Ets un tros de pa. This literal translation means you’re a piece of bread. However, when the Catalans say this to you, they mean you’re a good person.
Well, they’ve called me that on numerous occasions. And the reason being is that I’m pretty fluent in their language. The instant respect and admiration they show for a foreigner that has the ability to converse in their local language is huge. Let’s be honest, I’m half Welsh and would be well impressed if a foreigner learnt the language that I never learnt myself. But then again, the estimated amount of Catalan speakers worldwide is nearly 10 million, whereas Welsh is a tenth of that figure. And we live in Catalunya, not Wales.
In fact, my Catalan is much better than my Spanish, to many people’s disbelief at times. Why would you learn Catalan at all? Just stick to Spanish and you’ll be fine, after all we are in Spain. Yes, indeed we are, and I don’t wish for this to become a political piece so I shall refrain from diving in too deep. My point is, however, that we are in the Autonomous region of Catalonia and therefore the official language is (also) Catalan. I’ve been told on occasions that there’s no added value, no point or a waste of time to learn Catalan. Whilst I respect everyone has their own opinion, I personally do disagree with these statements.
I started learning Spanish two years before I ever moved here. It was a slow process living abroad in the Netherlands. But I stuck with it. When I moved to a village in north Maresme I realised that whilst the locals would all speak Spanish to me, amongst themselves it was predominantly Catalan. So, being someone that wants to know what people are talking about I decided to take up Catalan lessons.
Joking aside this was not the main reason for learning the language. I truly believe there are advantages to immersing yourself in the local language. One is culture, which is closely connected to language. Knowledge of the language may lead to a deeper understanding of the culture. Second, the job market is a lot broader, specifically when you endeavour to work for the public service. Third, it facilitates assisting your children with studies or homework or if you decide to pick up a study yourself, most universities teach part of the curriculum in Catalan. But above all, I like to surprise people who assume I am a non-Catalan speaker and yes, I am proud to have the ability to converse with them and even more so on the rare occasion to be able to correct them in their language.
Of course, I have an advantage that my family-in-law speak predominantly Catalan. However, they too expected me to learn (fluent) Spanish first. And then there are my personal reasons such as wanting to fully engage in the language and culture of the place I now call home.
Personal reasons aside, I truly am in favour of keeping languages alive and since we live in Catalonia, it’s Catalan. So … I’d say, give it a try. Som-hi!
This article first appeared in L’Eco de Sitges on 30 July.
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