Try Catalan. If you already know French and Spanish

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Para leer este articulo en español, aqui.
Pour lire cet article en français, ici.


Catalan, to me, is an interesting language. One minute, it’s like Spanish. Another minute, it’s like French. Other times, it’s being itself. It is a language where its history was born from between Spain and France.

A little info about Catalan. It is the main language spoken in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian community (known as Valencian) along with Spanish in Spain. It is also spoken in other parts of Europe like Aragon, Spain;  Southern France; Andorra and Alghero, Sardinia in Italy. Andorra is also the only sovereign state that has Catalan as the official language. Catalan is so far probably the only language that is closest to the very rare Occitan language.

The Catalan language is not a dialect of Spanish/Castillian. There are different grammatical features in Catalan that make it different to Spanish. There are also dialects of Catalan such as North Eastern, Central, Balearic, etc.

My experiences with Catalan

I had the fortune of going to south of France, Catalonia and  Valencia within two weeks. My family stayed in Perpignan, France where Catalan culture is evident, although we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We did get to go to Carcassonne, a castle in a city within castle walls, a place once part of Occitania.

After that, we drove from France into Spain by car. In Spain, we spent most of out time in Catalonia, visiting places like Barcelona, Tarragona and the Dali Museum. We did however go to other nearby places like Zaragoza and Valencia. Throughout the entire time, I was surrounded by both Catalan and Spanish. I saw signs written in both languages, there were TV channels in either Catalan or Spanish/Castillian and church masses were held in either language. You may even find signs written in four languages: Catalan, Spanish, French and English. In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the announcers also spoke in four languages: Catalan, Spanish, French and then English. Unfortunately during my stay in Spain, I mainly spoke Spanish and no Catalan. I did want to learn Catalan, however I didn’t have the resources nor the time to learn Catalan because of university studies.

Then I bought a Catalan textbook here in Melbourne. That was how I learned Catalan. I was amazed by the sheer number of cognates of French and Spanish/Castillian origin.

I also had opportunities to meet Spaniards who spoke Catalan/Valencian in Melbourne and I had fun practising Catalan and Spanish with them. I even gave advice in Catalan to a Spanish ESL student studying in Melbourne. I did receive positive reactions from those people for my efforts to speak their language because the Catalan language is pretty much unknown to Australians. In Australia, we do have Aussies, mainly of Latin American heritage, who can speak Spanish but not Catalan. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of Catalan classes in Melbourne either.

Catalan comparisons with French and Spanish

As the title says, if you know French and Spanish, Catalan will be a breeze. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of Catalan words similar to French and Spanish words.

Technically, Catalan is part of the Gallo-Romance branch along with French while Spanish is part of the Iberian-Romance branch. However, due to proximity to Castillian-speaking areas within Spain, Catalan had words similar to Spanish.


Here are some Catalan words closer to French

Catalan French Spanish English
fer faire hacer to do
començar commencer empezar to begin
menjar manger comer to eat
parlar parler hablar to speak
voler vouloir querer to want
poma pomme manzana apple
formatge fromage queso cheese
sucre sucre azúcar sugar
petit/petita petit/petite pequeño/pequeña small
finestra fenêtre ventana window
millor meilleur mejor better
sovint souvent a menudo often
demà demain manaña tomorrow
matin matin manaña morning
fill/filla fils/fille hijo/hija son/daughter
oncle oncle tío uncle

And here are some Catalan words closer to Spanish

Catalan Spanish French English
ser ser être to be
estar estar être to be (temporary)
comprar comprar acheter to buy
saber saber savoir to know
cotxe coche voiture car
casa casa maison house
bosc bosque forêt forest
barat barato bon marché cheap
ric/rica rico/rica riche rich
borratxo borracho ivre drunk
aqui aqui ici here
i y et and
pero pero mais but
carn carne viande meat
aigua agua eau water
cervesa cerveza bière beer


At first glance, Catalan does look closer to Spanish in terms of grammar.

Saying you like something in Catalan is the same concept as in Spanish. In both Spanish and Catalan, expressing liking involves using reflexive verbs. This makes the structure look like that the object pleases the subject where the object is performing the verb. Instead of the straight forward subject liking the object  as in English and French where the subject is the one performing the verb. Examples:

Catalan Spanish French English
M’agradan les pomas. Me gustan las manzanas. J’aime les pommes. I like apples.
El noi no li agrada el plàtan. El chico no le gusta la banana. Le garçon n’aime pas la banane. The boy doesn’t like the banana.

All languages keep the SVO format.

Like French, Catalan elides two words together when there is a /e/ or a /i/, whether they are articles, nouns or verbs while Spanish rarely does.

Catalan Spanish French English
T’agrada l’escola.
(et+ agrada la + escola)
Te gusta la escuela. Tu aimes l’école.
(la + école)
You like school.
(Jo) l’escolto.
(es or li escolto)
(Yo) lo escucho. Je l’écoute.
(le + écoute)
I listen to it.

Both Catalan and Spanish have the present continuous tense which French doesn’t have.

Catalan Spanish French English
Joan esta anant al banc. Juan esta yendo al banco. Jean va à la banque.* John is going to the bank.
Estic esmorzant. Estoy desayunando. Je mange le petit déjeuner.* I am eating breakfast.

*You can also say Jean est en train de aller à la banque or Je suis en train de manger le petit déjeuner.

There you have it. Some similarities with Catalan, Spanish and French. If you are a polyglot who already knows Spanish and French, knowing Catalan will just add another language to your library of languages. Or if you’re just plain interested in Catalan, you can just skip both Spanish and French and just learn Catalan. However, you don’t need Spanish or French in order to learn Catalan although both languages do help and give you a better understanding of the language.


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