What’s the difference between Spanish and Catalan languages?

As you travel around the world, it’s important to remember that the official language of a country is not always what the locals are speaking. And Spain is a prime example!

Castellano (Castilian Spanish, or Spanish as we know it with the familiar ‘th’ sound of the ‘z’ and ‘c’ letters) is the only official language of Spain at a national level. However, there are several regional languages: BasqueGalicianAranese, and Catalan.

In some regions these languages are spoken by most of the people, so it is worth taking the trouble to recognise them.

Catalan is only a semi-official language in Catalonia. This includes much of North Eastern Spain and Eastern Spain as far down as Valencia, plus the Balearic Islands. It is the official language of Andorra only. In other parts of the world it is spoken in a minor capacity in Alghero, Sardinia and in the French area of the Eastern Pyrenees

Are Catalan and Spanish the same?

Catalan is recognised as a separate language from Spanish – i.e. NOT a dialect of Spanish. They are both Western Romance Languages but come from different branches. Spanish is from Iberian-Romance (which includes Portuguese) and Catalan is from Gallo-Romance (which includes French). 

Both Spanish and Catalan date back to the Romans. Although Spanish culture and literature is well known, Catalan also has a fine cultural and literary tradition dating back to the early middle ages.

Catalan is spoken by 11 million people. It is actually completely different to Spanish. If you start to read a little Catalan, you will see just how much that is true. Although it has some small similarities to Spanish, it is also a bit like French.

What are the most significant differences between Spanish and Catalan?

1. The simple past tense

Catalan has a simple past tense different from other Romance languages. It is formed with the present tense of the verb ‘anar’ (to go) plus the infinitive of the main verb. So ‘I sang’ is ‘vaig cantar’ – literally ‘I go sing’. But in Catalan ‘vaig cantar’ means ‘I sang’ rather that ‘I am going to sing’, as it would in Spanish (voy a cantar) – and in English, for that matter. See how one word can make such a difference!

2. The pronoun ‘en’

Which means ‘of that’ (or ‘that which has been mentioned previously’). There are similar pronouns in French (en) and Italian (ne), but these do not exist at all in Spanish. For example, in Catalan ‘Tenim cinc tomàquets. En menjaré dos’  translates to the Sapnish “Tenemos cinco tomates. Me comeré dos de ellos’. In English, this literally means ‘We have five tomatoes. I will eat two of them.’ Like the Spanish, we have to go to the trouble of adding ‘of them’ to the end of the sentence.

3. Affricates tz, tg:

These are quite harsh, explosive sounds with two hard consonants together. Catalan has some which are not used in Spanish at all. For example in ‘dotze’ (‘doce’ in Spanish, ‘twelve’ in English) and ‘metge’ (‘medico’ in Spanish, ‘doctor’ in English).

Why is there controversy about speaking Spanish or Catalan in Spain?

The history of Catalonia is somewhat turbulent! This has resulted in gains and losses to Catalonia’s autonomy over the last thousand years.

In 1936 the dictatorship of Francisco Franco completely abolished all regional autonomy in Spain. His desire was to unify Spain and bring it all under his control. Despite Franco himself being Galician, his government revoked the official statute and recognition for the BasqueGalician and Catalan languages that the Republic had granted them for the first time in the history of Spain. The former policy of promoting Spanish as the only official language of the state and education was resumed. Even though millions of the country’s citizens spoke other languages. The legal usage of languages other than Spanish was forbidden.

After Franco’s death in 1975 and the return of democracy in Spain, Catalonia regained its autonomy within Spain.

Today, Catalonia is an autonomous region and perhaps the richest part of Spain. There is a strong movement to obtain total independence from Spain, so far rejected. Regardless of whether Catalonia becomes independent or continues to be part of Spain, its strong regional character is certain to stay.

What advice can you give about Catalan?

It is important to recognise the sensitivity of travelling in Catalonia. Spanish is spoken in most of Barcelona, ??but in some provincial cities, Catalan is now the dominant language. Addressing people in Catalan instead of Spanish is very well received, in my personal experience.

