Learning an Endangered Language: Catalan Immersion and Why Language Diversity Matters

When I was in 8th grade, my family in a small town in Vermont hosted an exchange student from Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona, unbeknownst to me at the time, is the capital of a region called Catalonia, which, for as long as the romance languages all broke off from Latin, has spoken its own language, called Catalan.

When our exchange student, Álvaro, came to Vermont, for the most part I heard him speak Spanish, since it’s the language he spoke at home. While he grew up in Barcelona, his parents are from Andalusia, a region in Southern Spain where Spanish is the main language. But sometimes, when a friend called him, or when he connected his headphones to play video games, I heard him speak another language. I asked him what it was. “It’s called Catalan,” he told me, as his accent suddenly switched when he pronounced the name of the language.

Álvaro, like almost all of Barcelona, grew up completely bilingual. 

In Barcelona, about half of the people speak Catalan at home and half speak Spanish at home. Many people are split, and grow up speaking Spanish with one parent, and Catalan with the other.

Barcelona, because it’s a major city in Spain, speaks the most Spanish out of anywhere in Catalonia, but overall Spanish is still the more spoken language of the two (El País, 2019).

How this has arisen out of its politics is incredibly complex, and goes back thousands of years. As a base for understanding the current revival of the Catalan language, we have to begin with the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Dictatorship and the Suppression of Language

The Spanish Civil War was one of the most important conflicts of the 20th century. It was not just a fight for Spain. In many ways, it was a foreshadowing of both World War II and The Cold War.

In 1939, after the fascists led by Francisco Franco and supported by Hitler and Mussolini won the war, his regime banned the Catalan language in the streets. “If you’re Spanish, speak Spanish,” went the nationalist propaganda (Beevor).

As is typical with fascist dictators, Franco showed little mercy for breaking these laws.

The Catalan language suffered until Franco’s death in 1975. The extent of this oppression is a question of scholarly research, but books in Catalan weren’t published, it wasn’t taught in schools, and when out in the open public, families didn’t speak it. Catalan survived in the privacy of people’s homes.

Catalan became an endangered language.

Today, nearly half a century after the death of Franco and the transition to democracy, Catalan is an official language in Spain. It’s spoken by more than 9 million people across the world.

It’s spoken in Catalonia, of course, where it’s taught in public schools alongside Spanish, but also in former areas of the medieval and early-modern principality of Catalonia. This includes Andorra (a small country in the Pyrenees known for its skiing), a Catalan region of France which includes the city of Perpignan, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia, who speak Valenciano.

(There’s a debate about whether Valenciano is Catalan or its own language. I’m not an expert on this, but what I know is I see it written, it looks like Catalan, and when I’ve heard it, it sounds to me like Catalan.)

Even some places in Italy speak Catalan, like the Sardinian city of Alghero. In the 14th century, the Catalan-Aragon monarchy expanded to this area, and this expansion is also how the Balearic Islands came to speak Catalan.

El saber no ocupa espacio: The False Dichotomy of Learning

If everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish, and I already spoke Spanish, then why did I want to learn Catalan?

On a purely practical level, rarely would I be able to communicate with someone better in Catalan than in Spanish. For years, I toggled back and forth between debating whether learning Catalan would be worth the effort, or whether I should devote all of my language learning energy to continuing to master and sharpen my Spanish.

Ultimately, I realized this was a false dichotomy.

I had a sense of this, but a conversation early this summer with my friend Marcel sharpened my stance. Marcel, one of my best friends in the world and Álvaro’s childhood best friend, is one of the proudest Catalans you’ll find in Barcelona. He speaks Catalan at home, is deeply engaged with Barcelona’s complex political past and present, and is one of the biggest proponents of complete bilingualism.

“It’s foolish,” he told me one day as we were eating sushi, “when Catalans don’t speak Spanish well. They trap themselves in a bubble where they can’t communicate with the rest of the world.”

