Catalunya is a bilingual community. Everybody in Catalunya do speak Spanish (or Castellano as we prefer to call it here), but in fact NOT everybody do speak Catalan (about 60% in Barcelona, less in some industrial cities, and more inland Catalunya and smaller towns).
Correction, not 100% of people in Catalunya do speak Spanish. I would better say 98%. There may be a 1% of very old people in remote areas who never needed to learn it. And there may be a 1% of nuts who know perfectly Spanish but refuse to speak it (usually when addressing to Spaniards, as they usually don't mind to use their multilingual knowledge with foreigners). You can find quite a few people who may speak to you in Catalan, but they would switch to Spanish immmediately as soon they notice your accent. Please note that many of us here are using BOTH languages all the time, and sometimes we even do not realize we changed!! Except of course you bump into anyone belonging to the second 1% named above (and this would be plain back luck... just ignore them and ask anyone else)
Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish, but a language on its own, derived from Latin as Spanish, French, Italian... etc. As well, Catalan has its own dialects, and it's spoken by about 10 million people in Catalunya and other surrounding areas (including French Catalonia, Balearic Islands, and – if politics permit – Valencia ;)
If you are interested on learning a bit of Catalan language, have a look to the link below (includes a linguistic tool from the University of Barcelona, which may be useful as well for touristy purposes)
A map where you can see where our language is spoken, and his dialects, who are very strong. Catalan is a indoeuropean, romance language. Is close to french, spanish, italian or portuguesish. Now in Catalonia the Generalitat take care of him and is the first language used for catalans and for institutions. In majorca is less used in all this aspects, and still less in valencia. In France his consideration is very poor, and is rapidly declining. In Andorra, is the only official language.
As I don't speak any of the languages they use here I didn't bothered too much with it.
I only learnt that Català is the name of the local language here and whatever is the more wide languages they speak they call it Castellano.
However, I managed here will with the little of what I know and I used words in English that sound to me more like international or Latin words, sometimes it works ;-)
I heard sometimes in the forums that most Catalan people would rater prefer to speak English than Spanish to foreigners. This has part of reality, but not due the political reasons some may think. The fact is that still not many people have a decent level of English, apart from the ones working in the touristy industry and services. Therefore, if you ask something in English to a random person on the street, and it happens this person do speak English, yes... probably he/she would prefer to practice English with you (rather than speak Spanish that’s a daily thing!)
In any case, here as everywhere in the world, the "golden rule" usually works well: be polite and smile!
Here you have some useful words/expressions:
English / Catalan / Spanish (Castilian)
Hello / Hola / Hola
Good morning / Bon dia / Buenos días
Good afternoon / Bona tarda / Buenas tardes
Good evening / Bona nit / Buenas noches
Thank you / Gràcies / Gracias
Please / Sisplau / Por favor
Excuse me / Perdoni / Perdone
I'm sorry / Em sap greu / Lo siento
Goodbye / Adéu / Adios
See you later / Fins després / Hasta luego
Hi, I don’t speak Catalan / Spanish, do you speak English?
Hola, no parlo Català / Castellà, vosté parla Anglés?
Hola, no hablo Catalán / Castellano, usted habla Inglés?
If you're interested in learning some Catalan expressions, the following links is an online conversation guide where you can hear the words/sentences (oriented to foreigner University students, but may be useful to any visitor):
I know there already are a lot of VT tips on the Catalan language, but as a translator and language lover, I have found most of them unexact or incomplete. So, I'll try to write my own tip. Here, I will only deal with the language itself, leaving my opinions about Catalunya's linguistic policy for another tip.
First of all, Català is a Latin language: it is not a dialect, a patois or any variant of Spanish. It has its own grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary.
As for the pronunciation, I have found it more similar to Portuguese than to Spanish, due to its intermediate vowels: e.g. unstressed a's are pronounced more or less like in above, while unstressed o's are pronounced like /u/.
Ortography makes it closer to Latin and French than to Spanish, while many words are very similar to their Italian equivalents.
Article 3 of the Spanish constitution allows the autonomies (autonomías or comunidades autonomas) to have their own official language. However, what makes Catalan far more important than Basque or Galician is its transnational dimension. Beside being the official language of Catalunya, the Baleares isles, Valencia, it is also the official language of the Principat d'Andorra. Moreover, it is spoken in Southern France (Perpignan) and in Alghero, a town in Sardinia (Italia).
This makes 9 million speakers, more than many national languages in Europe.
Like many European languages, Catalan has its varieties and dialects and varieties, as you can read here. However, I suppose that all Catalan speakers understand each other.
If you want to learn Català, you won't easily find many books in Spanish. Being the official language, everybody learns it as a child, so courses in Spanish are rare. I found one in a bookshop, titled Catalán para dummies published by Granica. It is a basic course including a CD and I think it's enough to get started.
A more complete Catalan course is published by ASSIMIL, my favourite language course publisher. There are an edition in Spanish (El catalán sin esfuerzo) and one in French (Le catalan, issued in 2009).
I am from Barcelona. My native language is Spanish but I have made Catalan my first language and the one I use in daily converstation.
