I bet you’ve been feverishly googling “Do people in Barcelona speak Spanish?” just after booking your flight to this amazing city, haven’t you? Well, there’s absolutely no need to worry!
You see, Barcelona isn’t just about stunning architecture, mouthwatering tapas, or their obsession with football (that’s soccer, to many of us foreigners). Nope, it’s also got a language scene that’s as interesting as its street life.
A bit about myself – I live in sunny Spain and have spent enough time in Barcelona to make it feel like a second home. You can bet I’ve picked up a thing or two about the local lingo…or should I say ‘lingos’?
Stick around, and I’ll share my insider tips and experiences, so you’ll be a pro at navigating Barcelona’s unique language landscape before you even get there.
Do people in Barcelona speak Spanish?
Yes, people in Barcelona do speak Spanish! In fact, for those residents of Barcelona who speak Catalan, virtually all of them are bilingual and can effortlessly switch between Spanish and Catalan. So you can rest assured that Spanish is widely understood and spoken throughout the city.
In my opinion, the fact that the city is effectively bilingual is one of the best facts about Barcelona and makes for such an interesting stay – even if you may be a bit confused at first about where all that Spanish vocab you learned in high school can be used!
Catalan vs Spanish
While Spanish is spoken by effectively everyone in Barcelona, Catalan is also deeply ingrained in the culture.
As a co-official language in Catalonia, Catalan is spoken by over 7 million people and about 60% of Barcelona’s population can speak this language. The good news is that most Catalan speakers are fluent in Spanish as well – including basically all Catalan speakers in Barcelona – which means you’ll have no trouble conversing with the locals.
Catalan has a rich history of its own and was even banned during Franco’s military dictatorship from 1939-1975. Since then, it’s made a strong comeback and is now an important part of the local culture.
At the same time, you’ll find that speaking Spanish in the city is completely acceptable. This means that, despite what you may have heard, it’s not at all rude to speak Spanish in Barcelona.
Don’t worry about any language barriers when out and about – if, at any point, someone greets you in Catalan and you reply in Spanish, they’ll immediately switch for you and won’t consider this rude at all.
Now, if you reply in English, that may be a different story depending on where you are in the city and who you’re speaking to – that is, it won’t be considered rude, but they may simply not understand you! But I’ll get to that a bit further down.
Origin and History of Catalan
Skip this part if you’re not into history, but as I am, here we go: Catalan has a remarkable history going way back! Its roots can be traced to the Latin spoken by the Romans when they conquered the region over 2,000 years ago.
Over the centuries, Catalan developed alongside its sibling Romance languages like Spanish, French and Italian, eventually evolving into the unique language it is today.
And it’s not only spoken in Catalonia! It’s also an official language in the Balearic Islands and is incredibly similar to Valencian, spoken in Valencia which is just south of Catalonia.
You can also hear it outside of Spain in Andorra, the French province of Roussillon, and even the Italian city of Alghero. This spread reflects an incredibly interesting history showing how different powers have had control over different regions throughout the centuries.
The use of Spanish vs Catalan in Barcelona
You’re very likely to hear people speaking both Catalan and Spanish in the streets of Barcelona. Similarly, many signs you’ll see out and about will often be in both Catalan and Spanish – if you’re confused which is which, Catalan is usually the first one.
This is also why you may notice some place names being written slightly differently sometimes. For example, one of the most prominent examples of Catalan modernism in Barcelona is a building that in English is called the Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul.
You might, however, see it written either in Catalan (“L’Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau”) or in Spanish (“El Hospital de la Santa Cruz y San Pablo”). As you can see, while the words are similar, the differences are also obvious.
Street names also differ slightly between the two languages. Expect to see the use of words like “calle” vs “carrer” (street), “avenida” vs “avinguda” (avenue) and “paseo” vs “passeig” (passage) in different sources displaying the Spanish vs Catalan terms.
The names of streets and similar places can also differ somewhat depending on which language is used. For example, a major street in Barcelona is, in Catalan, called “Carrer d’Aragó” while its Spanish name is “Calle de Aragón”.