Street names, road signs, notices and instructions that you see in Catalonia are usually written in Catalan first and foremost. To the uninitiated, it can be hard to work out if things are written in Catalan or Spanish.

Use the following seven tips to identify if you are reading Catalan or Spanish.

  1. Catalan uses consonant clusters whereas Spanish requires a vowel sound between consonant sounds (most of the time).
  2. Catalan often leaves out vowels -o, -a, or -e that are common in Spanish; – “gato ” in Spanish is “gat” in Catalan.
  3. Catalan leaves out the “n” in many nouns, e.g. “formación” is “formacio” in Catalan and “catalan” is “català” in Catalan.
  4. Catalan changes “o” at the end of a verb, such as “ocupado” which becomes “occupat” in Catalan.
  5. Catalan uses “ny” corresponding to Spanish “ñ”, in Portuguese “nh”, or French / Italian “gn”; e.g “manyana”.
  6. Catalan uses both accents, the grave and the acute, such as á, ò, è: anglès, francès; Spanish uses only the acute as in “café” 
  7. Catalan sometimes uses a dot within two “L” letters, for example, in the word “paral·lel”, which does not exist in Spanish.

We hope that the above has been useful! If you are thinking of learning Spanish, check out Talk Languages’ free Tempting Tasters to receive lessons and exercises by email for 10 weeks. If you are thinking of learning Catalan, Talk Languages may be able to help you find a personal tutor.


The best way to learn a language

Are you looking to learn a new language and wondering how to learn easily and quickly? In this post, we explain the best way to learn a language

A genuine reason

The best way to learn a language is first to have a genuine reason for wanting to learn it. 

This could be one of the following:

  • You want to learn a partner’s, friend’s or family member’s native tongue.
  • You find yourself living in a foreign country for work, family or study. 
  • You genuinely love that language and have bought a property abroad. 
  • You need to talk to your customers, staff, or colleagues in a more respectful manner by addressing them in their own language.
  • You want to read a certain author in the original language or study a work of literature.
  • You would like to gain a qualification or teach a language. 
  • You want to bring up your child bilingual!
  • Or maybe you just want to be able to communicate with the locals on holiday.

A personal tutor face-to-face

So you’ve chosen your language, but what is the fastest and easiest way to learn it? 

The best way to learn a language is to be thrown in at the deep end, among people who don’t speak your own language. It may seem a little daunting but it works, simply because you don’t have a choice but to learn!

However, this is not a situation many of us find ourselves in.  So we need to find an alternative way of immersing ourselves in the language as much as we can. We need to see how the language ‘works’. 

We can learn from books and we can learn online, with a computer telling us when we get a word right or wrong. But nothing beats conversation practice with another person face to face.

This is best done with a knowledgeable teacher who is fluent in the language. They can talk to us at our own level, correct our mistakes, encourage us, spark our interest, and most importantly, increase our confidence. This helps us to recognise how to speak these new words and phrases in a way that carries meaning and elicits genuine responses from a fluent speaker.

Practice every day

Learning a new language requires regular practice.

A weekly lesson is proven to work well. If lessons or conversations with others are not possible, then try to practice a little every day. Here are three ways to help you – all easy steps that really work and are fun to do. 

Read the news or magazines in your chosen language. For example, it’s possible to read the news online with the BBC in many languages. Or you can look up the main papers in your chosen language and read the online versions such as El Pais in Spain and Le Monde in France.

Watch films in the language of your choice. There are so many excellent foreign language films out these days. Watch them in the source language, perhaps without subtitles. Although subtitles can help too of course! Click here for the best foreign films on Netflix.

Use an online language app. These are available free to download onto your computer or phone. Try Duolinguo or Memrise, or one of the many other great platforms. Try to do just five minutes a day to keep your skills ticking over. These apps are usually quite good at reminding you, ensuring you stay motivated.

How can Talk Languages help?

