Catalan vs. Spanish: What’s the difference?

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
August 13, 2021
woman tourist walking on the street shown from the back

Spain is not a monolingual nation. While over 98.8% of people speak Spanish in Spain, the other official languages in the country are Euskara, Catalan, and Galician. There are over 4 million native speakers of Catalan in Spain and over 10 million worldwide. Let’s explore the differences and similarities between the Catalan language and Spanish. 


Are Catalan and Spanish the same?

No, they are not. Catalan is a distinct language from Spanish. It is one of four official languages of Spain and the sole official language of the small country of Andorra. Both Catalan and Spanish are Western Romance languages based on Latin. Spanish and Portuguese belong to the Iberio-Romance family. Meanwhile Catalan is an Occitano-Romance language with Occitan, a language of Southern France.

The name Catalan comes from the northeastern region of Catalonia in Spain. Travelers will know its famous capital Barcelona. Catalan is also spoken in the neighboring regions of Valencia (known there as Valencian language), the Balearic Islands including Mallorca, and the island of Ibiza. In fact, it is the official language of Ibiza. 

Education in Catlan vs. Spanish

Regions of Spain have autonomy over their respective education systems. In Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, public education is conducted in both Catalan and Spanish with Catalan as the primary language. In Valencia parents can choose education fully in Valencian language (Catalan) or fully in Spanish with Catalan as a subject.

Public education in Andorra has three separate systems with three main languages of instruction: Catalan, Spanish, and French.

Catalan vs. Spanish Examples

In some ways, the difference between Catalan and Spanish is not so huge. They share words and grammar in common. Observers may also hear Catalan’s similarities to French and Italian languages.

Pronunciation

There are pronunciation differences between Catalan and Spanish. In Spanish there are five vowels and five pronunciations for those vowels. They do not change. In Catalan the “a” and “o” have multiple pronunciations whether stressed or unstressed.  

Spanish: casa /kasa/ 
Catalan: casa /kazə/ – The first a is stressed, the second a is unstressed like the second e in telephone /teləfon/.
English: house

X – In Catalan the “x” makes a /sh/ sound as in /ship/ in English. 

Spanish: chocolate /chokolate/
Catalan: xocolate /shokolat/

Ñ – the Spanish ñ does not exist in Catalan. You will see the “ny” spelling for that sound.

Catalan: prenyada
Spanish: preñada
English: pregnant

“Ҫ” – As a letter, doesn’t exist in Spanish. In Catalan “ç” is an /s/

Catalan: dolç /dols/
Spanish: dulce /dulse/
English: sweet

“G” – Has two sounds in Catalan /g/ as in /girl/ and /ʒ/ as in vision /viʒun/

Catalan: gerro /ʒero/
Spanish: jarrón /xaron/
English: vase

Grammar

There are grammatical differences in past, present, and future tenses in Catalan vs. Spanish. Let’s focus on basic conversational phrases as there are too many to cover in one article:

Catalan: Hola! Bon dia! Com estas?
Spanish: ¡Hola! ¡Buenos días! ¿Cómo estás?
English: Hello! Good morning! How are you?

Catalan: Bones, gràcies. I tu?
Spanish: Bien, gracias. ¿Y tú?
English: Well, thank you. And you?

Catalan: Adéu. Fins luego!
Spanish: Adiós. ¡Hasta luego!
English: Goodbye. See you later!

Catalan: On és el bany?
Spanish: ¿Dónde está el baño?
English: Where is the bathroom?

Catalan: Em dic Alison. Com et dius?
Spanish: Me llamo Alison. ¿Cómo se llama?
English: My name is Alison. What is your name?

Catalan: Parla espanyol?
Spanish: ¿Habla español?
English: Do you speak Spanish?

See difference between Catalan and Spanish in punctuation? Catalan grammar doesn’t use inverted symbols.

Directional Signs

In Valencia, Barcelona, and Ibiza directional signage will be in Catalan. Here are some basic directional signs in Catalan language vs. Spanish if you’re visiting or moving there.

Catalan: No hi ha sortido
Spanish: No hay salida
English: No exit

Catalan: Prohibit el pas
Spanish: Prohibito el paso
English: No entry

Catalan: Respecti la distancia de seguretat
Spanish: Guardar la sana distancia
English: Maintain social distance

Political difference between Catalan and Spanish

Catalan language is a source of pride for those regions that speak it. Under the Franco dictatorship from 1936 to 1975, Catalan was banned. Spain transitioned to democracy after 1975 and Catalan became an official language for media, education, and public life.

Speaking Catalan is not without controversy. Traffic court rulings have challenged Catalan directional signage, renewing discussions about the erasure of Catalan language. There is also an independence movement that, as recently as 2017, seeks to separate Catalonia from Spain.


Catalan language vs. Spanish – there is a difference

Clearly Catalan is a distinct language from Spanish when it comes to grammar, spelling and pronunciation. The difference between Catalan and Spanish also involves important cultural and political knowledge about Spain. If you go on vacation to Barcelona, chat with your Catalan-speaking neighbors with basic phrases in Catalan and see how they respond. Learn more about Spanish culture and languages with Lingoda by speaking with a certified instructor from Spain today.


Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

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