalan in school anyway.Do people in Barcelona speak Catalan or Spanish? ›
There are two official languages in the city: Catalan and Spanish. The overwhelming majority of Barcelona's residents consider themselves fully bilingual. That means they can switch from Catalan to Spanish with ease.How do you greet in Catalan? ›
Hola/Bon Dia (Hello)
The official greeting in Catalan is 'Bon dia'. If you can't quite remember the phrase, a simple 'Hola' is the best way to greet people in Barcelona.
But which language will be most welcomed in Barcelona? A: It depends what your objective is. If you want to connect with Catalan culture and have a more personal insight into the indigenous culture, then it's best to learn Catalan. If you wish to be more widely understood, then learning Spanish would be the option.How do you say good morning in Barcelona? ›
1. Good Morning – Bon dia. 2. Good Afternoon – Bon Tarda.How close are Spanish and Catalan? ›
How similar is Catalan to Spanish and other languages? The level of lexical similarity between Catalan and Spanish is quite high as you might expect. They have a similarity level of ~85%.What is the difference between Spanish and Catalan food? ›
It has its own identity. Catalans mix meat and seafood in the same recipe—it's called mar i muntanya, which means "sea and mountain" in Catalan—in a way that seems rather odd in the rest of Spain. And Catalans have a huge tradition of pork sausages—fuets, butifarras—but they don't use paprika in them, like in chorizo.Why does Catalonia have a different language? ›
With the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), Spain ceded the northern part of Catalonia to France, and soon thereafter the local Catalan varieties came under the influence of French, which in 1700 became the sole official language of the region.Is Catalan a gendered language? ›
Gender and grammar1
Catalan has two grammatical genders: feminine and masculine.
While Catalan has some similarities to Spanish and Italian, it is its own language and not considered a dialect of Spanish. Its history can be traced back to the vulgar Latin used by the Romans, and the Catalan language has developed independently of Castellano or Castilian Spanish in the region.Is Catalan a beautiful language? ›
Catalan is an elegant and beautiful language and has long and significant literary and cultural history. It is a member of the family of Romance languages, and derives from Latin, like French, Spanish, Italian, Galician, Portuguese, Rumanian and Occitane.Is Catalan hard to learn for English speakers? ›
Catalan is not difficult to learn – especially if you already speak another Romance language. Many people think Catalan is a dialect of Spanish and that's not true at all. It's as different from Spanish as is Portuguese or Italian. Like these languages, it did come originally from Latin.Can you understand Catalan if you speak Spanish? ›
Many people ask me, for example, if I speak Spanish, do I also speak Catalan? The answer is no. Catalan is mutually unintelligible with Spanish.
But which language will be most welcomed in Barcelona? A: It depends what your objective is. If you want to connect with Catalan culture and have a more personal insight into the indigenous culture, then it's best to learn Catalan. If you wish to be more widely understood, then learning Spanish would be the option.Should you speak Spanish or Catalan in Barcelona? ›
There are two official languages in the city: Catalan and Spanish. The overwhelming majority of Barcelona's residents consider themselves fully bilingual. That means they can switch from Catalan to Spanish with ease.Which is easier Spanish or Catalan? ›
Yes, I'd say Catalan is easy for Spanish speakers, and particularly if you know one other Romance language as well as Spanish. Catalan would also be relatively easy for Italian speakers. In fact, if you live in Catalunya, learning Catalan would be the easiest language to learn.Do people in Barcelona actually speak Catalan? ›
Most of the people who live in Barcelona are bilingual and speak Catalan and Spanish, which is also an official language.How long would it take a Spanish speaker to learn Catalan? ›
It depends, usually betwen 6-10 months. However, you can also ask for lessons in spanish, as it is your right to apply for it and they must accept it (and it doesn't matter if the school is private or public). Since she already speaks Spanish, it is probably a good idea to go for Catalan in school anyway.Is Barcelona friendly to English speakers? ›
Some locals may speak English with you when they find out you're not Spanish, but more pride is attached to being fluent in one of the four recognized languages in Barcelona. A history lesson aside, you will find the locals are very friendly and can easily converse with foreign tourists.What countries speak Catalan? ›
|Native to||Andorra, France, Italy, Spain|
|Ethnicity||Aragonese Balears Catalans Valencians Andorrans|
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