If you’re planning a trip to the Catalan capital, you wouldn’t be the first person to worry about if it’s rude to speak Spanish in Barcelona.
And this has become a particularly hot topic in recent years, especially as rumors have swirled around the use of Catalan vs Spanish in light of the increasing focus on the Catalan independence movement.
So should you be keeping that Spanish vocab you learned in high school to yourself? Is it time to fire up DuoLingo to start madly learning some Catalan to avoid accidentally offending someone?
Well, let’s take a deep breath here. As someone who lives in Spain and has been to Barcelona a ton of times, I’ll let you know from firsthand experience about the city’s languages, its culture, and yes, its unique sensitivities.
In this article, I’m going to break down the facts about Barcelona‘s language scene, debunk the myths, and give you some practical tips to navigate this intriguing question. Get ready for a deep dive into the city’s rich linguistic tapestry.
Is it rude to speak Spanish in Barcelona?
No, it’s not rude to speak Spanish in Barcelona! While some locals do prefer to speak Catalan, they’re all bilingual. They also understand that Spanish is spoken throughout the country and by many international visitors. It’s also one of the official languages of Catalonia, so it’s absolutely not an issue to speak Spanish there.
And this isn’t only true for visitors, as it’s also the case for Catalan-speakers in Barcelona when they speak with Spaniards originally from other areas of Spain. After all, everyone’s well aware that the vast majority of Spaniards don’t speak Catalan and with plenty of non-Catalan speaking Spaniards living in Barcelona – meaning plenty of people in Barcelona who speak Spanish exclusively – there’s truly no issue for people who don’t speak Catalan.
During your time in the city, you might find yourself in a situation where you walk into a store or something and the person starts speaking to you in Catalan. 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.
In addition, when you visit Barcelona, don’t worry too much about speaking Catalan. Although it is the co-official language in the region, people won’t be insulted if you speak Spanish.
Of course, if you manage to learn a few words in Catalan, feel free to use them as the locals will love you for trying! But it’s absolutely not a requirement and no one will be offended no matter which one you choose.
The Great Debate: Spanish Vs. Catalan
Visitors to Barcelona are often concerned about inadvertently offending someone by choosing the “wrong” language out of Spanish vs Catalan. For this reason, let me share some insights with you on navigating the language scene there.
As you explore the streets of Barcelona, you’ll quickly notice that both Spanish and Catalan are used pretty frequently, whether it’s on signs or when speaking. However, of those that speak Catalan, they’re basically all bilingual with Spanish and can switch between the two languages effortlessly.
For this reason, don’t worry about starting conversations in Spanish. It’s also perfectly fine to ask something like how to say something in Catalan if you’re interested. They’ll either tell you (and probably be happy you asked) or let you know if they don’t speak Catalan – either response has zero offense being taken by anyone.
(Just don’t ask if Catalan is a dialect of Spanish, as it’s definitely its own, separate language.)
One thing that’s worth pointing out is that you may have read some so-called experts quoted about Barcelona, especially in some articles that came out around the time that the Catalan independence movement was heating up, on 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.
Unfortunately, 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!
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!
Should I speak Spanish or Catalan in Barcelona?
When visiting Barcelona, it’s perfectly fine to speak Spanish! People appreciate any effort you make to communicate in their language. However, if you have the chance, learning a few Catalan phrases like “si us plau” (please) and “gràcies” (thank you) can be a pleasant surprise for the locals.
It shows respect for their culture and allows you to connect with them on a deeper level. Plus it’s just plain fun to see their faces when a foreigner unexpectedly pulls a Catalan phrase out of their pocket!
Do Catalans speak Spanish?
Yes, Catalans do speak Spanish, with basically all Catalans living in Barcelona being bilingual. This means they’re comfortable switching between Spanish and Catalan. While in Barcelona, don’t worry about whether you should speak Catalan or Spanish, as effectively all Catalan speakers can switch effortlessly between both languages.
How much Spanish is spoken in Barcelona?
Spanish is spoken quite widely in Barcelona, as it is one of the two official languages, along with Catalan. While the local culture often promotes the use of Catalan, Spanish is still commonly used in everyday conversations, as well as signages and announcements.
For this reason, you’ll find many people in Barcelona happy to converse in Spanish with you.
How similar are Catalan and Spanish?
Catalan and Spanish share some similarities as they both originate from the same family of Romance languages. You might notice shared vocabulary and grammar structures. However, they are distinct languages, and knowing one doesn’t automatically mean you’ll understand the other completely.
It’s like comparing Italian and Portuguese—similar, but unique in their own ways.
Can I get by with Spanish in Barcelona?
Absolutely! With Spanish being one of the official languages in Barcelona, you’ll have no trouble getting by. Most of the locals are bilingual, and they’re accustomed to speaking Spanish with visitors. So feel free to use your Spanish skills to communicate, and you’ll have an amazing time exploring Barcelona.