Skip to main content

2. Language of Catalunya a Return Home

Tri-lingual signage at Bodegas Torres, Català, Spanish and English.

"Raimon, Manel's brother, was our wonderful wine country guide to Priorat. His deep gravelly voice was a pleasure. Català spoken as if from the rocky ground itself. His quiet, reserved demeanor hid great depths of knowledge and passion. My affection grew throughout the day." 
William Pollard Jr 25 June 2016.
This is Part 2. of my series of posts about Catalunya, what I experienced and what I learned. I learned a great deal. Of course, there will be information on Catalan wine. You can jump to the Outline if needed.

"The etymology of  Catalunya and català remains an unsolved mystery. There are obviously a large number of proposals, but none of them are totally convincing." 
Etymology of català, Catalunya:  by Miguel Carrasquer Vidal, June 2013

Once I knew I was flying to Barcelona, I began cramming Spanish, downloading Castilian podcasts and trying to remember the Spanish I learned 30 years ago. You would never guess that I minored in Spanish. When I emailed my sister-in-law Crystal that I was trying to refresh my Spanish she responded, "Spanish? You should be studying Catalan!" Catalan?

The primary language of Catalunya is Català/Catalan. I've read that about 60% of the population learns Català/Catalan as a primary language and Castilian Spanish as a second language. There is a mixture of Native Spanish speaking and Catalan speaking around Catalunya. Before leaving home, I crammed some basic Català words. Searching online I discovered a few Catalan language learning resources and an excellent android app. While I was far from conversational, I did have a few phrases of courtesy to show my intent to be polite and a desire to learn more. I leaned heavily on the Spanish I learned in college, the little I remembered.

People from Catalunya are called 'Catalans' . The term 'Catalonians' is used in English language text but 'Catalans' would be the preferred reference.  In English, Catalunya is spelled 'Catalonia'. Both are found in English language text; however, 'Catalonia' is used far more often. Catalans speak 'Català', which in English is spelled 'Catalan'. 

In my series of posts, I will use 'Catalans' for the people of Catalunya, and 'Catalunya' over the English 'Catalonia'. I will differentiate the language by using, 'Català or Catalan'. Thank you to my sister-in-law Crystal for pointing out the distinction.

Posters in Català at the local theater. 

First Efforts

25 June 2016 - "Yesterday, Crystal drove after we enjoyed a phenomenal lunch in Falset. We had two bottles of wine, one white and one red from the region. Fantastic both. Raimon, Manel's brother, was with us and knew the area. He was our guide (he does not speak English, and speaks mainly Català). I learned that I enjoy the sound of Català, the cadence and the accent. Also, I met Manel's mother Anna Maria. She is a very sweet lady and gave me soft kisses on both cheeks, then held onto my hand. She was impressed that I knew three words of Català, 'Encantat, una mica'. She and Raimon will be over Sunday for lunch. Anna Maria was welcoming, warm and tender. She moved me deeply. I think I want to stay."

In the Introduction to this series of posts, I shared, "How can a place capture your heart so quickly?" It was striking how familiar the country, people and language felt and sounded. Obviously, having my sister-in-law and her boyfriend to stay with, and their family welcoming me, connected me more to the place. But it felt deeper than that. I felt like I was home. There were several times I felt a sense of déjà vu, like living a memory. The language, while new to me, sounded so familiar but forgotten. 

Català is not Spanish and it is not a derivative of Spanish. Some 10 million people speak Català. It is its own language, like Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. It is a romance language also based on Latin. Let's be clear about that. 

Shopping for wine at Club del Cep. It helps to speak the language.

Will Spanish Do?

While traveling with Crystal and Manel, they were my translators of Català. They interacted with restaurant, wine shop, hypermarket and winery staff and translated for me. Occasionally, I would use my weak Spanish to add my observations and ask questions. Català was the language used everywhere we went.

Winemaker of Sarral cooperative in Conca de Barberà, speaking Spanish.

The two days I was with the DO Catalunya group, we toured wine country and interacted in Spanish. In those social occasions with restaurant and winery staff, Spanish was spoken. Once again, my weak Spanish helped me understand a little of the conversation and to ask some questions.

Everywhere I went in Catalunya, I heard Català spoken. It is the dominant text on signage, though often, Spanish is written besides the Català. If you have a knowledge of Spanish, then I think you could manage quite well in Barcelona and  the rest of Catalunya. Though it would be far easier for me to re-learn the Spanish I have forgotten, I want to learn Català.