“After all,” he continued to me in Spanish, “El saber no ocupa espacio.” Knowledge doesn’t take up space. Marcel, whose first and main language is Catalan, knows the value of firsthand mastering both languages. He reads and writes in Spanish as well as he does in Catalan.

This is true for Catalans who are reluctant to master Spanish, and true for Spaniards in Catalonia and their reluctance to learn Catalan. This often comes with the rationale of seeking to maintain the purity of a language, or, as was Franco’s argument, of a people’s unity.

But this approach closes us off to new, different ways of thinking, which ultimately elevate our knowledge, no matter what language we’re speaking.

I came to understand that learning Catalan wasn’t a distraction from mastering Spanish. In fact, knowledge of both has helped me improve both.

Marcel, upper left, Álvaro upper right, and Mar (Marcel’s girlfriend and one of my best friends) lower left

Knowledge expands our capacity for more knowledge. 

As any bilingual romance language speaker can attest to, once you know one romance language, the next one is easier.

Speaking Spanish, has even made me a better communicator in English because of the overlap and what it has revealed to me about language more broadly.

Taking this further, learning a language not only helps us because of the overlapping knowledge for the next one, it also teaches us overlapping knowledge required to learn anything. It teaches us HOW to learn.

Learning Catalan would be the next iteration of my process for learning how to become a better learner.

Language Learning Has Been My Best Vehicle for Learning How to Learn

With Catalan, I reached the activation energy to have simple conversations and hold my own much more quickly than Spanish. Partly, this is because the languages are close cousins, and I could borrow knowledge from Spanish. But it was also easier because I knew how to learn a language from practically nothing.

How I Got My Catalan to a Respectable Level in 3 Months (Repeatable For Any Romance Language)

I had learned a language as an adult before, and I could take the lessons learned to accelerate my learning, while avoiding my previous mistakes. I knew that first and foremost I had to get to the point where I could engage in conversation, what I call language activation energy, as quickly as possible.

Achieving Language Activation Energy

If you remember from high school chemistry, the activation energy is how much energy it takes for a chemical reaction to take place, and for the molecules to undergo their transformation.

I think of the early stage of language learning in a similar way.

The hardest part is getting to the point where you can have a conversation, where the “reactions” occur without significant effort and you can constantly learn because you’ll be constantly talking.

I spent my effort learning what would get me to this conversation stage as soon as possible.

Here’s exactly what I did.

Learn the most important verbs in the present tense.

When I first started learning Spanish, I wish somebody told me that they use the same 10-15 verbs for a VERY high percentage of sentences.

You can live off of a very small number of verbs. Right when I got to Barcelona this year, the first thing I did was learn these verbs:

To do/make, to go, to have, to be, to be able to (in English this often translates to can), to want, to know, to say, to eat.

Here below, I have the verb with its Spanish translation, and then the verb chart for each.

These are organized like so…

Catalan verb/Spanish verb/English verb

Jo – yo – INosaltres – nosotros – we
Tu – tú – youVosaltres – vosotros – you plural
Ell/ella – él/ella – he/she/itElls/elles – ellos/ellas – they

Fer/Hacer/To do or to make

Fer (Hacer)

FaigFem
FasFeu
FaFan

Anar/Ir/To go, to leave

VaigAnem
VasAneu
VaVan

Tenir/Tener/To have

TincTenim
TensTeniu
Tenen

Ser/Ser/to be (permanent)

SócSom
EtsSou
ÉsSón

Estar/Estar/to be (temporary)

EsticEstem
EstàsEsteu
EstàEstàn
Yes, accents go in both directions. I knew I was in for a world of confusion.

Poder/Poder/To be able to (can)

PucPodem
PotsPodeu
PotPoden

Voler/Querer/to want

VullVolem
VolsVoleu
VolVolen

Saber/Saber/to know

Sabem
SapsSabeu
SapSaben

Dir/Decir/to say, tell

DicDiem
DiusDieu
DiuDiuen

Menjar/Comer/to eat

MenjoMengem
MengesMengeu
MenjaMengen
Yes, it has a lot in common with French.

