First was Catalan in Barcelona. Of course we knew in advance about Catalan. But it still took us by surprise when we saw it actually written down. ‘Look,’ said Pietro. ‘It’s just like Italian.’ ‘Look,’ said Gary. ‘It’s just like French’. And indeed it was just like both, with a bit of Spanish thrown in. And much easier to understand than Spanish.
- Brilliantly short nouns, e.g. pa = pan (bread), vi = vin (wine), mon = mondo (world), Pau = Paulo, pi = pino (pine), antic = antico (old)
- Words ending in 'iu', e.g. distintiu = distintivo, palau = palacio, museu, etc.
- Words ending in 'atges', e.g. homatges, usatges (cf French 'ages')
- Words ending in 'ys', e.g. anys = anos, banys = banos
The second minority language experience took us by surprise. In Bayonne, in the Pays Basque, we discovered that the road signs were in not just the two languages we expected – Basque and French – but also in a third, Gascon. ‘Look,’ said Gary and Pietro. ‘It’s just like Catalan’. And indeed it was.
There was one week (when we took the train from Bilbao to Barcelona and then on to Geneva and Basel) when we had to deal with Spanish, Catalan, Basque, French and German all in one week... That was Language Overload.
Finally: Spanish. I eventually – almost at the end of our stay! – went on an intensive beginners’ course in Spanish (20 hours), at the ‘Instituto Ernest Hemingway’, just a few minutes’ walk from our flat. There were just two of us in the class, which was great, and gave us lots of opportunity to speak, making hundreds of mistakes in a safe environment. The good news is that we went so fast that the teacher kept running out of material. This is probably because both of us had had some prior experience of Spanish (even if for me it was just having listened to it and been around it for almost a year), and of French and Italian and Latin too. The bad news is that 20 hours of beginners Spanish doesn’t make you a competent speaker or listener by a long chalk…
Still, at least I now have another language under my belt to be incompetent in.