In Barcelona (and an area comprising Catalonia, comunitat Valenciana, Illes Balears and some other parts) there's a bilingualism so Catalan and Spanish are spoken in the same way. Everybody understands Spanish although in some towns and villages Catalan is the only language spoken (not common).
Catalan is very similar to Spanish (70%) and it has some similarity to French and Italian.
There's a strange situation with Catalan too: as it is very similar to Spanish and many people from Catalonia traditionally came from southern regions of Spain (Andalucia, Extremadura) Catalan is not correctly written and spoken even in the media.
Catalan is spoken in a variety of dialects and places (it's spoken in l'Alguer, a Sardinian town of 20.000 inh.).
Although Spanish is spoken all over Spain, Catalan is the official language -next to Spanish- in Catalunya, where Barcelona is the capital. So you'll find everything in Catalan, such as the name of the streets, some menu in some restaurants, and even TV channels!
But don't worry. The people are well aware that this is a touristic place, and they will speak to you in Spanish if you need to. Well, that is if you speak Spanish....
Barcelona is an Autonomic Community, with a President, laws and police of its own. The culture is a it different than the rest of Spain and you will notice it directly with the language.
While everyone knows Spanish, the official language is Catalan, which is very similar to Spanish, but could be hard to understand if you don´t know the pronuntiation relues.
Most signs are written in catalan, as well as menus, and such.
You might find some people who refuse to speak Spanish and a few that can´t speak it. Don´t take it personally, and rtry someone else.
People in Barcelona can speak both Catalan and Spanish (and most of them can speak English too). If you aren't familiar with Catalan you would swear that the people are speaking French. They aren't. Catalin was forbidden during the years of Franco. In 1978, Catalan once again became an official language.
The main language is Catalan, which is similar to French and Castillian Spanish. If you know either French or Spanish, you'll probably be able to at least read Catalan. In Catalunya, the people have their own language and culture which can be quite different from the rest of Spain. My professor told us that since the Catalan people are very proud of their language and culture (they consider themselves to be Catalan first, Spanish second), they might give us a hard time if we speak Castillian Spanish, but we never had any problems.
Since this city is so cosmopolitan and international, I think more people here know English than in most other cities in Spain. The front desk man at the hotel spoke to us in English.
A few words of Catalan may be helpful...
Monday = dilluns
Tuesday = dimarts
Thursday = dijous
Friday = divendres
Saturday = dissabte
Sunday = diumenge
today = avui
tomorrow = demà
good morning = bon dia
good afternoon = bona tarde
good evening = bon nit
goodbye = adéu (a reveure)
please = per favor (si us plau)
thanks = gràcies
open = obert
closed = tancal
room = habitacio
bed = llit
bath = bany
waiter = cambrer
breakfast = esmorzar
how much = quant
how expensive = quant val
bill = el compte
cheap = bon preu
expensive = car
pharmacist = farmàcia
market = mercat
post office = correus
stamp = segell
much = molt
little = poc
0 = zero ; 1 = u, un, una ; 2 = dos, dues ; 3 = tres ; 4 = quatre ; 5 = cinc ; 6 = sis ; 7 = set ; 8 = vuit ; 9 = nou ; 10 = deu ; 11 = onze ; 12 = dotze ; 13 = tretze ; 14 = catorze ; 15 = quinze ; 16 = setze ; 17 = disset ; 18 = divuit ; 19 = dinou ; 20 = vint ; 30 = trenta ; 40 = quaranta ; 50 = cinquanta ; 60 = seixanta ; 70 = setanta ; 80 = vuitanta ; 90 = noranta ; 100 = cent.
The oficial languages in Catalonia are Catalan and Castellano (Spanish).In Barcelona all people can speak both languages,but also there are many people from other parts of Spain and also Latin American that are now living here.Don't be surprised in some small villages of Barcelona or other provinces in Catalonia to find that people don't speak spanish,just catalan.
If you don't know any spanish, then this doesn't really apply to you. However, if you speak a little spanish, don't think that you'll be able to use it here! In Barcelona the people speak a dialect called catalan, which is basically a regional spanish dialect. If you have learned a little spanish, the catalnans will really confuse you!
I concur with all the other VT tippers who suggest getting to know some of the local language before going to Barcelona. I don't speak Spanish, but I do speak other Romance languages, and that helped me tremendously just in the sense that I understood most of what was spoken or written. Without that, it would have been hard to manage as not everyone speaks English. Go knowing some words and phrases and Spanish and Catalan.
Lots of people forget that in Spain, there are 4 official languages (Castillian, Catalan, Gallician and Basque).
Normally if you study 'spanish' in school, you're learning castillian.
In Barcelona they speak catalan. It has the same roots, so you can recognise some words, you should be fine.
You rarely find an inscription in castillian or french or english. That's because of their oppression by General Franco; catalan was a forbidden language until 1975.
Probabily you knows: there's two official languages in Barcelona. But, what that means for a traveler? I'll try to explain, beyond the officiality. We can say, the 60% of people who lives in Catalonia speak usually catalan. For them, spanish is the second language. Except for old people in the little vilages, everybody can speak spanish. There's a 40% of people, normally descending of spanish people of another places of spain, who spanish is the first language. But except old people in the outer parts of Barcelona, all they understand and live with catalan.
This is a simplicity to guide. For exemple, i'm descending of people of Spain, my mother-tongue is spanish, but my language that i use usually and identified me is catalan. All combinations are possible. What you can do? Speak you spanish without problem, everybody will talk with you, but if you want to wine the heart of most of catalan, say a few words of catalan, althoug this won't always work.
Yes - Si
No - No
Thank you - Gracias
Please - Por favor
Sorry - Lo siento
Excuse Me - Perdon
I don't understand - No comprendo
Do you speak English? - Habla usted ingles?
How are you? - Como esta usted?
Good morning - Buenos dias
Good night - Buenos noches
Good bye - Adios
Good, but remember that the first language there is Catalan! On signs, you'll find the Spanish version only third, after the English one. That should suggest you the delicacy of the subject... Of course, they will help you anyhow if you try to communicate in Spanish directly.
If you do not speak any Spanish or the local language of Catalan, the language barrier can sometimes cause a problem. A majority of restaurants have English menu translations, and locals that work along La Rambla speak a little broken English, but not very much. I saw a very frustrated American guy who had problems in a money exchange place who couldn’t understand what he was being told. Be patient and understanding, I don’t know of any English tourist area where workers were able to speak Spanish, so it shouldn’t be expected. It is wise to get a Spanish or Catalan phrase book to get you by in restaurants, shops and hotels.
I love Spain and Spanish people!
Just remember if you speak Spanish, you still may have a bit of trouble understanding Catalan. A book of useful phrase can help, but it's not essential as most people will speak English.