With Just These Verbs, You Can Say A LOT

For the future tense, you can even use the same verb, “anar,” like so.

Vaig a menjar… = I’m going to eat…

Anem a fer… = We’re going to do…

If you speak Spanish, the future tense in Catalan is very similar, along with the conditional, so I quickly jumped to using those. I’ll talk about how I gave myself a simple past-tense framework as well.

You can even combine verbs easily for more complex present tense phrases.

Vols anar? = Do you want to go?

Vull anar = I want to go.

Puc beure l’aigua = I want to drink water.

And Catalan, I learned, uses the infinitive form for the past tense. Vaig anar = fui = I went. Vas beure = bebiste = you drank.

With this, all you really have to learn is the infinitive for new verbs to form new sentences. These infinitives, as you’ll learn through practice have patterns and often at least one syllable in common with Spanish.

Pattern Recognition

I have written before about the importance of pattern recognition for language learning.

Just learning these important verbs was enough for me to spot patterns about the structure of the language in general. From there, I could take chances in conversation. Often, I would be right, or maybe off by a syllable.

For example, early on in my Catalan practice, I someone and introduced myself in Catalan.

“Sóc Dave, molt de gust.” (‘I’m David, nice to meet you.’ Basic phrases like this you learn quickly from context, and Duolingo will have you covered on these.)

Immediately, she looked over at my friend Mar and asked her in Catalan if I spoke Catalan.

I interjected, wanting to show off that I understood, and I said, “sí jo entinc.”

This was incorrect. “I understand” is “jo entenc.”

But I took a guess at it and was very close because I combined my Spanish knowledge (yo entiendo) with spotting the pattern that “jo” or “I” verbs in Catalan very often end in “c,” which you’ll notice from just the list of main verbs.

I would spot this pattern with countless verbs, another common one is “crec” which is “I believe” or “I think.”

For other examples, “nosaltres” or “we” verbs almost always end in “m,” while the “vosaltres” or “you all” verbs almost end in “u.”

Even if I didn’t know the word exactly, or hadn’t heard it before, because I could spot patterns based on what I did know, I could take a chance, and either be right and add it to my working knowledge, or get corrected and learn something new.

These important verbs lower the barrier for entry for conversations that transcend the basic verbs. 

For Vocab: Focus on Cognates, Take Note of Exceptions 

Sentences require more than verbs, though. You also need a bare minimum of vocabulary. Fortunately, if you’re a literate person, you already have plenty.

The best shortcut is to use words that are related to languages you already know. These are called cognates. My favorite part about the word cognate, is that it’s a cognate and follows its typical cognate pattern.

In Spanish it’s “cognado” and in Catalan it’s “cognat.”

Romance languages are filled with cognates, where there are similar patterns for endings. While the full list of cognates would be excessive, here are a few examples.

-tion words

Information

Información

Informacio

From this, I already know every word that ends in tion in English ends in cio in Catalan.

-ad, -ado words

Ciudad = ciutat words that end in -ad in spanish often end in -at in Catalan

Edad = edat 

Libertad = libertat ← This one I learned quickly bc of “libertat presos politics”

This after extends to adjectives. For example: preparado = preparat. Preparados = preparats.

This is very useful for forming simple past tense sentence like “he preparat” (I have prepared).

And nouns like this. Such as…

Cognado = cognat. Cognados = cognats.

I could go on and on with the cognates, but the point is Catalan and Spanish have tons of cognate patterns, and if you just pay attention to them you’ll unlock vocab before you even know.