Below, you will find a list of Català language resources I have collected. My sister-in-law sent me additional resources which I have included. She has used them in learning Català. 

All the best in your efforts to expand your horizons and to embrace another culture. 

My next post will be Part 3. The People of Catalunya. A cultural perspective.


Some Relevant History

During the Second Republic (1931-1939) under the GeneralitatCatalà/Catalan was restored to its official language status, which it had lost in the 18th century. However, the Spanish Civil War and World War II brought great suffering to the Catalans. The use of Català/Catalan in public was forbidden and the language retreated into the home.

Ever since the death of the dictator Franco in 1975, and the restoration of the Generalitat in 1977, there has been a process to re-establish the use of Català/Catalan. It is now a co-official language, along with Spanish in Catalunya and the Balearic Islands, and is widely used as an everyday language throughout Catalunya, Valencia, Andorrra and the Balearic Islands. Català/Catalan is used as a medium of instruction in many schools, it is also used extensively in the media and in government. 

If you would like to learn more about the history of Catalunya, you can read my previous post, Part 1. History of Catalunya a Return Home.

Conversation in Català.

Useful Catalan Phrases - A Place to Start

There are several useful and courteous Catalan words and phrases you can easily grasp. They will make life a little easier and people will recognize your good will and intent to be friendly. I recommend you visit the Omniglot site. It has assorted and useful Catalan words and phrases with links to audio files for proper pronunciation. A good place to start. Omniglot Useful Catala Phrases.

Also try, Catalan Phrase Book by Wikitravel. It has more useful words, phrases and a pronunciation guide. Much more of an essential and useful survival guide.

Here are the few words and phrases I heard daily and used in Catalunya.
  1. Hola - Hello. An obvious word and sounds almost identical in Spanish. The "H" is slightly more pronounced than in Spanish. Used "Hola" frequently. 
  2. Bon dia - Good morning. Everyone I met, everywhere I went, people said, "Bon dia" in the morning. I was struck by the courtesy and how friendly people were. Everywhere. You say "Bon dia" until lunch (around 2 or 3 pm).
  3. Bona tarda - Good afternoon. Once you have lunch, you say "bona tarda" until the sun goes down. We had some discussion on this topic, as dinner time is after 9 pm and even later. 
  4. Bona nit - Good evening. Once the sun goes down you can readily use "bona nit".
  5. Encantat - Pleased to meet you. A useful courtesy when you are introduced. You may not speak Catalan, but you can still be courteous.
  6.  Adéu - Goodbye. After "Hola" this word is used all the time. Plus I enjoyed saying it, "Adéu".
  7. Bon Profit - Have a nice meal/Bon appetit. Quite common to say this at lunch once the food arrives. 
  8. Molt bé - Very well. 
  9. Molt bo - Very good. “aquest vi és molt bo” means “this wine is very good”, I heard this phrase a lot. At meals and during conversation. Learn it.
  10. Gràcies - Thank you. Similar to the Latin American Spanish pronunciation than the Castilian. Occasionally I would get confused and use the Castilian "Gracias" with the "th" sound.
  11.  - is yes. Like Spanish.
  12. No - is no. Like Spanish.
  13. De res - You're welcome. Use after someone says "Gràcies". For some reason, I looked forward to any opportunity to say "De res".
  14. Benvingut (m) - Welcome.
  15. Si us plau - Please. 
  16. Perdoni - Excuse me.
  17. Una mica - A little bit. I heard "una mica" often. I did not understand the conversation, just that it was a little of something. 
  18. Val/Vale- Okay or Let's move on. "Val" is Català and "Vale" is Spanish. I heard vale often.
    Note from Manel: " of the Catalan equivalents (depending on context) in place of “vale”: on most occasions, “molt bé” (“very well”) would be the thing to say; on other contexts, “d’acord” (“agreed”, i.e., “OK”) or “entesos” (“understood”, i.e., “OK”) or “som-hi!” (“let’s move on) or “endavant!” (“ahead!”, i.e., “on we go”), etc."
  19. Salut! - Cheers! Oh yes, learned this one first. 

That is the extent of the Catalan I learned before and during my visit to Catalunya. Not enough to survive with, but enough to show courtesy and an interest in the language.

