For as long as I’ve been studying Spanish, I’ve wanted to travel to Spain. I wanted to live here, travel around here, and really feel as though I had conquered it. This was simultaneously because of my love of learning the language and my intense desire to travel and see the world. I figured the perfect place for me to go was where the language originated – Spain. And the more I learned about the country, the more I fell in love with the idea of it. Eventually, I followed through and found myself participating in an International Internship Program in Madrid. I knew this would be phenomenal for improving my Spanish abilities, but I had no idea how much more than just Spanish I would encounter.
Before I came to Spain, I was aware that Barcelona spoke Catalán, it’s own version of Spanish. I was prepared for this when I traveled to visit Barcelona in the beginning of the summer. What I learned while there is that Catalonia, which consists of four provinces, all speak Catalán and hardly consider themselves Spanish or a part of Spain. Catalán is a combination of Spanish, French, and Italian. Upon figuring this out, it made a lot of sense considering where Catalonia is located. But I later learned that there is so much more history behind this section of Spain. The territories of each European countries changed so much throughout history, so what is considered Spain today was not always a part of it. Catalonia specifically had many changes of power in its past. At one point it was Roman, and most recently Spain took it from France. Due to this, Catalonia considers itself relatively independent from Spain and is always in the works of trying to separate. Of course, it also explains the distinct language.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Valencia. I knew it was situated relatively close to Barcelona, so I asked the coordinator of our trip if I should expect to see a lot of Catalán as well. She told me that they don’t speak Catalán, but they speak their own version of Spanish as well: Valenciano. I was completely shocked by this response. I assumed all of Spain spoke Spanish with the very unique exception of Catalonia (I mean, we are in Spain, right?!). What I learned was that Valencia was influenced by the unique language of Catalonia and decided to make their own version of Spanish as well. Well, the entire history is extremely more complicated, but she said that this was the general idea. The language I saw was more similar to Spanish, but definitely had some things in common with Catalán.
I am also planning on going to San Sebastián this weekend, and was warned that they speak their own language, Basque. I did some research and found that this language is completely unrelated to any other language in Europe. It is simply because the people who very originally inhabited this territory spoke this language. I have no idea what to expect, and am shocked that I will be spending another weekend in Spain with a language other than Spanish. This is showing just how much history there is here, and how much can be impacted by it.
Another difference about languages I’ve noticed while being here is the way we value it. In the United States, if someone knows a little bit of another language, it is considered impressive. If you are able to put on your resume that you can communicate in another language, you have a huge edge. However, here, it is hardly impressive to be bilingual. Almost everyone knows English, because it is the universal business language. This fact makes me feel relatively ashamed because as native English-speakers, we do not have this necessity to learn so much. Also, due to the similarity in language and geographical proximity, it is not uncommon for Spaniards to know at least a little bit of Portuguese, French, Italian, or any other European language. I have met some fascinating people during my time here who are able to switch between four or five languages with ease. These people don’t tend to have very glamorous jobs, even though I find them to be extraordinarily intelligent, and would be considered the same way in the United States.
My time here has really opened my eyes to a lot regarding languages. I am absolutely fascinated by the history of the languages and the linguistic intelligence of people in Europe. I am getting closer, but still working toward perfecting two languages. I feel lucky that I am from the United States, because my language skills are hardly something to brag about here. However, I am very glad that I have been able to obtain this perspective.