There are Exceptions

Cognates are not always true. Many times, I’ve taken a whack at a new word and made my attempt based on a cognate pattern and then turned out to be wrong. For example, “vacations” is NOT “vacacions.” It’s vacances

There are also “false cognates” which in Spanish and Catalan are called “false friends.” A famous English-Spanish example is the false cognate embarazada, which means “pregnant” NOT “embarrassed” even though that would fit the cognate pattern.

Grammar-Related Cognates and Patterns

The Lack of Stem Change

Another common yet obvious pattern once I started seeking them out is the lack of stem change in Catalan compared to Spanish.

If you took Spanish in high school, you may be relieved to hear this, because stem-change verbs are public enemy #1 of high school Spanish students, just ahead of the subjunctive mood.

Puerta = porta

Duermo = dormo

(One quick pronunciation note, the “o” at the end of words sounds more like a “u.” This is pronounced like “door + moo” 🚪🐄.)

Pienso = penso 

This is true across the board, and if I ever needed to find a word in Catalan, and the Spanish version had a stem change, I just went for it but without the stem change and it’s usually right.

Of course, like anything in the complex ecosystem of languages, there are exceptions. Some stem-change verbs in Spanish change entirely, like querer

Plurals and Singulars: Different System

Plurals, because of the nature of the language and its pronunciation rules, have different systems.

For masculine words, you often add an “s.”

El gat = the cat. Els gats = the cats. This is easy for English speakers.

For feminine words, you often change the “a” to an “es” but it’s still pronounced like an “a.”

La gata = the cat. Les gates = the cats.

And if there’s a “c” you change it to a “qu.”

La finca = Les finques.

How I Learned The Simple Past Tense While Only Needing to Learn One Verb

Catalan, like Spanish, has many past tenses. Start off learning the easiest one, even if it’s not always the most precise.

For the preterite past, which is things that ended for good, see above the construction using the infinitive. But the simple past is more common in conversation, and fortunately simple to learn.

In this case, the format you should go with is to use the verb “haver” and then add the “at or “ut” form of verbs. Again, there are exceptions, but this is almost always what they end with. If it’s an “ar” verb, it ends in “at,” and you can take this from our above cognate. If it’s another verb that ends in something weird in the infinitive, it’s usually “ut.”

This most directly translates as “to have done.” However, it sounds a lot less awkward and is very commonly used.

Note: this is entirely different from the way we use ‘have’ like when you have possession of something which would be ‘tenir.’

First, start with haver.

He = I have

Has = you have

Ha = he/she/it has

Hem = we have

Heu = you all have

Han = they have

He preparat = I have prepared

Hem menjat = we have eaten

“Hem anat” = “we have gone” 

“He tingut” = “I have had”

Has begut = you have drank

You only need to learn one more verb, and if you speak Spanish, four of the six verb forms for “haver” are the same as “haber” anyway. Boom.

Pronunciation

Pronunciation is obviously a complex and huge topic, and my Catalan pronunciation is still a trainwreck. But here are a few of the simplest patterns to keep in mind when pronouncing in Catalan.

Gatas = gates but you pronounce them the same as you would in Spanish.

Os at the end of words are usually like a double “o” in English. “gossos” sounds like goss-oos.

An “e” a lot of the time sounds like an “a.”

At the end of words, the “r” is silent. This comes up a lot

Of course, there’s much more I could say about every little pattern I spotted, every cognate, and false cognate, but this is enough for you to take the most important step in language learning: to get there and start speaking.

It’s all about activation energy.

Other Keys to Getting to The Conversation Stage

You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

The last crucial piece, which I haven’t mentioned, is that even if you have the tools to have conversations, you have to actually do it.

As Tim Ferriss said, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

I’ve written about this importance in the context of Spanish a few times, like in this experimental second-person essay on How to Learn a Language.

Taking this framework and fleshing it out into your own mind, with your own words and a much more precise, in-depth pronunciation is not something I, or anyone, can put on paper. It’s partly why learning languages in classrooms is almost always doomed to failure. At a certain point you just have to go do it. Fortunately, it gets easier and easier, and you have to muster the initial courage to allow inertia to carry you forward.