Learn at home, at work or in a quiet café with a personal tutor.

At Talk Languages we have always favoured the one- to- one personal tutor approach. All Talk Languages teachers are well known to us, trusted, qualified and experienced.  Our Pay-As-You-Go flexible learning system means that you can have your first lesson with a qualified teacher in your own home, at work or in the location of your choice.


Teaching and learning foreign languages with dyslexia

Students with dyslexia are often thought to lack the ability to learn another language. But this is by no means certain. Dyslexia affects the way information is learned and processed. It is a neurological difference and often runs in families. 

Dyslexia can have a significant impact on education, especially when it comes to reading and writing. However, it’s important to remember that dyslexia occurs independently of intelligence.

Being dyslexic doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a good memory. And a good memory is very useful for learning a new language.

Tips from professionals to help students with dyslexia 

The British Dyslexia Association recommends choosing transparent languages, like Spanish, Italian or German that have a clear letter-to-sound correspondence for the English-speaking learner. That means you can more easily pronounce what you see written down. 

Speaking and listening

Speaking and listening from the start is helpful for a learner with dyslexia.

  • Let the student volunteer. 
  • Never force a student with dyslexia to speak. 
  • Be positive. 
  • Encourage speaking by giving positive feedback.
  • Maximise listening sessions. 
  • Use a tape recorder or a recording tool to catch new words, phrases, stories or even a home task for the next day.
  • Visualise. 
  • Using pictures or other visual aids while listening helps boost multi-sensory activity.
  • Turn exercises into fun. 
  • Exercises like sorting or “odd one out” can be turned into games. For adults and children alike.

Vocabulary and grammar

To use a foreign language you need vocabulary and, unfortunately for some, grammar rules! These are not easy for anyone and pose even more problems for students with dyslexia. 

Professionals from the University of Michigan recommend the following levels of vocabulary for teachers of students with dyslexia:

Level 1 – vocabulary for daily use. Repeat basic words over and over, using standard conversation templates that are relevant to the student’s everyday life. 

Level 2 – vocabulary from reading. Pick out unknown or difficult words from texts used for reading – essential for success!

Level 3 – specialised vocabulary. These are words relating to different hobbies and occupations, for the student who has already somewhat mastered phonetics!

Level 4 – infrequently used vocabulary. The final step! This is advanced language learning for any student.

Professionals recommend teaching vocabulary and grammar via the “Read, Write, Pronounce, Repeat” method. 

This triggers multi-sensory activity, helping the brain grasp a new word on different levels.


Spelling words, either in oral or written form, is difficult for students with dyslexia. The brain struggles to structure and store the information, but this can be helped with regular training.

According to the professors from the University of Michigan, learning how to spell starts from phonemic awareness. Here are some tips for teachers to follow regarding spelling and writing for the dyslexic learner:

  • Give students regular breaks. 
    • Topics should be fully understood and absorbed before starting another.
    • Divide words into syllables if it’s difficult to spell them. 
    • Avoid teaching too many spelling patterns within one lesson. 
  • Encourage them to embrace mistakes as a part of the learning process.

Online resources

In the age of technology, there are many online resources, tools and apps that can help learners with dyslexia learn a foreign language. Here are some of them:

  • Dyslexia International. This is an international association for people with dyslexia that has ready-to-use materials to help students with dyslexia learn a foreign language and master other school subjects.
  • Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity, UK. This website has many links and advice for students with dyslexia and their teachers, from ‘Dyslexia in the Workplace’, to ‘Teaching Videos for Dyslexia’ and ‘Famous Dyslexics’!
  • Google Keyboard. This is a dictation app with voice recognition and word prediction. This app helps students easily recognise and write down words that are difficult to spell.
  • Adobe Spark. Similar to Google Keyboard, Adobe Spark uses voice recognition and word prediction tools to make writing and spelling easier for students with dyslexia.

Teaching a foreign language to learners with dyslexia is not impossible, quite the contrary. Such students are often eager to learn, they simply require a different teaching and learning approach.