Did you know that Spanish speakers in the Caribbean outnumber English speakers? Find out which Caribbean countries speak Spanish, and be prepared to brush up on your “español”!
How many countries in the Caribbean speak Spanish?
Spanish is the official language of three Caribbean island nations (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico). In addition, Spanish is either the official language or a widely spoken language of the following Caribbean countries:
- Dominican Republic
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Puerto Rico
- Virgin Islands
Spanish is also spoken in the Corn Islands of Nicaragua, the Bay Islands of Honduras, Isla Cozumel and Isla Mujeres (Mexico), Venezuela’s offshore islands, and Providencia and Santa Catalina (Colombia). In total, about 400 million people in the Americas speak Spanish.
Note: Some countries in Central America are also considered “Caribbean” because they have borders on the Caribbean Sea. All of these countries are Spanish-speaking (Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama).
Spanish speakers outnumber English speakers in the Caribbean
This may seem like a false statement, seeing that there are more English- speaking Caribbean countries than Spanish-speaking ones.
However, Spanish speakers outnumber English speakers by a ratio of about 1 to 4 in the Caribbean. In fact, only about 14% of Caribbean inhabitants are English speakers, while about 64% speak Spanish. This is because Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean have larger populations than the English-speaking Caribbean countries.
Why do some Caribbean countries speak Spanish?
Thanks to the (unfortunately violent) conquest of the Americas by European explorers, many countries in North, South and Central America and the Caribbean now use European languages.
Spanish “conquistadors” headed mainly to the Caribbean, Central, and South America (you might recall such famous names as Hernán Cortes and Francisco Pizarro from history class). Part of their prerogative was to conquer, subjugate, and convert Native Americans to European religions and customs.
Before the arrival of the conquistadors, the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas had their own languages and customs. Today, most of these original languages are in danger of dying out completely. Some have already been forgotten altogether.
Currently, there are only 5 indigenous languages spoken in Latin America and the Caribbean that are not considered endangered. They are:
- Quechua: (About 9 million speakers in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina)
- Maya: (About 6 million speakers in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras)
- Guarani: (About 4.6 million speakers in Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil)
- Aymara (About 2.8 million speakers in Bolivia, Peru, Northern Chile, and Argentina).
- Nahuatl: (About 1.5 million speakers in Mexico and El Salvador).
Compared to the 572 million people who speak Spanish worldwide, those who speak indigenous languages are certainly few and far between. However, local and national efforts have attempted to preserve these languages by teaching them in schools as part of a bilingual education system.
What is Caribbean Spanish?
If you’ve ever taken a trip to a Caribbean country and heard someone speak Spanish, you may have noticed that it doesn’t sound like the Spanish spoken in Spain.
This is because, just like there are different English dialects, Spanish dialects exist in different regions of the world. Caribbean Spanish is the name for all Spanish dialects used in the Caribbean region.
Most Spanish speakers in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and people who live on the Caribbean coast of countries like Panama, Venezuela and Colombia use this dialect.
Can I speak standard Spanish in the Caribbean and be understood?
Yes, it’s perfectly fine to speak standard Spanish (or any other variation for that matter) in the Caribbean. You shouldn’t have any problem making yourself understood.
However, you could encounter a few difficulties in understanding Caribbean speakers if you are unused to hearing this dialect. This is comparable to someone with an American accent having trouble understanding someone with an Australian accent, or vice versa, even though they both speak English.
One main difference between Caribbean Spanish and standard Spanish is that the “s” on the end of many words is debuccalized to sound like an “h”. For example, in standard Spanish one would say, “dos amigos”, while in Caribbean Spanish it might sound more like “doh amigoh”.
Unfortunately, some people in Spain and Latin American countries look down on the way certain words are pronounced in Caribbean Spanish. It’s important to remember that Caribbean Spanish is not “incorrect” Spanish, the same way that American English is not “incorrect” English.
Which Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries are safe for travel?
If you’re planning on visiting a Spanish-speaking Caribbean country, you might consider the Dominican Republic, Cuba, or Puerto Rico. All three are safe to visit, although Americans may find it difficult to enter Cuba at this time, due to the June 2019 Cuba travel restrictions.
The Dominican Republic is a popular vacation destination for those who love beautiful beaches and gorgeous jungle scenery. In fact, prestigious travel mag Conde Nast named the Dominican Republic one of the top 5 most beautiful countries in the world for 2019. There is so much to do there, from visiting the historic house of Christopher Columbus’ son in Santo Domingo, to enjoying water sports on the famous beaches of Punta Cana.
On the other hand, Puerto Rico is an easy and safe option for travelers, especially those from the United States. US citizens do not need a passport to enter this US territory; a driver’s license will do.
In addition, Spanish speakers can get along just fine in Belize, although the official language of this Central American country is English. Most people in this country are multilingual, and speak Belizean Creole, English, and Spanish.
Although Belize itself is not an island, it has over 239 miles of coastline. Also, many breathtaking islands and cays belong to this Caribbean nation, such as Ambergris Caye. Ambergris was the inspiration for Madonna’s famous song “La Isla Bonita”.
Main image: Internet (unknown)
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