Learning without Translating

In Catalan I’m yet to truly learn the subjunctive mood, except for a few stock phrases that are very common like “com vulguis” (whatever you want, como quieras). I’ve done just fine repeating verbatim what they say. This is how a lot of language learning happens, and how you learned your native language. When people say phrases that you think will be useful, try to repeat them, and then use them in the same contexts.

As I say with a lot of things in life, you have to imitate before you innovate.

This is a much more effective way to learn than trying to translate from your other languages. This begins with being attentive, and then when you hear somebody say something you didn’t understand, asking them to repeat it. Ideally, repeat it back.

I can’t understate how quickly you will learn if you make a habit of repeating people’s phrases back to them.

The Encouragement of The Catalan People

I’m lucky that the Catalan people are so encouraging of people trying to speak Catalan, and were happy to give those corrections.

I remember at the Festa Major de Gracia, I met a new friend who went out of her way to keep talking to me, encouraging me in conversations about literature and reading, an interest we shared in common.

That was a breakthrough for me, because I realized how much people loved talking to a foreigner, however poorly they spoke, when they wanted to learn and improve their Catalan.

I’ve heard stories about the challenge of this with other languages, like French or German, where people will just switch to English. That’s not the case with Catalan. To them, a foreigner attempting to speak Catalan, however mangled they (that is, I) speak, sparks a joy in them.

If your experience is like mine, they will cheer you on like a baby saying their first words. Bless the Catalan people and their patience for my errors.

How My Catalan Helps Me Practically

I will never speak Catalan the way I speak Spanish, realistically, unless I marry a catalan woman. (Which is not out of the question, but even then, between us I think we’d speak Spanish. She can teach the kids Catalan, I’ll teach them English, and they’ll learn Spanish in school and with friends. We’ll have smart trilingual babies, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) However, there are still practical uses for my Catalan.

It Helps Me Navigate Barcelona/Catalonia

I remember when I went to Seville in 2019, I had instant relief at seeing signs in Spanish. I could actually read them. In Barcelona, without access to Catalan it still felt like a foreign place, even though I spoke Spanish comfortably.

Even just being able to read the street signs, or a food menu so I could actually know what I was ordering, or hearing the announcements on transit all made life much easier.

It also means I now know whether I’m buying skim milk or whole milk, as well as which kind of cheese, as well as lots of other stuff that just makes grocery shopping and ordering food at restaurants much less stressful.

Gains Respect Among The Catalan People

“You know more Catalan than most Spaniards,” I’ve heard more times than I can keep track of. In the Art of Seduction, Robert Greene has a chapter called, “Enter The Spirit.” In it, he shares the story of the American actress and dancer Josephine Baker and what led to her success in Paris after moving there in 1925. “Baker sensed that their interest in her would quickly pass to someone else. To seduce them for good, she entered their spirit.” Greene continues, “She learned French and began to sing in it. She started dressing and acting as a stylish French lady.”

When we enter the spirit of wherever we are, we open ourselves up to new customs, ideas, and ways of life. In turn, this means we can build deeper relationships with the people, and further understand the culture. 

In Barcelona in particular, there are countless tourists, visitors, or even other people from Spain, who exclusively use Spanish (or English) and pretend that Catalan doesn’t exist. Of course, for them, this is comfortable and makes sense. That was me. There are tourists who come and go from Barcelona and don’t even realize that the city’s street signs aren’t in Spanish.

Understandably, then, Catalans have an aversion to outsiders. But if you make an attempt to speak Catalan, they perk up, and understand that you’re someone who wants to learn their language, and by extension their culture and part of who they are.

This joy of learning their culture, whether that’s Marcel teaching me some of the Catalan chants at an FC Barcelona game, and being able to hear and understand what they mean, or participating in their yearly traditions like Gracia district’s festa major, was one of my favorite parts of living in Barcelona. Of course, it went hand in hand with learning their language.

