Monday, 8 September 2008

Teach yourself Catalan

As I said in an earlier post, I began learning Catalan at Sheffield University in the 90s as part of my degree in Hispanic Studies. Given the choice between Portuguese and Catalan, my decision was influenced by three things.
Firstly, I thought it would useful if I wanted to go to Barcelona (which I did!)
The second reason was more frivolous; a rather charming young solicitor from Barcelona called Chema lodged around the corner from us at home and he spoke Catalan as well as Spanish. The third reason was that I looked at who would teach us, and decided that the Catalan prof looked rather fun!

Professor Alan Yates
was - and no doubt still is!- a unique, enigmatic individual who exuded a love of life that was rather inspiring. And boy did he love Catalan! As I am proving, I wasn't the greatest student of Catalan - I tried hard though!- but some of my most vivid memories of the Hispanic Studies Dept took place in n'Alan's office where our motley group had tutorials. I recall a large rubber plant, mountains of books on all the chairs that you had to move to sit down, and, most of all, that all tutorials were accompanied by pipe smoke. I'm sure it wasn't allowed but n'Alan puffed away on his pipe throughout, and tough if we didn't like it! I was normally OK but as I am allergic to smoke, it was tough going when I had a cold!

Professor Alan Yates wrote *the* guide to learning Catalan - Teach yourself Catalan. There are others now no doubt but at the time it was the only one I believe! - and as I look at now, trying to recapture my ability to put indirect and direct object pronouns in the correct order, and use the subjunctive effectively, I am once more struck by the uniqueness of the man - it's him through and through!

I mean, how many teach yourself guides include such marvellous, improbable phrases?

Era l'últim dia de l'any i tota la mà obra, fora dels paletes, va plegar d'hora
It was the last day of the year and the entire workforce, apart from the bricklayers, finished work early.

L'han disfressada de monja.
They have disguised her as a nun.

Demà anirem a caçar ànecs, Tant de bo que no plogui.
Tomorrow we are going duck hunting. Let's hope it doesn't rain.

No sé si és boig però ho sembla.
I don't know if he's mad, but he looks it!

How could you fail to make friends and influence people with such phrases at your fingertips? Here are a few more - but you really should get your hands on a copy of the book to see the full range. I joke - but it is a really good textbook that does teach you all that you need to know to speak and write coherent Catalan.

Quina boca més grossa que tens!
What a big mouth you've got!

No puc tombar la clau al pany i no vull trucar a la porta, de por de despertar la meva dona. A veure si és posible entrar per una finestra?
I couldn't turn the key in the lock and I don't want to knock the door for fear of waking my wife. I wonder if it is possible to get in through the window.

Estic disposat a sortejar la cabra.
I'm prepared to raffle the goat.

Vés a buscar-me el tornavís - Per què el vols? -Fes el que et dic. Aquests cargols són rovellats i vull canviar-los.
Fetch me the screwdriver. what do you want it for? - Do as I tell you. These screws are rusty and I want to change them.

De tot això ja fa molts anys ... però encara m'agrada el català
All that was many years ago.... but I still love Catalan.

Graciès n'Alan xx


Hi Lisa, strangely enough I have a copy of Teach Yourself Catalan at home. One of my best friends (from Madrid) is married to a Catalan woman, who doesn't speak a lot of English, so I thought I would learn a little bit of Catalan to make her feel at home when they came to visit me last year.

I must admit I didn't get very far and I also underestimated how tricky the pronunciation etc. would be. Because I can read Catalan and get the gist of it (because of French) I sort of naively thought learning to speak Catalan would be the same - but it's a tricky language - also, remembering to pronounce words in Catalan (as opposed to Spanish) got in the way a bit.

Ah ,well. Maybe I'll give it another go!

You do that Michael! Just don't follow my accent unless you're going to Mallorca - and even then, perhaps not!


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