Visitors and tourists coming to Barcelona often assume that the place is as Spanish as it gets, but they would be mistaken. Barcelona is actually a part of a region in Spain called Catalonia, which is far more autonomous than one would think. It is a region that has been recognised as being partially autonomous, with a separate local government and police force. The Catalan people are a proud people, which has gotten them in trouble with the Spanish government to greater or lesser extent throughout history. One of the central elements of Catalan pride and identity is their language, and there are a few very good reasons to learn it.
Firstly, if you are looking to settle in Catalonia long term, especially if you are looking to stay somewhere outside of Barcelona in a smaller town with a quieter vibe – you’ll find Catalan to be essential. Even if you know Spanish, you might find yourself in situations where the person you’re talking to is speaking in Catalan only. This may not be because they don’t know Spanish, which does happen, but also because they simply refuse to speak it. In fact, they might be more inclined to speak English with you than Spanish, due to lack of the political charge of English. There was a period of time in relatively recent history when Catalan was banned from being used. All public affairs, official documents and schooling was done exclusively in Spanish, as a deliberate attempt to kill the Catalan language. But the local people made great efforts to keep it alive, keeping it as the language you spoke with friends and family, and secretly keeping wiritings in catalan, to pass on reading and writing skills to new generations. These tactics worked and the language saw a resurgence after Francis Franco died. So by participating in the language you are essentially supporting the region’s culture in what is still and ongoing tension between Catalonia and larger Spain.
Another reason to learn Catalan is that it is not as difficult as you’d think if you already have a Romance language as your native tongue, such as Italian or French. The grammar structure will have a great deal of similarities, so nothing to wreck your head. With that handled, it is a matter of learning a good set of vocabulary, and you are good to go. The same principle applies as with all languages – knowing 20% of the words will enable you to communicate without any problems in 80% of situations. The only confusing part will be learning how certain letter combinations produce sounds that you didn’t expect. “LL” is usually pronounced as “ya” in English – a feature shared with Italian; “G” and “X” in the word are often pronounced like our “ch”; and there are some unique letters, like “Ç” and “Ñ” that take some getting used to, but it’s by no means a deal breaker. Lastly, putting in the effort to learn Catalan will quickly put you in good favor with the locals. So if you are looking to impress a potential Catalan mate, learning their language is certainly to your advantage.