Don’t worry though, they’re all referring to the same place! You’ll also sometimes see that if you put one name into Google Maps, it will automatically show you the street but with the name in the other language.
It’s a great feature and ensures that you’ll get where you want to go no matter which language you’re using!
And this sort of even applies to the name of the city itself! That is, it’s spelled “Barcelona” in both Catalan and Spanish, but if you want to learn how to pronounce Barcelona, your first question needs to be…well, in which language? As there’s a difference!
Travel Tips for Barcelona Visitors
Essential Catalan and Spanish Phrases
It’s always a good idea to learn a few phrases when you’re traveling somewhere new. Luckily, with Spanish being so widely spoken around the world, you may already have some vocab in your back pocket!
And if you don’t, here are a few useful words and phrases that you may want to keep in mind for your trip:
- Hola (OH-la): Hello
- Gracias (GRAH-thyas): Thank you
- Por favor (por fah-VOR): Please
- Buenos días (BWEH-nos DEE-as): Good morning
- Buenas tardes (BWEH-nas TAR-des): Good afternoon
- Buenas noches (BWEH-nas NOH-ches): Good night
- Sí (SEE): Yes
- No (NO): No
- ¿Dónde está…? (DON-deh es-TA): Where is…?
- La cuenta, por favor (la KWEN-ta, por fah-VOR): The bill, please
- No hablo español (no AH-blo es-pan-YOL): I don’t speak Spanish
- ¿Hablas inglés? (AH-blas in-GLES): Do you speak English?
- ¿Cuánto cuesta? (KWAN-to KWES-ta): How much does it cost?
- Lo siento (lo SYEN-to): I’m sorry
- Baño (BA-nyo): Bathroom
Now, when it comes to Catalan, no one’s going to expect you to speak it as a visitor to Barcelona.
That said, they’ll LOVE it if you can bust out a phrase or two, so here’s the same list in Catalan for you to really impress that local Barcelonian you’ve been talking to!
- Hola (OH-la): Hello
- Gràcies (GRAH-see-es): Thank you
- Si us plau (SEE oos PLOW): Please
- Bon dia (BON DEE-a): Good morning
- Bona tarda (BON-a TAR-da): Good afternoon
- Bona nit (BON-a NEET): Good night
- Sí (SEE): Yes
- No (NO): No
- On és…? (ON es): Where is…?
- El compte, si us plau (el KOM-te, see oos PLOW): The bill, please
- No parlo català (no PAR-lo ka-ta-LA): I don’t speak Catalan
- Parles anglès? (PAR-les ANG-les): Do you speak English?
- Quant costa? (Kwant KOS-ta): How much does it cost?
- Ho sento (O SEN-to): I’m sorry
- Lavabo (la-VA-bo): Bathroom
Just keep in mind that the pronunciations provided here are approximate, and the intonation might vary a bit due to the unique sounds and accents of Spanish and Catalan.
The key is to try, and locals will appreciate your effort even if you’re not perfect!
Local Attitude towards Languages
It’s true that Barcelona is part of Spain and so one of the official languages in Catalonia is Spanish. However, the locals take immense pride in Catalan, which is also an official language of the region.
This will quickly become clear to you when you arrive, as you’ll notice road signs, menus and more in Catalan while exploring the city. And feel free to ask questions about it, as locals love to educate visitors on what Catalan is and how important it is to them!
(Just don’t ask if it’s a dialect of Spanish, as that may not be as well received – it’s definitely a separate language, I promise.)
At the same time, people are well aware that Catalan (mostly) isn’t spoken outside of Spain so literally no one will expect you to speak any. So if you do know some Spanish but are worried about someone speaking Catalan to you, please don’t be concerned at all – someone may greet you with a “Bon dia!” (good day) in Catalan but if you reply with a “Buenos dias!” in Spanish, they’ll immediately switch for you.
Now, you may have read some articles that came out around the time of the Catalan independence movement heating up about how if you speak Spanish in Barcelona, you’ll offend someone or they’ll yell at you or something. I cannot emphasize enough how much this isn’t true.
