Thursday, February 25, 2010

Studying Spanish in Barcelona

I've received a few messages lately from people asking about studying Spanish in Barcelona compared to other cities in Spain. In fact, this topic was recently covered in the NY Times where the questioner wondered if Catalan might interfere with her ability to learn.

Personally, I wouldn't recommend Barcelona if you're Spanish level is zero, or low, and your goal is to return home with a strong command of the language. Not because of the Catalan, but for the same reasons I wouldn't recommend LA or New York or even London as places for Spanish speakers to learn English; namely, it's too easy not to speak it and still get by and have a good time.

As I've mentioned before, Barcelona is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city full of people from seemingly every country of the world, many of whom speak English well enough to have a conversation. If you're at the beginning stages of learning Spanish, it might be tough to resist the temptation to switch to English to save yourself the embarrassment of struggling to form a simple sentence. This isn't of course to say you won't learn anything, but probably not as much as you could as say if you went to Salamanca.

For those of you with a mid to advance level of Castellano, Barcelona is still a majority Spanish speaking city, although you can't help but notice the influence of Catalan since you're in Catalunya. Still, it's not so much that it'll inhibit your ability to learn and never have I felt forced to speak it or had problems over it. Most Spaniards and Catalans are just happy you're making an effort to speak a foreign language and some may talk to you in English because they too want to practice. If you already have a strong command of Spanish, I'd recommend making an effort to learn of to speak and understand Catalan because it will give you a more complete view of the city. If you don't, few people here will hold it against you, though.

The advice I always give Spanish speakers who can already defend themselves in English is: don't study the language, instead go and study something in the language. Take a class in a subject that interests you and your fluency will improve ten-fold, I think. There's nothing like community college in the states, but there are private schools offering different courses on say photography or jewelry making that run as much as a language school and in my opinion is money better spent.


  1. Also take into account that different regions can have very different accents.

    You don't want to end up like my German friend who did an exchange to Kentucky to learn English.

  2. That's very true. The diversity of accents in Spain is definitely something to look at.