Participate in Every Conversation

My first few stints in Barcelona, the existence of Catalan was frustrating to me because wherever I went with a group of people, about 50% of the conversations would be happening in a language I didn’t understand at all.

Now, during group conversations as Spanish and Catalan dance in and out like a well-rehearsed tango, I stay in-step with it, playing a small role in the linguistic beauty myself.

Helps Me in Other Romance Languages, Romance-Speaking Countries

If you took high school Spanish, you probably know that “baño” mean bathroom. Well the “ñ,” the n with the squiggle, doesn’t exist in Catalan, but they make the same sound with “ny.” For example, “Cataluña” is “Catalunya” and “Señor” is “Senyor.”

This is another of the many cognates between the languages. “Baño,” is “bany,” so it doesn’t exactly follow the cognate rule, but it’s very close.

When I was in Bologna, Italy (as part of my 6 month + urban backpacking trip) I knew that it was spelled “Boloña” in Spanish, and that’s when I connected to the cognate path. I was looking for the bathroom and I saw the sign for “bagno.” Immediately, I knew that behind the mysterious door was a bathroom. I’m not sure I would have connected that with knowing how that cognate shifted across languages.

“ñ” → “ny” → ng/gn (look, I don’t speak Italian, I’m just spotting the pattern.)

This is one example, and I like it because it follows the theme of cognates across romance languages, but I spotted all kinds of Catalan/Italian cognates like Formagte (catalan) and the Italian Formaggio. Shout out Romance languages.

If I ever want to learn French or Italian, I now have TWO different languages to draw upon.

How My Catalan Helps Me Beyond The Language

Here’s the thing, though. None of these reasons are why learning Catalan became important to me.

I’m a Better Person and a Better Learner Because of It

The real reason I love learning languages, and learning more broadly, is because I become my most curious, inquisitive self when every single conversation provides learning opportunities. The breakthrough of hearing words flow out of my tongue in a language I’m learning is like a repeated, deep sense of accomplishment.

I remember one night out in Barcelona’s Gràcia district, I walked back alone to the apartment I was in, after having spoken almost Catalan exclusively, and I was thinking in Catalan words, without thinking. What an indescribable joy, that, I’m sure one day I will try to put better words to.

A Diversity of Thinking Means a Diversity of Languages

But why Catalan is still an unanswered question. Why not learn something more “useful” like French or Italian? I probably will learn them at some point, because getting to a mediocre level of conversing wouldn’t take me that much effort. However with English and Spanish, I can already communicate with 70% of the world directly. And all of these languages, while they of course have big differences that spawn new ways of thinking, all have a similar base, a similar (Christian, patriarchal) foundation.

In contrast, I’m interested in protecting the diversity of languages in the world, which by definition, means protecting different ways of thinking.

As any bilingual person will tell you, the whole idea of “translation” is deeply flawed. In a college class on translation, a poet who translates from English to Spanish described it as tearing down a building, rummaging through its parts, and then constructing a completely different building trying to use as many of the parts as you can from the original building.

There is no translation. There are only different ways of thinking, which unlock knowledge previously unavailable to other languages like English.

This 2015 New Yorker essay, A Loss for Words: Can Dying Languages Be Saved, provides a quintessential investigation into this.

The essay recounts the stories of over a dozen endangered, nearly extinct, or even resurrected languages. One example is Haunóo, spoken by a tribe on an island in the Philippines, which has forty expressions for types of soil. 

Other languages, like a South American language called Selk’nam, have many more words for love. The native speaker says, “One precious thing, to me, about the language is its vocabulary of words for love. They change according to the age, sex, and kinship of the speakers and the nature of the emotion. There are things you can’t say in Spanish.”

