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Bluffers introduction to Catalan

We don't speak Catalan, but we do help with school homework so we have to have a working knowledge at least of the structures of the language.

If your children go to school here you will need to get to grips with Catalan, even if you don't have to speak it. Our children did bring home Catalan texts for comprehension and, yes, it did take about 4-5 hours with a dictionary the first 1-2 times we did it getting the children through it.

Everyone we met said Catalan was sort of half French, half Spanish and it's fair to say that with the exception of a few basics that you need to know to get going you can probably understand written Catalan with a working knowledge of the two other languages. But it is a different language for the purposes of writing and understanding spoken catalan is another matter.

Catalan is pronounced differently from Spanish - for example J is more like an English J than a spanish J (which is pronounced like a H). But it does sounds different yet familiar. On the TV we usually have to listen for a couple of minutes to work out which language they are speaking, or otherwise wonder why we can't understand a thing.

Some hints:

"Bon dia" - Hello/good day

"Adeo" - Goodbye

"Be", "Molt be" - Good, Well done.

"Prou" - enough

"Amb" is the giveaway catalan word and means "with". Some others you see around - you get Forn which is baker (Forn is oven in catalan). Can (as in Can Drago - the open air swimming pool and also on numerous bars and restaurants) is an abbrieviated form of Casa En... - or the house of ....

en (which means "some/any" like the word en in French) is abbreviated to n' in sentences followed by a vowel so it looks like a negation - it isn't. So you have n'hi havia - there are some of them, not there aren't any. You also have names to which you add La for girls - La Lourdes, or En for boys - En Diego. Can is 'Casa d'en' - ie house of. Lots of places and restaurants are named in this way - Can Drago.

Possessives (my, his, your) etc are made up of two words both of which agree with gender and number. La meva... or El meu... both mean my... for instance, but one for feminine object you own and one for a masculine. Once you realise this you stop trying to translate meva as a noun.

The common past tense ('preterite' for Spanish linguists) is very very simple it's just a verb which looks like anar (to go) plus the infinitive. Van arribar means they arrived. Vem arribar means we arrived. (But Van a arribar means they are going to arrive). Knowing this hugely simplified the catalan comprehension homework that the children bought back from school - it's much easier than the Spanish equivalent.

Our children have extra lessons for Catalan at school, but for some reason didn't appear to be taught any verbs or verb structures until later (so they didn't have simple stuff like "I am" or "I have". But to help we developed a little learners pack for Catalan verbs (www.surveygarden.com/catalan/CatalanVerbs.php) to help our children understand how to interpret the endings of verbs, and also to practice writing the verbs out.

Some useful verbs: Jo soc (I am), Jo tinc (I have), Jo puc (I can), Tu pots (you can). Like Spanish you don't need to use the preposition (eg Jo) as it is picked up from the ending.


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