If you learn a bit of our history, you will see how a miracle it is that a language spoken by about 8 million people in 4 different states (parts of Spain, Andorra, a small part ofFrance and one town in Sardinia, Italy) is still alive despite all the century-long and brutal attempts to make Catalan disappear.
We are proud of keeping Catalan alive and of the fact that at least in Catalonia it is now an official language. And that does not deter us from speaking fluent Spanish and other languages. For example, I can speak English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese, but my main language is Catalan and I will always defend it.
Speak some broken Catalan to them and not broken Spanish.
Ok so they all speak Spanish in Catalunya, but it's kind of like learning English to go to the Netherlands. I'm sure the Dutch would prefer you to try and speak their own language just as I'm sure a Catalan would prefer you to try and speak Catalan rather than Spanish. Although the are mostly bilingual it is true.
Catalan is a language in it's own right derived from Latin and is not a mere dialect of Castellano, although it is very similar (it's like a mix between Spanish and French).
I met a man (Xavier) while I was living in Barcelona who told me it saddened him that his son could speak Catalan better than him because he only started learning it when he was older after Franco the dictator died (1975). Though many still learned the language under Franco they could only practice in private as it was against the law to use it.
Freixenet is a Catalan surname, known because of the trade mark of cava.
The rule is the following in Catalan:
when a "t" comes before "x", both consonants are pronounced like "ch" in English or Spanish, so Petritxol would be pronounced like "petrichol". Other examples: caputxa, buxaca.
When x is at a beginning of a word, after a consonant, after "i" and "au" it is pronounced like an English "sh". Like on the word Freixenet, xarxa or punxa.
In the rest of cases it is pronounced ks like in English taxi or like gz in English exam but as far as I know, there are no rules and you must know the words by heart. Examples: asfixiar for the ks sound and exercici for the gz sound.
Bon dia: Good day
No ho entenc: I don't understand
Gràcies, mercès: thank you
Moltes gràcies: Thank you very much
Dispensi! Perdoni!. Excuse me
Quant costa això?: How much is it (x is sh)
T'estimo: I love you (you never know when this phrase will come in handy!!! ;)
Catalan is the official language of Barcelona, so don't be surprised when your Spanish (Castellano) knowledge seems to fail you when overhearing conversation or reading street signs. Most places will also have a Castellano translations, and major signs and notices, such as the metro system, also have it written in English. If you only speak English, you will be able to get by in the main parts of the city because of the overwhelming presence of tourists there. If you venture outside this center into areas such as Gracia, chances are you might run into a number of non-English speaking people. Castellano is understood and spoken by almost everyone in Barcelona, and it is not out of the ordinary to hear it spoken on the street. It is HIHGLY BENEFICIAL to have a knowledge of Castellano. You will be able to communicate effectively with nearly everyone if you can speak it. The only time I ran into problems is when really old ladies would start talking to me on the metro or the street, and sometimes I had to explain to them why I didn't speak Catalan. But even then I could do it in Castellano. Linguistic effort is generally appreciated, as it always is, in Barcelona, and it is good to know some key phrases and to try to use them when you can. 'Jo no parlo catala' will suffice if you need to alert someone that you don't speak Catalan, and 'No hablo espanol/castellano' for Castellano. I don't think I ever had to use the former, because honestly, most people can tell the natives from the tourists and visitors, plus, they speak Castellano. Don't worry if you speak only Castellano and you are approaching someone to speak, becuase they will generally speak to people who look foreign or from out of town in Castellano without even trying Catalan. Most places also have menus in other languages, sometimes upon request. I also found that having some basic knowledge of French vocabulary helped me read a lot of signs and understand some other things a bit.
There are two official languages in Catalunya: Spanish and Catalan. Catalan is not a dialect, but a language as close to French as it is to Spanish. Catalans are totally bilingual and they speak Spanish without any accent.
Outside the tourist areas, it didn't seem that Barcelonians spoke more than Spanish and Catalan. I found some minimal knowledge of English and German but found it easier to speak what Spanish I knew and fill in the gaps with Italian. When I spoke pure Italian, people seemed to get kind of the gist of what I was saying, but corrected me in Spanish each time, which helped me improve but also kept my ego in check.
In tourist areas or areas of interest, it seemed that facilities catered to speakers of French or Spanish, Catalan of course. English, Italian, or German? "If you must". Beyond that, very little effort was made to present things in minor, Central or East European languages. No effort at all was made for speakers of Asian languages that I could see.
Almost all the menus are in Catalunian so Spanish does not necessary help you in order to find out what there is in your tapas... Take some Catalunian dictionary with you before going to a restaurant if you want to know what you are eating :-)
It would be great if you learned some basic Spanish words and phrases because almost no one speaks English or any other language besides their native (and that's Catalan for people who live in Barcelona or in any other part of Cataluña, and Spanish). It made a world of difference to me that I was able to communicate in Spanish, because it can get a little frustrating that everytime you want something, you have to point with your finger on it.
Barcelona and most of Catalonia speaks Castilian (Spanish) and Catalan. Catalan is also spoken in parts of France and other parts of Europe. English is widely understood especially because of the in flux of British tourists.