One of the reasons I chose to live in Barcelona was that they speak Catalan here. It is an amazing Latin language that is hard to explain. If I say that it’s a mix of Spanish and French, people here get a little upset, because it is it’s own language. But as a Romance language it is related to these two languages, and I connect them because of studying Spanish and French. But there are just as many connections with Portuguese or Italian, etc.
Since I have been here, I have been trying to pick up some Catalan. I learn through a free online program (http://www.parla.cat/pres_catalaenlinia/AppPHP/login/index.php) and also from my host family, my friends, signs, billboards, menus, the language is everywhere. Catalans really appreciate it when you show them that you acknowledge their language and try to speak it, no matter how badly you butcher it.
There are many sounds in Catalan that we don’t have in English, that are also different from Spanish or French. As such, when I speak and can’t make the sounds correctly, I find myself in some humorous situations.
When I told some of my friends that I was applying to a university here, I first got some judgmental looks and then they burst into laughter. The word for apply in Catalan is Sol.licitar (in English this would be solicit). What they had understood from me was that I was soliciting myself at the university. Far from the truth.
This weekend I went to a cafe to have a sandwich. I was planning on going to a different cafe for coffee, because I like the coffee at the other one better and the sandwiches at the first more. I thought I had ordered a large ham sandwich with cheese, and was given a small ham sandwich without cheese and large a coffee. Not terrible, but after when I went to my favorite cafe for coffee and had already had a large cup, I left quite shaky and excited.
But, the best way to learn, especially with languages, is to make mistakes. Especially embarrassing ones like telling people you solicit yourself at the university. One of my Spanish teachers in middle school learned that however similar words might sound between Spanish and English, sometimes they don’t mean the same. She learned that embarazada does not mean embarrassed. It in fact means pregnant. After her friends congratulated her she was even more avergonzada. One you make a mistake like this, you never make it again, and the real word sticks in your head better.