In many cases, these endangered languages and their dwindling native speakers have been fundamental in ethnobotany for helping discover and distill remedies. Judith Thurman writes in the piece, “In the nineteen-fifties, drug researchers for Eli Lilly and Company, working on several continents, studied folk remedies for diabetes based on the rosy periwinkle, and isolated an active ingredient—vinblastine—that is used in chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease. (The healers who led the researchers to their discoveries never saw any of the profits. Such “bio-prospecting” by pharmaceutical companies is a controversial practice that was largely unregulated until 1993.) Quinine, aspirin, codeine, ipecac, and pseudoephedrine are among the common remedies that, according to Cox and Balick, we owe to ethnobotanists guided and informed by indigenous peoples.”

There are real-world stakes here, and the field of ethnobotany and pharmacology is just one example. In my own life, I now have access to various ways of thinking, such as the never-ending and always fun Catalan proverbs and expressions, that I wouldn’t be able to come close to understanding otherwise. 

On a philosophical level, I want to be a part of adding to the diversity of thought. I want to celebrate and share different ways of thinking.

Why Learning Languages Can Help The World

I believe that when humanity celebrates different cultures and seeks to understand differences we all become more open-minded and accepting of other people.

This may seem idealistic, and perhaps too philosophical. But in the realm of language learning, it becomes real.

I believe that if we all strove to learn more languages, even just phrases that have no relation to anything within our concept of thinking, the world would advance not only technologically, but also advance towards inclusivity and acceptance.

If humanity has any hope of working together, celebrating and seeking out a diversity of thinking, I believe, is a fundamental pillar of that. 

On a more specific level, I feel the joy firsthand in learning words, phrases, and stories that are uniquely Catalan. For example, the Catalan phrase, poc a poc i bona lletra, has become my brain’s default motto for cultivating a growth mindset. I love the feeling of having access to knowledge that I can’t even access in Spanish, let alone in English.

As I continue on my language learning journeys, I become more and more interested in improving my existing languages and learning smaller parts (to start) of other languages, because these are the portals to cultures.

How I Will Keep Improving

Another key learning lesson that language learning has shown me is that languages, like learning anything, is a never ending process.

You can always improve, even in your native tongue, and if you neglect your skills, some of it will atrophy. Maintaining Spanish has become easier and easier for me, since I can now comfortably read in it, but Catalan is around where my Spanish was at the end of my first trip to Barcelona in 2017.

That means I need to make a consistent effort to maintain and improve. In addition to my daily Duolingo, here’s what I’m doing.

Facetiming My Friends

It’s just an excuse to hang out with my friends.

Reading Books I’ve Already Read

Intuitively, I’ve always felt that reading was the one of the strongest ways to ingrain, sharpen, and improve my language speaking skills, whether English or Spanish. 

In a recent episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast on the neuroscience of speech, language, and music, Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman shares how  “As we read, we are generating very low levels of motor activity in our throat. That is, we are speaking the words that we are reading.”

But reading in a language you’re learning can be frustrating, daunting, and take forever, as you concentrate to follow the book. That’s why I prefer to start with books I already know, as the 1st of 3 steps to learning how to read in a foreign language

In this Instagram post, I talked about how, when in my earlier stages of Spanish, I read all of the Harry Potter books in Spanish. Well, I’ll be doing the same thing in Catalan, and I’ve already bought the first two.

I found this in a used bookstore in Gracia

In fact, I think I’ll read them in Spanish first, so they’re fresh in my mind, then Catalan. Just as linguists use older translations of the Bible to decode languages, because it’s in so many languages, I use Harry Potter.

TV Shows

Finally, I have TV shows at my disposal. I’m currently watching Merlí: Sapere Aude on Netflix in the original Catalan with Catalan subtitles.

The journey, like all learning journeys, will have ups and downs and lefts and rights. But I’ve learned through languages that it’s not about the language itself, it’s about the small wins, the breakthroughs, the lessons, and the joys along the way.

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