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Issue #004 - How to get by when you don't speak Spanish

08 July 2004


This month in Barcelona Travel we are taking a closer look at the languages spoken here in Barcelona and how to get by if you don't know a word of Spanish. But let's start with this month's restaurant review:

July's Restaurant Review - A Super Chinese Restaurant

This month's restaurant review is of a Chinese Restaurant that serves good food and has not been discovered by the tourists (which means low prices). Chinese restaurant review.

How do I get by in Barcelona if I don't speak the lingo?

This month's article was promoted by a question from Louis in the UK.
Question Is English widely spoken in Barcelona? Will we need a Spanish or Catalan phrasebook, or both?


The two main languages spoken here are Spanish and Catalan. Catalan is classed by many as the first language but most people speak both languages and the people of Barcelona normally converse with foreigners in Spanish. Having said that many tourist places do speak English albeit basic but when you get off the beaten track ( the interesting places ) you will need to get out the phrase book. Don't worry though, everyone I know has got by here with no real problems without speaking Spanish.

There are 2 other books which I highly recommend you take a look at if you would like to quickly learn basic Spanish.

1) "Spanish by Association" by Dr Michael M Grunbeberg

This book is absolutely amazing as it was written by a memory expert and claims that within a few weeks you would have remembered all the main keywords needed for a tourist visits - I bought this book myself and it really is impressive.

Order this book from Amazon

2) "Madrigal's Magic Key to Spanish" by Margarita Madrigal

This book is even more impressive because you don't even have to remember anything. This book shows you the words that are similar between English and Spanish and almost instantly gives you a working vocabulary of several thousand words in Spanish.

e.g. did you know that many words in English that end in "tion" end in "cion" in Spanish? e.g. operation = operacion , instruction - instruccion , correction, correccion etc - with this one rule alone you have already several hundred words under your belt.

Another rule is words ending in "ty" in English end in "dad" in Spanish e.g. activity - actividad, nationality - nacionalidad , universitity - Universidad etc. The book lists many and it's really fun to build your vocabulary like this in next to no time - no memorizing required.

So here is a little test for you. What would be the words in Spanish for the following words in English:

authority, celebrity, compatibility, cruelty, mortality, intensity, individuality, unity, variety, velocity, co-operation, obligation, conversation, nation, action. - see how easy it can be.

The book goes through about 30 rules like this and gives you a working vocabulary of 2,000 words in a short time. Of course you may not be able to use all these words but it does give you a very quick and easy way to build a basic vocabulary in Spanish.

Order this book from Amazon

Even if you can speak just a few words and phrases in Spanish you will get much better service if you are seen to be making an effort to communicate in a person's mother tongue. You don't have to say a lot simple things like "Please" - "Por Favor" and "Thank you" - "Gracias" "The bill please" - "La Cuenta por favor" etc will go a long way to showing respect for the people here. One thing I really like about the Spanish people is their tolerant and easy going attitude towards tourist who are not able to speak Spanish.

Another useful tool when learning a language is the internet. If you go to and look carefully you will see a translation link. Using this tool you can translate basic words and phrases from English into a whole host of other languages. In fact why not test to see whether you translated the words above correctly or not.

And the final tool for your language first aid kit bag is a little electronic pocket translator. One of the best names is Franklin. The big advantages of these pocket translators is you get a giant size dictionary (250,000 words or more) into a tiny little translator that will fit in a shirt pocket. It's also much faster to find words and these pocket dictionaries are bi-lingual.

So why not learn a little Spanish? It needn't be hard work and it is very rewarding when you can get by in another language.

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Until the next edition of Barcelona Travel, Hasta Luego

John, (Editor)

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