Top critical review
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Why learn Catalan? And how this course might be improved.
on 18 April 2012
Why learn Catalan?
I remember being in a Madrid café ordering breakfast in broken Spanish. We were served quickly and with a smile, while a table full of English-speaking tourists trying to summon the waiter loudly in English were ignored for some time. So I decided to learn some Catalan before a long weekend in Barcelona.
It is worth learning at least a few phrases of the local language wherever you are going. In Paris I overheard a hotel receptionist pretending not to understand a friend of mine who had addressed him in English, yet I knew his English to be fluent. In the Greek islands everyone is so amazed that you would even bother to try to speak any words of their language that you get a very friendly reception indeed. In general, addressing people in their own language gets you a warmer reception and you feel more part of the country you are visiting.
Was it worth the admittedly small efforts I made? Yes, but with reservations. Most public signs are written up in three languages: Catalan, Spanish and English. The front of house hotel staff we met were Spanish speakers, and although they understood 'bon día' they didn't all speak Catalan. Even one taxi driver didn't know the numbers in Catalan when I tried to direct him to our hotel ('Via Laietana disset') and I couldn't remember what '17' was in Spanish.
On the other hand, it was nice to be able to exchange a few words of Catalan with some of the other hotel staff and with the man selling wonderful chocolate bars in the gothic quarter, and some but not all restaurant staff.
Catalan is sufficiently similar to Spanish that for the most part in typical tourist situations you will be understood by Spanish speakers.
Comments on the course:
Catalan is an easy language for an English speaker to learn, especially if you have some familiarity with either French or Spanish. The course is well laid out and for the most part the phrases you learn early on are useful.
It is important to understand that you need both the course book and the CD. The one without the other is of very limited use, and really they should be bundled together as one product.
Possibly the reason they are not is that the book is also available in Kindle format (which is the format I ordered). While this meant that I was spared having to pack the additional weight of the book, I found it impractical to do the exercises. Also with a Kindle it is more difficult to flip back and forth to different sections when you have forgotten something.
What I would have much preferred would have been a CD-only course structured in the way that Michel Thomas does for Spanish. We have busy lives, and I can do a lot more learning while travelling than I can at home, besides which the hear and repeat method is simply easier and more effective, at least in my opinion.
Having said that, this course has what a beginner like me needs to get started.