It is probably extremely premature for me to try to explain this ancient language after being here for less than a week. My understanding of Catalan (They call it Valenciano here) is definitely a work in progress but I think I can say a few things about the language with a bit of accuracy, if not authority.
If a mixture of Spanish and English is Spanglish, then Catalan should be called Sprench: a mixture of Spanish and French. Catalan is one of the official languages of the state of Valencia, as it is in the state of Catalonia whose capital is Barcelona. Most of the street signs here are in Catalan so instead of avenida and calle they say avinguda and carrer. Ciudad Vieja becomes ciutat vella. Instructions at the bus stop are in both Spanish and Catalan. The mingling of the two languages seems pretty effortless to my untrained eyes and ears.
When I was doing my initial research about moving to Spain I considered Barcelona but decided that the influence of Catalan would be a hindrance to perfecting my Spanish. I knew that they spoke Catalan in Valencia but I figured that it was less prevalent here than in Barcelona. I may have been correct in this assumption but there are plenty of folks here that speak the language. I rarely hear anything but Spanish when I eavesdrop on people although I did overhear an old woman yelling at her unruly dog in Catalan.
Before I arrived I thought that Catalan would be a nuisance. After only a few short days I have already come to see learning Catalan as a challenge, a really cool challenge. I tried unsuccessfully to buy a Catalan grammar book yesterday but I’m sure they are around. I remember reading somewhere that of all the Romance languages, Catalan is the closest to Latin. You can see this in the verb declensions and the endings of a lot of the nouns. The “at” ending of Universitat is closer to Latin that the other Romance language endings for university. My mother’s maiden name is Bernat, a Catalan surname. I read something my grandfather wrote stating that our family hails from the Balearic Islands, another Catalan-speaking enclave.
On television there are shows and news programs in Catalan. During the news reports I have watched they will conduct interviews in Spanish and Catalan. I especially enjoyed a cooking program in Catalan that was followed by a travel and nature show. With my background in French and Spanish I am usually able to get the gist of what they are saying on TV and I can easily read most of what I read. From what I can tell so far I would say that it is a very phonetic language, meaning it sounds like it is written—which is a lot more than you can say about the nightmare of a language in which I now write.
As far as people’s interactions with me thus far, Spanish is the only thing spoken. Perhaps I’m wrong about this but Catalan seems to me like some sort of secret handshake amongst the locals. At this stage it doesn’t seem like a language that I need to learn to survive. Learning Catalan will be a luxury.
I haven’t really begun my Spanish immersion as my brother is still here with me. Today I went downtown by myself and studied a bunch of Spanish proverbs on the bus. After I ran a few errands I stopped at a café for a coffee. Almost all the cafes have a stack of newspapers on the bar. I read one of the soccer rags and the local newspaper, El Levante. After six beautiful days we got a little bit of rain so after lunch I felt no guilt about staying in and watching a couple hours of television. I love it how I can watch TV and actually be learning something valuable.
There are a bunch of well-produced public service announcements during the commercial breaks. My favorite is one that advises Spanish people, who are accustomed to only a cup of coffee in the morning, of the advantages of eating breakfast. Another one warns drivers to wear seat belts and also to make their children wear them. At the end of the advertisement there is a very graphic depiction of a child being thrown through the windshield when the car makes an abrupt stop. It seemed like a very effective way to get this message across.
I watched a game show called Saber y Ganar (Know and Win), a quiz show like Jeopardy. I totally got my ass kicked but I was proud of myself for just understanding the questions. I watched a few minutes of Family Guy dubbed into Spanish. Now I will be able to say that watching Los Simpsons is educational.
I am very anxious to improve my Spanish and I can hardly wait for the months to go by and see how much I improve. I feel that my Spanish is already good enough to have an intelligent conversation. There are a lot of little things that I need to pick up which come only through living and learning. Speaking a foreign language well requires first-hand experience in countless situations. I welcome all of these situations, in Spanish and Catalan.