If you want to enhance your experience in Catalunya and learn some Catalan, then see the resources below. Valé.

Links to language sites. Recommended app. Podcast.

Crystal sent me links to two sites for language exchange/language learning: 
  • My Language
    Find a partner at the online community and practice your second language (any language) with a native speaker who is learning your language. We host your online practice with lesson plans, text chat rooms and more.  
  • ( is endorsed by the Generalitat). is a virtual learning space that offers all the educational materials for learning the Catalan language. The course can be done with a self-managed learning method or a method with a tutor.

Android App.
  • On my Android phone I use an app called "10,000 Words & Phrases by" "Learn Catalan Words Free". It offers many course selections by subject and quizzes you with flashcards and spoken word. The words and phrases are spoken by native speakers and are of excellent quality. Strongly Recommended

Podcast and Radio
  • Radio Lingua Network - One Minute Catalan. This site has 10 free podcasts you can download to practice and train your ear. They are only 1 minute long. 
  • Catalunya Radio. Link to stream audio at top right of banner, to the right of the word Directes. Site has numerous audio and video clips you can play to hear the spoken language. 
  • RAC1 Barcelona. Plenty of news audio links to train your ear. 
  • Subreddit for learning Catalan and asking questions related to the language. 
Catalunya News

  • If you want to follow what’s going on in Catalunya, a good independent (though clearly pro-secession) newspaper is “Ara” (“Now”) at
  • And if your Catalan is just starting to be under way, you can in the meantime resort to their subset of news in English:

That's a good start in your efforts to learn Català/Catalan. Many thanks to Manel for helping me edit this page. Yes, I made some typos in Català and links.

De res!

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Sho Chiku Bai, Unfiltered Sake

Last month in Seattle, I purchased a bottle of Nigori sake at Uwajimaya. Uwajimaya is one of the largest Asian grocery retailers in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been visiting Uwajimaya for almost 40 years. When I was much younger, I’d buy model ship and plane kits, Japanese comic books (manga) and I never left without at least one steaming Humbow in hand. Today I buy the manga for my son; while I still enjoy the tasty steamed Humbows, now I never leave without at least one bottle of Sake in hand. Uwajimaya has a terrific selection of imported sake. This most recent visit, I left with a bottle of Sho Chiku Bai Nigori sake. Nigori sake is generally the sweetest of all sakes, with a fruity nose and a mild flavor, making a great drink to complement spicy foods or as a dessert wine. Typical sake is usually filtered to remove grain solids left behind after the fermentation process; however Nigori sake remains unfiltered, resulting in a cloudier beverage. Before serving, the bottle must

Spirit Review: Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine White Lightnin' @OleSmoky

Today I have crossed the line from wine to spirits. At 100 proof the Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine is definitely turning up the volume (ABV 50%). "Moonshine, white lightning, mountain dew, hooch, and Tennessee white whiskey are terms used to describe high-proof distilled spirits, generally produced illicitly...The word "moonshine" is believed to derive from the term "moonrakers" used for early English smugglers and the clandestine (i.e., by the light of the moon) nature of the operations of illegal Appalachian distillers who produced and distributed whiskey." Source Wikipedia My family is no stranger to Moonshine.  That is, my great-grandfather and grandfather were not strangers. Evidently the family occasionally produced their own spirits on their Oregon ranch. My grandfather told me about his younger brother getting into his dads stash with predictable results. Grandmother also told me stories about midnight runs and secretive deliveries d

A Special Oregon Pinot Noir with Eastern North Carolina Inspired Ribs #OTBN #winePW 10

Open That Bottle Night - A great excuse for a Wine Pairing Weekend.  February 28th was Open That Bottle Night - I selected a bottle of wine I helped blend using barrel samples of Pinot Noir from R. Stuart winery in McMinville, Oregon. I was saving this bottle for a special occasion and knew it was likely time to open and drink. I hoped it had improved. "Blending wine is no task for mere mortals."   - William Pollard Jr.  Our Wine Pairing Weekend group decided Open That Bottle Night would be an appropriate occasion to pair our selected bottle of wine with something special as well. After some consideration, I decided North Carolina ribs would likely pair well with my special bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir. For this post I'll review the wine first, then provide the recipe, and wrap up with the results of this wine + food pairing. *Note: What is Open That Bottle Night? Wife and Husband columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher invented Open That Bottle