Once a language banned by Spain and France, Catalan is experiencing a rebirth alongside its current independence movement. With traditional staples of the two countries including paella, rioja, world-class cheeses, and global artistic treasures, the Catalan community has thrived despite its language suppression. When the late 20th-century finally recognized Catalan as a force not to be reckoned with, a cultural fiesta erupted in one of the most beautiful areas of Europe. For those that want a deeper understanding of one of Europe’s hottest treasures, tighten those leather sandals and learn the Catalan language!
Wondering how to learn Catalan? Do an immersion program abroad! While learning Catalan won’t put multiple stamps in your passport, its region on the Mediterranean coast makes up for it with picturesque landscapes. Whether you’re sipping cava while overlooking the Roman ruins of Tarragona, playing with goats in the Sardinian fortress city of Alghero, or admiring Catalan’s golden age in Perpignan, Catalan language study is simply more fun on location.
Spain. With the majority of the Catalan-speaking community living in Spain, you can learn your Catalan language basics Barcelona and Valencia steal the show. Continued growth has made Barcelona an economic powerhouse, but didn’t take away from its Catalan roots. From the continuing construction of the Sagrada Familia basilica to the structures in Park Güel and other buildings sprinkled throughout the city, Gaudi’s legacy makes Barcelona a world within itself. Sunny and sophisticated, Valencia is a lively city and the birthplace of paella. Besides the mainland, the Balearic Islands are another major Catalan speaking area. These include the notorious Ibiza, with its continuous parties, DJ’s, and lobster stew.
France. The western Mediterranean coast has a small share of historic Catalonia, with the hub of the region being royal Perpignan — the perfect slice to learn the Catalan language. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, this kingdom built most of the old town that remains intact to this day. The region is also dominated by the Canigou. This mountain is one of the highest in the Pyrenees, and it is a dominant symbol in Catalan identity. Every June 23, a fire is lit at the top of the mountain. Once lit, those standing vigil light torches to light bonfires throughout Catalonia.
Italy. Italy’s Catalan community is limited to the Sardinian city of Alghero. The Catalans arrived in the 14th century, when King Peter IV of Aragon repopulated the city with some unfavorable characters from his kingdom, such as convicts and prostitutes. Today, the city is home to Neptune’s Grotto, a two-mile long cave system inside the Capo Caccia cliffs and magical red coral found in the sea.
Catalan Language Program
Since Catalan is experiencing a renaissance, there are numerous ways to study Catalan abroad. Whether you want a quiet classroom or a large university with students from all over the world, there are Catalan language learning opportunities out there to fit your needs.
University Courses. The most traditional way to take Catalan language courses abroad is through a university. By enrolling in a large international university, language students have the option to take many different types of classes and create a full understanding of both the language and culture of their Catalan-speaking destination. Intensive Catalan programs at a university usually include regular grammar classes as well as art, history, politics, and humanities classes taught in Catalan. Having this broad range of courses helps students learn Catalan through many different settings, ultimately creating a well-rounded understanding of the language.
Language Schools. Considering the importance of regional language preservation in Spain and France, Catalan language schools have been gaining popularity in recent years. The individualized curriculum, flexible schedules, and sometimes more affordable cost make them the natural fit for students. Catalan language schools focus on helping students learn the language as quickly and fully as possible; packaged programs frequently include cultural excursions, history classes, and other activities.
Private Tutor. Sometimes, the best choice for learning a language is to have a native grammar-nazi BFF. Whether you work better with more pressure focused on you alone, get nervous in front of a class, or enjoy the luxury of personal Q&A’s, a private tutor can adjust the curriculum to your personal goals, interests, and progression with Catalan.
Tips for Gaining Catalan Fluency
The process of learning the Catalan language is much like learning anything; progress will not be in a straight line. However, if you put in the effort, time, and practice, you will be able to sound like a genuine Català. With that, here are some tips to help you in your pursuit of fluency:
Basic Catalan phrases have increased in daily usage throughout regions it was once banned in. Make a concerted effort to use it. Whether ordering at a restaurant or watching programs you know in Catalan, dive into the Latin forms and sounds until you’re dreaming in the new language. Befriend cashiers, talk to strangers, go out with locals, and talk to yourself whenever possible.
A big hurdle of new language speakers have is being embarassed with speaking errors. It’s okay! Make them! The more mistakes you’re making, the more you’re speaking. The more you're speaking, the more you’re practicing the language. The more you're practising, the better you’re getting. With time and practice, you will catch the mistakes yourself, and be able to correct yourself easily.
For those of you who studied a Romance language (French and Spanish especially!), Catalan will be a piece of torta. These three languages share common grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, so having an understanding of either one will help you tremendously in knowing the nuances of Catalan.
Benefits & Challenges
Depending on the type of Catalan courses you choose and the goals in taking your Catalan language learning abroad, there are both benefits and challenges that you’ll encounter. Learning a new language abroad is not always easy, but the rewards are well worth any challenges you may face.
Ease. Without 50,000 characters to memorize (Chinese?) or 15 verb tenses (Polish?!), Catalan is not the most difficult language to learn. Like French and Spanish, Catalan is closely related to English. Figuring out how to learn Catalan is especially easy for previous students of these languages.
Heritage. Catalan was a common language used in the Middle Ages; if you are looking to learn more about that historical period, Catalan is a beneficial language to know. In recent years, Catalan identity is leading a growing independence movement, as many Catalans are proud of their language and are making concerted efforts to continue its use into the 21st century. So, whether you’re looking for some history digs or modern rap songs, Catalan will shine some light on your endeavors.
Regional Language. While Catalan had a strong hold in the Mediterranean, the time of suppression took its toll on the global reach of Catalan. While there are some enclaves of Catalan learning around the world, the majority of native speakers remain in eastern Spain and southwestern France. However, quality of people and location over quantity!
Catalan is a language of struggle, survival, and independence. Learning the Catalan language will take you far beyond learning a language; it will show you that hope and independence can survive even under cruel suppression. Break free abroad with Catalan language studies abroad!