For reasons that we can all probably imagine, stories like this tended to originate from specific groups, including within Spain, who had certain political reasons for sharing these sorts of things. It’s absolutely untrue though so please don’t be worried about speaking Spanish in Barcelona, as they’ll definitely appreciate any effort you make!
Is it OK to speak English in Barcelona?
Yes, it’s perfectly fine to speak English in Barcelona, at least in the center where people are more likely to understand you, especially the younger generation. The city is an international hub, and many locals and businesses are used to catering to English-speaking tourists.
While not everyone might be fluent in English, you’ll find that people are generally willing to help you out in any way they can.
This is why many younger people and those working in the hotel industry and other tourist-facing roles generally possess a fairly good command of English. At the same time, you should note that this won’t apply to everyone. In particular, many taxi drivers and the older generation might not be as fluent.
You also might find things to be a little different in more local, off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods. In these less touristy spots, people probably won’t be as comfortable conversing in English, although it can vary amongst the younger generation.
But don’t let this deter you from exploring these hidden gems! Spaniards are generally friendly and will make efforts to understand and communicate, often leading to hilarious exchanges where the confusion is all part of the fun!
Is Spanish widely spoken in Barcelona?
You bet! Spanish, or Castellano, is widely spoken in Barcelona. As a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, you’ll find that most locals are bilingual, able to switch between Spanish and Catalan with ease. So, you can definitely communicate in Spanish when exploring this beautiful city.
What’s the most spoken language in Barcelona?
Barcelona is a bilingual city, with both Spanish and Catalan being the official languages. While some may prefer to speak Catalan, those who do also speak Spanish fluently. When combined with the fact that there are a lot of people who moved here from other parts of Spain, you’ll find that Spanish is also widely spoken.
Do Catalans typically communicate in Spanish?
Yes, Catalans often communicate in Spanish. Although they might prefer to speak in their native Catalan with one another, they’re generally bilingual and can easily converse in Spanish when needed. So, don’t worry; you’ll have no trouble striking up a conversation with the locals in Spanish.
The only place this may not be as true is in some of the tiny towns scattered throughout Catalonia. But this is very, very much the exception and you’re unlikely to go anywhere where this will be the case.
Should I learn Spanish or Catalan before going to Barcelona?
Learning some Spanish before your trip is a great idea! It’s always useful to know some basic phrases in Spanish to help you navigate the city and connect with locals. While Catalan is also spoken, knowing Spanish will allow you to communicate effectively throughout the city.
Should I try to speak Spanish in Barcelona?
Absolutely! Speaking Spanish in Barcelona is a fantastic way to experience the city’s culture and interact with locals. Even if someone generally prefers to speak Catalan, they’ll have no problems in switching to Spanish with you and will appreciate your effort.
How different are Catalan and Spanish?
Catalan and Spanish are distinct languages, but they share some similarities due to their Latin roots. Catalan has aspects of both Spanish and French, and although they might sound similar, they can be quite different in grammar and vocabulary. However, knowing Spanish can help you understand some Catalan phrases.
Is Catalan similar to Spanish?
Catalan and Spanish are different languages, but they do share some similarities, particularly in their vocabulary and Latin origins. While someone fluent in Spanish might find it easier to understand Catalan, keep in mind that the two languages are distinct.
Can a Spaniard understand Catalan?
A Spaniard with no background in Catalan might struggle to understand it fully. However, due to the similarities between Catalan and Spanish, they may be able to catch the gist of the conversation. In Barcelona, though, most people are bilingual, so communication in Spanish shouldn’t be an issue.
Should I speak English or Spanish in Barcelona?
While speaking English is widely accepted, it’s always a good idea to try some Spanish when in Barcelona. Locals appreciate visitors making an effort to speak their language, and knowing a few basic phrases in Spanish can enhance your overall experience.
And if you can learn a couple of phrases in Catalan to pull out of your pocket at some point, the locals will love it!
Can you live in Barcelona without speaking Catalan?
Definitely! Living in Barcelona without speaking Catalan is entirely possible. Spanish is widely spoken, and many locals also speak English. However, learning some Catalan can help you connect with the local culture and make your experience in Barcelona even more memorable.