Catalan Language: Everything You Need To Know

There are over 9 million people in the world who speak Catalan
There are over 9 million people in the world who speak Catalan | © Kenneth Taylor / Alamy Stock Photo
Tara Jessop

Anyone who has spent any length of time in Catalonia will know that “Hablar español?” isn’t the best way to get to know the local people and their customs. Becoming acquainted with the Catalan language and finding out how it’s different to Spanish will provide you with key insights into the history, habits and humour of the locals.

Approximately 9 million people worldwide speak Catalan

There are over 9 million people in the world who can speak Catalan, with more than 4 million speaking it as a native language, according to official census data. Catalan is spoken natively in parts of Spain (in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands), France (in the area of the Pyrénées-Orientales), Andorra and even Italy. Of those who speak it natively, nearly all are bilingual, speaking either French, Spanish (Castellano) or Italian in addition to Catalan, depending on where they live.

Catalan is sometimes more similar to French than Spanish

Although Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and many other European languages have their origins in Latin (these are known as Romance languages), each has evolved in its own way. However, despite mostly being spoken in present-day Spain, Catalan actually shares many more similarities with the language of neighbouring France. For example, the Catalan word for morning is matí and the French equivalent is matin, whereas the Spanish equivalent is mañana.

Catalan language origins differ from those of Spanish

Spanish as we know it was profoundly influenced by Arabic, as a result of the 8th-century Moorish conquest. As a result, many words used in Spanish today are imported directly from Arabic, or have been heavily influenced by it. Ever noticed how many Spanish words start with ‘al’? That’s simply the Arabic word for ‘the’. For example, the Spanish albóndiga (meaning ‘meatball’) is believed to derive from the Arabic al-bunduqa, meaning ‘the ball.’ While Catalan was also influenced by Arabic, however, it didn’t evolve with the same tendency to add the Arabic prefix ‘al’ to its nouns. For example, the Spanish word for ‘artichoke’ is alcachofa, while the Catalan equivalent is carxofa. The Spanish word for ‘cotton’ is algodón, and the Catalan equivalent is cotó.

There are as many as six dialects in Catalan

Those who don’t know any better might think that Catalan is nothing more than a Spanish dialect. However, not only is Catalan a fully fledged language in its own right, it can also be broken down into six dialects of its own, broadly divided between two groups: Eastern and Western Catalan. The six dialects correspond to specific areas, from west to east: Valencian (spoken in Valencia), Northwestern Catalan (spoken around Lleida, parts of Tarragona and La Franja), Central Catalan (spoken around Barcelona and Girona), Rousellonese (spoken in the Roussillon area of France), Balearic (in the Balearic Islands) and Alguerese (in the city of Alghero).

La Renaixença, a cultural revival of Catalan

After the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714) during which Catalonia lost its independence to King Philip V and the crown of Castille, Catalan culture underwent a period of decline, exacerbated by new laws insisting on the use of the Spanish language. However, the beginning of the 19th century saw the emergence of a wave of artists, authors and playwrights who wished to revive the Catalan language. This period, known as La Renaixença, saw the re-establishment of a Medieval tradition called Jocs Florals, or ‘floral games’, a competition in which Catalan poets would compete for recognition in various categories such as best love poem or best patriotic poem.

Catalan was banned in Spain until as recently as 1975

In an attempt to promote a universal Spanish nationality, General Franco banned all languages other than Spanish from being used in Spain. This included Catalan, which had been recognised as an official language only during the Second Spanish Republic of 1931–1939, following a period of Catalan literary revival in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result of the ban, no newborns were allowed to be given Catalan names; streets and monuments with Catalan names were given Castilian names instead; all television, film and music were to be produced in Spanish; and speaking Catalan in public was severely frowned upon and even punished.

Catalan is the only official language of Andorra

As much as Catalan may be the preferred language of choice among the local population of Catalonia, in Andorra it is the sole official language. In Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, Catalan is an official language alongside Spanish (Castellano), meaning that all official communication has to be available in both.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.


Keen to explore the world?

Our passionately curated premium small-group trips are an invitation to connect with like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.