So, once one commits to learning Catalan and being placed, one starts the first class, which is Bàsic I. The first day of this first class basically consists of sizing up your 30 or so classmates. To 90% of them, I was a god with what seemed to be an unbounded ability with language. To the other 10%, I was an equal as they, like me had had a lot of exposure to the language and probably could have started at the second level, but really wanted to make sure to get a good foundation in the language and not be forever some idiot living in Catalonia and making the same grammatical mistakes again and again.
I was the only American in my class and more to the point, I was the only Anglophone. We’re something of a weird lot we English speakers who forgo learning Castilian in favor of being well versed in the main language of the region, Catalan. Also in the class, I was only one of three guys in total with the rest of the group being all ladies. The age range was from early 20s to one woman in her mid 50s. There were actually a few Spaniards in the class: one from Rioja, another from Sevilla, and yet another who was a Castilian speaker who had lived her whole life in Barcelona and decided that having passed half a century of not speaking the birth language of everyone around her, it was time to learn it. This woman Margarita, I came to adore and to this day my mother in-law still mentions her.
In the non-Spaniard camp there was a Finn, a Bulgarian, a French girl, a Chinese girl, a Russian, and briefly an Italian. Beyond them, the rest of the class was comprised of South and Central Americans. This group was the most difficult as was shown by my first class wherein we wasted nearly half and hour discussing how they would get their “certificate of completion”. Sadly this was the main reason most of them were taking the class as they thought it would give them an added edge in the horrid labor market. While there is some truth to that, if you choose to learn a language purely out of necessity and not by choice, you never learn it well.
The big strike against me was that everyone in the class was more or less fluent in Castilian. This was of great help to them in the grammar side of things as Catalan, like Castilian has a Latin root and a huge swath of core structural elements are very similar, much as they are in Italian and French. The big strikes in my favor were having attempted fluency in other languages previously and, oddly enough, being an English speaker.
Here’s the thing, in the Americas, both North and South, our language education is complete and utter shit compared to Europe. If you ask any American, Mexican, Brazilian, etc. what the gerund form of a verb is, they will most likely give you that stare which strongly states, “What the fuck are you talking about?” I even hold a degree in English Literature from the foremost university in the United States to teach the program and I never learned these basic elements of language.
So, those of us from the Americas were rather screwed in this regard. Myself not as much so as again I’ve tried to learn Castilian, Croatian, and French thus forcing grammar lessons upon me. Also, those in the class from the Americas spoke no other languages than Castilian. That said, pronunciation of Catalan was horrible impossible for them. As an English speaker, the additional sounds with the exception of the ‘ll’ and ‘ny’ (which I had already learned in Croatian with the ‘lj’ and ‘nj’ letters) were all very familiar to me as well as thinking outside my native language.
And this is where things got difficult. Somewhere around the fifth week of this eight week course, everyone who was there for the certificate (which you only receive upon completion of Bàsic III) just gave up. They didn’t bother to even try to speak in Catalan when asking questions. Everything was in Castilian which made the class very frustrating for me as I can’t switch between these two languages. For anyone who grew up monolingual and has tried to learn additional languages, weird things happen when you have to switch between secondary languages that you’re not fully fluent in. Often I found myself saying something with little bits of Castilian, French, and Croatian; essentially whatever my brain could piece together. As has time progressed this has gotten mildly better I might add.
As for the class itself, it was a good overview of the language. Anyone who attends this first level course will emerge able to say basic aspects of Catalan and probably survive. Of course if you live in a Castilian speaking environment and never work to speak Catalan, your kilometerage will vary greatly and it should come as no surprise that there is a 50% attrition rate from the first level to the second level courses. By the end of it, some of the group seemed worse off than when they started and while the teacher tried to encourage them as much as possible, she also told them that they should really repeat the course. That’s not what anyone wants to hear.
I made it though and learned a good number of things I hadn’t known before. Of course, this was the start of some frustration as before taking the course I would just bumble along and learn as I went. With a proper foundation behind me, I’ve now found myself fumbling a bit more for the correct way to say something as I do know it. Again, this is just step in learning a new language. It’s painful as hell, but if you stick with it, then you eventually break through. I’m just hoping that this time comes sooner rather than later.